Q&A With Mary Casiello of Three at Home
By Christopher Treacy
Boston-area duo (sometimes trio) Three at Home have been plugging away with a series of sturdy summertime singles that show off different aspects of their sound. Addressing our interior struggles with notions of self, Mary Casiello and Dann Russo use relatable and earthy folk-pop arrangements to convey messages of personal empowerment. Their co-ed vocals complement a largely acoustic repertoire with a mix of urgency and understanding that’s unusually accessible… they seem like old friends, catching up with us about the things they’ve learned since the last time we met, and nothing is off limits in the conversation.
“Shatter Me,” our CQ Roundup Song of the Week, moves away from the anthemic pulse of July’s “Athena” into a more gospel-leaning, confessional realm. You can feel Casiello pushing herself to turn in a stunning vocal performance—and she succeeds, while Russo lays low, adding just a bit of support here and there. Dead serious and unflinchingly honest, “Shatter Me” details the long healing process in being a survivor of abuse; it’s both articulate and brave. Casiello was willing to answer some questions for us about a song that was writing itself in her head for a long time before she actually put pen to paper.
“I brush away my babies…” — The song begins with a realization about perpetuating behavior. It can be unsettling when we see ourselves acting out unhealthy patterns and coping mechanisms. Was there a specific incident that inspired this song to come pouring out?
The whole song was a long time coming. I had been wanting to write an authentic song about my experiences as a parent for quite a while. I felt so much pressure to write something overly saccharine when the reality was so much more complex.
So I can’t say that there was a specific incident, but more a recognition of a pattern developing. I could see how guarded I was around my kids sometimes. I was so afraid of screwing things up with them that there were days I would keep them at arms length emotionally, especially when old traumas were loud in my head. Kids are so quick to internalize the emotions of the adults around them and decide it’s their fault. Both of my kids are incredibly empathetic and loving, and I never want them to feel like they have to carry the responsibility of healing me. I would even be afraid to hold them in case I fell apart. I started writing that first verse on a day like that.
I say ‘pouring out’ because it seems like the dam broke. Inherent in that—and in aspects of the lyric—it seems like there’s been an avoidance of feelings or a way of keeping certain things at bay. Is that accurate?
For sure. When you’re carrying trauma as an abuse survivor, it’s really difficult to own the impact. It’s so much easier to pretend things weren’t as bad as they were, or compare your experiences to those of others—“they had it so much worse,” etc. The problem is, doing that only keeps you from healing, which puts you at further risk of passing that pain on to others. I found it to be an especially tricky balance as a parent, even more than with other relationships. I didn’t want to miss my kids’ childhood because of the pain I was carrying, and I didn’t want to miss their childhood because I needed space to heal. So I felt stuck for a long time.
On the one hand, “the fruit was always bruised,” and on the other, “we’re all just broken people, just doing the best that they know how.” And in this day and age, to me, that means there’s a lot of bruised fruit. This seems to perhaps frame an emotional turning point, as if to say it’s the unbruised fruit that’s unusual or peculiar, even. Did you have a realization about maintaining worthless façades?
This question is so validating—yes! EVERYONE is carrying pain and trauma, often from people and systems we love who have hurt us. Abuse is so much more common than we want to believe. Abusers rarely look like cartoon villains, and survivors don’t always look broken and fragile. Sometimes they’re the same person, because we all normalize what we know the best, even if it’s bad for us. Breaking the cycle is extremely difficult work.
It was so easy for me to feel isolated, especially when I was living in an abusive environment. I definitely felt like the odd one out, like I was just weak or overly sensitive and didn’t have the right to own the truth of my experience… which is something I still do a lot of the time. But when I’ve talked about being a woman with ADHD or a queer woman who codes as straight, it’s benefited not only me but also others. People have told me how valuable it was for them to discover they weren’t alone, which, in turn, lets me know I’m not alone either. So naming myself as an abuse survivor who’s trying to be the best parent possible, I knew I probably wasn’t the only one. Not everyone is entitled to our whole story, but there is no way to be happy trying to be something that you aren’t.
At the same time, part of my work in therapy has been around learning to value those pieces of myself that shielded me from the truth—those which helped maintain the façade for a time—because they were working to keep me safe. And now I get a chance to show those pieces that we—that I —don’t have to pretend anymore, and that things are so much better on the other side.
There’s an interesting juxtaposition between the image of the mirror and split reflection and the arrival of a “time for love to shatter me.” Sometimes it’s better to just let something break in order to rebuild it whole. Is that a fair analogy?
That is 100% what I was going for. Emotional walls can keep you safe for a while, but they’re not meant to keep you safe forever … and they won’t! You might block out the danger, but you block out love, too. It’s certainly the bulk of what I’ve done in therapy, trying to rewire myself and leave behind the hyper-vigilance and fear. I also try to really acknowledge and be present for the best moments with my family. It’s easier to feel gratitude now.
I’ll add, though, that wasn’t something I could ever have done or do now without acknowledging the pain that came before and still impacts me today. It has to be both/and. Toxic positivity and emotional bypassing are rampant in our culture and ultimately just keep us from growing. The work is hard, but it’s absolutely worth it.
The song is paced much like a gospel hymn. Is that how it came out, or did you write the lyric first and then fit it to this melody and rhythmic pattern? The way the music and lyric intersect is definitely part of what makes “Shatter Me” powerful.
Thank you so much. I’m so glad to hear it has an impact! The opening lines came to me first, but the music followed pretty quickly. I usually write at least some lyrics to start and try to find a melody that suits the syllables and accents of the words, so it feels natural. Gospel has definitely had a huge musical influence on me. There are certain chord changes that get used frequently in gospel that always hit me emotionally, so I tried to bring some of those into the song to give it the right impact. At the same time, I wanted the music to serve the lyrics without taking away too much from them, so I didn’t want the changes or comping pattern in the piano to be overly complex. I put a ton of thought into it, more than probably any other song I’ve written because it was important to me to get it right.
Christopher Treacy has been writing about music and the music industry for 20 years. He’s contributed to The Boston Phoenix, The Boston Herald, Nashville Scene, and Berklee College of Music’s quarterly journal, as well as myriad LGBTQ+ outlets including the Edge Media Network, Between the Lines/Pride Source, Bay Windows and In Newsweekly. He lives in Waitsfield, VT.