Determination in the face of electrocution: Seattle U student Mary Claire on her budding music career

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Taylor Muñoz

Mary Claire Hancock woke up and looked around at concerned friends and unsuspecting crowd  members hovering over her.

She sat up, stretched her legs, and ran her fingers through her waist-length red hair.

She wasn’t sure how to acknowledge what just happened: she had just been shocked by the microphone in front of her. The displaced energy emanating from it sent her tumbling backwards over her drummer Will Hamilton’s kit.

“That was the show guys, thanks for coming,” she said.

Cautious laughter filled the kitchenette where Hancock and her band of three planned to perform that night.

As the laughter settled down, Hancock’s demeanor changed.

She looked at her hands and wiggled her fingers, later recalling that they felt like “hot jello.”

She spoke, staring at the thick rubber bottoms of her Doc Martens. “I was electrocuted… whoa.”

Hancock’s girlfriend, Mercedes Marwood, pushed through the onlookers to scoop her up off the floor while waiting for a Lyft she ordered to Virginia Mason Hospital in Capitol Hill.

Hancock attempted to pack up her gear as she waited for her ride; streaks of red across her neck and arms became visible as she moved.  

Her bandmates refused to let her help, insisting she go outside to wait for her ride.

“OK, I’m kind of particular about my gear,” she said to them.

“Mary, shut up.”

Hancock’s mother, Theresa, likens her determination to a dog with a bone — it’s a family nickname of sorts for Hancock.

“When she wants to know how to do something, she goes full tilt,” she said, recalling the hours Hancock spent in the pool as a child perfecting her synchronized swimming techniques. “If she wants to do it, she’s gonna do it until she’s the very best.”

Hancock’s determination has driven her to chart her own course in her music, leading to her first full-length solo album, the formation of her band, and a community in which she can express herself.

But over the course of three house shows in one week, Hancock’s drive was met with adversity.

The 20-year-old sophomore at Seattle University is not just determined; she is meticulous.   

There’s a running joke in Hancock’s family that her particularity goes back to when she was a child, wearing only one sock around the house simply because she felt like it. To this day, they still refer to her as One-Sock Mary.

“She’ll take off her sock because she only wants to wear one f—— sock,” said her brother, John Hancock. “That’s how she wants to be. She’s never done anything typical.”

Hancock is also notoriously particular about her artistic process — she doesn’t share anything until she feels it’s up to her standards.

“You have to be invited to the reveal,” Theresa said, adding that, “She’s worth the wait.”

She also noted Hancock’s command of language from an early age. She recalls that when Hancock was very young, she took a towel and laid it out in the backyard. When asked what she was doing, Hancock simply replied, “I’m basking.”

Like most beginning musicians, Hancock plays house shows as often as possible.

Initially playing solo, she later formed a small band to accompany her, comprised of friends who all live in a house show venue in Eastlake called C-one. Hancock frequented the house’s shows before befriending its residents her first year of college.

The shows she plays typically take place in small basements or backyards. Lineups are stacked with bands all in hopes of gaining more exposure, much like Hancock.

Despite houses requiring small monetary donations upon entry, they typically don’t pay Hancock well. Often, they don’t pay her at all.

In one recent week, Hancock and her band played three house shows in as many nights. The first was on a Wednesday night at Murder Mine, a house in south Seattle that frequently hosts shows in a small kitchenette.

Perched atop a hill in Atlantic, a steep set of rickety stairs meets the small blue house. The tiny, dimly lit living room upon entrance bleeds into the kitchenette.

Bands on the lineup squeezed up against the right-hand corner of the kitchenette; rhythm guitar players spilled into the open closet behind them when a lack of space called for it.

Tired moshers in search of a break scooched off into the corner of the kitchen and leaned their body weight up against the oven.

As they got comfortable, a tap on the shoulder signified it was time again for them to turn around, scoop colorful pasta from a massive cauldron on the stove, and dump it in whichever bowl asked for it.

Hancock was set to play last.

She kept her distance from the crowd moshing to the bands before her, who intentionally spilled beer on one another for entertainment as they thrashed around. She stood in the corner of the living room, Marwood wrapped around her arm, focused on conversations with friends she didn’t expect to show up.

People shuffled eagerly around the tiny space in between sets. Tape held a small piece of paper reading “CLIMATE JUSTICE NOW” to the wall above a lamp. Below it, empty beer cans littered the floor.

Engrossed in conversation, Hancock didn’t notice a ukulele player letting out a small yelp after being shocked by her microphone.

When Hancock’s band set up, her keyboardist Francis Rowland saw a bright light flash from the outlets in the kitchen. His keyboard blew out.

Typically, house shows have grounded outlets to accommodate the large quantities of power run through amplifiers, pedal boards, and microphones. Murder Mine’s setup wasn’t enough.

“If [the outlets] aren’t grounded, that power’s gonna try to go out somewhere,” said Savvas Matiatos, Hancock’s bassist.

Hancock then saw the same flash of light as Rowland, this time coming from her microphone. The light reverberated through her chest. She was so confused by it, she momentarily thought someone in the crowd hit her.

She continued to set up, plugging her pedalboard into outlets designed to support the wattage of a toaster.

The sound of feedback reverberated throughout the room. It was followed by a scream.

Hancock began seizing. The microphone shocked her again; this time, much more seriously.

Matiatos tore the microphone off of her chest. Rowland ripped the guitar off her body before she collapsed. Someone in the crowd caught the microphone before it hit the ground.

Minutes after she regained consciousness, her Lyft arrived. Rowland wrapped her into a hug. Hancock began to cry into his shoulder upon realizing she could have been killed.

Hancock said goodbye to her friends and bandmates, stepping over her fried equipment to walk towards the front door where Marwood waited for her, carrying her suitcase full of hand-made merchandise.

Together, the three walked out to the porch, where people smoking cigarettes and drinking beer gazed at the fluorescent glow of the arches atop CenturyLink Stadium.

Rowland, Matiatos and Hamilton remained at the house to pack up their gear. They went back to the home they share together and drank until they were drunk.

Despite her brush with death and the fear it instilled in her, giving up live performances isn’t an option for Hancock.

“I’m gonna keep doing it until Zeus hits me with the big one,” she said.

Early the next afternoon, Hancock posted a picture on her Instagram story. She lay in her hospital bed, wrist clad with the bracelet she received upon admission. She gave a thumbs up. The caption read, “show must go on.”

And, despite her weariness, it did.

Hancock was discharged from Virginia Mason early that morning; the series of tests run on her all came back negative. Miraculously, she would be OK.

She played that night, a Thursday, at a stuffy basement in University District, aptly named Hot Yoga.

Although much larger than Murder Mine, attendees filled out the basement similarly.

People watching bands leaned on the wooden skeleton of a doorframe, an entry point for an unfinished room built within the basement. It stood directly next to where bands played.

In it sat only a grimy bathtub, filled to the brim with drywall.

Bored, blazer-clad college students began to kick around an empty beer bottle for entertainment between sets, the noise reverberating around the basement.

Hancock kept to the back of the room again, patiently watching her predecessors. Set to play last again, it would be around two hours before she could even set up.

The energy of the crowd was palpable, and much less chaotic than the night before. It reflected the set Hancock and her band would soon play.

Hancock and her band cautiously set up their equipment. It was then that she realized her pedalboard, scorched across the side from the night before, was malfunctioning. Her amp hardly worked, either.

She let out a long, frustrated groan; pointing her head toward the low ceiling. Her bandmates tried to assist her as best they could. Rowland’s keyboard was still completely fried; his only option was to borrow someone else’s.

The band took around 20 minutes to set up. Hancock’s equipment worked decent enough to make it through the night’s performance.

The excitement Hancock felt about playing shows dwindled, fear and exhaustion took hold.

Apologizing to the few that chose to stick through her prolonged setup, she began to recall the previous night’s scare.

The four played through their usual set list, this time emanating a lackluster energy. Fear and distraction loomed over them. They hadn’t yet moved on from the night before.

Usually a ritual to start of her sets, Hancock skipped out that night on what she calls her “cathartic scream.”

She typically likes to begin her set with this scream as a means of connecting with the crowd she’s performing for. She invites everyone around her to scream at the top of their lungs as she and her band play their instruments loudly to begin her set.

But at Hot Yoga, Mary didn’t have the desire or energy to do it. The band went through the motions, finishing their set and immediately going home.

This performance would become something Hancock now refers to as “exposure therapy.”

“I’m glad I played it anyway, just to get right back into it,” she said later, “Even though maybe it wasn’t the best idea.”

According to Matiatos, the rest of the band couldn’t yet dig themselves out of their somber moods either.

“Everyone in the band just witnessed one of our friends just almost die,” he said. “It wasn’t a bad performance; it was the energy we gave off.

Emily Hancock, Mary Claire’s sister, refers to her as “the object of use,” like a glowing object in a video game that a player can’t help but approach or touch.

Hancock also sees this reaction from her audiences. She feels at times that even people closest to her unintentionally put her on a pedestal. It deters her further from being vulnerable outside of her music.

“If I wanted people to think I was cool, I don’t think would be trying to write this kind of music. I don’t wanna have to be this sad vessel for you,” Hancock said. “What will make you special is reminding yourself you’re not special at all.”

A majority of the content on Hancock’s album, “Phantom Limb,” combats head-on something Mary often struggles with: vulnerability.

While Hancock said she has a large threshold for emotion, she doesn’t regularly share her feelings. She’s always been cautious with them; she doesn’t give away much on a day-to-day basis.

“I’ve always been bigger than most people,” Hancock, who is 6’1, said. “Mentally and emotionally, I try to take up less space because I already feel like this huge piece of mass.”

Through “Phantom Limb,” however, Hancock let her guard down, navigating between her sense of self and how others see her.

“I’m just a little mirror to ping stuff off of,” said Hancock, adding, “while still having some sense of individuality. I meet people where they’re at.”

Hancock’s father, John Hancock, notes her individuality, especially in her eclectic clothing choices.

When performing, Hancock will wear anything from an ankle-length white lace dress with her tall Doc Martens to a black tube top with white jeans.

During an interview, she wore a black shirt with “SHAME” in white letters across the chest, a chain around her neck, and an ankle-length blue velvet skirt.

“I think that motivates a lot of this lack of care,” Hancock said. “If I’m physically not caring about what other people think about me, then mentally it kind of comes along with it.”

“I think she wants to stand out in her own way and not to conform,” John said. “She wants to be significant.”

Hancock wants her art to be significant, too — but always intentional.

“She wouldn’t create something just for the sake of creating,” said Mercedes, her girlfriend. Both artists, the two now collaborate on projects and bounce ideas off one another.

Along with the residents of C-one, the house in which all of her bandmates reside, Marwood gives Mary the space to express herself.

Hancock’s played her final show of the week at C-one.

C-one (pronounced cone), is a sacred place to Hancock. It’s where she met multiple best friends, performed multiple times, and is continuously given creative space to try new things.

The exterior of the house is a slatted, pale beige. A small set of stairs leads up to a white front door, a long, skinny window running through it. Scattered all across the porch and stairs are stolen neon orange traffic cones.

The front door leads to a staircase on the left; the living room is to the right, where bands perform. Doodles of flowers are painted on the walls leading up the staircase and trailing into the living room.

Hancock frequently contributes to the doodles during her visits.

The walls in the living room are painted floor to ceiling in colorful vertical stripes, left over from a music video shoot for “Green Fuzz” by Naked Giants. Both Hancock and her bandmates are friends with the Seattle-based band.

The crowd, a mixture of strangers and good friends, had a refreshing sense of excitement, a change from the somber one at Hot Yoga. People stood on pieces of furniture in the back of the room to see better. The band set up their equipment with much more ease than two nights prior.

Behind the band was a massive piece of cardboard taped to the mantle. Small red squares were painted over it, creating the illusion of a brick wall. A small rectangle towards the top of the cardboard was cut out.

About to perform, Hancock again discussed her time in the hospital. Cheers of sympathy from the crowd ensued.

In a space so important to her life and identity in Seattle, surrounded by people she’s closest to, Hancock began her set by stripping down to her underwear. Her band followed suit.

This was originally something they’d planned on doing before she got hurt. They thought it would be a funny way to complement the solemn nature of her music.

“The physical act of silliness paired with the serious subject perhaps makes it easier to be a person,” Hancock said.

They knew this show would be the most fitting time to try it out.

So, after all four members threw their clothes in a pile on the floor beside them, Hancock invited the crowd to join into the pre-show ritual she’d finally done for the first time that week: the cathartic scream.

Yelling into the microphone and lifting her guitar up above her head to strum it erratically, her long red hair cascaded down her back.

The screams of the band and crowd reverberated throughout C-one’s living room.

This is what was missing from their set at Hot Yoga two nights prior — the energy to be vulnerable.

The scream finished. She paused.

“I’ve never felt more exposed,” she said quietly into the microphone.

Their set began.

Maintaining intense eye contact with the crowd, Hancock reminded herself of why she was there.

“I have to look at all of them and be like, ‘You’re listening to this, and you’re hearing this thing that I’m saying, because I would never say that otherwise,’” she later said.

Halfway through her set, her band abandoned their instruments. Forming a horizontal line behind the drum kit, in front of the makeshift brick wall, Matiatos, Rowland and Hamilton stood. They swayed back and forth to the song Hancock played alone.  

On the back of his underwear, Matiatos had “MARY” written in permanent marker; Rowland had the same on his chest.

She finished her song; the band regrouped to finish out their set.

People scattered onto the front porch for air. Hancock redressed, covering up her matching Fruit of the Loom set.

Appearing through the cut-out hole in the piece of cardboard, a black sock puppet began laughing hysterically into a microphone.

Marwood appeared through the crowd to give Hancock a hug.

Hancock’s artistic determination has landed her here, in a space where people see her for who she truly is.

“I don’t think perfect art is a thing. That would kind of negate the whole point of it,” Hancock said. “Everything’s been done, so you just gotta do it your way.”