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“The most important thing when I’m creating and performing is connection,” says the musician Mara Simpson. In her new EP, 285 Days Retold, Simpson takes this concept to new heights by inviting four friends and fellow musicians to work with her in reinterpreting songs from her recently released album, 285 Days. The resulting 5 tracks encapsulate the true spirit of collaboration, and mark a new direction for the British singer, “It’s a shift for me as a solo singer-songwriter. I’m now opening up what I do by exploring different collaborations, and using the stories behind the songs to connect with people.”
For Simpson, this move outwards began during the making of her album, 285 Days. The album was created during the 9 months of her pregnancy, and followed the emotions, the extremities of joy and fear, leading up to the birth of her daughter. “It was the first album I’ve made where I felt the meaning of collaboration so strongly. I really understand the meaning of the phrase ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ now – it’s so true,” says Simpson. The shift from an individualist to a collective mindset that came through mother-hood also extended to the way Simpson would engage with her audiences while touring with the album in Germany. In between songs, she would take the time to talk about the tracks’ stories, creating a conversation and bond with her listeners, “I wanted to let the audience into the stories behind the songs so they could make sense and have the opportunity to relate to them.” For her follow-up EP, 285 Days Retold, Simpson took this newfound openness as a story-teller further. Wanting her collaborators to relate to her tracks and the stories behind them, she asked them to “re-tell” these stories through their own prisms, “I like this idea that they are not traditional remixes. Firstly they are done by artists who are also composers, so it’s a different slant,” she says. The EP includes reinterpretations of Simpson’s tracks by Poppy Ackroyd, Alexandra Hamilton, Ellie Mason (Wovoka Gentle), AVA as well as one by Mara herself.
When selecting the collaborators in the EP, Simpson didn’t just go for artists whose work she admired; all four musicians are also close friends of hers. The liberty every artist was given over their track is a testament to the relationship of trust between the musicians, “I chose these people very carefully. I wanted to give them free reign, that’s where you get a person's creative flow,” says Simpson. 285 Days Retold all-female line-up wasn’t intentional, but Simpson is both aware and appreciative of the positive message it sends out. The collaborations are also part of a wider movement of artists supporting artists, and women supporting women. “A lot of the time it's important to discuss the gender injustices and what is wrong in the industry, on the other side, it's really important to be showing our strengths,” says Simpson. “Encouragement has so much power. To promote ourselves is just as powerful as protesting against injustices.”
The transformational process that Simpson has embarked on since her pregnancy, has brought her to where she is today. As a mother, Simpson is more connected to the forces of femininity both within and around her, and proud to bring those centrestage. As an artist, she has become more open to engaging with her audiences through storytelling, and with other artists through collaborations, a position of strength, vulnerability and beauty that defines 285 Days Retold, “That’s the real meaning of music – the connection between people.