Saturday, May 19, 2001

Mary Fahls career literally began in the toilet. The singer-songwriter grew up in a big family, and thebathroom became her makeshift recording studio.
“It was the only place you could lock yourself away,” Miss Fahl says with a laugh. “I was one of those kids with a guitar up in the bathroom singing Joni Mitchell.”
Those days of tape-recording herself between the tile walls paid off. Miss Fahl later joined the critically acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful, band October Project before launching her solo career in January with “Lenses of Contact,” a four-song EP.
She makes her first solo journey to the D.C. area Tuesday at Iota in Arlington. (She played the 9:30 Club and the Birchmere with October Project.)
“I dont recall a time when I wasnt , from the time I was little,” Miss Fahl says.
Her oldest brother loved Bob Dylans music, another brother wore out the Pink Floyd and Moody Blues albums around the house, and her oldest sister loved Broadway musicals.
“I probably learned more about singing with a big voice from those things,” Miss Fahl says of musicals. “It taught me how to project.”
Singing along with records as a young girl, she honed the art of performance. She acted in school plays and practiced on a guitar her grandfather gave her.
Those Broadway musicals led her to consider a career in acting; she never thought she could make a living simply playing music. After high school, she did theater at McGill University in Montreal, while majoring in medieval literature.
After school Miss Fahl traveled through Europe with her sister and would house-sit and sing in cafes to make a living. She met songwriter Julie Flanders, wife of pianist and composer Emil Adler, upon her return. The couple would become the backbone of October Project.
“We were a threesome to begin with, and we began rehearsing,” Miss Fahl says. “We rehearsed forever a year and a half sort of finding where we were.”
The group soon was rounded out with Marina Belica, on keyboards and backing vocals, and David Sabatino, on electric and acoustic guitar.
“The minute I heard the music, I knew that the combination of my voice and those melodies was going to work,” Miss Fahl says.
October Project hit the New York coffeehouse scene, before signing to Epic Records to release its self-titled debut album. The rich arrangements, intelligent lyrics and Miss Fahls powerful voice attracted an appreciative audience.
The follow-up “Falling Farther In,” released in 1995, made it to the Billboard Top 200. While gaining some positive reviews, the album did not do as well as expected.
The band was dropped from the label the same year and broke up the same day, she says. Conflicts within the band were already evident, which made the breakup an enormous relief to her, Miss Fahl says.
“I felt like I could breathe again,” she says.
To “make a living and pay rent” after the breakup, she lent her voice to the commercial world, popping up in a variety of places. Airy vocals over car commercials, most noticeably for Audi, have become her trademark.
“I always get the foreign cars,” she says with a laugh.
Miss Fahl decided she was going to learn how to write songs and began collaborating with musician Bob Riley on several pieces. This is her first release since the bands breakup.
“I just did this little EP,” she says. “I would have done a full-length, but I didnt have the capital to do that.”
“Lenses of Contact” picks up where Miss Fahls career left off, with her powerful voice dominating the string and techno-flavored background tracks. Her voice shows off her Joni Mitchell influence, while staying in the realm of the all-powerful musicals on which she cut her teeth.
On the opening-track “Raging Child,” her voice sounds strong enough to knock pop singers such as Cher down from their thrones. She stays away from the waifish vocals employed by many female singers today.
Miss Fahl is somewhat astonished by her still strong, albeit underground, fan base.
“Im doing a lot more of what I want to be doing now,” she says. “The shows are mostly sold out. I really did not have any idea.”

WHAT: Mary Fahl with opening act Eleni Kelakos
WHERE: Iota, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. Tuesday
PHONE: 703/522-8340

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