Mary Boys Band burst onto the Bulgarian music scene in early 1994 as a trio, captivating Sofia’s nightclub audiences. That same year, they won the Bulgarian National Television’s competition for young performers, “Hit Minus One,” earning the opportunity to record their first original song, “Where the Wind Escaped.” In January 1995, a bassist and drummer joined the ensemble, and Mary Boys Band’s official birth date was marked – January 28, 1995. By the end of that year, they recorded two more original songs commissioned by the Bulgarian National Radio – “Attempt to Fly” and the first version of “…to Outrun the Birds.” Their rapid rise to popularity culminated in 1996 when the band won the Art Rock Centre’s “Band of the Year” award.
In 1997, German producers invited Mary Boys Band to record classic rock songs by iconic bands like Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin, accompanied by a double symphony orchestra lineup. The band continued to captivate audiences with live performances in clubs and concerts throughout Bulgaria while making numerous television appearances. In 2001, they released their first original album, “Unknown Streets,” featuring ten songs recorded between 1999 and 2001. The album’s eponymous hit track dominated the Bulgarian Top 100 for over 100 weeks, spending 50 weeks in the top ten. This ground-breaking success led to their nomination in five categories at the 2002 BG Radio awards: BG debut, BG album, BG song, BG lyrics, and for their cover version of the song “Autumn.” In June 2002, Mary Boys Band won first place in a live music festival as part of the international television festival in Albena. Today, the band continues to delight fans with their albums, concerts, and collaborations featuring various guest musicians.
Antoniy Dimov speaks with Maria Mutafchieva – Mary, the lead and frontwoman of the band.
Two contemporary Bulgarian songs hold particular resonance as summer wanes and autumn approaches. In one, you sing with Mary Boys Band, “Summer is leaving, autumn is coming.” In the other, by Mitko Taralezhkov, the refrain goes, “Summer is only a breath away; it smells like roasted peppers.” How did it happen that both are associated with [the city of] Burgas?
Burgas is a city infused with poetry, romanticism, and profound reflections. Perhaps you were unaware that the city’s most emblematic figures are the Burgas loafers – the local bohemians. They seem to know and understand everything, possessing wisdom and insight. It’s no coincidence that a monument to Petyo Pandira was erected near the city’s iconic bridge. Burgas transforms when autumn arrives, bidding farewell to its carefree demeanor like any seaside city. This observation led me to a conclusion long ago: “There is nothing sadder than a seaside city in winter.” Coastal inhabitants are accustomed to witnessing and marveling at the changing seasons while gazing at the sea. Besides the sea, each shift is experienced more intensely, engaging all the senses. The scent of roasted peppers signifies the end of summer, just as I once left my hometown in September to attend Sofia University, far from home. I returned every summer, and every autumn, I departed once more… I watched Burgas change, but I changed too – seeking my identity and a place in the sun… “Summer is leaving, autumn is coming,” or “Unknown Streets,” as it’s also known, is an autobiographical song about a girl from Burgas.
What does summer represent for you, and what does autumn bring?
“Summer is here, and life is easy”… That song appears to capture the essence, doesn’t it? Summer embodies timelessness, carefreeness, and leisure… The season evokes a feeling of boundlessness. On the other hand, Autumn strips away the “no” from words, reintroducing the awareness of an end. Summer allows you to soar; autumn grounds you. Summer grants you a life without a clock; autumn fastens one to your wrist. In summer, you dream and fantasize… Autumn halts you, offering you a chance to begin realizing your dreams. In summer, you’re a soul; autumn forces you back to your human body… The external cold seems to help you preserve yourself until next summer. Then, you will once again dream dreams that you’ll start to actualize come autumn.
Successful musicians often have bands, solo performances, and duets in their biographies; you are no exception. In what order did they line up in your life?
Precisely in the order you list them. However, success is a relative concept and a strictly subjective measure. I’m sure many people in Bulgaria still haven’t heard of me. I don’t emanate from all spaces on the airwaves and information channels. I have the privilege of being listened to, my songs being studied in school and performed hundreds of times every night, but people en masse don’t know whose they are and what I look like. I follow my path, have my searches, and understand how to continue. My only problem is that I am incredibly indecisive and think long about each step. Many ideas come to my mind, which I do not implement or unnecessarily delay in time. But I don’t do everything at any cost.
What do you mainly rely on to reach people – YouTube and Spotify channels, a band website, album sales, or live concerts?
We rely on everything. Nowadays, people want easy access to music, and we provide it through all digital platforms for online music distribution. Our songs and albums can be found everywhere. Most of our singles have music videos that are also easily accessible online. We’ve uploaded several Merry Boys Band concerts as well. The sale of physical copies is increasingly taking place in non-traditional locations. It sometimes requires a lot of traveling, so in recent years, everyone has had the opportunity to get our albums at our concerts or order them and receive them by courier.
Who are your favorite rock and pop performers worldwide, as well as in Bulgaria?
I’ve always been drawn to bands, as performing and singing in a group offers a unique dynamic. I’ve gone through various musical phases over the years, starting with bands like Europe, Twisted Sister, W.A.S.P., Accept, Metallica, Halloween, and Manowar. My enduring favorites include Halloween and Manowar, whose “colossal” frontmen captivate me to this day; thus, I still attend their concerts with youthful enthusiasm. My musical preferences have also covered Dire Straits, Gary Moore, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Vaya Con Dios, and Red Hot Chili Peppers, during which I would intensely listen to and memorize their sounds.
Of course, I’ve always listened to Bulgarian music, supporting and appreciating its unique beauty. I began actively seeking out Bulgarian music during a school trip and have since performed songs by Shturtsite, Tangra, Signal, and Diana Express. In the ’90s, Merry Boys Band mostly played covers of foreign artists, but we eventually transitioned to creating our original music. Our first album, “Unknown Streets,” released in 2001, even included an official cover version of the beloved “Autumn” by Mitko Shterev and Stefan Bankov.
This year there has been much debate about whether quotas should exist for Bulgarian music. On the one hand, there is the argument that good music will be preferred without quotas; on the other hand, there is the understanding that it is normal for Bulgarian media to support Bulgarian music. What is your opinion?
I believe that such quotas should exist in Bulgarian media to prevent our music from disappearing. Otherwise, both our music and Bulgaria itself may vanish. I am advocating for a broad representation of Bulgarian music, including independent creators dedicated to their craft in music, literature, and songwriting. With a quota system, we would hear more valuable Bulgarian songs alongside the one-hit wonders. Beautiful Bulgarian songs can uplift our mood, self-esteem, and creative aspirations. To preserve our “sweet, enchanting native speech,” we must continue to play and listen to songs in Bulgarian, which can remind us in just three minutes where we are, who we are, and what we are like.
How has Bulgarian music changed since the release of “Mary Boys Band’s” first album in 2001 until today?
You are asking questions that could each be a topic for a thesis! The transformation in Bulgarian music since the release of “Mary Boys Band’s” first album in 2001 has been significant, reflecting the broader changes that have taken place globally over the past two decades. When the Twin Towers fell in 2001, I felt the world was ending, and this sense of doom has increasingly pervaded global art, including Bulgarian music. When Merry Boys Band initially shared their original music with a broader audience, at least 10 exceptional new Bulgarian bands emerged alongside us, each striving to produce outstanding songs. Today, only five of these bands remain. Though occasionally, new fantastic bands with impressive English songs make a breakthrough on the airwaves, we failed to inspire young musicians to think in Bulgarian and about Bulgaria. Unfortunately, Bulgarian music and culture are not widely circulated or appreciated. To preserve our nation’s existence, this must change. While I could delve deeper into this subject, even biblical wisdom says, “No one is a prophet in their own country.”
Besides being a music author, you are also a poet. What does writing lyrical texts bring you?
I don’t know if writing is an act of vanity, a form of catharsis, or the materialization of captured universal vibrations; writing likely encompasses all these aspects. I don’t write often, but I continuously mull over hundreds of phrases and insights. Eventually, like puzzle pieces, they assemble themselves into a specific form, frequently accompanied by a melody. In this sense, writing provides me with relief and satisfaction, as it allows me to give shape to my ideas.
An abridged version, translated into English from the original 2020 interview published in the Bulgarian edition of Argent’s website.
Link to “Mery Boys Band’s” hits: YOUTUBE.