Mary Ramsey celebrates 25 years as a 10,000 Maniac
What: 10,000 Maniacs
When: 8 p.m. on Jan 9-11
Where: The Egyptian Theatre, 328 Main St.
Cost: Thursday tickets run from $39-$55. Friday tickets range from $45-$60 and Saturday tickets run from $53-$65.
Vocalist and violinist Mary Ramsey can’t believe she is celebrating 25 years with alt-rock band 10,000 Maniacs.
“It’s kind of like how you look at a birthday coming up and ask yourself, ‘Is this really true?’” Ramsey said. “I pinch myself, because we do play a lot of beautiful songs.”
Ramsey joined the band, who will perform Jan. 9-11 at the Egyptian Theatre, after original lead singer Natalie Merchant left to pursue a solo career.
By that time, Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs, who formed in 1981, had released a string of multi-platinum albums and built up a strong following. So when Ramsey joined, she knew she not only had to respect Merchant’s legacy but also help the band continue to make music that was worthy of the band.
Ramsey still feels that responsibility after a quarter of a century.
“I have such respect for Natalie Merchant and the songs that were crafted before I joined that I get to sing,” she said. “Hopefully I’m singing them in an honorable way.”
While Ramsey loves the older songs, she also enjoys performing the ones she wrote with fellow Maniac and guitarist John Lombardo.
“I always love playing ‘Rainy Day,’ because it’s a song we wrote together,” she said. “It has turned into a favorite of audiences as well, because of the personal aspects of it. There’s a feeling of redemption in it.”
Ramsey calls the songwriting process an “enjoyable challenge.”
“It can start with music or chord structures,” she said. “It can also start with a melody with a rhythm, and then I’ll try to find words that fit within that melody.”
Sometimes a word can spark inspiration, Ramsey said.
One song called “Your Return,” which Ramsey and Lombardo wrote for their side band, John & Mary, started because Ramsey liked the word “solitary.”
“The syllables of that word just caught my attention, and I used it in the refrain, ‘For a little while a solitary day passed by,’” she said.
When a song is close to being finished, Ramsey checks off a few boxes that tells her when it’s good enough to sing and record.
“It has to have a good rhythm,” she said. “The chords and melodies have to come together, and it has to be inspirational. Sometimes I think there’s a magic that happens when all of those things come together.”
Performing with 10,000 Maniacs has also upped Ramsey’s musical and performing skills.
“It’s a refining process that we’ve been doing over the years,” she said. “And we learn new things and keep improving on what we’ve already learned.”
Taking care of her voice is Ramsey’s No. 1 priority.
“A voice does change over the years, and different things like altitude, especially in places like Park City, can affect it,” she said. “So there are different ways of strengthening it.”
Top on her list is to avoid what she calls “demon alcohol.”
“Instead of that, I drink a lot of water and try to stay hydrated,” he said. “And I also make sure I sleep well, which can be difficult on the road. But sometimes when the stars align, I can find a comfortable room and nice pillows.”
Touring was something Ramsey had to adjust to when she joined the band.
“It’s a troubadour lifestyle, and there are a lot of different parts to it,” she said. “For example, right now we are in parking lot at Home Depot in Fredonia, New York, waiting for a tour bus to take us to Cincinnati, Ohio. It’s a very interesting lifestyle.”
While Ramsey’s future is aligned with 10,000 Maniacs, who are ready to record some new songs, she also enjoys other musical artistic outlets.
She wants to release another John & Mary album, and she is the music director of the Yeats Project, with Irish Classical Theatre Company with Vincent O’Neil, an Irish actor and co-founder and artistic director of the Irish Classical Theatre company in Buffalo, New York.
“We perform poetry of William Butler Yeats, and I put ambient viola and violin music to the poems,” she said. “I’ve also another group that I sing with that do jazz standards, the music I don’t do with 10,000 Maniacs.”
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Iron Butterfly brings its “hippie” rock to the Egyptian Theatre this weekend.