MARY JEAN Ties Together Nordic and African Tribal Influences

Watch the stunning new music video for 'The In Between', and catch our exclusive chat about world travels, creation and life purpose.

Danish singer and songwriter, MARY JEAN, is back with a new track and stunning music video depicting her serene journey through life. “The In Between” is an intriguing amalgamation of different influences which combine to create a compelling narrative and perhaps a rare point of view in the Danish music industry. We spoke with MARY about the story behind the song as well as bits and pieces about spirituality, diverse musical inspirations and her childhood upbringing.

So, where are you from? Your music video demonstrates a deep connection to the Earth. Did you grow up around a lot of nature?

I grew up in a collective house just south of Aarhus, Jutland. Our grounds were huge and filled with climb-friendly apple and plum trees, raspberry bushes, a vegetable garden, a chicken coup, horses, cats, dogs and rabbits. Outside our kitchen window stood a tall, beautiful chestnut tree and on the other side of the building, outside my room, I had a vast view of cornfields divided by a sloping road leading to the woods and ocean. So yeah, you could say I’ve been surrounded by plenty of earthiness.

How did you first get into music?

My fascination started when I was quite young. I grew up watching old American movies and fell deeply in love with old Hollywood tunes – the jazz standards. At age nine, I took up dancing and at eleven I starting singing. I wrote my first song when I was about fourteen but got so caught up in feelings of pressure to perform that I first really began writing my own music ten years later when I bought my first guitar.

What were – or are – your biggest musical influences?

Oh, there have been so many strong influences along the way, all adding important new layers to my understanding of music and my own songwriting. Some of my biggest would have to be Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, and in recent years Susanne Sundfør and IRAH – oh, and of course my studies and travels to Africa.

Yes, ‘The In-Between’ draws references from tribal African culture. Can you elaborate on this? What inspires you about Africa and how do you wish to incorporate it in your own unique way?

The African influences kind of blossomed into and out of my music after a couple of years of studying at the Conservatory. I noticed how the tribal rhythms, drums and movements passed on through generations evoked an inherent and deep sense of joy inside of me. And after several travels to the continent, it suddenly dawned on me that I needed to incorporate this feeling and sound into my music. Tribal music contains a kind of connection, a life force – something old, deep and greater than time or space that intrigues me. By adding those tribal drums to my songs, such as in ‘The In-Between’, I want to bring back to life something we’ve forgotten, connecting it to the present with my nordic songwriting and love for ambient synths and melodies.

The music video is overall very Earthy and ethereal. Was the process of creating it as relaxing as the finished product?

Weeeell, not quite… The video was shot at dawn. A calm, silver sea. The light slowly changing from deep purple to orange. My two friends and I dressed in those flowy dresses. It was insanely beautiful. Breathtaking and serene. Well, except for the fact that is was insanely cold! What you don’t see in the video, which was shot on a cold October morning, is us absolutely freezing, running to our shoes and jackets in between shots. Yikes! The theme of the music video is creation, so naturally I had to have the ocean, a sunrise and a bunch of fiercely amazing women in the video – although, I had originally planned it as a summer shoot! I owe a debt of gratitude to my friends for joining me on this chilling adventure. Eternal love!

Your music also brings a sense of calm to the listener. Was this intentional? How did you go about achieving this?

I’m glad to hear that! When composing, I often write out of a sense of chaos trying to create and establish calm and clarity for myself by meeting my feelings head on. Sonically, I love very ambient and spherical synthesizers and exploring dynamic universes that relieve the chaos and release energy. So yeah, I definitely hope to bring some calm and also power to listeners.

You have also delved into Asian spiritual themes. What does this mean to you and how did you first begin this exploration?

Last year, one of the dancers in the ‘The In-Between’ video gave me a book, in which I fell upon a quote from the I Ching – also known as the Book of Changes. I was instantly drawn. At the time, I was going through a rough period of my life, so it felt very serendipitous to receive 3000-year-old wisdom that was made specifically to provide guidance through life’s changes. Dealing with a strenuous relationship and beginning my musical career, it was exactly what I needed to get back to myself, my core and to be happy.

What is most compelling to you about Taoism in particular?

What really moves me about Taoism is its focus on acceptance, peace of mind and kindness no matter what life brings you. It’s about learning to accept that there’s a time for everything and that desiring that specific job, acknowledgement, love or apology just brings you off balance now. It’s really about constantly balancing on those thin threads of peace when there’s a raging sea of emotions, to-do-lists, and ambitions rocking your boat.

How would you describe your overall grasp of spirituality?

Hm, very good question… It first arose out of my music – out of creating it, to be exact. At first, I didn’t know to call it spirituality though. It was just a growing sense of being connected to something intangible – and exciting. I got this mental picture of golden strings, a flow, coursing through every living thing, like some kind of source I could tap into, giving me a very distinct kind of rush and feeling of fate. Some might call it being in flow. I know it might sound strange, but yeah, that’s how it feels. And my most apparent method of connecting is either through creating music or as I’ve now discovered, nature and I Ching.

How do you transfer your own sense of spirituality into your music?

To me, it’s about feeling connections. I connect my music through ancient spirituality, tribal music and nature to tap into this sense of cosmos, the earthbound and transcendental melted together. In my lyrics, I use a lot of imagery, words and messages from the I Ching and also sensory nature descriptions. In my sound, I work into the synths, tribal drums and my way of singing. ‘The In-Between’ and its b-side track, ‘Under the Jungle Green’ are both examples of this sense of connection.

Do you think it is important for music to serve some sort of purpose – spiritual, political or otherwise – or is it OK to make music just for the sake of making music?

I made a pact with myself, after many years of living up to societal standards, that making my music always had to be a gift I gave myself. That I did it first and foremost for my own sake. I also get incredible highs sharing the experience with my incredible band and audiences, and I have so much love for them all. But it’s kinda reassuring to know that no matter what happens to it in the outside world, I always have that special place with myself that no one can touch.

What message do you have for women or girls who are interested in making music, or for life in general?

Three things. One, be brave. Know that fear and even failure are a part of being human, of listening to your own sense of right and wrong. And that it’s okay. I’m still afraid but have decided that I won’t let fear dictate my life. I want to make music even though it’s a tough and intimidating business. Two, surround yourself with friends and family who support you and maybe even some who are going through the same feeling and experiences. In my opinion, competition is overrated. We’ll all get further by helping each other and building each other up, whether it be through working with music or any other life or career choices. And lastly, be patient. Everything is happening just as it is supposed to. As long as you listen to and respect your gut feeling, every step on the way is important.