Interview by Danny Coleman
“Yeah I am, yes I am in the band. I’ve been in this band for so long in one capacity or another that when I left or leave it’s like a hiatus,” said a laughing Mary Ramsey of the recently revitalized 10,000 Maniacs. “I’ve been with the band as a background singer, fiddle player and once Natalie left Lombardo and I decided to go on. We are doing lots of great gigs now and we see a lot of joy in our audiences.”
Formed in 1981 under a different moniker, they performed as 10,000 Maniacs for the first time in September of the same year with a line up that included members Dennis Drew on keyboards, Steven Gustafson on bass, Tim Edborg (drums) and Robert Buck(guitar). There were some personnel changes in July of that same year, John Lombardo was asked to join as an additional guitarist and a then 17 year old Natalie Merchant,who was originally added as a background vocalist, took the reins as the lead singer and they performed on Labor Day.
The band would then go through multiple changes in the decade to come, members left and rejoined, others quit never to return and in 2000 the band lost Rob Buck to liver failure at the young age of 42. These changes never seemed to slow the band for too long and Ramsey was part of the evolution as she was asked to join the group circa 1994 after teaming with Lombardo in a folk duo.
Now the front and focal point of the band, Ramsey says that she feels no pressure to pick up where Merchant left off and is very confident in her role on stage. “I’m my own woman,” she stated with conviction. “The band has sort of turned into something different since Natalie left but it has always had its signature sound, so it has really turned into something of its own. There’s still a demand from our fans and people want to hear and see us. There is no pressure on me or on the group to sound like we did when Natalie was involved. All the musicality that this band has is just amazing and we really do pretty much have a great time while on stage. We really love the music that we do. I have a great respect for Natalie, I’ve been in my own shoes when I was the background singer now turned lead vocal and we now have a new background singer; it’s like poetry (laughs).”
Ramsey has been playing the violin since she was five years of age and even though she playfully stated that she was not going to, “Say how long ago that was,” she did excitedly say how the instrument fits into the overall sound and how the band has progressed during this phase of their career. “We can do a lot of improvising on stage and I think it’s great. Fortunately for me I’ve done experimental music, jazz standards and orchestral arrangements and the violin is adaptable to that. Having certain amounts of going off script and going outside the box makes live music; right? These guys “Will sell no wine before it’s time,” and if they feel something on stage they aren’t afraid to go with it to enhance the music (laughs). As I said earlier, we have a signature sound and it’s a comfortable place to be for all of us. I feel it’s a blessing to be a musician for a living and we all seem to have the folk rock sensibility about us and we like where we are at as a band.”
Currently, the band is on the road and will be on the east coast next week beginning with a March 23 show at “The Beautiful Levoy Theater” in Millville, NJ followed by two in New York before returning to NJ for a show at the South Orange Performing Arts Center on March 26. They then head off across the country to Texas, Virginia and Maryland before returning to NJ on May 6 at the Newton Theater. “We’ve been doing a lot of shows; Chicago, Vegas, we sold out The City Winery in New York City and we’ve got some big festivals coming up this summer in Brazil and Winnipeg so we are keeping busy for sure.”
What else does “Keeping busy” entail? Well, according to Ramsey there is new music on the horizon. “Yes, yes, yes,” she answered with the excitement of one who just found a winning lottery ticket. “We are in the process of working on that now, we try to do at least one album a year. We feel it keeps things interesting and us on our toes; so yeah, we’ve got something up our sleeve.”
To discover more about 10,000 Maniacs and their tour dates, please go to www.maniacs.com.
Danny Coleman (Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 10 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.)