the mary janes

The Capital Times, Madison, WI
February 25, 2000
Rob Thomas

Mary Janes are anything but plain

From the get-go, Janas Hoyt envisioned the Mary Janes as almost more of an art project than a band. Instead of an unchanging band roster, Hoyt would tap into the roots-music community of places like Austin, Texas, inviting different musicians to sit in with her and violist Kathy Kolata. Since her songs were so basic and so spare, those musicians could step in an color the empty space.

"Because the music is so minimal, it's a great terrain for players," she says. "If you find a really good mandolin player, or harmonica player, or especially the strings - all of these instruments fit very well over the music. And I think that gives it a little more of its roots connections."

The Mary Janes will play a free all-ages show with Red Elephant at 9:30p tonight in the Rathskeller in the Memorial Union, 800 Langdon St.

From an artistic perspective, the music has been a raging success. The first album from the Bloomington, Indiana-based band, appropriately titled Record No. 1, released last year on Delmore, received rave reviews from critics across the country.

Hoyt's graceful, atmospheric songs fall most easily into the alternative country category, but there are elements of rock, folk and even chamber music that intertwine as well.

But from a logistic point of view, Hoyt is finding that such an experiment can also be kind of a pain. There have been a lot of Mary Janes members in the band's relatively short existence, as musicians have come and gone, often to start families.

That leaves Hoyt struggling to find replacements. The band's reputation among its peers is good enough that there are plenty of talented people who want to play. Whether they are available is another matter.

"This fluidity is a beautiful thing from one perspective," she says "From another, it can become highly stressful for me."

But Hoyt believes all the short term angst may pay off in the long run. The Mary Janes are returning to Madison this weekend with a new rhythm section - drummer Jamey Reid and bass player Dan Dolan - that she says is "heaven-sent."

The band got good notices for its appearance on the Union Terrace last year, particularly when Hoyt held the audience transfixed by singing an a cappella hymn.

Hoyt, who is in her late 30's, first came to prominence as a member of the influential alt-country band the Vulgar Boatmen. Although she played percussion and sang harmony vocals, she was a magnetic presence on stage, and people soon started talking to her about playing her own songs.

She and Kolata split amicably from the Boatmen to form the Mary Janes, originally with an all female lineup. After releasing a single in 1994, they got to work on Record No. 1.

It was a record that took about one month to record, but that one month was stretched out in fits and starts over three years, with an ever-changing lineup of musicians. Hoyt says her biggest challenge was just keeping the overall result sounding even and cohesive.

If fans recognize songs from Record No. 1 when the Mary Janes play live, they may sound a bit different. Since some of them date back four years or more, Hoyt has refined some arrangements to suit the new, punchier lineup.

And the new songs released via the internet indicate that the Mary Janes are moving in a more sure-footed direction. The title song from the yet-to-be-released Flame album is a spry country rocker, and a fuzzy guitar permeates "Better Way."

There's probably a little more certainty, and there might be a little more punch," Hoyt says. "Record No. 1 was somewhat timid in some regards, and the mixes were a little more tame. I think having a rhythm section gives me some moxie, gives me some confidence that somebody can pull that off."

Hoyt figures she has about two albums' worth of material sitting unrecorded, as the band shops for a new independent label. She'd love the next Mary Janes release to be a double album, with one disc of folk and bluegrass and one disc of full-on rock.

She harbors no hopes to become a massive rock star on the level of John Mellencamp (whom she's performed with). Instead, she's aiming for a level of success that will allow her and her friends to make a living playing the kind of music that speaks to them.

"It'd be great to be an overnight sensation and have some longevity," she says "All of my heroes, they're not like that. They lived their lives. I would like to live my life as a musician and have something to show for it."

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