Mara Hruby’s Retro Rhapsody
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because this up-and-coming jazz songstress makes old-school heartbreak sound fresh.
When every genre from indie rock to R&B seems awash in spacey, futuristic soundscapes, Mara Hruby’s lush, golden-era instrumentals and raspy, honeyed vocals offer a refreshing alternative.
The 26-year-old singer may cover songs that existed long before her time, but they fit her just as beautifully as her beloved vintage dresses. Her most recent EP, Archaic Rapture, showcases five jazz standards from the 1930s and ’50s, plus an original that her aunt wrote. Each of the six tracks channels Hruby’s heartbreak — when she discovered that her long-term, now ex-boyfriend had cheated on her with six women. Having belted her way through the heartache, the chanteuse is now working on her debut album, which will feature entirely original material.
I ended up doing songs that made me feel more at peace and comfortable with my own sorrow.
Oakland, California, born and bred, Hruby says she felt drawn to music in the womb. When her mother was pregnant with her, Hruby’s father rested headphones on her abdomen. The two swore that Hruby kicked in time to Billie Holiday and John Coltrane.
Hruby also developed an old-school sensibility from an early age, falling in love with classic films and their timeless fashion sense. “I felt like I could put on an old dress and feel like a powerful woman,” she told OZY. “So I just kept going with it.” Last month, Hruby took to the Oakland Music Festival stage in a flowy black 1940s dress and a wrist full of bracelets. At other performances, she dons her grandmother’s gold Nefertiti necklace.
But for years, Hruby shied away from telling others that she liked to sing — until the summer after high school, while in the car with her best friend and best friend’s brother, she told Billboard . She announced suddenly: “I think I want to try singing.” When they asked Hruby to sing, she obliged, mortified — and left them awestruck.
In 2010, Hruby camped out in her bedroom and taught herself how to record and arrange her own vocals. “It became something that I just absolutely adored,” she says. Toward the end of that year, she released her first EP, From Her Eyes, a feminine, soulful take on songs from her favorite male artists, ranging from D’Angelo to Bob Marley.
But when Hruby learned about her boyfriend’s infidelity two years later, she found solace in searing torch songs. “I ended up doing songs that made me feel more at peace and comfortable with my own sorrow.”
Archaic Rapture ’s tracks often feature Hruby’s feathery vocals finding release as they crescendo into a heartfelt vibrato; it’s music you listen to with a box of Kleenex and the shades drawn as you forget what’s-his-face. Gems include Barbra Streisand’s Coloring Book, a waltz-y, cinematic track whose lyrics speak to the pain of Hruby’s own relationship:
These are the beads I wore until she came between
Color them green.
There’s also her heart-tugging interpretation of Julie London’s torch song, “Cry Me a River” and Frank Sinatra’s stark, lonesome “In the Wee Small Hours.” Somehow, Hruby makes the songs her own — modern, even.
Now, Hruby is at work writing and recording her debut album. “I’m really excited,” she says with a pause. “I’m really nervous. I really want the songs to represent how I feel.”
But she’s more than ready to start penning her own material. “Growing up my whole life, I never felt heard,” Hruby says. “I came to a point where I wanted my story to be heard because I know my own story very well.”
We can’t wait to hear it.