When Mary Ocher was 20 years old, she packed her bags and left her home in Tel Aviv for what she hoped would be a more liberal creative life in Berlin. The move worked. On her latest album, the King Khan–produced Eden, Ocher's eccentric musical style lands somewhere between avant-garde art songs and opera.
Now 27, Ocher has settled into a sometimes thrilling sound that can jar the uninitiated. Her bungee-jumping vocal tricks, set against orchestral elements, suggest classical music scores run through a shredder and pieced back together. Ahead of her Wednesday-night show at RecordBar, I called Ocher. Expecting to find evidence of quirkiness, I wasn't disappointed — she answered her phone inside a Reno, Nevada, laundromat.
The Pitch: You have an interesting history. You were born in the Soviet Union, you moved to Tel Aviv when you were 4 and then to Berlin when you were 20. And you seem to have started on your path pretty early.
Ocher: I was 7 when I decided I wanted to be an artist, and I originally thought I wanted to be a visual artist. I think around the age of 11, there was a kid in my class that was better at drawing than me, and I had to find something else that I could be good at. [Laughs.] So I started writing songs.
When I was about 13, I recorded my first song with this producer, and it was just a crappy pop song. I spent the next year trying to find a way to perform. I was terrified. I had horrible stage fright. And I didn't really know how to do it. It took a few years for me to figure out what my thing was, exactly. And I would send stuff to labels constantly, since I was a teenager, and get constantly rejected. But I've just kept doing it.
You definitely don't come off as shy in your music videos or in live performances.
Well, I've been doing it for so long now, and that's where I feel most comfortable: onstage. It's the only time where I don't feel a need to apologize or explain myself because I feel like I can get away with anything when I'm onstage.
Your music does sound unusual, though — not mainstream in the least.
There's very little that I can relate to in mainstream music, if anything at all. I feel like there's a certain safety in what's considered commercially appealing today. For instance, music that is not being released today would have been released in the '60s. But record labels today don't take that many risks anymore, and they're not interested in changing the sound now. They're interested in going with the same option, and that means they follow the same pattern over and over again and try to go with something that has already been discovered and approved.
It makes me really angry because I feel like these people have power. They have the power to make things available, and they can educate people and empower people, but instead they're choosing the easy way out. They're just trying to appeal to the most common denominator. And they're all interested in making as much money as possible, and they're not really aware of their potential.
Sometimes it seems that you're almost daring people, with your music, not to like you.
I think that comes from years and years of rejection. And you kind of grow up thinking that there's no place on Earth where you can be accepted, where you can have friends, where people will appreciate you. And then, at some point, you are grown-up and you realize that there are people that respect you and like you, and you can feel really welcome, and it's still strange.
I really don't take it for granted now. I really appreciate the fact that there are people in the world that sort of understand. And I feel like we all have to stick together because so many people I know have very similar backgrounds. They all have experienced some sort of lack of acceptance. They grew up in small places, and their parents were religious or didn't like the fact that they were gay, or they wanted to make art and not have a normal life. They wanted to become something that everyone told them they would never become. And they just kept trying. And I feel like we should stick together and support each other in that.