Singer and songwriter Marissa Nadler is bringing her ethereal folk music to Ithaca’s Wildfire Lounge at 8:30 p.m. tonight. Nadler, who studied at the Rhode Island School of Design for five years, has painted throughout her life, but she found that songwriting is where her passion lies. The Massachusetts-based performer spoke with Contributing Writer Jessie Yuhaniak about her artistic inspiration and views on the music industry.
Jessie Yuhaniak: Folk music seems to inspire personal storytelling and lends itself to playing smaller venues like the Wildfire Lounge. Does this give you a chance to connect with your fans on a more personal level?
Marissa Nadler: You tend to get a less jaded audience when you play concerts in smaller towns, as opposed to when you play somewhere like New York City where people are so bombarded with music that their ears can get a little tired.
JY: Do you think your background in visual art has had a significant influence on your music?
MN: Being trained as a fine artist and painting throughout my childhood, I tend to look at the world in a much different way — in a way that is very visual. That has affected my songwriting in terms of the way I describe a scene. And the way I try to paint settings in my songwriting are very closely linked in terms of colors, and it’s kind of a synesthesia.
JY: Do you think there is a term that best categorizes your music?
MN: It’s a good thing to be unclassifiable because I want to have longevity as an artist and a musician. It’s important when you’re still young not to put a definition besides your name in terms of what you do. If I’m lucky, I can live another 50 years, and I don’t want to be known forever as just doing one thing. For people who haven’t heard my music, it’s really rooted in Americana and folk traditions.
JY: Do you want to just be a musician in the future or do you want to explore other facets of your artistic abilities?
MN: I definitely hope to be writing songs
forever. It’s hard to constantly find inspiration, and I’m really hard on myself but … it’s rooted in me so much that I don’t know what I would do if I couldn’t write songs. It gives me a release emotionally that nothing else does.
JY: Are you purposely not in any of your music videos?
MN: A lot of it has to do with my distaste for the objectification of females in the music industry. I just didn’t want to go that route and lip-synch to a song where I’m not necessarily the protagonist of the song.
JY: Has the constantly changing music industry redefined what a record is supposed to be?
MN: Absolutely, and I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not. Within confines and limitations can come really strong work … but I know a lot of artists these days take input from their fans throughout the recording process about what their favorite songs are and what direction they should go in. But there’s strength in taking that insular, hermetic, creative process because I find the best work comes from solitude, and the Internet breaks down the walls of solitude a bit. You never used to be able to see exactly what people thought of you, which is a dangerous Pandora’s box that I don’t recommend any young musician opening, because if you Google yourself, it’s just going to lead to a lot of self-doubt.
JY: What sorts of things plague you when you’re on stage? Does playing at a smaller venue, like the bars in Ithaca, help you with conquering your own stage fright?
MN: It’s just really difficult to get used to people looking at you. That’s my own issues, I know, but when you think about yourself as a musician, you don’t think of yourself as a fashion model. There’s this enormous pressure on musicians to not only sound good but look good, and I really hate that. I understand why Cat Power used to play with her back to the audience or Hope Sandoval plays with the lights out, because it’s a drag to have to worry about that when all you want to do is play a good set.
JY: What led you to contribute to the PEACE compilation for Amnesty International?
MN: I’m always excited to contribute music to a charity because as an artist you tend to have this outlook like, “What am I doing to help the world? I should have been a doctor or something.” It’s a great way to do your part to help causes that you believe in.