Discovering Marissa Nadler back in 2007 was something more of a coincidence. Hidden behind clicks of Cocteau Twins, Bel Canto and my growing obsession over obscure recordings of Vashti Bunyan led to the musical landscape that since I have dared to lose myself over and over again. My first record of her, Songs III: Bird on the Water, captivates with Marissa Nadler’s tapestry of delicate John Fahey-like finger-plucking musicianship; layers of vintage synths, mandolin and cello come together with her lush stories of characters that make up her world, a glimpse of the mezzo-soprano’s mysterious versions of reality.
“Farewell Angelina” from Covers Volume II
Having studied painting at the Rhode Island School of Design and heavily influenced by American Gothic, it relatively explains her perchance on interweaving images and dark atmospheric textures as the core of her songs. An example of this is her ode to the British conjoined twins Daisy and Violet, her leaning to the story began with “The Story of Daisy and Violet” from Ivy and the Clovers continuing to her recent self-titled release with “Daisy, where did you go?” This story, among many names with fragments of its creator, is like a piece of an ever-broadening puzzle Marissa Nadler conjures in her art. Her voice, a marrying of two dream folk greats Hope Sandoval (of Mazzy Star and Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions) and Vashti Bunyan can barely break glass with its verbosity but can melt it in its sheering melancholy and intensity.
Throughout her career, she has also collaboreated with a handful of artists lending her vocal work. Cloud Seeding, dark metal band Xashur in their last album Portals of Sorrow, Carter Tanton are only few of collaborations Marissa Nadler has done. Focusing more in vocal experimentation and harmonies since Songs III, her contemporaries recognize her enigmatic presence and its effect in their music.
In 2011, taking off on her own, she founded Box of Cedars Records (named after a song in 2004’s Ballads of Living and Dying) from which she released her eponymous record and the recent Covers Volume II. Covers features her take on Clinic’s “Distortions,” two Leonard Cohen songs “Winter Lady” and “Avalanche,” a Neil Young favorite “Birds” plus rework on songs by William Bell, Townes Van Zandt and Bob Dylan.
After touring extensively in Europe, Marissa Nadler granted me a chance in answering some questions about her music, the importance of cover albums, “Diamond Heart” and coming to Asia. Unravel some of her mystery with my dream interview below.
I understand that as you progress with your music, you have made changes and improvements musically. Like in the last record, more instruments and more vocal harmonies were used, can we expect more diversity happening in your music or you kind of limit or impose limitations as to until where you can experiment?
Marissa Nadler: Yes, I think that it is important as an artist not to make the same record over and over again, even if some fans love the first record and prefer that I make that one over and over again. Musical progression is important for me as an artist. I work hard on my guitar playing and also my vocals. I yearn every time I write to strive to be a better songwriter, a better singer, and a better player. I don’t impose limitations except that I try to write from the most pure place possible, all of the time. I care about leaving behind a cohesive body of heartfelt work after I die.
The latest record is eponymous, and I think that it is a coming-of-age sort of thing where you want your fans to know that you have gave birth to this record giving your own name to it, is this related to the record being in Kickstarter or is it more personal than that?
Marissa Nadler: I was involved in every step of this record. I raised the money to make the record with the campaign after being dropped by my record label. It was a very painful experience and I thought when that happened that my career was over. I didn’t expect such a massive outpouring from my fans. It helped my confidence which was really bad at the time. I spent two years writing the record. It was the record that I felt I had the most invested in, personally and professionally.
I spent my entire 20s giving myself to my music. I toured for 7 years straight. So, I wasn’t going to let a setback like a label that didn’t want me anymore stop me from doing something that I loved. Nevertheless, I see all of the records that I have made as a cohesive body of work and self titling this new record doesn’t mean I favor it to my other ones. It is more personal. It is more confessional.
Looking at the characters from your records, it is quick to deduct from your work that you read a lot. Do these characters are more subjective like from books you read recently rather than a representation of people in real life, the ones you interact with?
Marissa Nadler: The “characters” are for the most part actually people from my own life, with fake names and fake settings. I do read a lot, at least I used to read a lot before I was so busy running my own label and touring all of the time. But, these are real people. I write from reality about real experiences that have happened to me. Even with a song like “Sylvia” which is actually fictional, it is about an woman that I feel I know, even though I don’t. She kills herself and is reborn in the belly of a whale. I believe in rebirth.
So, even with some of the songs that are about people that I don’t know, like Daisy and Violet Hilton, I feel like I do know them. I only write about people I can understand, and their pain, their heartbreak, and their sadness.
As a fan, I have so wanted to hear your thoughts about “Diamond Heart.” The song has much characters in it, so much mystery yet the words are like spoken directly to us, to someone. How was the experience writing it?
Marissa Nadler: I was broken hearted at the time when I wrote that song. The “characters” are real people, as in most of my songs. I wrote from the heart about how much I was missing someone and how much regret I had about leaving him. When I wrote Songs III: Bird on the Water, I was very focused and very much hung up on this heartbreak. It was a very inspired record and one that I feel very proud of still because the Muse was with me.
I still play “Diamond Heart“, even though it is from my third record, because it is still one of my favorites to play.
Recently New York Times run an article about the fading passion, culture of relevant album packaging particularly album cover. As a musician, are you as much critical with your own packaging or art? What are your thoughts about this?
Marissa Nadler: Yes, I actually, as I fine artist and painter, care very much about album design. I actually think there is a sea change and that there is now a renewed interest in the album art design and a move back towards vinyl.
My boyfriend designed the cover of my latest album, and I handmade ETSY CDs all day long when I am not on tour. So, for me, album design is definitely very important and something I care about. I paint and watercolor, woodcarve, bookbind..I believe that art is making a comeback and people don’t want plastic and mp3 anymore. My ETSY site is actually doing really well, which is proof to me that people want handmade things and want artwork with their music.
Lastly, we hope to see you in Asia in the future. We will be so glad to see you play live especially in my country, the Philippines. I personally hope that you visit us here, do you have any message to your Asian fans?
Marissa Nadler: I would love to play in Asia as well. I have never been there. If there is a promotor that wants to contact me, I am DIY all the way. I run my own record label and I run my own machine. So, If people want to see me, I would need a booking agent in Asia.
Right now, I have a US one and one in Europe. But, I cannot tell you how interested I am in the culture and to see new places. So, maybe writing this little thing will somehow one day get me to the Phillippines.
More press about Marissa Nadler here. She’ll be touring beginning on the 26th, check the dates below.
26/11/11 : De Statenzaal – Zwolle (NL)
27/11/11 : Le Guess Who – Utrecht (NL)
27/11/11 : Autumn Falls festival @ Botanique – Brussel
28/11/11 : Grammatikoff – Duisburg (D)
29/11/11 : Dachauer Kultur-Schranne – Dachau (D)