Q&A: Marissa Nadler

By Lauren Zens
August 25, 2011
Marissa Nadler: s/t Marissa Nadler: s/t (Box of Cedar, 6/14/11)

Marissa Nadler: “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You”

[audio:http://alarm-magazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/03-The-Sun-Always-Reminds-Me-of-You.mp3|titles=Marissa Nadler: “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You”]

An RISD grad, multi-medium craftswoman, and self-taught guitarist, New England singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler has been no stranger to the creative outlets of music and fine arts since her youth.

Choosing to take the musical route shortly after college, the mezzo-soprano holds a discography of acoustic neo-folk that spans nearly a decade. Nadler made her US debut with Ballads of Living and Dying on Eclipse Records, establishing herself as a solo artist with enchanting reverberations, finger-picked guitars, and intoned legatos. Over subsequent albums, her sound and accompaniment expanded, culminating in a fuller, more mature sound.

Her new, self-titled album was funded through fan contributions on Kickstarter and Etsy and has since been released on her own imprint, Box of Cedar Records. Here she discusses her musical paths and the new approaches for her new album, which includes a greater country-western influence.

Why did you decide to pursue a career in music rather than the fine arts, bearing in mind you never received any formal music training?

I still dabble in the fine arts and am starting to get serious about painting again. I just go through waves with what medium I am interested in, but I don’t think the medium you use really makes a difference. I see painting and music as having similar meaning in my life. I got a really direct feeling of expression from music. In some ways, I think formal training in an art form can be kind of a hindrance because you start to intellectualize everything. Sometimes when I paint, I start to say, “This looks like this…” and with music, it still feels like I am discovering things each time I pick up the guitar. I do wish that I could read music and want to learn.

How does your interest in death or black metal influence your music, and was that altered or enhanced following your collaboration with Xasthur?

My collaboration with Xasthur was something I did as a guest vocalist and friend. I’m not really interested in death any more than any one else. I just write songs about life, and death is a part of life. I hadn’t listened to a lot of black metal before meeting Xasthur. He burned me a lot of CD-Rs, and now I am getting more into it. I had listened to a lot of drone and ambient and ethereal music, but I had never really ventured into metal before meeting Scott [Connor]. I got really into the process of making the vocal tracks for the album.

Aside from the incorporation of a recording band, what has lent to the evolution of your songs since 2004?

I have to say that I see my body of work as a whole entity. I don’t see each album different and as a “statement.” It’s all one long project for me, if that makes any sense. There are songs on each record that have no instrumentation and songs on most of the records that have some.

Can you tell us about the significance of the characters on your albums and why they have reemerged on Marissa Nadler?

The characters are not fictional. For the most part, they are and have always been people I know with disguises on. There are some exceptions, and with those exceptions come the stories that tell their own story.

Do you approach songwriting with intent to tell a story?

Sometimes I want to tell a story. Sometimes I want to express a moment. I guess each song is different, and the intent is always shifting.

What inspired the country-western elements on this record, namely in “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You” and “In a Magazine”?

Listening to Tammy Wynette and singers like her, for the most part. My listening styles have changed through the years. I have always loved the sound of the pedal-steel guitar, and quite simply I wanted to hear it on one of my records. I think it is one of the most beautiful-sounding instruments. I wanted to add elements to this new record of things that I have always loved. Brian McTear (the producer) has an uncle who just happens to play amazing pedal steel. We called him in because when I wrote “The Sun Always Reminds Me of You,” I had always imagined it as an old-time country ballad. I had a vision of the song that would harken back to influences like some of Tammy Wynette’s ballads. I suppose that as you change, your tastes change. My listening styles have changed and incorporated that change into the music that I make.

Do you feel a greater connection to your fans after having been able to release this album through their Kickstarter funds?

I do. It was really great to feel the support this way. I think that this is an interesting new way that some artists may want to go about putting records out. To execute it well, you have to really follow through on your promises. It was a lot of work, and in some ways to do the project it takes a lot of time away from making the actual art. I’m happy that people cared enough to help me get a head start on the record.

How was the E-commerce craft website Etsy involved in the production and/or release of this record?

Etsy is kind of my day job, I guess. I hand-make CD-Rs all day long and send them out. It helped to pay for manufacturing costs a little.

Will Box of Cedar Records expand into a multi-artist record label?

I’m not sure. I will have to see how it goes.

Can we anticipate seeing your two unreleased albums, Autumn Rose (2002) and Four Track Somber Ghost Recordings (2003), at a future date?

Not as physical releases but perhaps as digital releases.

By Lauren Zens August 25, 2011
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