Outlaw country artist Mariel Buckley has roots in Calgary

Home-grown musician writes and plays her own brand of music

Guillermo Barraza | gbarraza@cjournal.ca

There is strong argument that Calgary is the country music capital of Alberta. From rolling foothills to the concrete jungle, country music is what a bulk of the population is raised on and continues to listen to at home and in their cars — even if it’s just at Stampede time.

For 23 year-old Mariel Buckley, country has always been a big part of her life.

Seated under a red and white maple leaf and next to an array of guitars standing neatly on a stand, Mariel talks about her music and what influences her song writing.

With the introduction of pop country performed by artists like Shania Twain and Taylor Swift, Mariel says that country music doesn’t have the same meaning it used to.

Mariel says she is more attracted and inspired by the sub-genre of country music known as outlaw country.  Made famous by artists such as Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson, outlaw country was at its peak in the 60s and 70s. It got its name from the long hair, leather-wearing artists who veered away from the clean-cut look of the country singers at the time.

The brand of music was equal to a movement of rawness and emotion that was infused into their lyrics.

“I like that old stuff,” Mariel says with a smile. “I don’t really like new country at all, new popular country. I’m trying to stay away from maybe that word now because it’s not the same as what it used to be.”

When asked what kind of music she plays, she says it is country, but with the soul of folk and roots engrained. She says she tries branch out from what country music has become and into what she says she believes it is.

“Again, I’m just trying to rediscover those boundaries myself,” she says.

Mariel’s performs at small venues such as the Century Casino in Calgary’s southeast. Saturday nights the Century Casino regularly sets up a stage for local, independent musicians called Songwriters in-the-round.

A modest stage is set up in front of a few tables. Four high stools are set up with matching microphones. A track of stage lights illuminates the talent playing that night, their guitars slung on with leather straps.

As Mariel performs on stage her girlfriend and a gathering of friends in the audience tap their feet to the music.

Powerful lyrics, soulful beginnings   

Mariel has been playing small shows such as this around the city for three years. Since picking up her first guitar at the age of 14, she has had a passion for music apparent in her songs. A battle with addiction and facing depression has inspired her to write powerful lyrics that come from experience beyond her age.   

Girlfriend Sarah Pope, remembers the first time she listened to her play while out for a drink at Wine-Ohs Bistro and Cellar on Stephen Avenue. She remembers hearing Mariel’s voice first and the hush of the crowd as they paused to listen to the music in the small venue.

“It (wasn’t) only her voice,” says Sarah. “It was her playing and her voice and the fact that you could hear that it was experience that she was singing from.

It wasn’t something that she just wrote about because you’re supposed to write about feelings like that. It’s because she’s been through those situation and she’s been through that longing and pain.”

Sarah says that often there is a sense of surprise when Mariel takes the stage and pours her soul out in the open. Sarah says there is a common misconception about women in music, playing this type of music that people approach her after the show and seem astonished.

Women, in the genre of outlaw country, have been under-represented with only a handful of females who considered themselves “outlaws,” and not a single female name being considered in the top 10 best outlaw country artists of all time according to ranker.com.

It’s like ‘wow that was a pretty good song!’ Well, just because I have a vagina, doesn’t mean I can’t write good songs.
— Mariel Buckley

“There’s pressure being a female songwriter,” says Sarah. “A lot of the time there is this preconceived judgement that people have, it’s almost offensive that people get surprised that she’s good at what she’s doing.

It’s like ‘wow that was a pretty good song!’ Well, just because I have a vagina, doesn’t mean I can’t write good songs.”

Another attendee of Mariel’s jam at the Century Casino is Sarah’s father, Stephen Pope.

Stephen says Mariel’s music is something he listens to on a regular basis.

“I like Mariel’s sound, it’s diverse,” says Stephen. “From songs that remind me of smoke-filled honky-tonks to songs that would travel through the trees at a campground fire pit. I have her CD in my truck and listen to it often.”

As her career progresses, Mariel’s lyrics have adapted and she has taken on writing about certain social issues she finds fascinating and at the same time questionable.

One such topic, she says, are the starlight tours in Saskatoon.

Allegations have been made by Saskatoon First Nations that the Saskatoon Police Service has driven inebriated individuals outside of town to walk home.

 “I find that stuff interesting and I think it would be cool to talk about a little bit,” Mariel says.

This song, along with completely original material is to be released on her first full-length album out this summer.