If there's one thing Mary Ocher knows how to do well, it's to take matters into her own hands. Born in Moscow, later relocating to Tel Aviv and currently based in Berlin, Ocher is quickly becoming a strong and established musical reference within the German capital's art scene. She personally knows no borders as a proclaimed world citizen, so her life's work shouldn't either: it leads her to travel, play live and place herself outside her comfort zone as much as possible.

With The West Against The People, her fifth album and second release via Faust's Hans Joachim Irmler Klangband collective, Mary Ocher's work is now more important than ever. As she reflects on immigration, social classes, racial/sexual minorities and the fear of others, or more broadly 'the unknown', she is able to tell her own story with a perfect symbiosis of sound, visual art and poetry.

After hearing The West Against The People and reading her essay for the album, we spoke to Mary Ocher in order to find out more about what triggered the creation of her new project and the urgent necessity of being vocal about the current global political crisis.


Let's start simple: how do you deconstruct fear?

My! That is certainly not a simple question. It is one of the many addressed at the listener throughout the album.

From your debut War Songs to The West Against The People, you have always been vocal about political and social issues, and I'm sure living in Israel has taken an emotional toll and influenced your perception and how you live your everyday life. Since we're living in worldwide political pandemonium, how close do you think we are to the birth of a new political revolution?

In the past years there is a clear rise in the support of polarities - both the far right and the left, which in itself might be regarded as a turning point - depending on events that shall follow... We are quite desensitized, and our abilities to relate to suffering and be affected by images of cruelty have become rather numb, which the media has to play around by presenting each new incident quite nearly like the end of the world.... while Facebook is asking you to mark yourself safe - but only in the West, where it's affluent and comfortable, while much higher numbers of individuals are dying on the other side of the planet.... but we are just turning our heads the other way.

The West Against The People came out during a period of serious political questioning, even leading to an over-analysis of who we humans are as individuals, groups, and nations. Considering that the personal is political, would you say the essay that accompanies your new album is a manifesto? Do you want it to become an element of discussion/questioning? It does have the strength to it.

Isn't every period though, regardless to whether turbulent or calm, should offer space for questioning of norms? There is constant shifting in group identities, the place of the individual in it, their power dynamics in it and so on... I must have placed that quote somewhere in War Songs ("the personal is political (and vice versa)"), but it feels at this point a little redundant.

Does having a more elaborate national/cultural background necessarily entitle one (such as myself) to more kudos towards the analysis of nationalism and its dangers? Or for that matter, any social topic? The current discourse prevents, on pseudo-moralistic grounds, anyone who is not X to talk about matters of X, labelling that as cultural appropriation and keeping most mouths shut. I am appalled by that. It is self-imposed censorship for crying out loud!

'Arms' has a very solemn tone once you dive into its meaning. I can see the discomfort and tension on your face throughout the video. You seem lost in translation from beginning to end. Finding yourself shooting a video in Israel, did the whole experience trigger past memories? How was the past experience of living/growing up in Tel Aviv transposed to the core of The West Against The People?

You forget what it's like when you're not there - you forget this is completely normal and that you are in fact the freak. We relive macho culture, lust for weapons, authority, pride, arrogance, belittling of outsiders and spite for those that are different on and off all the time, on the streets as much as in films, video games and books, even in the writing of certain people you wouldn't imagine being such stuck up self-contained farts (take Nietzsche for instance and his view on women and gender equality in 1880).

Music- and genre-wise you don't close yourself to experimentation and sounds. With this new album, there's a lot of melancholy and darkness surrounding it, but also the noisiest you've ever been. Did Hans-Joachim Irmler's years of experience with Faust take a strong influence on your choice of direction?

[laughs] Quite on the contrary! Irmler was pulling towards making a soft "feminine" folk album, which I quite frankly resented. The previous album from last year (with my drummers, Mary Ocher + Your Government) was quite a bit loud, or noisy if you like. This one has a certain range of dynamics to it.

Both versions of 'To The Light' (and 'My Executioner') are probably my favourite songs from the new record. I found the choice of putting both versions on it very interesting: One acts as an introduction to the whole narrative and the piano version reprise exposes a more vulnerable side of you. What did you aim to achieve by including both versions?

It was an experiment in structure, perhaps inspired by old school concept albums, where a reprise would weave itself around various pieces throughout the album... I was also curious for the responses to the two versions and could not prefer one over the other myself... So far I haven't been able to tell whether the audience prefers solo material or the band. I myself prefer the diversity.

You are very active on social media and in taking matters into your own hands: booking shows, marketing yourself, collaborating, composing. If you were to share knowledge with someone, what are the benefits of owning and creating the path to your ambitions?

I don't quite do all of it anymore but I do like to collaborate with people whose work I like. I was invited recently to a panel talk with a couple of others who have been fortunate enough to be part of big projects and be supported by big labels. Part of the conversation was about control and the restrictions put on us by industry, and I realized after they had shared their stories, that I had not been in a situation for many years in which anyone could tell me what to do. I had spent the entire last decade removing all strains of control and making sure there isn't a single person who can tell me how to do what I do. Sometimes someone dares offer their unsolicited advice and I nearly always say no, thanks. They might not like it but that's the way I work.

The Berlin music and art scene has definitely changed in the past few years, as trends, ideas, and mentalities shift. You started busking in Mauerpark a few years ago, now you are a reference among creatives and established musicians, but you always stuck to your initial principles and ideas. In which ways have you grown as an artist and what possibilities has Berlin, considered one of Europe's biggest creative hubs, given you? How has it changed through the years?

Just for kicks I tried busking once last year and could not reach an audience. Perhaps it used to be different back then, perhaps the competition was not as fierce but I remember it used to be brutal at times then too: your fingers would freeze, drunkards would start harassing you, rich people would call you names... and there were really no women playing music on the streets. Every time I saw one I'd pay my respects to them. A lady who made an entire career out of busking is Alice Phoebe Lou, who uses social media to announce when/where she'll be next. I have retired from the streets, playing venues is by far more comfortable but sometimes that little sense of adventure is missing.

The West Against The People is out now via Klangband. You can visit Mary by heading here.