New Englander Marissa Nadler makes ghost folk music of the highest caliber. Her siren-esque voice couples with a honed, finger-picked acoustic guitar to lay out surreptitious Americana fairy tales. Her new album July, released on the consistently great Sacred Bones label, came out in early February to critical acclaim, and rightly so. Miss Nadler has released music since 2004 with her first LP Ballads of Living and Dying, which was put out on Eclipse Records, which boasted the likes of Charilambdes, Jack Rose (RIP), Acid Mothers Temple, and other excellent acts.
Nadler's albums are consistently highly-regarded and seem to effortlessly build on each other. There's a yearning - something unmistakably reaching - in her music. There are some big things at work in Nadler's music, as if she distills Cosmic American Music and weaves it into a synthesis of old and new. To me, her music possesses a mystique - pardon the hyperbole, but it seems bigger than big and it hits me very hard.
That's why I was more than ecstatic to have the opportunity to interview Miss Nadler. She is playing Chicago at the Empty Bottle (my favorite venue in Chicago) on May 11 at 7 pm. You can also pick up her record July from Sacred Bones' Website and keep up with her by "liking" her on Facebook.
I'm more than honored to feature her on here and can't wait to see her at the Empty Bottle!
Jordan: What kinds of music do you listen to? Do you have any artists that you've been listening to consistently for a long time?
Marissa Nadler: Sammi Smith, Catherine Ribeiro, Tammy Wynette – those are my current three favorite vocalists. I love the Dirty Three. I like any music with heart and passion.
J: Are there any lyricists who you think are particularly important to you?
MN: Leonard Cohen is at the top of my list in terms of lyricists that have impacted me.
J: I know it's a bit like picking a favorite child, but do you have any songs or albums that you're more particularly proud of than others?
MN: I’m very happy with JULY. I’m also very happy with the self-titled record of 2011. I think with July, I’m making some of the music that I’ve always wanted to make.
J: You seem to have been playing and touring a lot - what is the appeal of the live show for you?
MN: The raw energy, nerves, and grit make for a more emotional experience for the audience.
J: Do you enjoy collaborating with other musicians? Do you have any dreams collabs?
MN: I definitely enjoy collaborating with other musicians. Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, Angelo Badalementi are at the top of my list.
J: What all is in the future for Marissa Nadler?
MN: I’ll keep touring for July, the new record, and then I’ll write another record. I’m interested in doing soundtrack work as well.
J: Tell me a little bit about your time in art school. What do you think of the role of schooling for art? Should people be "trained" about art? Does that affect the individuality of creation?
MN: I think in many ways its important to learn the rules before you can break them. I'm grateful for my background in the fine arts as it's helped in many ways with my music career. I think having a clearly defined aesthetic helps to create a complete artistic vision. Having continuity visually throughout years of photographs and videos helps to define the musical world which I've tried to create.
J: In many interviews you mention film directors. What, in your opinion, makes for a good director? What is the role of film in regard to music? What overlap exists and how should that overlap be used to maximize the artistic effect?
MN: I take a lot of inspiration, at least indirectly, from cinema. It's such a complete art form and therefore provides endless possibilities. I hope to get into scoring films and contributing vocals to soundtracks in the future.
J: You often talk about honesty and truth in your lyrics. There's a lot of different ideas about lyricism, like the storytelling of Nick Cave as compared to Mark Kozelek's autobiographical bend. Where some songs are fictional, there is also an underlying ethos lying in being genuine. How do you personally walk the line of poetry and honesty? And in general what do you think is the difference between being honest/truthful and genuine/real?
MN: I think there's a fine line between sincerity and sentimentality. That's where it can be tricky. I try my best to say what I mean and avoid purple prose. I try to use economy of language these days and get to the point as quickly and directly as possible.
J: Similarly, a person's identity often gets interwoven with his or her songs. Is this true for you? How do you identify with your musicianship?
MN: I try to write honestly. I think that's all I can say.
J: Do you dream vividly? Do dreams/sleep/surrealism impact you or your music? How?
MN: Sadly, no! I wish that I remembered more of my dreams. I do think that real life often feels very dreamlike. To me, it's not so clear what's real and what isn't. For an imaginative person, the real world can seem like a dream and a nightmare.
J: Do you like sleeping?
MN: Yes, it's one of my favorite things to do.
J: I’ve heard you talk about "dark" music a lot. It's an adjective that reflects mood more than sound, in my opinion. Something I struggle with a lot is having people ask why listen to "dark" music. Why surround yourself with negativity. I usually say something about realism, but I'm skeptical of it. I also think of how it can be a tool for empathy, but I'm skeptical of that too. What role do you think "dark" music plays? What is its purpose? Do you think there is a positive outcome of creating or listening to "dark" music?
MN: I think my music hits on many different emotions. There is darkness in my songs, but also a lot of light and hope. I try not to pigeonhole myself into a particular genre as It can really limit the reach of my music to certain subcultures. To me, a good song is a good song. Writing the best songs that I can possible write has always been my main priority and always will be. I try to favor substance over style at all times.
J: I often think there's something somewhat spiritual in your music. Is this purposeful? Is spirituality a big part of your life?
MN: I’m not a particularly spiritual person, strangely. That may change.
J: You’re from the East coast, and have mentioned being from Providence, home of H.P. Lovecraft. Has the location there affected your music?
MN: I’m actually from Massachusetts, though I went to school at RISD and lived in Providence for many years. I live in Boston now. I think there's definitely an east coast vibe to my music. I'm absolutely influenced by the landscape, as well as the antiquity here.
J: If you could have dinner with any single person living or dead, who would it be?
MN: There are so many people. Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Lars Von Trier, Joni Mitchell.
J: If there were an apocalypse today (say a non-zombie/infection scenario) what would your role be after? What weapons would you have? Where would you go?
MN: Well, if there were truly an apocalypse, nobody would survive. If for some reason I managed to survive, I'm honestly not sure! Perhaps matches for fire. I'm not a violent person so I have a hard time imagining using any weapons.
J: Who would you say is your favorite Dictatorial leader? Would you guys be besties?
MN: I have no favorite Dictatorial leaders! They are called Dictators for a reason. I'm a big fan of free will.
J: Are wax museums overrated or underrated?
MN: Wax Museums? I think they're pretty cool.