Featured Band: Merry and the Mood Swings

Here is a band that has been in our studio, and that Chin’s Mojo likes to perform with live. They’re fun, they play a variety of musical styles and they really know how to entertain a crowd. Please meet Merry and The Mood Swings. The two folks I know best from this band (Mary Hestand and Mary Guthrie) visited our studio to introduce themselves. I asked them to share my favorite Mood Swing song, “Chickenheaded Thing”, which you will hear in its entirety.

Merry and the Mood swings are also veterans of our studio’s 24 Hour Music Race. I’ll publish that song later this week. They were the last band to record that night and so friendly in the studio – that I asked them to join me and my family for pizza after the session. It certainly surprised my family when I arrived with a band! But we had a great time.

Right now, let’s meet Mary and Mary. Here is their introductory video with a little band history and the Chickenhead itself.

Some notes from the band:

Merry and the Mood Swings formed in 2005 when a group of middle aged women decided to get together and play music. Three of the original band members had been in another band called Frump that was made up of all moms.  Diane Harris recruited her friend Mary Guthrie to play guitar and Mary Hestand asked her daughter’s drum teacher if he knew any women about our age who played drums. He told us about Martha Germann, we invited her to come to a rehearsal… and the rest is history.  We played our first gig at the Granada Theater for Jerry Haynes`s (Mr. Peppermint`s) 79th Birthday Party.  Our second or third gig was at the Cutting Room in New York City during Mamapalooza, a festival of female bands and performers. Since then we have been featured on the Texas Country Reporter TV show and we have played their festival in Waxahachie for the last 3 years. We like to play festivals and events and have played the Deep Ellum Festival and the Dallas YMCA’s Turkey Trot for several years running.  We released our first CD in 2010 and one of our songs, Pick Up Your Socks, was in contention for a Grammy for Best New Song.  This year we finally let a guy in the band.  He’s a great bass player and we hope he can put up with the high estrogen levels. We hope to be rocking out together when we are in our 60s and 70s.

Mary Hestand has been in 5 bands – a country and western band called Cowboy Noir based in New York City, an all-mom band called Frump, a rock band made up of mostly middle aged women called Merry and the Mood Swings, a jazz band at First Unitarian Church of Dallas, and a band called Room101, which is really Mary and her husband Alan Tubbs writing and recording songs in their bedroom recording studio.  Mary H has lived in the Dallas area for most of her life except for 10 years when she moved to New York City to go to graduate school in directing for theater at Columbia University. She stayed in New York and worked with an experimental theater company called the Wooster Group, whose members included Willem Dafoe and Spalding Gray.  She also made a short film called He Was Once (see youtube) with movie auteur Todd Haynes (Velvet Goldmine, Far from Heaven, Mildred Pierce) that was in the Sundance Film Festival and a lot of other festivals. With her friends, Mary created a theater piece called Magical Thinking that they performed at the Edinburgh Theater Festival in Scotland. In 1992, Mary moved back to Dallas with her husband Alan and their daughter.  She now has 3 children, of whom she is very proud.

Mary Guthrie  first played guitar in public for school and church functions in Danville, Illinois, when she was in high school, and one time raised eyebrows by playing “Light My Fire” during Sunday church service. Now living in Dallas, she joined Merry and the Mood Swings in 2005, writing rock, pop, blues and “the inexplicable,” playing electric rhythm guitar (a ruby-red PRS-SE) and singing backup and occasional lead.  For a year or so Mary also played bass for a cover band called RePlay (“All Hits! No Misses!”). Although she usually writes pop and rock and blues, she also writes singer-songwriter-style originals and occasionally performs as a solo/duo at  local open mics and occasional venues. She is an active member of the Dallas Songwriters Association, has served on their board twice, and has always had a love affair with writing and words.  Adding music just brings it all to a higher creative pitch – developing a new song is like slowly unwrapping a really cool present – what will it be?!  What will it be?! And then getting to perform it for others is a real treat – unlike anything else. Sure beats sitting at my desk at work.

About the song, “Was Anything Real?”:  This song was probably the most unusual one our band has worked on to date because of the way it came together.  Tom put out the invitation to be in the 24-Hour Music Race.  You want details?   Okay: Here is a blog post Mary G wrote not long after the Race:

24 Hour Music Race (originally posted to our blog)

Holy smokes.

Imagine writing a brand-new song AND recording it with a band in a studio —in one day. Oh– and the line “Was anything real?” HAD to be in it, as did a fortune cookie message pulled out of a bag: “When the flowers bloom so will great joy in your life.”

Thus was the 24 Hour Music Race, organized by Tom Jordan of Garland Recording Studio (and lead songwriter, singer and rhythm guitarist for band Chin’s Mojo). It wasn’t a competition; it was just a way to get the creative juices flowing in the music community.

It started on a Friday evening at 6. Tom gave me the two lyric lines that had to be in the new song. Met with vocalist Mary Hestand at 7, and for two hours we pounded out lyrics. No time to get deep or brilliant — all extraneous efforts were stripped away. After two hours Mary H had to stop – it had been a hard work week; we decided picking it up in the morning would be best. Before she left she sang a melody into my laptop computer (Audacity program) and we said goodnight; I worked til 11 on lyric sheets, chords, and a shift in chord progression for the bridge.

Next morning at 9 a.m. I zoomed to Mary’s house. We still had to get the skeleton of the song to Martha, the drummer, and our bass player Carol. After another hour of tinkering and singing into Audacity, we emailed the skeleton. All that afternoon the inbox was punctuated with questions and scratch-outs, and slowly the song developed. The first chance we’d have to play it together was at the recording session scheduled for 6 p.m.

At 5 pm we gathered at my house and drove to Tom’s studio in Garland. It is a small space, but plenty of Pro Tools and good speakers (and a great Gretsch drum kit that was borrowed) made it as big as was needed. Tom was amazing — worked very fast, and was a breeze to work with. He also was able to make a few quick suggestions that made our song better.

Since we had prepared as best as we could, and because we designed the song to be easy to sing and to play — no time for fancy tricks! — we actually recorded it in just over an hour, with 45 minutes left to do some mixing work. Way cool.

Did I mention Tom did this all for free? We really enjoyed meeting him and his wife Bethany and their girls, and are looking forward to hearing the other teams’ renditions on Saturday, March 19 at O’Riley’s on Forest Lane in Dallas. Each team had different fortune cookie messages, but we all had “Was anything real?”

Wonder what they did with it?

I highly recommend doing something like this –it really knocked the barnacles off the songwriting process.

About the song: Chickenheaded Thing was written by Alan Tubbs and Mary Hestand. Alan wrote the lyrics about an alien abduction by 9-foot tall chicken-headed creatures with tentacles for wings. He also put together a song `bed` made up of guitar and drum loops, a bass line that he played in a Cakewalk synth called Z3TA and an organ solo played on a Dimension Pro synth.  He gave all this to Mary and asked her to sing the lyrics over the sound bed.  After a couple of weeks of practicing in the car, the vocal was recorded in Alan and Mary`s bedroom recording studio. Once that version of the song was done, Mary brought the song to the Mood Swings and asked them to learn it.  Mary Guthrie and Diane figured out the guitar line, Carol Moxley came up with a new bass line and Martha hammered out the drums. Diane added a flute solo and then once we recorded the song, Alan mixed it for us.  He brought Dickey Johnson, one of our guitar gurus, in to add a second guitar line for the final mix. (Of course even as I write this, Alan is in the bedroom tinkering with the mix yet again. I swear I just asked him to put the wave files on a disk for me!  The fun just never ends!)

Our next gig will be the annual Deep Ellum Arts Fest the first weekend in April.

We’ve had some good attention paid to the band; we’ve been on Channel 8; all over Texas on the Texas Country Reporter show; covered by D magazine, Advocate magazine, Dallas Morning News etc.  It’s fun!

Download Chickenheaded Thing MP3 for free right here!

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