By RUSSELL BAILLIE
Normally, New Zealand guitar bands grimace, they grunt, they sweat.
Then there's Mary. They laugh, they smile, they simply perspire. In fact, the Auckland quartet have been known to leave stages, studios and rehearsal spaces smelling better than they found them.
"We get told that about our practice room," says singer-guitarist Dee Taylor. "Whenever we go in after one of the stinky bands, like the D4, it just stinks. It's a horrible, boy, sweaty, euuuuuw smell. People often comment they know when Mary have been in there because there's perfume or nice smells."
The fragrant foursome are, of course, female. An all-women guitar band perhaps shouldn't be a novelty these days, although Taylor accepts it's always going to get them noticed. "I'm kind of bored with it because it's the year 2000 and it shouldn't be that interesting. On the other hand, it's our point of difference, so it does allow us to stand out a little maybe."
And now, after four years of performing, recording a couple of EPs and injecting colour, humour and a pleasant scent or two into the Auckland indie rock scene, Mary have made the great leap forward - a debut album.
Out this week, the exuberant, toe-tapping collection of fuzzy, punky and - in their words - "girly" pop is entitled Maryland. Taylor and bassist Belinda Hainey say the 14 tracks are partly a compendium of the band's life.
The band members for the past three years have been Hainey, Taylor, singer-guitarist Miki Maera and drummer Nadine Rae. The frontline of Taylor and Maera took some furtive steps in an earlier outfit but after various bouts of OE, Mary assembled with a double commitment - make music, have fun doing it.
Taylor: "We didn't intentionally start a girls' band. We were just a bunch of friends who had been big music fans since we were kids. So yeah, we just wanted to get together and do it.
"We were like, 25 when we actually did get our stuff together ... we thought we'd better do it now or never, or it was babies next."
After a disastrous debut gig which sent them back to the practice room for four months, the band soon became live fixtures, playing their fair share of pub gigs, international and domestic supports, orientation tours and festivals. And self-released EPs Golden Halo and Bigger got them radio and video play with sympathetic local broadcasters.
Now it's album time - again released on their own Panty Records label - complete with a DIY promo campaign (yes, they will be playing "Mary" Lambie's Good Morning show) and a national tour just at the time several major labels are releasing their local biggies.
Not that the musical traffic jam worries Hainey: "It's kind of, like, if there's cool stuff happening in the industry it stimulates the whole industry and it's really, really uncompetitive ... "
However, Hainey agrees that, yes, they could take those Zed boys in a fight: "Yeah, they're babies. But we'd have thousands of screaming girls running after us to beat us up. Popular with the girls those guys, eh?"
Taylor does worry about where a guitar-strumming quartet such as Mary fit in the present pop climate: "That is what I've started to wonder. Maybe it's not the greatest timing for us, because what is out there at the moment is, like, all those perfectly formed pop bands - girl singers and dancers, and here's us, all shapes and sizes and completely opposite. We are just doing our own thing. I guess it's alternative but we don't think it's alternative. We think we are quite commercial but that's how we seem to be boxed."
Well, the subjects of the songs, written mostly by Taylor and Maera, seem to be the stuff of classic teenpop: boys, cars ...
Taylor: "Most of our songs are about boys or love gone wrong. Songs are good therapy. My lyrics are obvious and straightforward and Niki's are a bit more cryptic and poetic, but basically they are about the same thing - boys and cars."
Hainey: "There are more serious lyrics in some of our songs but I think the four of us singing them with a big smile makes them come across like, 'Yeah, we're girls and we are singing about girly stuff'." So have any of those boys ever recognised themselves in the songs?
Taylor: "Well, I've had an ex-boyfriend ring up and say, 'Wow, that was a great song on the radio,' and I've gone, 'Oh, cool, that was about you,' and he's freaked out and hung up. Ha ha ha."
Mary's dreams and ambitions are much the same as any group at their stage - more recording and touring (hopefully overseas) and, if they're lucky, give up their day jobs. They'll be leaving these jobs behind for most of next month as they do a 24-date tour of the country. Apparently they're just as pleasant company in the tour van as they are in the practice room.
Hainey: "Anyone who has come anywhere near us on tour has said how different it is from being on tour with boys. We've had a couple of different sound people, and they've said it's so refreshing going on tour with girls. We might get shirty sitting in the car for 10 hours together, but we kind of apologise for it and talk it out, and we express our feelings.
"And we don't smell."
* Mary play at the Kings Arms with Voom and All Torn Up on Saturday, September 2.
More information http://www.zap.to/mary
By RUSSELL BAILLIE