LISTEN: Marissa Nadler - Apostle

INTERVIEW: Marissa Nadler


Bostonian Marissa Nadler released her self-titled fifth album in June this year to huge acclaim in the US, prompting Pitchfork to state that“while she was once misfiled as a freak-folkie, here Nadler brings to mind Leonard Cohen”. I was surprised to learn that the reception in the UK music media was a little more mixed, her fans who helped fund the release however tell a different story clasping the album to their hearts as one of 2011’s treasures.

 It’s certainly one of my favourite long players of the year, Nadler’s extraordinary voice, quivering tone dipped in reverb and back lit by sparse arrangements is uniquely affecting. With each song she gives vocal clarity to her tales of love and loss: detailing  conflicted relationships in sepia freeze-frame, this coupled with her perceptive ability to drape emotional poetic couplets over a subtle shimmering beat or a single guitar strum is effortlessly captivating throughout. It contains two of my songs of the year the imperious ‘Alabaster Queen’ and the flooring single ‘The Sun Always Reminds Me of you’ that’s country twinges, and achingly lovelorn melody hits me in the solar plexus every single time. After considering retirement from the live scene Marissa was brought to London earlier this month, her rapctuously received Bush Hall show reaffirmed her faith and she is now working on her second volume of home-taped covers, which is being whittled down from 30+ recordings for release early next year.

As a taster she has shared a cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Winter Lady’, free to download. “It’s simple and lo-fi, like the whole volume will be,” says Marissa. “This song is fitting considering the transitory nature of my life recently.” 

winter lady by!/marissanadler

I sent Marissa some questions that she kindly answered upon her return from her recent European dates:

Hey how are you today?!

I just got back from a European tour so forgive me for being late on these answers. I am jet lagged but in good spirits because of the wonderful European Audiences.

Eclipse Records’ Ed Hardy apparently ‘brought you into the world of music’. How did you meet him?!

This all happened in Providence, Rhode Island while I was at the Rhode Island School of Design studying painting: Jeffrey Alexander, of Iditarod and Black Forest Black Sea, used to run an indie label called Secret Eye. He released my first ever song into the world on “For The Dead In Space, Volume II”, a tribute to Tom Rapp from Pearls Before Swine. I got lucky. There were a lot of great people on that compilation including Thurston and Mike Watt and Bardo Pond.  I covered “Ballad to An Amber Lady.” Jeffrey heard my old recordings and was very supportive of my growing interest in music.  I then recorded Ballads of Living and Dying the same year. I think this was 2003. This record, my friend who after the recording became my boyfriend, Myles Baer, recorded, produced, and played on as well, on a digital BR8 machine. I was so in love with him that I cut my finger really bad and recorded anyway because I wanted to record the record so much. You can hear the sound of crazy glue on the recording hitting the strings.

Anyway, Jeffrey said ED HARDY at Eclipse Records-  he is the one. He wrote down a couple other underground labels.  Ed wrote me back saying he loved the record and I said yes to him. Ed Hardy is an amazing person and taught me more than anymore. I lived in Arizona for a while working at Eclipse Records boxing stuff. He was very kind to me and I love him dearly. Eclipse Records is one of the best underground mail-order labels there is. He is the real deal and not an evil label asshole.

This is your fifth album. Do you feel you’ve matured and evolved as a songwriter? How does this new one differ from the others – is it more direct? The production in particular sounds like is has a lighter touch…

I have matured and evolved in every release. I see my body of work as one organic unit. They are all connected. I would suggest that people go out and get the record and listen for themselves. All I have to say is that I am very proud of this record. The production to me doesn’t have a lighter touch. I think it has a different touch in terms of slightly less reverb because I wanted the emotional grit of my voice to show how dark these songs were.

Why do you think this album has broken through to further critical acclaim or do you try not to think about these things?!

I think people respect the fact that I am what you call a “lifer.” I had no real lucky breaks or songs on a tv commercial or a movie. I worked my ass of for years and years and years. I spent my entire youth touring. So, I think with each release and a steady body of work and attention to quality, I have earned some respect among people. I’m not a hipster. And I didn’t shoot to fame. I never wanted to be a rock star. I just wanted to write songs and express myself and connect with people. And I still want to do that, for the rest of my life. I’m happy critics are digging the new record. But to me, I am my own harshest critic and am never satisfied.

How do you write, lyrics and songs? Is it a case of sitting at a piano or playing a guitar? Or do you keep notebooks and diaries? I heard you paint sometimes?

I write at the same time. I get a melody while playing the guitar. Then I have filler lyrics because I write the melody first. I finalize the lyrics later. Yes, I keep notebooks and diaries.
Yes, I studied painting at the Rhode Island School Of Design and for my entire youth actually thought that I was going to be a painter, not a musician. I think the fine art background informs my songwriting in terms of the way that I see the world.

The album appears on the face of it to be quite intensely personal, capturing the essence of moments in time, drawing emotions in freezeframe and splendid isolation. Are these songs that document your life over the last few years, observations of others or fictional narratives?!

They are for the most part documentations of my life over the last 10 years. In particular, moving on from a muse. There are only two songs on the record with fictional narratives, and those are Wind Up Doll and Daisy, Where Did You Go? But, still, with those fictional narratives, there is a lot of my own life in them. Wind Up Doll is very much about depression which I have struggled with my whole life.

Do you find there’s a kind of therapy in writing about your own life and feelings? Especially of things that have happened in the past? And how do you reach such a clarity in expression whithin the couplets? Do you find yourself paring back the words to their most skeletal form?Yes. Writing and music is my therapy. People would expect me to be so mellow and delicate. I am absolutely the opposite. I am neurotic, obsessive compulsive, and a workaholic. When I write songs and play music, it is the ONLY time where I feel peace in my brain.

In terms of lyrics, I worked really hard on this record. I try to avoid pretentiousness in lyrics. I want everyone to get my songs. That is why I like old country music. It is universal.

‘The Sun Always Reminds Me of You’ is particularly beautifully drawn in its keening vocals and melody line. What inspired this song, a moment’s reflection in the morning sunrise or the inability to get someone out of your head!??! Do you think lost love can be a big source of inspiration? I can hear it on the radio, it should be a hit!!

The song is about not being able to go outside because everything, even the Sun, reminds you of that person. Lost love has been my muse for the majority of my career. And yes, my goal sonically with this song was 70s AM Gold, as well as Tammy Wynette. So, it actually has been on the radio quite a bit in the US but I wasn’t able to afford a radio campaign in the UK.

Marissa Nadler – The Sun Always Reminds Me Of You by Peaknuckle Publicity Co.

‘Puppet Master’ and ‘Alabaster Queen’ appear to vividly depict with the conflicted feelings of being completely and hopefullessly devoted to someone else. Are you able to write these kinds of songs with distance and reflection or do you write them when they’re fresh in your mind?

There has been a lot of distance in terms of who both of those songs are about. I think time needs to pass before you can look back and write with clarity, at least for me. Puppet Master and Alabaster are both about obsession and in some cases, breaking free from the strings that bind us.

Vocally have you had any training or did your affecting tone emerge over time, and plenty of practise?!

I am a completely self taught musician. So practice practice and years of working on getting it right.

Do you have any musical inspirations? Be that other artists or people you work(ed) with?

Yes, I have a ton. Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, Townes Van Zandt, Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Throwing Muses, Mazzy Star.. I could go ON and on. Bob Dylan of course.

Some have mentioned Leonard Cohen in reference to your work in terms of the sharply drawn poetic words. Are you a fan? I see you’ve covered Cohen for your album of covers can you tell us about that project?!

You can get my Covers volume I on my ETSY home crafting site. I am a die hard Leonard Cohen fan. I could only ever aspire to write like he does.
Anyway, Covers Volume II will be done very soon and it is going to be on ETSY as well.

You ventured out on your own for this release funding it with a successful Kickstarter campaign, where fans support your recordings. Was it kind of scary? But kind of heartening to be supported and believed in by your fans?

I had lost all my faith in myself and my music after getting dropped by a label that is named after my own song, Mexican Summer. So, I wasn’t sure about Kickstarter. I didn’t want to seem beggy. My boyfriend helped me though that very difficult time and we launched the campaign together. I literally though nobody would pledge. I was wrong and it was a very successful campaign. It is a TON of work, though, to fulfill the pledges. So, its a two sided coin. I am really happy now to own my masters, and to have been involved in every step of the record. I am really proud of it. I learned a lot and did a lot right and made some mistakes, and my next LP will hopefully benefit from what I have learned.

Portuguese artist Joana Linda has created her own visual interpretation of ‘Alabaster Queen’ from your recent album. How did you meet her?! And do you like it when people can put their own interpretation upon your songs?

Years ago, in the age of myspace, she was a fan who contacted me to make a video for “Bird on your grave.” I loved her work and we have been working together ever since. I would call her my kindred spirit.

How was the London show?

 I did just one UK show, in London. It was amazing and completely restored my confidence after a very hard US tour where most of my sets were talked through. The entire European tour was great for the most part. Bush Hall was great. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to tour again but now I am just going to keep it gentle and keep rested and will tour again.

What do you listen to in the tour bus?

I have never been in a tour bus in my life. Let’s just say trains, hauling ass. Thank god I drive stick shift. We almost drove off a mountain. When there is an AUX, I listen to my favorite music. Whatever is good. I also like podcasts like Savage Love and The Moth Radio Hour.

You’ve collaborated with a few other artists, what would be your dream collaboration in future?

I would have to go back in time for that and become 10 different people.

Do you have any plans for more singles from this album or are you already working on the next one?

I have an LP out in the Winter!

Thank you for your time. And thank you for your wonderful music!

Thank you!!

MARISSA NADLER’s Self-titled fifth album, is out now.!/marissanadler

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.