Mary and the Giant
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Mary and the Giant

Columbia, Missouri, United States | SELF

Columbia, Missouri, United States | SELF
Band Folk Pop


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"Album Review: We Tend To Grow Older"

Weeknight karaoke is a classic example of alcohol-induced vocal ambition. It took no liquid courage for local band Mary & The Giant to release their second album on Christmas Day, eight tracks entitled “We Tend To Grow Older.” The group consists of Jason Koch, guitar; John Marino, bass; Michael Schembre, violin; and Zac Fiddes, vocals.

Mixing diverse sounds from indie rock and folk, Mary & The Giant added drums to their second effort. Percussion remains a subtle accent throughout the album, allowing the core sounds to shine. Hand clapping and group chorus lines accompany several songs, rounding out the quartet's experiments with a diverse musical menu.
Toe-tapping starts this record, with a track named Molasses, one of the best on the album. “This music is the truth, go on and let it be your eyes,” Fiddes sings on the upbeat opener. Other notable songs include the title track and Crawdads.
Memorable lyrics are easier to find in this album when compared to the band's first release in January 2010, “Music for a Nervous Breakdown.” The overall package of sounds find a better blend on this album, and the harmony is smoother. The instruments sometimes overwhelmed the lyrics on the first album.
As for inspiration, Mary & The Giant taps into the muse that has inspired writers from Shakespeare to Neruda to McCartney: love. Found love or lost love or struggle through love. At times the generic tone of attachment wears thin — no specific names or attributes accompany the songs. General love lends the album cohesion, but a further range of topics should be on the band's schedule for improvements in their next offering.
“We Tend To Grow Older” is appropriately named. The album exhibits the growth of a band still fighting to realize the immense musical potential the four guys posses. It's a solid album that gives the band a firm stepping stone while leaving room for improvement.
Vox Rating: V V V V - Vox Magazine

"Columbia indie-folk band's latest effort proves potent."

Album titles can be minefields. Best case, they’re provocative, clever, memorable or perfectly capture the tone and tones therein. In the most disastrous instances, they confuse listeners by setting a mood that fails to match the music, frustrate critics by relying on groan-inducing turns of phrase or distract from the quality of the songs, as in the 90-word title that marred Fiona Apple’s brilliant 1999 release, “When the Pawn …”

Few titles fit the art they accompany better than “We Tend to Grow Older,” the name of the second EP by local act Mary and the Giant. Released last January, the band’s debut, “Music for a Nervous Breakdown,” rang with potential as it set pop hooks against acoustic, rootsy backdrops, suggesting a range of acts from Nickel Creek to Rascal Flatts. Its unique arrangements — augmented by Michael Schembre’s violin riffing and anchored in intricate rhythmic interplay albeit without a drummer — were at times overshadowed by musical immaturity, as when the band would try to cram scores of notes in a small space or let frontman Zac Fiddes’ potent vocals dominate the mix.

Fortunately, the quartet has shown it indeed has embraced the wisdom and development that comes with time. More mature elements abound on this sophomore effort — an organ swell here, a lot more percussion everywhere. Introducing these aspects and growing as songwriters, the band has set itself up to accomplish no small feat, making the grown-up sounds and subjects of roots music palatable to a generation raised on the boyish bravado of Fall Out Boy, naked sentiment of Dashboard Confessional and melodic warm blanket of The Fray.

The record kicks into gear with “Molasses,” a pop-country charmer that establishes the band’s proclivity for rhythmic push-and-pull. One gets the impression that while other bands sit at home practicing rock-star poses or trying to create enough volume to fill up their parents’ garage, Mary and the Giant spends time tightening its sound, reveling in writing interesting rhythmic breaks like the middle infielder who takes as much pride in turning a double play as hitting a home run. A quasi-Celtic breakdown in the song’s middle manages to suggest Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ one-hit wonder “Come On Eileen” and a manic take on Tom Waits’ “Waltzing Matilda” all at once.

Next up, “Excuse Me Miss” allows Schembre to show his range. He initially delivers haunting, almost elegiac passages over Jason Koch’s warm guitar tones, then the two team up to go off like a couple Roman candles as the song builds to its climatic close. Koch proves a dynamic player throughout, shining on “Ordinary People,” a cut that also features Fiddes gamely delivering the album’s most fluid, winsome melody. Although still commanding attention, his vocals are more seamless here, and he exhibits definite growth as the de facto leader of the band.

“Freeze” is the record’s most complete arrangement, opening on a rock progression before hitting its stride and sounding as if the band has broken into the Old Crow, both the bourbon and records by Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show. “Freeze” deftly weaves between rock licks, bluegrass tropes and ambient brushstrokes expressed in Schembre’s most otherworldly playing style, at times evoking wind whistling through a threadbare shelter.

Mary and the Giant is at its best when taking an all-cylinder approach; the band can still be overly aggressive at times and could benefit from applying more subtle touches. Time should help as the band shows it can exhibit patience on the closing title cut, as weary a road warrior’s ballad as many rock lifers have written. Fiddes tenderly bares mixed emotions, singing, “I’m not sure when I knew that I was born to sing for you / Best laid plans — they can’t ever cover up the truth. … Please don’t think I forget everything that makes me who I am. … Everything is as it should be / I’m just freaking out.” Mary and the Giant hasn’t quite caught up to the depth of experience expressed here, but this new effort is a step toward growing older together on the road for years to come. - The Columbia Daily Tribune

"Mary and the Giant release EP, play Blue Fugue tonight"

In music critic speak, the word “accessible” is often code for lowest common denominator, selling out, a nice way to say an artist has taken the easy road or appeals to our most fundamental aural instincts. Such undesirable definitions need not apply in applying the term to Mary and the Giant. On their first EP, the local four-piece have created music that is listener-friendly but never sacrifices freshness or integrity at the altar of widespread acceptance. The band’s combination of the accessible and the atypical will be on display tonight as they release their debut, “Music for a Nervous Breakdown,” with a set at The Blue Fugue.

Mary and the Giant are unabashedly rooted in several musical contexts; their Web site states an intention to blend “the story telling of folk, the hooks of pop, and the energy of rock” in pursuing a distinctly personal creative pathway. The band’s almost exclusively acoustic focus and the prominence of Michael Schembre’s violin work—off and on trading lead instrument status with Jason Koch’s fingerpicked guitar riffs—make acts like Nickel Creek, or the solo work of its principal Chris Thile, an immediate touchstone.

Nickel Creek comparisons make even more sense considering the band exists without a drummer; some auxiliary percussion does creep in from time to time. At times, this reality gives the songs a more fluid, laid-back vibe; rhythmic cohesion and innovation is, however, a hallmark of the record, causing the band to anchor itself in Koch’s dynamic playing and the active yet understated bass playing of John Marino.

Pop elements are introduced most frequently in frontman Zac Fiddes’ delivery of candid, confessional lyrics—tomes on “clenched fist realities,” “front seat sensuality” and a tendency to “choke on the intricacies” of life. He brings a definite sincerity and distinct pop sensibility to the sound, sometimes steering rootsier tracks in a direction more reminiscent of radio-friendly acts like Jason Mraz, Brett Dennen or even a more interesting Rascal Flatts.

Arguably, the album’s standout moments are “Beg Me Please” and the aptly-named opening track “Summary of a Beginning.” The former is one of the album’s most interesting tracks both rhythmically and in its production value. Sounding radio-ready from its first measures, the track starts with sweetly chugging strains that give it a sense of forward motion; it ends a full-on stomp, complete with handclaps and feet pounding the floor. The latter builds aggressively from a gentle foundation of acoustic guitar and makes effective use of shifts in rhythm, mood and dynamics; Schembre’s gliding riffs and a fleeting but fun use of gang vocals give the track added personality.

Even the disc’s most conventional songs—“It Must Be the High Life,” for example—contain an unexpected tweak or twist; what initially seems a relatively normal ballad, complete with lyrics about hand-holding, makes time for a carefree instrumental section and layered chorus harmonies during a subsequent breakdown. The record’s six tracks do reveal some space for growth—occasionally, the band tries to do a bit too much at once or work a few too many notes into a gap that could be used for breathing room; additionally, while Fiddes’ hooks hold tremendous appeal, his strong vocal presence can occasionally overshadow some of the album’s subtler moments.

If I had stars to give, I’d assign the EP three-and-a-half. “Music for a Nervous Breakdown” is a great first glimpse at a band that seem to be doing things the right way, expressing every thought and playing every note as a true collective. If they continue to refine their style, sharpen their sound and realize their potential, it won’t take long for Mary and the Giant to loom large on the local music scene. Doors open tonight at 8 and the show will feature Lunar Mansion and The Hooten Hallers. For more info, visit The Blue Fugue’s Web site.

- Aarik Danielsen
- The Columbia Daily Tribune

"Local Band Mary & the Giant Choose Music Over Education"

DECEMBER 9, 2010 | 12:00 A.M. CST
Tradition says to graduate high school, to graduate college, to find a job. Members of the local band Mary and The Giant find it worthwhile to stray from the normal path in life. All four guys attended MU. All four dropped out.
Blending indie rock, folk, bluegrass and pop, Mary and The Giant sounds like Mumford & Sons without the British tones or the Benjy Davis Project without the Cajun tilt. The group possesses a range of musical sounds with lyrics that are equally sweet and sour and lend the band room for surprises.
Take the song “It Must be the High Life,” with the opening lines: “Maybe I’m mistaken, it’s not the cold that has you shakin’/Scared like me, aren’t you?” Violin strings add complexity to the acoustic rock track then later slide into the laidback chords born of a country mindset. Mary and The Giant plays musical combinations that mesh as well as the group’s four personalities; an obvious chemistry exists.
The band started as a trio in 2009. High school buddies John Marino on electric bass and Jason Koch on acoustic guitar teamed with vocalist Zac Fiddes when the three of them lived in Stafford Hall at MU. When they decided to leave school, their parents weren’t thrilled. After all, schooling typically leads to salaries, and trying to make it in the music industry is not as secure.
By summertime last year, reality hit when the guys struggled financially. Koch was working at Cracker Barrel with Michael Schembre, a violinist since age 5. A candlelit jam session in August 2009 –– the trio had its electricity shut off because of unpaid bills –– gave the band encouragment.
“Nothing hit me in the face like that first night when Mike played,” Fiddes says. Schembre was the band’s missing piece.
With his parents’ blessing, Schembre left MU in the middle of his junior year. “Once I heard the potential we had, I didn’t feel like I needed a plan B,” Schembre says.
January 2010 marked the band’s first release, an EP titled Music for a Nervous Breakdown, and Schembre recalls seeing the support grow from his band mates’ families. Even Fiddes’ dad relented. “He’s on my side, and that’s meant the world,” Fiddes says.
Success was slow to come but has grown since the beginning. “We started playing for nobody for a very long time,” Marino says. Mary and The Giant toured the Midwest last summer but spent much of the year playing with other local artists and haunting open mic nights where the band experimented with beatboxing and rap. “It definitely allows you to stretch your legs musically,” Koch says.
Marino’s bass is melodic while Schembre’s violin adds groove. Koch and Fiddes handle most of the principal songwriting duties. Now the quartet is finishing a second EP, We Tend to Grow Older, which showcases its maturity and will be ready for digital release on Christmas.
School is always a fallback, but the band members all agree it’s a last resort. Jobs pay the bills while music gives the band freedom.
“The chance to walk that different road, it’s quite the blessing,” Fiddes says. “There’s so much gray in life, and music is something that is recession-, depression-, stagnation-proof.” - Vox Magazine

"MATG on"

Mary and the Giant (MATG) are an acoustic quartet from Columbia, MO. Music for a Nervous Breakdown, a six-song EP, is their debut album. Self-described as "colonial pop," the group does not employ a rhythm section and instead relies on the contributions of electric bassist John Marino and violinist Michael Schembre.

How is it?
Promising, but that's it. While the band probably wants to highlight Schembre's inspired violin playing, the real crown jewel is vocalist Zac Fiddes. His impassioned vocals and full-throated crooning is a true treasure and definitely something to behold. But even the most gifted of vocalists cannot save a band from damnation. While the quartet is far from damnation there are an array of holes still to fill before the next offering. Album opener "Summary of a Beginning" features plaintive acoustic guitar, mournful violin and the confession "Why do you hide from your insecurities?" While the group is definitely trying to display pop harmonics, they unfortunately let the violin take the foreground and the end result is an awkward mess. Fiddes' vocals are drowned out and the exercise just comes across as green. While their intentions are definitely noble, one has to think the band is probably better in a live setting. It doesn't help that the song
is a minute longer than it really needs to be.

On second track "I'm No Different" MATG packs an emotional wallop, admitting "I loved you more when we were starting out." There's more of a country strut in the exuection and the entire thing feels far more confident. Anchored by a hip-shaking chorus and Fiddes' crystalline vocals, "I'm No Different," is probably the EP's best song. Its successor "Beg Me Please," is another pop song with ample amounts of swagger and conviction and it's apparent that Fiddes and his bandmates do know their way around a song. Once again though the violin takes the forefront and leaves the verses limp and underutilized. Even an inspired Celtic fiddle outro can't save the song from coming across as awkward and clumsy.

Fourth song "It Must Be The High Life," opens with just an acoustic and vocals and for once Mary and the Giant have put their best foot forward. Sadly that ends shortly after the 40-second mark when the violin reappears and the song moves into the same landscape as its three predecessors. While it is certainly commendable to utilize fiddler Michael Schembre's talent, there is no shame in going without said instrument for one song. The hallmark of a lasting band is diversity and choosing to employ the violin once again fails to reach these goals. By the time fifth track "Texas Lexus," rolls around the listener is left weary and possessing complete violin fatigue. This is most unfortunate because album closer "Happy For You," is a wrenching and emotional rollercoaster that soars, dips and swells with anger, anxiety and hope. In essence, it's everything the band should capitalize on going forward.

However, before the band goes forward, one has to wonder, how commercially viable is a violin? Is the band going to rest its laurels on Schembre's inspired fiddling? The truth of the matter is Fiddes is the band's ticket to paradise and until he takes complete control of the band's output, they aren't going to leave the Show Me State. This is all the more important because Fiddes (or whoever it is that writes the songs) have written some insightful and ruminative expositions about love, loss and how to cope. These aren't trite, banal or derivative compositions. These are definitely songs that need to be heard. In addition to these decisions, one has to think the use of pianos, mandolins or an accordion might helped these songs stand out. While chaking it up to youth is probably excusable this time around, the same can't be said for album number two.

Track Listing1. Summary of a Beginning
2. I'm No Different
3. Beg Me Please
4. It Must Be the High Life
5. Texas Lexus
6. Happy For You

Recmmended If You Like Cast Iron Filter, Gabriel the Marine unplugged, Brad Arnold with a violin, Rob Thomas jamming with Boyd Tinsley

Mary the Giant isJason Koch - Acoustic Guitar
John Marino - Electric Bass
Zac Fiddes - Vocals
Michael Schembre - Violin

Find Them HereMyspace
YouTube -

"Album Review: Mary and the Giant — Music for a Nervous Breakdown"

From the outset of Columbia folk quartet Mary and the Giant’s Music for a Nervous Breakdown, the band lets the listener know one thing: These musicians are not amateurs. Violinist Michael Schembre’s performance would leave the devil down in Georgia in a sweat. Exhibiting Olympian-caliber stamina, Schembre shows jaw-dropping talent throughout the entirety of the band’s 25-minute EP. The rapport between violin and guitar feels less like notes on a scale and more like a dance on a stage. Both complement each other and give the band a more whimsical sound.
At times, the vocals mirror punk-turned-folk acts such as Jeff Ott or Chuck Ragan while other parts reflect musical heartthrobs such as Ray LaMontagne or Mason Jennings. The vocals provide a solid backbone for this ensemble but do not scream originality. Despite using creative imagery, Mary and the Giant rarely ventures from the topic of bad relationships. Although relationships are a major source of nervousness, a more appropriate title for this album would be Music for a Nervous Breakup.
Beyond the mundane lyrics lies the band’s greatest conundrum: percussion. Mary and the Giant keeps your toes tapping, but just a simple backing beat could give the album a more complete feel. Without drums keeping the listener afloat, it’s easy to drown in violin dizziness.
Mary and the Giant is taking the right steps toward becoming a Columbia favorite. Regardless of the need for some technical tweaking, any local music enthusiast can find something to enjoy from this folk quartet.
Rating: VVV – Borrow a friend’s copy.

- Darren Orf
- Vox Magazine

"Americana With A Twist"

Americana With A Twist

Mary And The Giant Put Fresh Energy Into Classic Genres

By Jonathan W. Crowell
Photos By L.G. Patterson

Nearly a year and a half ago, the Columbia-based acoustic act Mary and the Giant emerged from its previous life. Jason Koch (acoustic guitar), John Marino (bass guitar) and front man Zac Fiddes (vocals) had spent well over a year writing music, recording and performing in a local indie rock group known as The Corrington Year. That line-up included drummer Matt Kesselheim and when Kesselheim left the band in early 2009, the three remaining members decided to regroup and move forward without a drummer.

Since then, the group has enhanced its recording credits, expanded its touring radius and fan base, and added bluegrass-trained violinist Michael Schembre to the mix to focus on a unique sound they call “colonial pop.” The band is looking forward to summer and autumn tour dates, to returning to the recording studio in August, and to whatever lies beyond.
Early Days
The acoustic roots for Mary and the Giant’s sound goes back to 2007, when Koch, Marino and Fiddes were freshmen at the University of Missouri.
“John, Matt [Kesselheim] and I used to go sit outside the dorms and we got into the habit of writing acoustic material just for fun,” Koch says. “It was a solid start, and that’s how we met up with Zac — from there things really started to take shape.”

After Kesselheim’s departure, the three remaining members liked the idea of sticking to their acoustic foundation and eliminating the drums from their sound altogether. Last year, during a spring evening of rehearsing and kicking around possible band names, they settled on Mary and the Giant, the title of one of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick’s novels.
Soon after, the newly reorganized group headed to The Gallery of Carpet Studios in Chicago to record a four-track demo called “The Company You Keep,” and went on a brief tour of some Midwestern cities before returning to Columbia.

Amid juggling their day jobs, and rehearsing and performing whenever possible, the trio maintained an impressive focus on the music. One night last August, Koch invited Schembre, one of his co-workers, to rehearsal; the ambient level Schembre’s violin added was perfect.

“It sounded like we’d found a missing puzzle piece,” Koch recalls. “Michael’s addition to the group gave us an added confidence to continue growing ‘into our own.’ ”
Colonial Pop
What exactly is colonial pop?
“Colonial pop is a really pure Americana sound,” Koch says. “Our musical influence draws from a wide array of genres including indie bluegrass, folk, blues and pop, like Nickel Creek or Rascal Flatts.”

Earlier this year, Mary and the Giant independently released its first studio EP, “Music for a Nervous Breakdown,” recorded in Columbia at Wil Reeves’ Centro Cellar Studios.

“They’re a really enthusiastic group of guys, and open to new ideas and angles,” Reeves says. “It was a really interesting project to work on because of the way they can drive their songs without a drum section.”

And Mary and the Giant’s comfort level with Reeves is apparent with the band’s pride in its first work at Centro Cellar.

“When it was first completed and pressed, we took it home and listened to it over and over,” Koch recalls. “I’ve never been more proud of anything else I’ve ever done; we are definitely going back to Wil’s in August.”
Tour 2010
Though Mary and the Giant performs around Columbia as often as possible, at just about every musical venue Columbia offers — most frequently at The Tin Can’s Monday night Open Mic Night — the group also has expanded its touring reach to Kansas City, Warrensburg, St. Louis and Omaha. This month will see the band reaching out to more of the Midwest, including Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois and Minnesota. After recording a follow-up EP with Reeves in late August, touring plans will take the band to other Midwestern cities it is in the process of booking for the month of September. It will be Schembre’s first tour with the current line-up.

“Performing is probably our favorite thing we do,” bassist Marino says. “Our long-term goal is to become a working band, and we keep getting better at what we’re doing and getting closer to that.”

The band members are avidly looking forward to the tour, says Marino, who shares Mary and the Giant’s management and logistical responsibilities with Fiddes. The band has not signed with any record labels yet, but the musicians have started making contacts in the industry and continue to do so as their musical footprint expands. They hope this summer’s tour will include expanded merchandise such as T-shirts and increased CD sales, Marino says.
But overall, he says, Mary and the Giant is just happy to be “making music that we love, the best that we can.”

Hear tracks and find out more about Mary and the Giant at the band’s official Web page: - Inside Columbia Magazine


Music for a Nervous Breakdown - EP
Summary of a Beginning
I'm No Different
Beg Me Please
It Must Be The High Life
Texas Lexus
Happy For You

We Tend To Grow Older - LP
Excuse Me MIss
Ordinary People
We Tend To Grow Older

They have internet radio play in NY.
They have also played live on the Blue Plate Special radio show on WDVX 89.9 FM and 102.9 FM in Knoxville, Tennessee as well as a pre-recorded show in Minneapolis.



Mary and the Giant is a five-piece band hailing from Columbia, MO. Blending a mix of folk, pop, rock, and indie influences they have created a sound all their own. With delicate but powerful guitar parts, tight fiddle solos, and a backbone of bass and drums, they lay out a perfect landscape for singer Zac Fiddes to play in. They take their influences from a diverse background including bands such as The Format, Kings Of Leon, Manchester Orchestra, Young the Giant (formerly The Jakes), fun., James Taylor, The Gorillaz, Old Crow Medicine Show, Modest Mouse, The Avett Brothers, ELO, Steely Dan, Andrew Bird, Nickel Creek, The Black Keys, The Doobie Brothers, Fall Out Boy, The Band and many more. Though they play the occasional cover song, they have a battery of originals that would last for hours on end.

Mary & The Giant formed originally in January of 2009. At this time M&TG consisted of Jason Koch on guitar, Zac Fiddes on vocals, and John Marino on bass. They had just changed their lineup of musicians in their previous band, and decided it was time to change their name and style as well. Jason, the youngest member, was beginning to find his voice on the guitar and began to quickly demonstrate his mastery of chord structures, rhythmic strumming patterns, and a knack for movement throughout his writing. John was happy to continue laying down emotive and melodic bass-lines as Zac was beginning to harness his powerful and unique tenor voice.

Drummerless, they decided to take a new direction with their music. In the spring of '09 they recorded a demo at The Gallery of Carpet Studios in Chicago with Tyson Moore that was called "The Company You Keep". Shortly afterwards they set out on a tour of the midwest. After spending three weeks on the road they returned to their hometown not quite knowing where they were going to go from there. After talking to a coworker about the tour Jason called Zac and John to say that someone else would be joining them at practice that night. This was Michael Scembre's introduction to the band. This proved to be a crucial move in the journey of M&TG, and released a whole new level of sound.

In January of 2010, they began recording for the first time as a four piece band, and released an EP entitled "Music for a Nervous Breakdown". Recorded live in their hometown of Columbia, MO at Centro Cellar Studios by Will Reeves; it is now available through as well as itunes and many other digital stores.

During the year after the release of their EP, they met local musician and composer Justin Mayfield through a mutual friend. They began toying with the idea of adding him on as a utility musician, but there was some difficulty figuring out how to place a new member into such an intimate and tight sound, and there was debate as to whether a rhythm instrument was even needed in the band. As fortune would have it, while recording once again in December of 2010, Schembre found the cajon complimented their music nicely and so played it on most of the tracks in the recording. They finished recording in a few weeks and walked out of the studio with their first LP entitled "We Tend To Grow Older". They realized at this point that rhythm was inevitable and called Justin to break the news. Since adding him to Mary and the Giant, the group dynamic has shifted even moreso into a group of brothers, and the live show has become deeper, stranger, and a lot more energetic. "We Tend to Grow Older" was released digitally on Christmas day and in hard copy on January 15th of 2011. They go on tour this June to promote and write a few more tracks so they can put out their next CD.

Mary and the Giant is currently waiting on production and duplication for their newest album (set to be released in April of 2012), Welcome Back to Now.