Video Premiere: Hello Mary "Evicted"
Hello Mary is a young trio whose retro 90s grunge sound has built a fanatic following even in the midst of a pandemic. Cell Vision is proud to premiere their new music video “Evicted” (directed by Abbie Jones). Sylvea Suydam spoke with the band about their new video, their origins, and their creative process.
The girls of Hello Mary first came to my attention at the beginning of last year, when director Abbie Jones contacted me to create the animated titles on their music video for “Take Something.” Comprised of guitarist Helena Straight, bassist Mikaela Oppenheimer, and drummer Stella Branstool, Hello Mary is a retro 90’s grunge throwback project that stands out in the NYC music scene as one of the younger (two of them are graduating high school, one is in college) and more promising of the innumerable Brooklyn bands around. Young as they are, Hello Mary has already opened for Narrow Head, Quicksand, and Sunflower Bean and played shows with Luna, Pretty Sick, Milly, and Julie. They’ve wowed crowds from New York City staples like Baby’s All Right, Elsewhere, and Mercury Lounge to the west coast.
Since our remote introduction I’ve kept an eye on the band and hoped to interview them on more than one occasion, so I was excited to finally meet them in person to conduct this interview for the premiere of “Evicted” their new music video with Jones for an infectious tune sprung from the quagmire of lockdown monotony. It’s fitting, then, that after weeks of rescheduling and postponing due to the recent surge in NYC COVID cases, we were forced to conduct the interview via Zoom.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
CELL VISION: Thank you so much for meeting with me after all of this! I’m psyched we finally get to sit down and yak, even if it’s virtually. To start, can you give us a brief overview of Hello Mary and how you got here?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Mikaela and I met in middle school, we were in the same homeroom. I was in an all girl band through my school that needed a bassist, and Mikaela was playing bass in a jazz band. We shared the same tastes in music, so I asked her to join. We released two songs by ourselves on soundcloud and then someone asked us to play in an all girl rock show.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I’m three years older than Helena and Mikaela, and I was already in my freshman year at college, playing in a band with two guys. I was requested to play that same show and I asked if it was ok if our band played even though I’m the only girl and they said no, and you know I really didn’t want to just do a 20 minute drum solo, haha. But then the coordinator said Hello Mary needs a drummer, and I forget who reached out to who, but me and Helena got in touch. So I listened to their demo and thought it was pretty good. I think I had like one practice with just Helena and one more with both of them and after that we played the show. It worked out well so the rest fell into place.
CELL VISION: You all do vocals?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Stella and I sing.
"['Evicted' is] about quarantine itself, and just being with the same people every single day." -Helena Straight
CELL VISION: In this new video, I really enjoy the contrast between the bright, poppy melody with the somewhat darker lyrics. The first line is “Now we’re trapped alone together” and “I’ve been evicted from the sun” is in there too. Is this specifically a song about quarantine or lockdown, or was it just sort of born out of those conditions?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Yeah I'd say it’s about quarantine itself, and just being with the same people every single day.
CELL VISION: I also love how the fisheye lens gives it this sort of door peephole effect and ties in with that mood. Someone trapped inside, looking out from their door on the world happening but from behind a barrier. Was that intentional or was that just my weird take on it?
HELENA STRAIGHT: It wasn’t intentional on our side, but it’s possible that Abbie had that in mind.
CELL VISION: Does Abbie come up with the concepts for these music video collaborations you‘ve been doing? Do you pitch an idea and then she builds on it?
STELLA BRANSTOOL: For our last video “Take Something” and this one it was mostly her. She’s this up-and-coming videographer, and I think we’re mutual opportunities for each other. We see this filmmaker, director who’s really cool and needs stuff to add to her resume, right? And for her, we’re an opportunity to make music videos with low stakes since we haven’t had the opportunity to work with really high-level people yet, so it’s been a mutually beneficial thing. And she’s been so gracious about working with us we’ve let her take the reins a bit. But also we’re pretty picky!
HELENA STRAIGHT: I’ve noticed that she’ll come up with an idea and we'll say ”yeah, that’s cool” but then “let’s do it this way instead” or “more of this and less of that.”
CELL VISION: It’s a back and forth process.
HELENA STRAIGHT: Yes.
CELL VISION: I’m a filmmaker myself and there's a great thing that happens when you find those music people you just click with. That great working relationship, when you feed off each other’s energy, it’s great you’ve found that! Besides the “Take Something” video, have you worked on any other projects with Abbie?
STELLA BRANSTOOL: We haven’t finished anything besides those two videos, but they were really the first two songs from this new, I guess, iteration of Hello Mary. New tracks, new videos, new producer, new era of the band.
CELL VISION: Who's this new producer you’ve been working with?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Bryce Goggin.
CELL VISION: And this is the first studio record you’ve done?
STELLA BRANSTOOL: We have an album out that was technically studio-recorded, but we were just starting out and it was a friend that was doing it for us, so this is our first professionally produced project.
"I think that we’ve honestly gained more fans due to COVID than we otherwise would have. I mean it's hard to actually say you know, but the thing is everyone’s been so bored for so long and they’re looking for new things." -Helena Straight
CELL VISION: Obviously music as a whole (performances, venues, and everything involved) took a huge hit during lockdown. How did that affect you as a band?
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: Well we couldn’t play shows obviously, which was a bummer. And we had to think about social media more, which sucked.
HELENA STRAIGHT: But someone made a TikTok about our band that blew up and went viral which was really good for us! And I think that we’ve honestly gained more fans due to COVID than we otherwise would have. I mean it's hard to actually say you know, but the thing is everyone’s been so bored for so long and they’re looking for new things.
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: Ooh, shoutout to Old Bruhh on TikTok for that!
CELL VISION: Everyone’s at home 24 hours a day doomscrolling and demanding more content to consume.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I will say, now that I think about it actually, ALL of our music videos were released during the pandemic. Even the “Ginger” music video. That’s crazy! Like isn’t that insane guys?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Mmmm.
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: Yeah that’s crazy.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: So all of our music came out during COVID. But echoing what they said, I also wonder where we would be if COVID didn’t happen. I feel like our fans are more spread out and not just Brooklyn people who’d come to shows.
"it’s super collaborative with the three of us which is really fun. And it keeps it really engaging for everybody." -Stella Branstool
CELL VISION: Were you able to continue practicing in person? Or virtually?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Well Mikaela was upstate at first for like two months?
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: It was three months.
HELENA STRAIGHT: So Stella would still come to my house and we’d practice, just the two of us. And we wrote a lot of new songs, a LOT of new stuff. Including “Evicted” and “Take Something.” And then when Mikaela came back she picked them up very quickly, like 15 songs.
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: They’d also send them in videos to me upstate to practice the bass lines.
CELL VISION: What’s your songwriting process usually? Does someone start and develop an idea, or initially is it more of a group effort?
HELENA STRAIGHT: It’s always a group effort, usually someone will bring that first idea and then we all just build off that together.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I’ve only ever been in one other band, but I will say that the songwriting with us has been pretty equal compared to other bands. I feel like typically there is one main songwriter that will bring in a song and then the band will follow their lead, but it’s super collaborative with the three of us which is really fun. And it keeps it really engaging for everybody.
CELL VISION: What projects does Hello Mary have in the works?
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Both new tracks and new videos. We recorded a ton of new songs with Bryce, and we’re hoping to release an A side B side single by, I dunno, maybe the end of January?
HELENA STRAIGHT: I feel like the end of February is more realistic.
CELL VISION: Stuff does have that habit of sliding backwards.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Everything has that habit.
CELL VISION: Even this interview was supposed to happen weeks ago haha!
STELLA BRANSTOOL: There’s not one thing that ever manages not to. So music wise we have those new tracks, but also we’ve talked to artist friends that do animation that we’re trying to work with. We want our next music video to be an animation.
CELL VISION: CG or hand drawn?
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Drawn, we're really excited. We’ve wanted to do something like that for a long time.
CELL VISION: I think animation would pair really well with your throwback music style.
HELENA STRAIGHT: We do too.
CELL VISION: Like a lot of musicians these days, you had an upcoming show at the Mercury Lounge that was canceled.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Yeah.
CELL VISION: Is there any end in sight for this quarantine hellhole that music and performing arts have been stuck in?
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I don’t know, but we are going to persevere!
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: It sucks and it’s scary
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Yeah it’s really scary, and it sucks really bad. It does. But on a brighter note, I think we’ll be fine. We have time on our side. Think about bands where they’re at their peak, where this is their time now and they’ve been a band for a while, and then the pandemic hit. To have their career stopped in the middle like that. But Mikaela and Helena, they’re 18, I’m 21. We still have a long time to get through this and for Hello Mary to take off.
"It really sucks being an artist right now, being anybody right now. But it sucks to be a non-famous band and so I’ve been trying to listen to my friends’ bands, and smaller bands, discovering new music and amplifying everyone. If you’re a music lover, now’s the time!" -Stella Branstool
CELL VISION: Have you ever been on tour?
HELENA STRAIGHT: A mini one! We toured in September, just went to California with Stella’s mom for a week. We played 5 shows and it was fun. And we want to tour this summer too if we are able, Mikaela and I will both have graduated, so if we don’t I’m gonna be really, really, really, really sad.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I will also be really, really, really, really sad
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: I think we will tour this summer.
HELENA STRAIGHT: I think we will too!
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Because of the pandemic and everything, it really sucks being an artist right now, being anybody right now. But it sucks to be a non-famous band and so I’ve been trying to listen to my friends’ bands, and smaller bands, discovering new music and amplifying everyone. If you’re a music lover, now’s the time! Can we shout out some love actually?
CELL VISION: Yes, please!
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Definitely Julie, and Narrow Head. We’ve played with both of them before.
HELENA STRAIGHT: Waveform* is great
STELLA BRANSTOOL: Waveform* is amazing. Milly, Momma, Pretty Sick… There’s so many bands that deserve attention.
CELL VISION: Ever considered collaborating with other instrumentalists? Like bringing in an accordion player, or I dunno, synths or something that you could expand into totally new territory with?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Strings would be cool, live strings would be really sick. Same with horns.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I think that would come later. Right now we’re still figuring out what it means to be a three piece, and touring, and recording, and everything. Later on, once we’re more established is when we’d be able to do that stuff, it’s easy to suddenly have too many cooks in the kitchen if you know what I mean. I agree with Helena though about strings and horns.
CELL VISION: I’ll ask this to each of you individually: What would you like to have done at this point next year in 2022? Either personally, professionally, as a band—it’s an open-ended question.
HELENA STRAIGHT: I hope we tour this summer. And release an album in June, before we tour. I’d like to have released more songs, I mean we have enough at this point that hopefully, we’ll have it planned out for the next two years.
CELL VISION: Do you have a Prince-esque vault of unreleased tracks you’ve been sitting on?
HELENA STRAIGHT: Yeah. Plus Mikaela and I will have graduated and I’m hoping that the band really takes off and I don’t have to go to school haha. We’ll see though.
STELLA BRANSTOOL: I agree with Helena and hope we’ll have a new album out. I would love to tour and continue to grow in the way we have been, maybe open for a larger act and get in front of a bigger audience, which our lovely booking agent Robin is working on.
MIKAELA OPPENHEIMER: I think our band goals are all the same—definitely want to tour and have an album out. Personally, I’m also looking forward to growth, and putting in a lot more hours of practicing getting skilled at bass.
CELL VISION: Wish you all the best for 2022!
You can watch Hello Mary's "Evicted" on YouTube and check them out on Instagram via the links below.