As soon as she was old enough, Australian singer Hayley Mary and her keyboardist chum Heather Shannon left their provincial little beachside community of Byron Bay for college in big-city Sydney.
That’s where the art major discovered all the eye-opening cultural and historical touchstones that would soon color the work of the band she formed with Shannon, The Jezabels, whose panoramic, 4AD-textured debut “Prisoner” was just released digitally this week (Down Under, it’s already debuted at No. 2 on the national charts).
And with her asymmetrical wedge haircut, keen fashion sense and deep, bluesy vocals, Mary recalls Sharleen Spiteri in her band Texas’ prime, on arena-expansive anthems like “Horsehead,” “City Girl” and “Peace Of Mind.”
Somehow, the band will squeeze their huge sound into San Francisco’s Rickshaw Stop tonight.
Mary, 24, spoke to us yesterday as The Jezabels touched down in LA.
Is Hayley Mary your real name? I can’t imagine the penance puns.
No, it’s not. It comes from childhood. My dad called me that when we used to go busking — it was my stage name. I’d dress up as a fairy and he’d play the harp, and he was a witch and he’d call me Hayley Mary. It was a play on Hail Mary, obviously, and I was like 5, 6, maybe 7 at the time. I grew up in Byron Bay, and it’s a bit left of center there, so it was a little less abnormal that I went busking as a kid. But it’s still kind of abnormal, and I was embarrassed. But now I think it might have been character building. And my dad was a bit of an eccentric. He was Scottish, so he used to play Celtic folk music on the harp, and busking he played a big Celtic harp. But I think he just got kicks out of making me do stuff. Whenever there was a party and I’d be asleep, he’d wake me up and make me dance on the table in front of his friends. I think he enjoyed prodding me and making me do things that were embarrassing at the time.
At what point did these crazy shenanigans stop?
I went through a rebellious phase in high school, where I, ummm, found pot and just stuck to my room. And that’s when I started writing music, and I didn’t do anything my dad told me to do at all. He never let me cut my hair, either, when I was a kid, so I had hair down to my knees, and this was why I looked like a fairy. But in my rebellious phase, I cut it all off, up to my ears. But I suppose to an extent the pressure that he applied on my psyche never really ceased, and I’m still kind of doing what he wanted me to, by getting up onstage every other night of the week. And he still gets down my throat about what I could be doing better, but I just tell him to shut up now.
Why the name, The Jezabels, after a shameless hussy?
Well, it’s kind of assumed that Jezebel was a shameless hussy in Judeo-Christian history. But that’s misrepresenting one of the strongest women in Biblical history. As far as we know, she was actually a pagan queen of Israel who offended her own people’s religion and then was depicted negatively after monotheistic powers won over. So I don’t think she was a whore at all. Which would be fine, by the way, because women’s sexuality is not a problem. But they say she was escaping persecution, so she put makeup on to disguise herself, and then she ran away, fell out of a window, and was eaten by dogs, hence the “fallen woman” trope. But putting on the makeup to disguise herself was the key element in turning her into a harlot. So we spell it differently, so people by default don’t just think of Jezebel from the Bible. But it’s all about the feminist reclaiming of the idea of Jezebel.
This blog was corrected Monday, Nov. 14, 2011. Originally it said The Jezabels would be playing the Red Devil Lounge in San Francisco. The show was actually at the Rickshaw Stop. The Examiner regrets the error.