MINNEAPOLIS — Anytime she’s faced with a fork in the road, Mary Bue seems to be ahead of the curve.
When she grew tired of her Princeton, Minneapolis, hometown, the indie-rocker finished high school early to attend college in Duluth at age 17. When divorce upended her otherwise content life in Duluth, she was already on her way to Minneapolis.
And as the #MeToo movement rippled heavily through the music industry locally and nationally over the past year, Bue had already won an advocate’s award for a song based on a sexual assault she suffered a decade earlier.
“I’d like to think I gave at least some women the strength to open up,” said the newly named best singer/songwriter in City Pages’ Best Of the Twin Cities issue.
And then came the pandemic. Bue, 39, of course did not foresee the world being shut down by COVID-19. But you might think she had a hint, based on her new album, “The World Is Your Lover,” which arrived Friday.
Produced by Suburbs bassist Steve Price — with a cast of local all-star backers including Jeremy Ylvisaker, Molly Maher, Richard Medek and Cloud Cult’s Shannon Frid-Rubin — the ambitious 14-song collection veers between fiery ’90s fuzz-rock, bittersweet melodic pop and intimate, Stevie Nicks-ish gypsy musing. Beneath it all is a lyrical and spiritual base that could be expected from a songwriter who’s also a dedicated poet, meditator, yoga instructor, world traveler and all-out mystic.
“The World Is Your Lover” is such a step up musically, it almost seems as if Bue knew it would be her sole focus once it finally came out (April was the original target date).
“All of my work got shut down by the virus: yoga retreats, yoga classes, music lessons, music gigs,” she said with a wince over a picnic table near Lake Nokomis, where she has jogged and/or biked daily since the shutdown began (and has the tan to prove it over her flowery, tattoo-covered arms).
Headed back to Duluth to promote the album with a livestream concert from Sacred Heart Music Center on Saturday night, she added, “I had to put this record out for myself, if no one else.”
“The World Is Your Lover” definitely serves the rest of us, too.
Songs like the serenely heartbreaking “Hawaii” and the anti-self-pity rouser “It’s a Competition” — a duet with Adam Levy (Honeydogs, Turn Turn Turn) — sound intent on soothing and inspiring us while we’re all trapped inside our own socially distanced bubbles and minds.
“None of us here are getting out alive/ If we’re all going to die, just let me live,” Bue sings all too prophetically in one of the album’s darker gems, “All the Things.”
In the more wistful, tantric-inspired title track, she muses: “You took a break/ You searched your soul/ And now the world’s your lover/ What you’re trying to get away with you gotta follow, follow/ Your bliss that’s what that is.”
FROM TAOS TO RISHIKESH
A lot of the songs grew out of lessons Bue said she learned by following her own urges outside her comfort zone.
Not long after leaving Duluth in 2016, she took a leap of faith and opened her own yoga hub, Imbue Studio, in south Minneapolis. She also jumped at the opportunity to exile to Taos, New Mexico, for three months via an artists fellowship funded by the Wurlitzer Foundation, where several of the new LP’s songs originated.
“To have all that open, free space without a lot hanging over my head, I wish it for everyone,” she said of Taos. “All that freedom and rest allowed for a deeper creative process.”
When she closed her yoga studio in 2018, Bue had already booked her first of two lengthy yoga retreats to India and Bali: “There’s just so much to learn there, so much beauty and so much sadness,” she said, singling out a nada (sound-related) yoga training session she took in India near where the Beatles had their famous meditation retreat in 1968.
“I became so disciplined; it’s what’s most kept me healthy through this pandemic.”
She was on the second such retreat in March and had to high-tail it home to Minneapolis before everything was shut down.
“I went through the airport in Osaka (Japan), and it was completely empty,” she recounted.
Bue’s fellow musician-turned-yoga-instructor and international traveler, Molly Maher, said she hears all those soul-seeking experiences in her music.
“She’s constantly exploring the human condition through the metaphysical experience,” said Maher, who’s an auxiliary member of Bue’s live band. “But then she’s also able to articulate all that through her masterful musicianship.”
Trained on multiple instruments — now including sitar — Bue played piano Tori Amos-style on her first few albums (“the songs were a little long-winded,” she quipped). She pivoted to guitar with 2015’s rockier album “Holy Bones” and the subsequent EP “The Majesty of Beasts,” the latter of which contained the song about sexual assault’s lingering damage, “Petty Misdemeanor.”
One of Bue’s mentors in Duluth, Low frontman Alan Sparhawk, called her new album “a triumph not only as a reflection and victory over adversity, but as architecture for healing and change.”
“I don’t let myself be lifted by just anyone, but I can trust Mary,” added Sparhawk, who guests on another standout track on “TWIYL,” a haunting cover of Tom Petty’s 1981 slow-steamer “Insider.”
Bue said they originally tried to record the song in separate cities and piece it together, but it didn’t work out.
“He kept trying to sing over my harmony, and finally he asked, ‘Can we just do it live?’?” she recalled. “So we sat at the piano for two hours doing it over and over. It was really special.”
In the end, that cover song epitomizes the new album on the whole, with its messages about being in the moment and appreciating the things in front of you — yes, even (or especially) in the pandemic.
“It’s not just about traveling and seeing the world, it’s about learning from everyday experiences and being intimate with the world in front of you from day to day,” Bue said.
“Everything is sacred, the good and bad. It’s all part of this existence. So try to enjoy it — even the bad.”
©2020 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)