Crazy Mary carries the flame for a time when downtown Manhattan was at its post-punk apex – gritty, smart, artful, edgy and sexy, before its soul was taken over by corporations and developers. But true to the ideals of the era from which they emerged, the band remains fully engaged with the modern, eschewing sentimentality and nostalgia. Their new album, Nuclear Lipstick, carries their music forward (with new members) and keeps their mélange of psychedelia, world/tribal music and Velvet Underground inspired no wave very much alive and well.
Crazy Mary began in 1998, founded by drummer Nick Raisz and guitarist and songwriter Charles Kibel, a veteran of the Lower East Side rock scene. With five studio albums to their credit (and two remix albums), the band has enjoyed extensive college radio play, favorable reviews in the New Yorker, the Boston Globe, the Village Voice. In addition, they’ve played several festivals, including CMJ, the Howl Festival, the EST fest and others.
But the real stories of Crazy Mary circa 2008 are new full time members Em Z on lead vocals and especially Walter Steding on fiddle, and the impact they’re making on Crazy Mary’s sound. The Australian native Em Z’s intense and driving vocals have brought a new dimension to the band. And Steding, who has been contributing to the band since 2002, has now become a full time member, bringing the full depth of his talent, experience and pedigree to the band.
Introduced to the band by Blondie founder Chris Stein, Steding was a pioneer of the No-Wave movement in the late 70’s, the leader of the TV Party Orchestra, Glenn O’Brien’s TV-show house band, in addition to recording with luminaries such as Robert Fripp and Jim Carroll. A solo artist in his own right, Steding was managed by Andy Warhol, for whom he worked as a painting assistant from 1980 up until Warhol’s death in 1987. Warhol produced Steding’s solo album, thereby earning Steding the distinction of being one of the two artists Warhol ever produced – the other one being the Velvet Underground.
Steding brings an incredibly emotional style to the band, and his term for the way his style of playing is “hand diatonic glissando,” a way of sliding into the notes on his fretless violin. As he explains, “I use every note in the scale and I hit every vibration – so I can cover the spectrum of both western and world music. I try to play something that you’re familiar with but is also beyond the familiar.”
On Nuclear Lipstick, it’s obvious that Steding’s style fits the band to a ‘T,’ especially in songs like “Americanized,” a self-described anti-war and anti-global imperialism song where Steding’s fiddle runs run the gamut from the melodic to the atonal, reminiscent of John Cale’s viola work in the Velvet Underground. Produced again by Kibel, the album spans the gamut from full out rock to contemplative and dissonant instruments, and it encompasses the humor of “That Same Old Feel Once Again,” Crazy Mary’s take on the classic “I’ve Been Everywhere” road song style of Johnny Cash and the wry observation of the heyday of the era of CBGB’s, the Mudd Club, Max’s Kansas City in “The Last Cool Scene.” And with poet and author Victor Bockris providing liner notes and legendary photographer Marcia Resnick contributing the photography, the band keeps the feeling and possibility of their scene continuing.
The band is eager for people to hear the new directions their music has gone. As Charles Kibel declares, “We want to get the new album to as many people as we can. We’re eager to perform it live. I’m so excited about the band’s new lineup – I feel like the material suits the new personnel the best it ever has.” On Nuclear Lipstick, Crazy Mary has found the right people to play the right songs at the right time, taking the band to a new level, with a spirit reminiscent of the times when art and music create something seminal.