mxdwn sat down with Marissa Nadler to discuss her new album, The Path of the Clouds. This album follows her mystical ambiance, but with turning to newly learned techniques and technology, she has created a masterpiece that, yet again, exhibits her true talents as a musician. Nadler decided to learn how to play the piano during quarantine, and she produced this album; both she found were very beneficial. As a veteran to the music world, she has demonstrated that growth is everlasting.
mxdwn: How do you think you have evolved as an artist over the numerous years that you’ve been putting out music?
Marissa Nadler: I think my writing and singing and playing have all improved each release since, I would hope.
mxdwn: How did the decision come about to learn the piano during the pandemic and then write some songs for this album with it and not the guitar?
MN: I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the piano, and given all the extra time, without being able to tour, it seemed like a good opportunity to learn new things. It just kind of loosened me up in terms of my approach to writing.
mxdwn: How was it producing these songs for yourself?
MN: I found the process of being a producer very liberating. I really learned a lot of new techniques, including switching from Logic to Pro Tools. Generally, I really tried to learn as much as I could, and I liked that I was able to let the album grow organically as I learned the techniques. It was very fun.
mxdwn: What moved you to write some songs with crime and mystery as themes?
MN: Well, to clarify, the themes of crime and mystery really only hit on a few of the songs on the record, three of them to be specific, and they were touching off points for them. I’m writing about them more in a metaphorical sense than in a literal sense. For instance, the first song on the record, “Bessie, Did You Make It?,” has several different meanings other than just a story about a woman disappearing. I think for anyone that would go in and read the lyrics to the record, those themes become evident and are tied together.
mxdwn: How did you feel about shooting the music video for “Couldn’t Have Done the Killing?”
MN: So, that’s one of the songs that definitely I can say hints at this ominous thing that’s going to happen. Two of my friends just had the idea, from very early on, to make it in the style of the late ’80s, early ’90s crime television shows that I was particularly fond of growing up and just had fun with the concept of the video. There are no faces in it, and it is fairly eerie.
mxdwn: What are some life moments that you were reflecting on when you wrote songs for this album?
MN: Without going into specifics, I’ve gone through some major transformations in my personal life. I think during times of great change can yield great creativity.
mxdwn: What is the narrative behind “Lemon Queen?”
MN: Well, a lemon queen is a sunflower variety, and I use it as a lyrical device to measure the changing and passing time in my own personal life. I depict a flower growing in front of a house as the seasons change, and listening to the lyrics, it’s pretty obvious, but I want people to be able to find their own meanings within the songs other than just saying it’s autobiographical.
mxdwn: Is there anything you did while writing songs for this album that you’ve never done before?
MN: I think the entire writing process was entirely unique on this record compared to my other ones. I think a lot of it had to do with trying out some new technology, like this program called Contact, which samples sound like Mellotron or things with a mini programmer. So I was able to demo the songs in different ways than just to an acoustic guitar and voice. It yielded me to think bigger in terms of how the sonic layers could be possible. I also worked with a wonderful set of musicians and most of that was done remotely with the exception of Milky Burgess, who did the recording in person with me. I think even remote recording, sending tracks to people all over the world and getting it back, was very unique to this record and very interesting.
mxdwn: This album has a mystical feel to it. Did you set out going for this ambiance before writing and producing the music, or did it unfold as it happened?
MN: Well, pretty much all my records do have that mystical feel, and I think it’s just something that happens naturally. I mean, aesthetically, I’ve always been drawn to certain things, and it’s kind of just naturally the way it comes out. What I think sounds good often is that mystical or creepy stuff.
mxdwn: How does it feel to be playing in New York City for your record release show, given how long the pandemic has gone on?
MN: It feels surreal to be heading towards the show. I’m driving there right now, well I’m not driving, but I am a little nervous, you know, I don’t want to get COVID or whatever. It’s weird, but I think it’ll get more and more natural as time progresses since we have this new normal where this is the way it’s going to be for a long time, I think.
mxdwn: Does the title of the album, The Path of the Clouds, have a meaning behind it for you?
MN: Yes. Well, that song is about D.B. Cooper, the famous hijacker. When I was thinking about that as an album title, I use it to describe it in a literal sense as his trajectory as he parachuted out of the airplane. In a metaphorical sense, it’s about guiding one’s fate, like what path will nature point me towards.
mxdwn: What was your muse for the song “If I Could Breathe Underwater”? How’d you come up with the lyrics and kind of ideas?
MN: It’s kind of a device like it has an almost old-timey setup in terms of songwriting. Like, if I could do this, if I could do this, if I could do this, then I would do this. I chose superpowers because they’re very interesting to me. I’ve always wondered what superpower would I want to have if I could have just one; would I fly, would I be a mermaid, could I see through people?
mxdwn: How was it working with Emma Ruth Rundle?
MN: I love Emma. We are friends, and we go way back; we’ve been supportive of each other’s music. She just plays on one song, but I love what she did with it. She plays this really great guitar part and sings low harmony. I just think she’s a wonderful musician and I really like her new record too.
mxdwn: Would you consider doing another album with Stephen Brodsky?
MN: Maybe, you know, he’s involved in a lot of side projects, but I do have a lot of fondness for the Droneflower record that we made together.
mxdwn: What direction would you like to go with future music, if you have any ideas?
MN: Yeah, I have some bonus tracks from this record that will come out, but I mean, I’m a lifer at this point, and I will continue to just try to make the best music that I can. I’m interested in soundtrack work and film music, things like that as well.
Photo Credit: Alexander Cabrera