One of the best spots for new, independent music at SXSW — and year around in Austin, Texas — is Cheer Up Charlie's. During the festival you can see an artist like the British folk singer Jade Bird in the dark, unassuming indoor space, and walk out into the bright sunlight for Andrew W.K. or Hop Along. In fact, not long after Hop Along played the Brooklyn Vegan party at Cheer Up Charlie's, Katie Von Schleicher and her guitarist Adam Brisbin stepped away from the frenetic energy of the festival, walked into the makeshift Spire Studio Tour Bus (basically a camper trailer, parked on Cheer Up Charlie's lot, with brilliant recording gear, amps guitars) and performed "Mary." It's the quietest song from Katie Von Schleicher's magnificent 2017 album, S***** Hits.
Katie Von Schleicher wrote to me just after this filming to tell me more about "Mary." "I've been teaching a songwriting class and it's funny now to break these things down into craft and intention," she says via email, "but I do feel that writing to a person's name is a really tender practice, one that can unlock kindness and a conversational tone. If speaking to a part of yourself, personifying it, singing warmly, you can spare your faults and self-criticisms by speaking as if to another person [and] maybe even take your own advice. As much as they're personal, I'm also trying to get close to some of my favorite things, which also include Randy Newman's 'Marie' and Raymond Carver's short stories (so full of conversation). For me, 'Mary' is a place and time rather than a person, childhood and youth and the strange space I've found in going back to the house where I grew up in Maryland to make records now."
And here in the Spire Studio, as the next band readied itself for the Cheer Up Charlie's stage just a hundred or so feet away, Katie Von Schleicher and Adam Brisbin conjured up an oasis in a trailer — a small, gentle moment amidst the chaos and fun of SXSW.
Producers: Bob Boilen, Mito Habe-Evans; Director/Videographer: Nickolai Hammar; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Photo: Aaron Rogosin for NPR; Executive Producer: Lauren Onkey.