The hottest music from Chicago & beyond

Tag: marissa nadler

Pick Your Poison: Thursday 5-24-12

If you’re not already familiar with my good friend Marissa Nadler’s work, her records are definitely worth your hard-earned money. Each of her most recent full lengths has improved on the one before it, and she hit a new peak last year with her self-titled record. When I talked to her last summer, she mentioned that she recorded around 18 songs for her album, and not all of them made the cut. It was less that they weren’t good enough and more about the way they all fit together. At the time, she also said that the extra songs would appear on an EP that’d be out in the near future. Well, it’s been about 10 months, but the Sister EP will finally be out on Tuesday. It is intended as a companion piece to her self-titled album, however it can also be enjoyed on its own. I’m pleased to be able to present a full stream of the new EP right here. Please give it a listen, and buy it if you like what you hear.

Marissa Nadler – The Sister

As for today’s Pick Your Poison, don’t miss downloading tracks from Anabot (covering Japandroids wonderfully), Foxygen, Ozarks, The Shrouded Strangers, The Slowdown, and Stagnant Pools.

Anabot – The House That Heaven Built (Japandroids cover)

Black Pistol Fire – Long Tall Sally

Chris Forsyth – East Kensington Run Down

Darlingside – Sweet and Low

Foxygen – Make It Known

Imperial China – Limbs

Jhameel – Shadow of a Man

Lioness – They Clip the Wings of Birds

Ozarks – Pyramids of Love

Preauxx – Don’t Be Upset

The Shrouded Strangers – Drinking the Spider Silk

The Slowdown – A Mirror, A Torch

Stagnant Pools – Dead Sailor

Theo Berndt – It’s Complicated

Will Bailey – Spider

World Blanket – Got to Give It Up (Thin Lizzy cover)


Atlas Genius – Back Seat

Brendan Ryan – Scientist

The Joys of Sleeping – Dude York Pt.1

Kara Ali – Whisper My Name

Leisure – Plastic Soul

Saint Saviour – I Call This Home

Interview: Marissa Nadler

For those of you that remain unfamiliar with Marissa Nadler, the Massachusetts-based folk-singer songwriter has been generating plenty of buzz the last several years for her starkly beautiful yet dark and haunting records. The tales she tells and the melodies she weaves are intricate and intimate, anchored down by a voice that soothes while simultaneously demanding your attention. She just released her fifth record last month, a self-titled effort that was made in the most independent fashion possible, free from the wheelings and dealings of traditional record label culture. In many ways it is also her best – continuing to push her songwriting to new emotional heights that bring you in closer than ever before. It is just one of several things she’s accomplished over the last couple years, but ultimately it all comes back to an undeniable passion for music and the art of creative self-expression. I had the chance to sit down and talk with Marissa for a short while before her set at Schubas last Thursday night. Here is the transcript of our conversation.

Give me a brief outline of the last couple years and how you’ve developed into your own fully independent artist.

Basically I just wanted to stop working with labels, and decided to put my own record out. So I went about doing anything I could to make that happen.

And Kickstarter was the way that you chose to do that.

Yeah, I heard about that through some friends and gave it a try and it was really successful, so I was able to fund the recording of the record and then decided to manufacture it and put it out myself. I don’t want to go over all the last couple years, I mean it’s pretty common knowledge at this point. I stopped working with my label, and it was not an amicable split at all. I sort of had to do it, it wasn’t like I wanted to do it. I think it’s a great thing for artists, but I also don’t want it to be connected with my art at all, if that makes any sense. It’s a great tool for artists, especially in America where the government doesn’t have any funding for artists.

Is there anything that you miss about being signed to a record label that’s not your own?

There’s a lot of things a label can do that I can’t do and I’ve kind of learned that. I’ve been driving myself around from town to town and am really exhausted. Labels give you a sense of security and family. In some ways I do miss that. They pay for a lot of stuff. They’re good, it’s just that you can’t mistake the fact that they’re really not your friends. They make it so you think that you have this great support system and this family, but then when it ends it’s just nothing. I do miss having a support system, because I do everything myself, and it’s pretty hard work I’ve found. Doing all the driving, and I have booking agents and stuff like that, but it’s exhausting. I’m a little worn out right now, especially since I drove 10 or 11 hours yesterday. There’s so many things, like for instance my record has gotten a lot of press in the United States, but I couldn’t afford a publicist in Europe, so even though Europe used to be my best place, now I don’t even think that’s it’s really known that it’s out yet over there. There’s just a lack of money to make that happen.

Outside of all the driving around and the lack of a support system, what are some of the biggest challenges you have found going it alone?

Basically just that my reach is not that far. There’s only so much I can do. You have to pay for everything. It was really a sad day when I realized that a review in a magazine meant that somebody paid for it to be there. Like I used to think that everything with Rolling Stone is because they just have really good taste in music or whatever. Then I remember being really disappointed when I found out that even in indie music it really is like even indie labels, it’s like you have PR and there’s hype. My reach is not that far because I’m not willing to pander to the hype. I’m not willing to adhere to a style that’s popular. I just do my own thing. So I struggle to tap into an effective way to…the hardest thing is just not being able to do everything myself. Like I have my limitations. I want the music to be the most important thing. I don’t want to be in front of a computer all day crunching numbers, but that’s what running your own business entails. That’s something I may not want to do forever. I’d rather just write songs, but I didn’t feel like going through the process of sending my record again and again to labels after having seven or eight years of touring. I felt like I paid my dues and never didn’t really get like a lucky break and didn’t feel like having to prove myself. So I was just like, “Fuck it, I’m gonna do it on my own.” People that like my music like it, and it may not be huge but I just didn’t want to send it to every indie label to have it rejected.

So now you’ve got your own label, Box of Cedar. Is there anything you plan to do with it other than release your own music?

Maybe. It depends on how well my record sells and if I have any funds to put towards other people’s music that I like. Yeah, I might in the future release other records if I can afford it.

Have you had anybody approach you asking to be signed?

People have, actually. I feel like I’ve done a good enough job at making it look like a real label because I’m getting asking if I’ll put their records out. So, maybe.

Let’s talk a little bit about the new record. You chose to self-title it. What was the reasoning behind that?

I just felt that I had always wanted to self-title a record and I really like this record a lot. I felt like it was a really strong collection of songs. The thought process was not, “This is the definitive Marissa, and all other records are not.” I still like all my other records and I’m happy with the continuation of my body of work. I just felt like self-titling it because I hadn’t yet.

In many ways I think that the new album is a little more honest and a little more personal than your past records. At the same time, a lot of the same character that have been on your earlier records re-appear here, and instead of them being in more fictional situations, now they seem more reality-based. I’m curious as to how you’ve tried to reconcile the difference between the previous ways we’ve gotten to know these characters and how they’re represented here.

The old songs were never fictional, it’s just that I used to make up names for people that were in them and have situations take place in other settings. I just decided to not do that anymore. I felt like writing more in the first person. All my music has always been very personal, and I think it’s a misunderstanding from the way that the press has been recycling information, because I know that’s in my press release. I that my records have always been really personal and really honest, it’s just that there was the difference between using third person vs. first person or using fake names instead of real names. The emphasis behind the songs has always been really honest.

Do you feel that it’s tougher to write a song about a much more personal experience in your own life versus something that happened to somebody else that you know?

I think it’s easier to write songs about real life or in first person. I don’t know if it’s easier or not, I just write songs when I feel like I need to write some I guess. It’s hard to explain it into words.

I’m curious as to how much work you put into sequencing your records. There’s something about how the new album flows – the songs very much seem to compliment one another.

I did put a lot of time into sequencing. You have to. I had 18 songs, and five or so ended up on the upcoming EP. It’s just a matter of listening to the songs you have and trying to choose the best ones. You don’t want songs that sound the same-ish to be next to each other, you don’t want anything too different…it’s kind of a guessing game.

Any idea when the EP is going to be out?

A couple months probably.

Tell me a little bit about some of the more collaborative work that you’ve done. I know you recently recorded a couple songs with the band Cloud Seeding.

Yeah, he’s [Kevin Serra aka Cloud Seeding] a friend of mine and he asked me to sing on that project and…I did. I like to do collaborations because it gives me a chance to sing some different styles of music and stuff like that.

Do you find the creative process to be a little different considering that you normally write and compose your own songs? In collaborating with another artist there’s this whole other dynamic you’re entering into.

Well yeah, but usually like with Cloud Seeding I wrote the melody and the lyrics for it. I usually will not sing other people’s melodies or lyrics. I don’t see the point in doing that. I’ll collaborate with somebody, like with Xasthur, the black metal record I did, I got to sing what I wanted, so it made it a lot better for me.

If there’s one thing you want people to know about your new record…

[Lightheartedly] Just to listen to the fucking record! I really think regardless of how it was made, I don’t think when a person puts a record out on a label that they talk about the label constantly. If you want to know what the songs are about and the lyrics are about, you should listen to the record. Cause it’s really hard to describe what the influences behind an entire record are. I keep getting that question and it’s just like, listen to the songs because it’s really obvious. I don’t mean to say that in a bitchy way at all, but there’s nothing really I have to say about any of the music other than what you can listen to. If I wanted to be a writer, I would be, but I write songs so you can listen to them and then know what I mean. I don’t know how to explain when they’re obviously about love and loss and sadness and anxiety and whatever, but if people want to know that all they have to do is press play.

Have you ever thought about trying to write an exceptionally upbeat or happy record, or is that just not in your nature?

No, that is not true to my nature. Not at all. I think aesthetically I’m drawn to melancholy.

Thanks to Marissa Nadler for the interview. If you haven’t already, please buy her new record. It is very good. A sample mp3 for your taste testing pleasure:

Baby, I Will Leave You in the Morning

Show Review: Timber Timbre + Marissa Nadler + Faces on Film [Schubas; Chicago; 7/21/11]

In case you haven’t heard, there’s a heat wave taking over Chicago and most of the country right now. It has created a problem and a half for so many people and businesses, though I’m sure the ice cream shops are experiencing a super boom. Power outages at a time like this can be fast and furious too, with so many people cranking the air conditioning. The good news is that despite it being 90+ degrees outside, outages were minimal, though not a lot of people were walking around outside. Inside of the classic Chicago venue of Schubas, they do not have air conditioning. Fans are their only means of keeping cool, and in their concert room they were on full blast. The less warm bodies in the room, the cooler it was. It’s part of the reason why it paid to show up early to see the triple bill of Faces on Film, Marissa Nadler and Timber Timbre.

For those unfamiliar, Faces on Film is the moniker under which Boston singer-songwriter Mike Fiore records. He’s got two full lengths out, and I’ll readily confess that I’ve heard neither of them. It’s not that I’ve actively avoided Faces on Film, but there are so many artists out there and I’ve only got two ears and so much time. After seeing him play though, I have to say that I was won over. Singer-songwriters are often a hard sell, primarily because there are just so many of them. Have a strong sense of melody, play guitar with precision, and sing with range and power, and hopefully the right kind of attention will come your way. Fiore played his entire set solo, just him and a guitar, along with a respectful audience. As it was still early in the evening, there were only about 20 people that bore witness to his soulful and heart-on-his-sleeve performance. The response was louder than you’d expect though, and it helped that Fiore was charming and had some solid stage banter. After playing an acoustic guitar for close to half the set and an electric guitar for much of the second half, towards the end he pulled out a new instrument he had bought on eBay. It’s difficult to describe except to say it was like a small lap-confined autoharp that sounded like a synthesizer. That said, he told everyone before pulling it out that it hadn’t been working properly ever since he got it, and that he’s yet to make it through a full song using it. It brought a fun bit of extra entertainment to the set as everyone held their breath the instrument would work for an entire song. The end result? We got half of a song out of it before it crapped out. That one instrument may not have survived a song, but Fiore not only did that, but pulled off a full set in very smart and economical fashion. Faces on Film is one to watch for the future, that’s for sure.

Moon’s Row by Faces on Film by Faces on Film

Hear more music from Faces on Film via Bandcamp

While it technically wasn’t what you’d call a “triple headliner” bill, all three artists on it played for almost exactly the same amount of time and almost exactly the same number of songs. Only the order of the artists constituted what might otherwise be desrcibed as a “pecking order” of who people came to see. It actually surprises me a bit that Timber Timbre is playing last on this tour, if only due to their fewer number of albums and experience compared to somebody like Marissa Nadler, who just put out her fifth full length last month. The only logistical reason she wouldn’t be playing last at a show like this is because of musical style. I’m almost positive her fan base is bigger than Timber Timbre’s (at the moment), even if Timber Timbre are rising pretty strongly in popularity. At the very least let’s say this is a double headlining bill, and the quieter, much more fiercely independent Marissa Nadler wound up playing second for that exact reason. The crowd had built steadily by the time she took the stage, so the 200+ person room was moderately full and eager to hear her melancholy folk songs. In my pre-show interview with her, she mentioned to me that she’s got a pretty bad case of stage fright, so there was just a hint of apprehension on her face before starting that first song. Yet like the brave soul that she is, and like she’s done so many times before, she pushed onward and through. After taking the first three songs completely solo, she brought a friend of hers on stage to play cello, which brought some extra richness and depth to the rest of the set. Songs like “Little King” and “Alabaster Queen” had just a touch more dramatic flair and intensity than on record, and the crowd’s attention was affixed only on the stage. Mike Fiore aka Faces on Film also came on stage in an assist capacity for the last few songs, freeing Nadler up to focus exclusively on her rich and haunting vocals. In a sense then, Nadler had her own backing band for once, and though they didn’t quite have enough people to throw some light drums into the mix, in the end it didn’t matter. By the time she closed with “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You”, you could have heard a pin drop in that room. I’ve been to far too many shows at which people will have open conversations with one another as music plays right in front of them. Most of the time such behavior results from somebody being bored and feeling that chatting will be more interesting. So many great artists have been forced to ignore idiots that choose to disrespect a performer in such a way. It’s to Marissa Nadler’s credit that I heard not one bit of conversation during her set, save for her own stage banter, which was primarily confined to introducing and telling us a little bit about the song she was about to play. For as quiet as it was, it was also an overly heartwrenching and passionate performance – one you simply just couldn’t ignore.

Marissa Nadler – Baby, I Will Leave You in the Morning

Buy “Marissa Nadler” from Amazon

Last but certainly not least was Timber Timbre, a band I’ve done a minor amount of advocating for in recent months primarily due to their weird and unique take on music. Here is a band that brings together a number of familiar sounds, but not in any way you’d truly expect. At their heart, these songs are like what Nick Cave might sound like were he to attempt a doo wop album. There’s this almost scary waltz-like tempo on virtually every one of the songs on the band’s newest record, and the marriage of minimalist textures seguing into violent instrmental bits makes it that much more haunting. Speaking of haunting, the three piece chose to create their own stage lighting rather than use the traditional overhead can lights. In place of them were three construction lanterns with red bulbs inside, hung from makeshift poles next to each band member. It pushed the eerie atmosphere that much farther while crafting an intimacy that made the now packed room feel as if it were a sealed-off cave from which there was no escape. Given that we were all “trapped” in this situation, Timber Timbre made the best of it and played an assortment of songs from their catalogue. Even outside of the lights, the stage setup was odd courtesy of how each band member was surrounded by multiple instruments. Frontman Taylor Kirk did triple duty by playing the guitar and singing while simultaneously stomping on a bass drum. Mika Posen would alternate between keyboards, violin and a floor tom drum. Simon Trottier was sort of the everyman in the band, doing guitar but also autoharp and a number of various electronic gizmos that created unique sounds or backing tracks. So while the set up lacked a couple of the elements that are on the most recent Timber Timbre record, in particular saxophone. tracks like “Bad Ritual” and “Do I Have Power” still thrived in slightly different form. My personal favorite out of the set was “Lonesome Hunter”, which flew into a dischordant rage at the very end of it – something that felt entirely earned. The crowd, again holding deathly quiet throughout, threw an avalanche of applause on the band when they finished their set. Who knows if they legitimately had planned on doing an encore or not (as with pretty much every headlining band, such things are standard), but they did walk off and then back onto the stage after a few moments to seal the night with a grand rendition of “Trouble Comes Knocking”. It marked an almost triumphant end to a night that was really anything but.

That’s not to say anything was bad, in fact there wasn’t really a bad moment across all three sets. I’m speaking more to the extremely subdued and hushed nature of the entire evening. Unlike so many bands that infuse all sorts of energy and thrill-a-minute gimmicks into their shows, here were three artists that make uncompromisingly dark, quiet and slow music. That’s not something to be celebrated, but it is something worth praising. So many of us go out and have lighthearted, happy-go-lucky lives that we never truly connect with the sadness of others. We avoid emotionally stressful or challenging situations because of the fear we’ll get dragged down along with that other person. Yet no healthy, emotionally strong person strives for happiness each and every day of our lives. We need that sadness, that darkness, to help stay balanced and truly appreciate the better times. What these three artists did on stage, whether they were fully aware of it or not, was to help us access those feelings we choose to keep locked away from most of our friends and family. Nobody was about to break down and have a good cry, but when you talk about empathy and sheer drama, there was a wealth of it spread across 3.5 hours. When all the music was finally over, most everyone in the crowd filed out of Schubas in the close to silent fashion we had arrived. With the pitch black night sky overhead, that dark passenger stepped out onto the sidewalk with us, a gentle reminder that sometimes sunshine, lollipops and rainbows are completely overrated.

Timber Timbre – Black Water

Buy Timber Timbre’s “Creep On Creepin’ On” from Amazon

Album Review: Marissa Nadler – Marissa Nadler [Box of Cedar]

There are thousands of female singer-songwriters out there, every single one of them hoping to find a big break. Most never make it beyond their own bedrooms, and it’s really the cream of the crop that tend to get enough notice to earn a record deal. Even then your future is by no means set in stone, as underperforming to label expectations can result in the plug being pulled from your deal. This unfortunate reality is one that Marissa Nadler knows all too well. Kemado released her 2009 album “Little Hells”, and while it was met with solid praise by those that heard it, apparently not enough people did hear it to satisfy her financial backers. So upon being dropped by her label, Nadler went on the offensive and did something that was relatively unheard of at the time: she asked fans to donate money via Kickstarter to help fund her next record. After reaching her goal, the rest of the pieces slid into place and became her fifth full length album.

As with any artist, not just female singer-songwriters, consistent innovation is the key to survival. Turn in the same record 3 or 4 times and people will write you off. Marissa Nadler has done exactly what she’s needed to across four albums, and now her self-titled new one continues that evolution. While gentle acoustic guitar and that gorgeous voice of hers are still the two main attractions in her songs, “Little Hells” saw her moving towards more lush and varied instrumentation. That trend continues here, with doses of everything from vibraphones to orchestration and a light dose of synthesizers. She’s not so much using more of these extra elements, but rather better at implementing them than before. A song like “Puppet Master” is a solid example of that, moving from a light acoustic guitar shuffle into something a little more retro and sprightly with some added playfulness via vibraphone. The fluid tempo changes along with a mood shift are just a couple of the ways this is a continued innovation from what’s come before. The way that opening track “In Your Lair, Bear” steadily builds in intricacy over the song’s duration without ever rushing or sounding out of place is a great testament as well to her maturity as an artist. Most others would not have pulled that off with such grace and poise.

There’s not much to be said about the development of Nadler’s voice, primarily because her beautifully calm yet disaffected presence has not changed much, if at all. In her higher octave ranges she still sounds very precious a la Joanna Newsom, but the way she juxtaposes that with darker and colder imagery is what helps to set her apart. The biggest way Nadler has grown from her last album is via her lyrics. The very impersonal and story-filled songs of her past now remove character names and fanciful elements to actually use the word “I” a whole bunch. Descriptions too are far more down to earth and realistic. Rather than going off on some obtuse and illogical sweep of romanticism, here she sees the forest for the trees and no longer reaches to those heights. That’s less to say she sounds defeated but more to say these songs become more easily relatable because they seem like she’s actually experienced them. When you’ve never truly loved before, there’s a wide-eyed innocence that permeates your world view and tends to make you believe that you’ll wind up in some sweeping epic of a relationship that’s just like the stars on the movie screen. The older and wiser you become in the ways of love, or alternately speaking the more you’ve had your heart broken, the more you come to realize what the real lessons to be learned are. So with songs like “Alabaster Queen” and “Baby I Will Leave You in the Morning”, Nadler is dealing with some of the tougher aspects of dealings between men and women. Despite its title, “Wedding” is not all magic, flowers and endless love, even if the downer of an implication is that sometimes people get married for the wrong reasons. It’s unfortunate that Nadler isn’t a more upbeat person in her songs, though if she were many of these songs might not be as effective.

With “Marissa Nadler” comes something of a plea. In spite of all the kind words that have been said about her in the past, present and presumably future, the fact remains that she’s one of those artists that is beloved by those that have heard her. The issue seems to be that not enough people have heard her. Sure, she raised enough cash to make this new record, but it wasn’t enough to keep her contract the last time around. Now pretty much entirely independent, there’s a distinct lack of promotion that tends to go along with that. In all likelihood this won’t be the last album we hear from her, but she may have to go around with her hand out asking for money again to help raise money for it. The hope is she won’t need to do that. Maybe you buy two copies of the record and give one to a friend. Maybe you just tell some friends about her. Whatever you can do individually to help her out so we don’t lose a talent like hers. Strong female singer-songwriters are not a dime a dozen, and the more you listen to their individual records the more you realize that it takes a certain special something to really connect with you in a meaningful way. Cat Power has it. So does Feist and Sharon Van Etten. And Marissa Nadler has it as well. Open yourself up to that power by giving her album a try.

Marissa Nadler – Baby I Will Leave You in the Morning

Buy “Marissa Nadler” from Amazon

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén