[Today, we sit down for an interview with musician Charity Cimarron of Mother Marrow. Here, she discusses the myths and folktales which influence her music; her creative process; and her many fruitful collaborations.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual path? Does it have a name, or is it more eclectic and intuitive?
Charity Cimarron: Definition is so difficult for me, when it comes to spirituality. I do love words (ask anyone who knows me!), but I find that the way I experience the depths and heights of the spiritual world defy definition. I have called myself an animist, which probably describes my worldview most accurately, and my personal practice is definitely more eclectic. I consider myself a witch, since that is the word I feel most familiar with, but I am not trained or have I studied in a particular tradition of witchcraft. I definitely follow a more intuitive self-led path, but draw from the wisdom and experience of traditions and teachers that resonate with me. The natural world has been my greatest teacher in this way. The plants, and animals, and fungus. The stars and heavenly bodies. The winds and the flames. And my dreams and visions. And practices such as ritual, dance, meditation, and breathwork, that help me create liminal spaces where those visions can resonate.
I notice that a lot of modern spiritual practice, especially for white folks in North America, relies heavily on culturally appropriative tendencies. I have been guilty of this myself, and I try to be careful and respectful when I am navigating practices that are adjacent to, or derived from, oppressed peoples, and gravitate to bio-regional sources, and my own ancestral stories (I am Eastern European Jew and Italian, in heritage, and these cultures have a very rich history of ritual that inspires me).
ev0ke: Mother Marrow began as Rusalka. But how did Rusalka get started?
CC: The original project was just me, with occasional guest musicians. I had been writing those songs for years, without a real outlet, and living in a very rural area, at a time when it didn’t really make sense for me to try to put myself out there. I had spent a few year touring with a couple of bands, but I didn’t have that anymore, so I was really able to focus on my own songwriting.
I moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 2012, and started meeting other musicians and seeing opportunities to share the music that had been living in me. I had a dear friend, David Brown (Rising Appalachia), who really encouraged me, and I recorded the Rusalka EP in his shack (because I didn’t have electricity at the time), on my own, during thunderstorm season (you can hear the storms in the background if you listen well).
Soon, I met other musicians who wanted to collaborate with me. Emmalee Hunnicutt (Mountain Bitters, Vinesines, Library of Babel) played cello with me for a few years, and then Quetzal Jordan (Tina & Her Pony). Then I connected with my current band partner, Devin Morgan Crow, then Ryan Oslance (Aleuchatistas, Mistresses, The Dead Tongues, Kishi Bashi) joined on drums for a while, and he really helped us get off the ground. That’s when I felt the need for a name change. It wasn’t just me and my sad girl vibes anymore. It was a full fledged offering.
(The name Rusalka comes from a slavic word for a legendary haunting, female, water spirit. Kind of like a freshwater zombie mermaid.)
ev0ke: Mother Marrow is a folk music band. What do you find so compelling and fulfilling about that genre of music?
CC: Folk as a genre can’t really describe the sound, as much as the source, of the music, since there are endless sub-genres of folk music. Folk, by name, is the music of the people. Not curated to meet popular tastes in order to rise to fame, but music that is a natural outpouring of truly lived experience. That makes it more relevant to grassroots issues, and it often draws more from a life lived in harmony with the natural world.
I’ve always been drawn to the lifeways, music, instruments, and craft of original peoples. The music of pre- (and post) “civilized” people seems to be more deeply connected with the spiritual world. I definitely draw from a well of many folk traditions, and I think that shows through in Mother Marrow’s sound.
ev0ke: How do you go about composing Mother Marrow’s music? Long walks? Meditation? Collections of mythology and faerie tales?
CC: How did you know I love mythology and faerie tales!? Obviously folklore, and archetypal symbols show up a lot in my songwriting, and these are essential elements that live so deeply in me that they are bound to be the bones of my songs. Often, the best songs come through all in one chunk, when I’m in a liminal (between-the-worlds) space of some kind. Either sleepy, late at night, candle-lit musical improv, or intense somatic experiences that I make space to really experience. A regular personal practice of meditation, ritual, and time spent immersed in the natural world definitely increase the chances of a song being born.
ev0ke: Two key elements which run through Mother Marrow’s music are transformation and a love of the natural world, such as in “Lady Heron” and “The Selkie.” If you had to pick one favorite traditional story which combines those elements, what would it be? The Swan Maiden? The Children of Lir? A classic myth from ancient Greece?
CC: You must really have a read up on me! As far as specific fairytales that greatly influenced me, The Children of Lir is definitely the top of my list. Reading Juliet Marillier’s version of The Children of Lir (The Sevenwaters Trilogy) was a transformative experience for me, at a really pivotal time in my life. Sylvia Linsteadt also wrote a really beautiful version of this tale, that I received in letter form years ago, through her project, The Grey Fox Epistles. Her version of this tale was set in the Pacific Northwest during the arrival of the white colonizers, and it is written from the perspective of the animals, and plants indigenous to that place. It’s such a beautiful read.
For anyone interested in diving deeper into these concepts, Clarissa Pinkola Estes (Women Who Run with the Wolves), Sharon Blackie (Foxfire, Wolfskin, and Other Stories of Shapeshifting Women), and Angela Carter (The Bloody Chamber) curate collections that really address transformation and wildness, especially for the female experience.
ev0ke: You have collaborated with other musicians, such as Sun and Moon Dance (Chris Welsh) and Painted Honey. How did those collaborations come about? And are there other artists you would like to work with, given the chance?
CC: I’ve collaborated with a few musical projects (Sun and Moon Dance, Nomadic War Machine, West of Roan…) recently, and guested with others over the years (Tina & Her Pony, Aimee Wilson and Porchfront Factory, Arone Dyer’s Dronechoir…). These collaborations usually come about through friendship and being inspired by each other’s work, and often being introduced by mutual friends. I love the organic and fluid way that musicians find each other…being drawn in by a mutual resonance.
I haven’t really collaborated with Painted Honey, although we have played a show together. I would love to create with them in a deeper way!
The artists whose work I’m feeling really inspired by right now, and would love to collaborate with, all have the common thread of treating musical sharing like a ritual.
If I could shoot for the stars…DakhaBrakha, Alela Diane, Heilung, Myrkyr, Laboratorium Pieśni. I’m also really inspired by Daniel Higgs, and his strange, mystical bardic style. You know…no big deal or anything.
ev0ke: Where can listeners find your music?
CC: Mother Marrow’s new album “Sweat & Splinters” is streaming on all platforms, but if you would like to listen to our music in an ethical way, you can download the album on Bandcamp, or listen on our website.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
CC: My little sister is about to have a baby, and it’s the perfect excuse to work on an idea I’ve had for a long time. I’ve been dreaming about recording a full length lo-fi lullaby album, and I’m starting to put together the pieces now.
Definitely writing songs for a new Mother Marrow album, but not sure when they will be ready for birthing. Chris Welsh (Sun and Moon Dance) and I have been doing some more collaborating recently, but I’m keeping that close to my chest for now.
I’ve also been slowly working towards releasing some new music videos, so keep an eye out on the Mother Marrow YouTube channel.
ev0ke: What conventions, festivals, or other events do you hope to attend in the foreseeable future?
CC: Dang it, Covid! This summer would have been the first big public appearances of Mother Marrow to really promote this new album, but plans have been waylaid, and I’m really just waiting and watching right now. Not really sure how to dream what comes next with festivals and events. I do hope things can become clear for us all soon.
In the meantime, I’m taking advantage of this time to deepen my skills, and fill up the well, so future creative sharings will have a thriving source to draw from when it’s the appropriate time. If anyone reading this has ideas for sweet gatherings and festivals where our music would be truly appreciated, please invite us! We are definitely drawn to indie-folk, socially radical, skills-based, and/or witchy earth centered gatherings of like-minded folks, and looking forward to making new connections.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her published works can be found there.]