“I have a long history of being told I have no rhythm, and of people saying ‘I’ve heard chickens sing better than that’.” – m2oh
“My Brass Rule: Treat others better than you treat yourself until they screw you, then apologize to them.” – m2oh
M2OH = vocalist, composer, actor and artist
Toronto ON Canada
Mary Margaret O’Hara’s debut album Miss America was released in 1988 by Virgin Records to great critical and popular acclaim in Canada and Europe. Mary Margaret followed up in 1992 with a Christmas EP, and in 2000 she composed and recorded the soundtrack to the feature film Apartment Hunting with Bill Robertson. This disc is largely considered her second solo album, despite protestations to the contrary, and is every inch as beautiful as anything she has released to date.
Mojo Magazine in the UK has listed Mary Margaret as one of the top 100 ‘cult music’ heroes of all time and Miss America as one of the top 100 albums of the 20th Century. Canada’s Chart Magazine recently listed “Miss America” as the 14th best Canadian album of all time. NOW magazine of Toronto named Miss America the #3 album of the last twenty years.
During a 1999 R.E.M. concert in Toronto, Michael Stipe brought Mary Margaret on stage and declared her a ‘national treasure’. Other artists who are said to fans of hers include Radiohead, Dave Matthews and Rickie Lee Jones (to name just a few).
Fans everywhere wait in anticipation for another offering from the reclusive M2OH… but she shows no sign of giving into the pressure to produce, and the often cruel demands of stardom. Ever generous with her time and voice when dealing with others, recording a follow up to her solitary solo album has simply not made it on to her ‘best of list’ to do.
From the All Music Guide:
The sister of comedienne Catherine O’Hara (SCTV, Home Alone, Best In Show, A Mighty Wind), Mary Margaret O’Hara was born in Toronto; after graduating from the Ontario Art College, she joined her first band, the soul-pop outfit Dollars. In 1976, O’Hara signed on with the group Songship — soon renamed the Go Deo Chorus — and began writing much of the group’s material.
She left the band in 1983, but not before recording the demos which subsequently earned her a contract with Virgin Records. After a series of delays and label battles, in 1988 O’Hara finally issued her full-length album, Miss America, which she co-produced with the innovative guitarist Michael Brook. Though Miss America was released to great acclaim, it was her final full-length release for 14 years; during that time only one release, The Christmas EP, appeared under her own name.
Though she avoided releasing much in the way of new original material, O’Hara stayed busy. She worked with a diverse range of artists, contributing vocals to recordings from Morrissey, Gary Lucas, the Henrys, This Mortal Coil, and John & Mary. A few tracks of her own appeared sporadically, including a triptych of songs on the Count Your Blessings Christmas compilation in 1994, one number on 1996’s benefit album Sweet Relief II: The Gravity of the Situation: The Songs of Vic Chestnutt, and a track on the Kurt Weill tribute September Songs. Her continuing ambivalence to her status as critical darling was apparent: of these appearances, there was only one self-penned number.
An occasional actress, she appeared in the films The Hunter (1980), Candy Mountain (1987), and The Events Leading Up to My Death (1992). It was her appearance in the Canadian film Apartment Hunting, however, that finally broke her stalemate with the studio. The film’s score was largely composed and performed by O’Hara, and even if it wasn’t a proper follow-up album, most of her fans around the world were willing to be forgiving after so lengthy a wait.
~ Jason Ankeny & Sean Carruthers, All Music Guide
Interview with M2OH Dec 2008 Guardian UK
Mary Margaret O’Hara’s contributions to the music world have been undeniably massive. Her strikingly original, acceptionally superb vocal and songwriting styles have had a tremendous influence on countless artists who’ve come after her, including Kristen Hersh, Tanya Donelly, Cowboy Junkies, Guided by Voices, This Mortal Coil and Liz Phair to name a few. Interestingly enough, she has only released one full length album, Miss America (1988, Virgin/Kotch) and one ep, Christmas (1996, Kotch) since her emergance in 1984. This is no doubt due partly to her unusually eccentric ways (Andy Partridge once abandoned a production project with O’Hara after but one day due to to his inabilitiy to cope with her unorthodox recording approach). She is an artist who has trouble operating within the music industry norms, strongly dictating her musicians during recording. She also refuses to record anywhere that is not within walking distance from several Catholic churches, as she claims these are her favorite places to “hang out”. Although there are certainly many individuals who would love to work with Mary, there are few individuals Mary feels comfortable working with. No doubt she is most at home on stage, where her soaring, utterly gorgeous voice comes across unbridled amidst her far-reaching repitoire, which reveals strong and knowledgable roots in jazz, reggae, folk and country.
Mary Margaret O’Hara was born in Toronto to a large Catholic family. Her sister, Catherine O’Hara has experienced a successful acting career, most notably for her role in the box office smash “Home Alone”. After graduating from Ontario Art College, Mary began acting and singing with the pop/soul group Dollars, covering songs by the likes of Etta James and Otis Redding. By 1976 she was lead vocalist for rock band Go Deo Chorus, where she developed her unique songwriting and vocal techniques. Audiences were stunned as she would flail neuroticly on stage, ad-libbing songs into a bewilderment of repetitive confusion and then suddenly bring it all down into an acoustic subtlety over which her voice would become awe-inspiringly pure and elegant. She was clearly out of this world.
By 1983 Mary had left the band to pursue solo prospects. She was signed to Virgin on the strength of a Go Deo Chorus demo tape in 1984. She entered the studio that November, with a few members of her old band and XTC’s Andy Partridge at the knobs. Phased by her unorthodoxy, Partridge abandoned the project. Over the next three years, the O’Hara sessions yielded some of the most interesting and fantastic moments in musical history (having a profound impact on the musicians she worked with), yet the tapes remained unmixed and it seemed the project would fizzle.
That all changed in 1987, when innovative guitarist/songwriter Michael Brook caught Mary performing in Toronto with Hugh Marsh. Thrilled by the very thing that had irritated Partridge, Brook took on the role of co-producing what would become Miss America.
The final product emerged at last in 1988 on Virgin. It was brilliant, like nothing else ever before heard, bending all the norms of arrangement and structure. With some of the best and most innovative musicians around participating (including Rusty McCarthy), the record displayed O’Hara’s love for solid, steady rhythms, jazz basslines, innovative instrumentation, slow, sad waltzes, jazz grooves and contrasting jerky, improvisational abstractions. Completely unpreditable, the record was constantly shifting between dusty, country flavoured ballads (“Dear Darling”, “Body in Trouble”), sporatic, demented free-for-all over tight rhythms (“Year in Song”, “My Friends Have”), jazz shuffles resembling old standards (“Keeping You in Mind”) and folkish, melodic pop songs (“To Cry About”, “Anew Day”).
It was one of the most exciting and powerful records of the 1980’s and won O’Hara an instant, captivated audience, convinced of her genius and a deep respect from her fellow musicians. Some of her more famous fans are Michael Stipe, Kristen Hersh, Alex Chilton and Tanita Tikaram and her songs have been covered by Cowboy Junkies and This Mortal Coil. Her live shows continued to stun the average pop fan and thrill enlightened listeners and the demand for a new record was massive. Yet, it became clear as the years rolled by, and nothing new surfaced, that it would be a while before a follow-up record would emerge.
Instead O’Hara has been involved in the work of many like minded artists and has racked up a tremendous guest-appearance discography. She has often served as lead singer to folk rockers The Henrys and contributed a track to The Paul Haines Album (1993). She added backing vocals to Morrisey’s 1990 single “November Spawned a Monster” and John & Mary’s “Clare Scarf” from their 1993 record The Weedkiller’s Daughter. She has also appeared on records by Gary Lucas, S.F. Seals, The Walkabouts, Holly Cole, Meryn Cadell, and Bruce Cockburn among others and she has toured with The Lost Dakotas and Blue Rodeo. She has also made a hobbie in films, namely appearing alongside Tom Waits in Candy Mountain (1986) and composing the soundtrack to The Events Leading Up to My Death (1991).
In 1996 a new record finally did emerge, albeit a short one, the ep Christmas. It appeared not long after Koch re-issued Miss America on the same label, much to the joy of O’Hara’s fanbase. Since then enthusiasts travel far to attend her Canadian shows. Her performances have been called “life-changing”.
Mary Margaret O’Hara remains one of the most respected and powerful figures in recent music history. She may very have garnered more interest on the strength of the least amount of material than any other artist. Rumors still circulate that she is recording a new album, and little could be better for the music world than if they were to turn out true.