Once upon in a quiet town in Switzerland, a brilliant young classical musician had her heart broken. It was May 2020, and Mary Middlefield had been playing the violin for 15 years. She was just about to graduate with honours and everything was good – until she realised that the one person who left her held the key to the next chapter in her life.
Thank You Alexander announces Middlefield as a major new female talent with so much wisdom to share. Heartbreak was the catalyst but it’s only the beginning: across 12 songs, the young songwriter grapples with loneliness, forgiveness, abuse, grooming, growing up and so much more. We’re blessed to live in an era full of female singer-songwriters turning their personal pain into something beautiful, but Middlefield’s voice and vision is more complex than many.
There’s the shimmering elegance of a childhood and adolescence spent in the classical world, until rebellion was the only option. “I’m very much in love with classical music, but I just don’t like the culture anymore,” she says. “I was bullied as a child because of it, and I’d get panic attacks on stage. All it brings is judgement and pressure for you to fail.” Yet it took another setback for Middlefield to have the epiphany that took her from precious concert halls to the pop ranks of her favourite artists, including Mitski, Phoebe Bridgers, and Sufjan Stevens.
Middlefield wears her heart on her sleeve and doesn’t shy away from the musicians she’s learned from. But, like other firm favourites Jeff Buckley and Radiohead, her music shapeshifts: as a crystalline voice welcomes you into the fold on ‘Last Letter’, the goodbye introducing Middlefield to a whole new world ready to love her, gears shift into ‘This One’s For You’, a storming crowdpleaser poking fun at fairytales where guitars swell and you just know there’s no holding back.
It’s testament to her lightning-fast mind that these guitars are so rich – the delicately mournful ‘Mr John’ and ‘Band-Aid’ have the soulfulness that usually takes decades. But then this is the girl who can’t stop writing (there’s already another EP in the works), has read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca five times, and turned one sour situation into a lifelong ambition. Nothing is impossible.
Much of Thank You Alexander is unmistakably personal, as the overtly confessional ‘Two Thousand One’ addresses the singer’s birth year and just how much she regrets of the mistakes others inflicted on her while too young to know better. “It’s very sad to realise you’re being taken advantage of, because you never wanted to look that in the eye,” she says of that song and her experience of grooming. “I write songs to let go of things and put them in the past.”
Her greatest challenge was to let go of the inspiration for ‘Mr John’, and turn it into something she could sing about. “I wrote the lyrics in bed, crying, and I’d cry every time I read it afterwards too.” But in the end, it came together quicker than anything else. “My producer sent me alone into a room to write something. He sang the first sentence of the song to me, and made me continue, and we had it done in 30 minutes. He just triggered me into it.”
Middlefield recorded the album between Switzerland and London, writing demos in her home over there and recording in both Lausanne and Snap Studios in London. She credits her parents with helping her support this career change, but also with having given her the tools to consider any kind of thoughtful life path while she was growing up. “My parents travelled a lot when I was going up, and I would worry when I was 12 or 13 that they would die in a plane crash,” she says. “My mum still puts me to bed crying now – I needed to empty that out as well.”
Still, much of where we find Middlefield today, on the cusp of a reinvention and something of a rise from the ashes, is about her own inner confidence, and comfort. Comfort above all else. The only live performances she’s ever done were in classical halls, and it was the clothing above most things that bother her. So next time you see her perform? It’ll be in sweatpants. “I spent a lot of time in sweatpants when I got dumped, and wrote the whole album in sweatpants. I want that for my shows, the whole band in sweats like a fun pyjama party. It’s comfortable and delivers the message to listen to my music from your bed. Be comfortable.”
Like the girls you know, the ones you were and those you love, Mary Middlefield is one in a million. Hold onto this talent before she flies off to change another world again.