It’s ’90s Night at Down By the Riverside, and 10,000 Maniacs is here to kick off the season.
You may know the alt-rockers from hits like “These Are the Days,” “What’s the Matter Here,” or “Because the Night.”
Mary Ramsey, the group’s lead vocalist and violin/viola player, joined the band in the early 90s, and has performed with 10,000 Maniacs for much of the past 25 years.
We caught up with the lifelong musician on the current tour, upcoming show, and more.
You’ve played in Red Wing before, but have you been to Rochester in the past?
We’re looking forward to it! Whenever I hear “Rochester,” I think Rochester, New York because that’s only an hour away from us here. I’ve never been to Rochester, Minnesota, so we’re looking forward to visiting. … We’re right now in Niagara, the lake, near Canada.
How do you put together a set list when you have 25, 35 years of work to pick from?
We certainly know we have to play certain songs - there are some that have to be in the set. Sometimes if we do a festival set, it’s more of a hits kind of thing. But then if we do something in a small theatre, we’ll tailor that a little bit differently. In New Orleans, we were on the bill with ELO (Electric Light Orchestra) and we started out with “Candy Everybody Wants” because that’s a nice one to get people acquainted with the music. And we usually end with the string of hits, like “Hey Jack Kerouac” or “These Are Days.” … We play “More Than This” because that’s part of my history with the band, and “Rainy Day.” Pretty much, those songs are in all the sets that we do.
What has singing and playing with 10,000 Maniacs added to your life?
It’s been a great experience traveling, making music, and having the ability or the opportunity to keep playing in front of a big audience. Sharing the music with people. When I was watching ELO the other day – they have a violinist, since it’s Electric Light Orchestra, and he’s been with the band since 1973. I thought, “Wooooow.” But that kind of music stirs people! They love it, and it’s inspirational.
For me, I remember as a kid, hearing that electric violin and thinking it was kind of unusual. Now it’s not that unusual now, but back in the ’70s … it wasn’t an instrument that was readily identifiable with rock bands. And I have people inspired by seeing me play strings, violin or viola, on stage. And that’s very rewarding and touching.
People come up and say, “My daughter or my son plays,” or “I used to play.” A lot of people say “I used to play…” and I say, “Well, get an instrument and try!” Because if you did it as a kid in school, you probably have the muscle memory even if you didn’t know you had it. And when you’re an adult, as you get older and older, it’s kind of cool to find something like that to express yourself.
What keeps you all going after decades of performing together?
Right now Steve and Dennis, who are probably the oldest members of the group, meaning it was their friendship in high school that got the band started … they now have their sons on tour doing merchandise and crew work. So it’s great for them because they have their family members with them, and they can travel and share experience. But it’s a continuation of the experience of making the music. And to be able to perform…
It’s a really tough business. There are so many great musicians I know, they’ll go out and play, and they’ll have two people in a bar that they’re playing for. I get up on stage and I think, “Wow, this is pretty wonderful in a lot of ways,” and part of that comes out of the legacy of the group. They were at the right place at the right time, with the right talent.
Your last album was 2017’s “Live At the Belly Up,” with another live album, “Playing Favorites,” released the year before. Do you have plans to record any new music or studio albums?
As a band, yes, we are all writing. Incidentally, our equipment got stolen out of our rehearsal space last weekend, and somebody stole the computer with the hard drive – we’d been doing recording on that computer, you know? So fortunately that was recovered – the computer, the hard drive. I was thinking, “Ugh, all that work, we put it on there!” That’s probably the fortuitous part of those guys living in Jamestown – we put the word out, and it’s a small enough town that we were able to recover most of what was stolen. But yes. We are working. … Groups that have music that they are identified with in the past still want to create and see what might come out of it. It’s the mystery of music-making and creative collaboration.