In Conversation with: Mary Shelley

   -Jisoo Choi

Mary Shelley—a New York City punk band consisting of Jackson Dockery (guitar, lead vocals), Charlie Hull (drums), and Sam Pinson (bass, guitar, vocals)—had its first gig on Halloween weekend in 2019. The band has been a trio for almost 20 months, but it was just Jackson and Charlie at the time, testing their newly-minted name in front of a group of middle-aged NYU alumni.

“Jackson and I had gone back and forth on names for a solid two, three months,” recalled Hull. They landed on “Mary Shelley”—the 19th century author of Frankenstein—just before the first show. The name stuck and, in a way, so did the eponymous writer’s gothic spirit.

Following the Halloween gig, Sam—who was at a bar with mutual friends—noticed Jackson’s guitar case and mentioned he played the bass. Jackson invited him to jam and, two months later, Mary Shelley the trio “rocked the house,” according to Pinson. 

Over a year later, the band maintains the teamwork and energy that made its earlier shows so successful. According to Dockery, many of Mary Shelley’s songs originate organically in rehearsal, where “one of us grabs our phone and starts a voice memo, and we just keep rolling with that, trying different things and giving each person’s idea a fair shot.”

With the support of New York Film & Music Foundation, the band has spent the last several weeks shooting a music video for its song “Brother,” which explores the culture of toxic masculinity prevalent in college fraternities. Directed by Tisch graduate Magnus Sundberg and inspired by the 1922 silent horror film Nosferatu, the video is a “haze” of liquid fog and strobe lights against which a frenzied mob of frat brothers turns the band members into vampires. 

This satirical take on fraternity life is not without coincidence: Dockery spent one month in a frat before leaving, and Sam dropped out thirty minutes before rushing. “Brother” arose, Jackson explained, from his first days in the frat, “watching how nervous everybody was, putting on a front out of a fear of being alone.”

The theme of social performativity returns in another Mary Shelley song, “Bourgeoi de Ville” (a pun on “bourgeois” and “joie de vivre”), which comments on the shallow interactions between partygoers: 

I’m a faux intellectual / Pretend bisexual 

...the song begins, in the voice of someone pretending to be more interesting than he is while feigning disgust at others’ identical affectations.

But Mary Shelley’s songs go beyond the personal and the critical; some of them describe the narrative lives of invented characters, for instance in “The Nursing Home Jig” (featuring Laura Galindo): 

Well, I talk a little backwards / But only ‘cause my back hurts / I used to fight the Nazis / Now all I play is Yahtzee 

...Dockery sings as a hunched-over old man in his video performance, which the band submitted to NPR’s Tiny Desk Contest. In it, Mary Shelley transformed the set into a cold, sterile nursing home lobby, accompanied by flickering lights and a nurse in the background filing paperwork. “It was fun to turn that song into its own theater piece,” Sam said, noting that he and Jackson had studied acting—and Charlie, film.

The band looks forward to returning to live performances as the city reopens this summer. 

“The energy you bring to a live show is just enthralling,” Jackson recalled. “We’re sweating buckets, maybe we’re hitting a wrong note, but it’s because Sam is jumping off a balcony.”

“With the bass,” Sam added, with a smile.

Mary Shelley is currently at work on its first album, scheduled for release in August 2021.