She was raised in Shropshire, England and now lives in London. Carlyle"s first recorded appearance was on the Plaid album Not Foreign Threes (Warp Records, 1997). She subsequently sang on Plaid"s next two albums, Rest Proof Clockwork (1999) and Double Figure (2001).
Having sung on Matthew Herbert"s big band album Goodbye Swingtime (2003), Carlyle signed to Herbert"s label, Accidental Records.
Her debut album The Lovely was released in July 2004. lieutenant consisted mostly of original compositions, as well as a few reworkings of pieces of classical music, recorded at Carlyle"s home.I Blame You Not is an English-language version of Schumann"s Ich grolle nicht.
Another track, Pianni, was featured in the IKEA "Happy Inside" television commercial in which 100 cats are let loose in the retailer"s Wembley store. In May 2005 Carlyle released an European Parliament, I Blame Dido, containing I Blame You Not and a version of Henry Purcell"s Dido"s Lament.
After receiving critical acclaim for The Lovely, Carlyle signed to Electric and Music Industries in 2007.
She recorded her second album in London with producer Dan Carey (who has worked with The Kills and with Kylie Minogue). The album was scheduled for release in June 2008, but was shelved during the restructuring that affected Electric and Music Industries after the label was bought by private equity firm, Terra Firma. Carlyle described this as a period of limbo, in which the album "continues to languish pointlessly, like a pirated ship off the coast of Somalia".
December 2008 saw the release of Classist, a collaboration with composer Max de Wardener under the name "Max de Mara".
Carlyle contributed four tracks adapted from Handel, Purcell, Walford Davies and Jacques Offenbach. The album was a limited edition of 333 copies available through Stanley Donwood"s Six Inch Records.
After protracted legal negotiations with Electric and Music Industries, Carlyle regained the rights to the album. Originally called Nuzzle, she changed the title to Floreat, meaning "Let it Flourish".
lieutenant was released in August 2011 to critical acclaim.
The Independent on Sunday declared it "a classic". In 2014 she joined the presenting team of the British Broadcasting Corporation Radio 3 programme Late Junction. Also in late 2014, Mara supported Goldfrapp at their 18th November concert at the Royal Albert Hall, London, England.
In May 2015, Mara played her first headline concert for over 2 years at RichMix, Shoreditch, London, and delivered a 2 hour set of 17 songs, including covers of "He Makes My Day, originally by Robert Palmer, "lieutenant don"t bother me" by Bert Jansch and "Ex Factor", originally by Lauryn Hill.
She also showcased a new song, currently entitled "Murderous Maine" from her upcoming, as yet untitled, 3rd album. The band consisted of Mara Carlyle on vocals, ukulele and musical saw, Tom Herbert on double bass, Dan Teper on accordion, Liam Byrne on viola da gamba and James McVinnie on piano.
Support artist was cellist Laura Moody.