Mariclaire Gamble refuses to be a part of anything unless it possesses some sort of whimsical mist. So, it’s only fitting that each member of her band, MCG, is championed by their own spirit animal. “I’m obsessed with the Red Panda,” claims MCG’s towering front-woman. And like the Red Panda, Gamble had adapted to a solitary lifestyle as a solo musician. It was not until she formed the five member MCG that she evolved into a “compatible creature.”
Prior to MCG, Gamble had grown complacent as a solo artist. She contemplated following her brother, Evan, to L.A. and advancing her music career under his guidance; a moderately safe risk. Another option for Gamble, a bachelor of UT fine arts, was to move to New York and focus on her passion for dance. “I felt like I needed to move to a city like New York to be remade and remolded into a strong professional person.”
Fortunately, this Red Panda remained indigenous to Austin. “Ultimately, I just felt like I needed to stay,” says Gamble. “I wasn’t done with this music scene. So, I decided to take a risk on something locally and formed MCG.”
“I had to be bold because I had only ever done the singer-songwriter thing,” admits MCG’s shy and passive leader. Practicing with a band could become overwhelming. Gamble, who struggles with perfectionism, didn’t always understand what it meant to just jam and play on a theme. To make matters worse, she was the only female in the band and at times felt like “Mrs. Understood.” “I would leave practice crying sometimes. It was so uncomfortable,” she confesses. “I had the feeling of being super stripped-down. It was kind of embarrassing learning to deal in stressful situations.”
But, the guys of MCG fully supported their new leader and helped Gamble adjust to her new social environment. The commitment MCG has shown to one another has paid off and they have become one of Austin’s brightest electro-rock, pop bands. Gamble is the captain, however, she credits her bandmates for MCG’s rapid ascent. “Everyone is super talented and offers the same amount of input,” she states. “The ship wouldn’t run without everyone operating on full cylinders…we wouldn’t be the band that you see playing live.”
MCG has received significant praise for their charismatic live performances and on-stage chemistry. “It’s all about having fun and enjoying the music and breaking that wall down so everyone else can join in,” claims Gamble. MCG has recreated that enthusiastic live sound with their first studio album, a 7” vinyl EP, Outside. The 3-track EP is a showcase for Gamble’s perseverance as well as the band’s dedication to each other. The huge voice and smooth elegance Gamble delivers on Outside tracks “Bombs Away” and “Start Over” provide evidence to why she is quickly becoming one of Austin’s leading ladies in music.
TMI’s Doug Leach sat down with MCG’s Red Panda at Café Medici in Old Austin to discuss her evolution from a solo artist to the front-woman of a dynamic rock band.
DL: Outside has slightly more of a rock feel that the previous album, Compatible Creature. How was the production different for this EP?
MCG: We wanted to bring our live sound into the studio. We didn’t want to lose that during the recording process. I think we did a great job with this EP because it feels like the live show. We recorded with Frenchie Smith at the Bubble and it was our live show that he was most interested in capturing. Other than that, we didn’t really do much different. We just gave some extra flare to what we already had.
DL: MCG has been praised for your stage presence. How do you get prepared mentally for a performance?
MCG: Before I play, I can’t think about talking to people. All I’m focusing on is playing. I’m actually the most comfortable performing. Put me on a stage and I’m fine. But, the minute I finish a show and step off stage I want to run to the bathroom and take a few breaths because I know I have to talk to people. I have nothing left. I gave it all on stage. It helps that some of the guys are there so they can be buffers while I’m trying to recuperate and come off that high and remember how to talk to people again. I think that’s common though. Musicians can be super introverted especially around the time they perform because you have to enter a different headspace.
DL: How has the creative process changed for you now that you lead a band?
MCG: In the past, I would write a song and not quite have a vision of how all of the elements would come into that song. Now, as I write, I’m imagining all of these directions at the same time and how that song would sound live. I’m considering all of the different bandmates and musical breaks instead of just writing like a singer-songwriter where it’s full of lyrics. I’m the only girl in the band. So, it helps to write material I think the guys will enjoy playing live. I even co-wrote one of the songs on the EP with Andrew (Bennett) and lately I prefer that because I want a more collaborative process. I was sick and tired of my own impulses. So, when you can bounce those off of someone else, it opens up a whole new conversation about our sound.
DL: Austin has seen a significant rise in female-fronted rock bands. How do you feel to be a part of that?
MCG: I think it’s healthy competition. It makes me want to dig deep and find what my sound really is. It helps me to push to find the sound I’m really going for. It’s also really good for the Austin music scene in general. There for a while it seemed like Austin was a male dominated music society to a certain extent. But, I think it comes in waves and I’m proud of the female-fronted band environment that Austin has right now. Some of these ladies are really good friends of mine and they provide a kind of support system for one another. Plus, it’s exciting to hear the different kinds of sounds coming out.
DL: Who has most influenced your sound?
MCG: I recorded the first album, Compatible Creature, with my brother three years ago. He’s always been my main influence musically. He’s the reason I first went into the studio. But, there has also been a lot of female musicians who have really influenced me. In the past, I would try to copycat some of their sounds. Maybe I would try to make a piece sound like Joni Mitchell…or write a song like Grace Potter…or “Fiona Apple” a particular song. Something like that. But, you have to realize your own sound and not just your own sound, but also the band’s sound. It’s exciting because we don’t really know what we’re going to end up sounding like. It’s this uncharted landscape. I think this year will be the year we really discover what our sound is.
DL: So, what ultimately kept you in Austin?
MCG: I really had to make a choice. I didn’t quite know if I had what it took to have a band. I don’t see myself as a self-promotional leader who is good at facilitating people. I thought it would be easier to move to New York and try to become a professional dancer or to follow my brother to LA and follow his guidance and be in a band with him. I knew that he would take care of me. But instead, for some reason, I couldn’t leave Austin. I had been here for 8 years and I felt like Austin wasn’t done with me and I wasn’t done with Austin.
DL: Between music and dance, what comes first for you?
MCG: That’s so hard. They have different holds on me. But, as a career path, definitely music. I feel like that’s something that I actually have a chance to take somewhere. I had to make the more realistic decision. I can’t dance as long as I can make music. Your career as a dancer is limited and you have a very small window. Your body can’t do those things as long. So, I realized dance was going to be my outlet that keeps me sane and keeps my mind-body connection healthy. If I don’t have that outlet than I don’t feel as good as a musician. But, they are both important and balance me. I also had to play my cards right. As a dancer, I’m fine. But, I’m not great. I’m a better musician than I am a dancer. As much as I hate to say it, I’ve peaked as a dancer. And I think my skill level as a musician is only going to go up. I’m already having to make sacrifices for music and beginning to feel a rift happening. But, to see something to fruition you have to let go of something else. It doesn’t mean it’s not going to be there. It just changes shape. It’s like a fork in my life and I have to take the better option. But, it’s not always so black and white.
Written by Doug Leach (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Images by Linda Hughes/Fuzebox Photography
Hair and MUA: Ivy Kim-Warner