Born and raised on the South Side, the seventh of eight children, she recently joined the sad general exodus from St. Louis that’s been occurring for too long; more specifically, at the start of September, the thirtysomething brunette (who will perform at Frederick’s Music Lounge Saturday, December 27) moved from the Lou to Nashville.
Singer-songwriter Mary Alice Wood often signs e-mail “MAlice,” a fact sure to tickle even those who know her only glancingly. One could describe her in any number of ways—smart, talented, charming—but malicious? Never.
Lately, in all likelihood, Wood’s been communicating with local family and friends more and more by e-mail. Born and raised on the South Side, the seventh of eight children, she recently joined the sad general exodus from St. Louis that’s been occurring for too long; more specifically, at the start of September, the thirtysomething brunette (who will perform at Frederick’s Music Lounge Saturday, December 27) moved from the Lou to Nashville.
The move came in the wake of popular and critical acclaim for Daisies in My Hand, the eclectic 12-track CD she self-released this past spring. That disc (her second solo effort, lauded in the March issue of this magazine) features engaging country, rock, and folk, and the response to it spurred Wood “to push things to the next level,” in her own words—to relocate to Music City in hopes of realizing various creative goals.
First among those goals has numbered assembling a new backing band able to tour extensively. “Everybody down here says that all you have to do is ‘stand on a corner and throw a rock—you’ll hit a guitar player, and it will bounce off of a drummer,’” she noted during a recent interview by (yes) e-mail. “Well, I only want to hit really high-quality players—so I’m taking more time to aim. I expect to have a lineup in place by early spring.”
In the meantime, Wood and her reps have continued to discuss potential deals with various labels. “The team is still working hard in this area,” she reported. “It’s taking longer than I’d hoped—but it will happen when I’m ready. I need to get settled in here in Nashville, find my band, and keep playing out as often as I can. I’d rather play out as a band, but I don’t have one yet, so I’m relegated to playing solo. That can typecast you a bit—but I just want to play.”
Regarding Nashville, Wood extolled “the openness and willingness of the local music community to offer help, information, contacts, and good old encouragement.” With characteristic effervescence, she added, “I’ve hit a songwriting workshop, and the best part about Nashville—you can talk to people anywhere about songs, music, writing, the business—everybody’s talking about it. I love that!”
In the area of songwriting, of course, Wood herself previously earned praise here; in the mid-’90s, for instance, the Riverfront Times twice named her “Best Local Songwriter.” As influences in that area, she listed the Last Roundup, Lucinda Williams, the Beatles, Peter Himmelman, Lefty Frizzell, and Jennifer Warnes, observing, “There’s a core group that had a common denominator—sincere stories. I was listening to these folks way before I’d written a single song or knew I could.” From Daisies, it almost goes without saying, the lyrics of such poignant, nuanced offerings as “Angel” and “Two Feet” testify to her own storytelling skills.
As an influence as a singer and performer, meanwhile, Wood immediately named country legend Patsy Cline: “She just always looked like she loved what she was doing. I love watching and studying that whole era of early Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson, Johnny Cash—they all had great stage presence.”
Supplementing her verbal and vocal talents, Wood has long enjoyed an aptitude for the visual; beyond slaving for years as a “creative” at a St. Louis marketing firm, she also designed the striking look of Daisies and her oversaw the creative for her Web site, www.maryalicewood.com. (Mary Alice wrote after this issue of Playback came out to correct an inaccuracy. “It was designed by the wonderful local artist Ben Kaplan at Act 3: Designing the Story. We creative directed it together, but he designed and maintains the website.)
“The processes are a complete parallel,” she replied when asked how her creative impulses as an artist dovetail with her creative impulses as a musician. “I painted with oils for years, still shoot photography, and sketch all the time. Songwriting is the same thing—trying to capture a moment. In photography, you crop the image; in songwriting, you use specific words in very short phrases. Both give the viewer the artist’s perspective, but at the same time, should allow the viewer to bring their own perspective to the image. I use words and melody where before I used color and brushstrokes.
“The best part about music is that I get to reinterpret the song every time I play it. That’s where painting fell short for me. Once I finished a painting, it was done—period.”
An inquiry about what aspects of St. Louis made her most nostalgic yielded an answer both emphatic and amusing: “I miss good Italian food and cheap beer at bars!”
Still, if she’s had to forgo linguine and chicken livers from Zia’s—a favorite of hers—Wood has compensated for the lack in diverse ways. At a recent conference, for instance, she hobnobbed with Kris Kristofferson and Rodney Crowell—not bad company to be keeping from a songwriter’s perspective. Moreover, the Nashville venues she’s played have included the famed Bluebird Cafe, which has booked her for a return engagement in February.
All things considered, then, it certainly sounds as if smart, talented, charming, thirtysomething, brunette—but never malicious—Mary Alice Wood has stayed commendably busy since moving from Mound City to Music City three months ago. Furthermore, her yuletide performance at Frederick’s will scarcely mark Wood’s last return to the Lou. In April, in fact, she and photographer Mickey Bernal will visit the Lemp Mansion to stage the duet of a lifetime—their nuptials.