by Michael McCarthy
I recently saw singer/songwriter Marielle Kraft celebrate the release of her new EP, The Deep End, by putting on a sold-out performance at City Winery in Boston. It was the first in a small number of dates to launch the pensive but catchy EP on which Marielle wears her heart on her sleeve. At all times. She has a real gift for looking back on past relationships and dissecting them, figuring out what went wrong and why, and turning them into songs you wouldn’t have been surprised to find on an early Taylor Swift album. It’s not surprising then, that I learned that Taylor is her biggest inspiration while doing the following interview, during which we also chat about The Deep End EP, her hilarious “Toothbrush” video, her fantastic unreleased songs, love and more. So, grab something to drink and get ready to discover a singer/songwriter destined to light up your playlists and become a favorite.
MM: I know you’re originally from Rhode Island and now live near Philly in Delaware, Pennsylvania. What prompted you to leave Rhode Island?
MK: I left when I went to college. So, I went to school at University of Delaware and then ended up settling around this area.
MM: Did you live anywhere else in between?
MK: Yes, I lived just south of D.C. in Maryland last year when I was teaching.
MM: What were you teaching?
MK: I was teaching sixth grade English full-time when I graduated. Last summer I stepped away from teaching to do this full-time.
MM: So, you’re a full-time, working musician now then?
MK: Yes. I know, it’s amazing.
MM: What is Delaware like?
MK: I feel like Delaware is just close to everything else that’s slightly cooler than Delaware. And that makes it cool. It has its own beaches, but it’s not like the Jersey Shore. It’s still good. It’s in proximity to Philly, but it has cheaper rent. It has a pretty good State school, but it’s not like Penn. It’s close to everything, but it’s slightly less cooler. I think that’s what makes it have some charm.
MM: During “Better Without You,” you mention Delaware a couple of times, which begs the question, is the song about a certain person you were in a relationship with there or did you just use it because you liked the way it sounded or for some other reason?
MK: [Laughs] No, it’s definitely factual. That song is about a relationship that I had at University of Delaware. So, when I graduated I moved south of D.C. then when I moved back to Delaware this past August that’s when I wrote the song. Because all of those memories from college were coming back to me and I didn’t want to think about them ever again.
MM: Has anyone you’ve written a song about ever heard it and realized it was about them?
MK: Probably. I’m not too subtle, I guess. I kind of pride myself on writing honestly, but sometimes that comes with a price. Obviously, concerning information about my life or somebody else’s life. But I always try to write in a way that doesn’t tarnish reputations. It’s really just more of my telling my side of the story more than taking somebody else’s words. So, yeah, I try to be careful about that but all I know is my side of the story anyway.
MM: I get the feeling that most or all of your songs are autobiographical. Would you say that’s correct?
MK: Definitely correct, yeah.
MM: Is “Better Without You” your first song without acoustic guitars?
MK: That’s a good question. Yes, I think it was actually. You’re right. Yup. Very observant.
MM: Was it written on an acoustic guitar and then later changed?
MK: Yes. All of my songs were written with me and my acoustic guitar. I think that’s why I still play on acoustic live. Because that’s how I wrote it and that’s what comes naturally. It also fills out the sound a little bit more. But, yeah, that was the first song we did in the studio where we opted not to use any acoustics in the sessions.
MM: Does it sound at all weird to you where it doesn’t have it? Like something’s missing? Or do you love it the way it is?
MK: I love it the way it is now. So, when we were in the studio I think that it felt like something was missing for me for a little bit because it’s kind of my signature at this point to have me and my acoustic guitar. So, to not have that featured in a song felt out of place for me. But now that I prefer that I’m like, this is cool, I’m branching out, I’m dabbling in some different sounds and expanding my style. I mean, I love it now. Plus, I get to play acoustic live.
MM: How does the writing process usually work with you? Do you start with a couple of guitar chords or do you write lyrics first or come up with a title – how goes the magic happen?
MK: It definitely starts with lyrics almost always. And most of the time the songs start when I’m really not prepared to be writing songs. I’ve had very little success having about two hours in my day where I’ve said, I’ve got two hours, let me write a song. That usually doesn’t work for me because it feels forced. So, most of the time I’ll be out and about in my day, doing something on the road or with somebody else, having a conversation, and either I’ll think of a line, or someone will say something, and it will stick out to me. Or a concept will hit me and then I’ll jot it down in my song notes. And then from there I usually develop the songs from that song note. Sometimes it’s a melody that hits me and I’ll like whisper it into my voice memos on my phone. And I’ll revisit it later when I’m home with my guitar. Usually, 90 percent of the time it starts from a lyric and I’ll develop it from there.
MM: Do you write your songs alone or do you work with any co-writers?
MK: Almost everything that I’ve ever written was just me. I’ve actually just started co-writing just this year in 2019. It’s been really cool because I think I used to be afraid of it because I was afraid that somebody would compromise my message, or what I’m trying to say, or my vulnerability in the lyrics. What I’ve been finding is that they are actually pushing me to do better. Taking a line that I thought was great and saying, I think we can make this even better. Or they have their own ideas and it’s extending to a concept that will be more applicable to other people. So, I’ve definitely enjoyed the challenge of starting to co-write with different songwriters but every song on this EP [The Deep End] except for “Out of River” was written alone.
MM: Who did you write “Out of River” with?
MK: I wrote it with the producer who produced it. His name is Cameron. He’s down in Nashville. I came in with the verses and the bridge and I was sort of stuck on the chorus because it just didn’t flow for me. We were working through it and there were a couple of different word changes that he would say, I think we can do better on this one. And I would rewrite it. So, I would say the words were still written by me, but he was there to give me the extra push just to tighten some of the screws.
MM: How old were you when you learned to play guitar?
MK: I was about sixteen when I really started to learn. I got my first guitar at thirteen but was too frustrated and didn’t want to put in the time to really learn any of it. When I was sixteen I made friends who were super musical in high school and we would hang out and they’d be jamming and I would feel so weird not playing instruments. It would be so awkward for me. So, basically, I was like, can you teach me some of the chords to play? And so that’s kind of how I learned. We would hang out and they would teach me different chords of certain songs or whatever they were playing that day. And I gradually started to build my catalog.
MM: Did you go to college for music?
MK: I didn’t, no. I went for education. I went for elementary and middle school education. Ended up becoming a teacher after college. All through college, I was just doing music on the side. Playing in my dorm room or just for my friends. Every once in a while at a campus coffee house or something super casual. Until people started seeing me at super casual places and they would ask me to play fundraisers or dance marathons – still something that’s only fifteen to twenty minutes. Nothing more than that time. I never played more than that time until I graduated college.
MM: What do you do to work past writer’s block?
MK: That’s a great question. I think I’m still trying to figure out the answer to that. But a lot of times I’ll pause and I’ll have to revisit it later. Sometimes I’ll go outside and go for a walk. Or I will go to a coffee shop and do something different. One of my best friends – her name is Bianca, she was at the Boston show, actually – she’s also pursuing music full-time. She’s a songwriter and sometimes if I get stuck, I’ll send her an idea. And she’ll send back an extension of that idea, or a suggestion, or say this is great, keep going. Just something to get me out of the rut that I’m in. So, she’s always helpful.
MM: Would you say you’re lucky or unlucky in love in your life so far?
MK: [Laughs] Love? Oh, wow. That’s a good question.
MM: I ask because all of the songs on The Deep End seem to be about romance in some way, shape or form.
MK: I think it’s definitely a little bit of both. I think I’m lucky because I never was really looking for love when I found it. So, the luck is that I fell into a lot of beautiful and deep relationships that gave so much growth and value to my life, but I would say that the ways they fell apart were unlucky. Because a lot of them I didn’t have control over, whether it was distance, or a new job, or different extenuating circumstances. That’s the unlucky part for me, but, yeah, I don’t know, I think it’s a little bit of both.
MM: Do you find that you write more songs when you’re in a relationship or when you’re single?
MK: Hmm. I’ve never been asked that. I think it’s probably an equal split. I’m not always writing a lot of songs all the time. I think when I first enter a relationship – because there’s so much new emotion there – I tend to write a lot. Then when you find your groove, and you sort of get past the honeymoon stage, and you’re sort of in your routine, I don’t write as much because there’s not as much going on, I guess. But when I have rough patches, or there’s a break-up, then there’s a lot of writing that happens then, too. And then post break-up when I’m newly single a lot of writing happens. Then when I’ve been single for a while and I’ve found my own routine again I guess it sort of dies down. Yeah, I think it’s just the seasons and the ebbs and flows of a relationship that make me write, not really single or not single.
MM: So, you can write songs about a relationship when you’re still in it? Well, forget that, you just answered it. [Laughs]
MK: [Laughs] Yeah, I definitely do. Sometimes it’s harder to do that because you’re living in the moment and don’t have that hindsight yet. A lot of my songs have that hindsight piece in them where I look back and go, yeah, I am better without this person or oh, you know what, we were actually headed for a break-up and I didn’t even know. But there are definitely songs that I wrote in the relationship whether through confidence or through questioning.
MM: The Deep End has more of a pop sound compared to The Gibraltar Sessions. Why did you veer in that direction?
MK: That’s a lot of music that I’m listening to now that I’m drawing inspiration from. I’m more of a pop-influenced songwriter. I’ve always wanted to make sure that I’m telling my story and living my truth through my music. So, all of my songwriting is still – for lack of a better word – deep and vulnerable. But I really love experimenting with different pop sounds because there’s so much at our fingertips now with technology and synthesizers and all of these ways to expand just outside of the band sound. Being able to produce a band sound live is so awesome for me, but we can go a step further in the studio and create a different element that I can’t do live and I love doing that, too.
MM: I think there were quite a few songs that you did live in Boston that you haven’t released yet. Was that the case?
MM: Can you tell us some of the titles of those songs? I jotted down a few but I know I didn’t catch them all because I was too busy enjoying the show.
MK: [Laughs] That’s a good problem to have. Yeah, one of the songs was called “Who We Were.” I think that was the first song that I ever co-wrote with another songwriter. We wrote that in February this past year and I love it so much. I definitely want to put it out in the coming year. It’s about, I think, finding the next season of maturity where you can look back on a relationship and instead of saying, you know, I’m better without it, I want to forget about it, I say, you know what, that actually added a lot of value to my life. Even though it was tragic and really heart-breaking, I’m a better person because of that. And I don’t want to forget it because then I’m forgetting who I was back then and who is making me now who I am for this next person. So, that’s called “Who We Were” and I love that song so much. I wrote that with a songwriter named Ana Yanez, she’s based out of New York. Some of them we’re never gonna release, but I’ll tell you the titles anyway. One of them is called “Meet in the Middle” and it’s about finding air BnB homes on the weekends in Virginia to cut the distance in my relationship. Another is called “Bring Him Up” and that was about the elephant in the room of being happy again and wanting to tell your ex but wanting them to bring it up.
MM: Right, I remember you saying that at the show.
MK: Yeah. And the one I played for my parents is called “Drive” and that’s actually one that I previously released in 2014 but I’ve taken down because I’ve grown as an artist and it doesn’t represent me anymore. But that’s a song I wrote when I was eighteen or nineteen about just cooling my head on the road and becoming an adult. And then… What else was unreleased? I think that might’ve been all the unreleased songs that we played.
MM: You should do a live album and at least do those songs on that.
MK: I thought about it. I might actually do that one day. I think those are songs that people have fallen in love with if they’ve come to multiple shows and they can’t find them anywhere. I’d like to make them accessible somewhere in some form anyway.
MM: Your sound had a lot more power to it with the full band. So, a live album with the full band would kind of show that other side of your music.
MK: Yeah, thanks.
MM: In the behind-the-scenes footage of the video for “Better Without You,” you mentioned feeling, “vulnerable and super emotional.” Is that because the lyrics are so personal or was something else getting to you that day?
MK: I definitely think it was the lyrics to that song. That song is supposed to be fun but I was singing it for about twelve hours in a row and I think you just have to get in your head about it. But when you’re alone, shooting a video, and you’re reliving these hard memories for 12 hours straight with cameras in your face, watching you do it – there are definitely some moments where I’ve had to step back and regroup a little bit. But I’m really happy how it turned out because it has more of an empowering vibe than a sad vibe in that video, which is what I wanted.
MM: In that same footage, you mentioned that you might’ve touched poison ivy. Did you end up getting it?
MK: [Both laugh] I did not, thankfully, but we were definitely going off-road a little bit with some of those forest shots. There were some questionable plants out there. [Laughs]
MM: By the way, I think the jacket you were wearing in the video was definitely red, not orange as someone else had been suggesting.
MK: Thank you so much! I am telling my director. Thank you.
MM: What was the verdict from the feedback you received?
MK: I would say out of like 100 votes or something 87 of them said red so we are on the same team.
MM: There’s a house around here that’s like that. It’s totally purple, but every time we go by it, my mother insists that it’s blue. We always argue about that. [Both laugh]
MK: Yeah, sometimes we see different things. But my jacket was definitely red so thank you for telling me.
MM: In the video for “Toothbrush” you have dozens of people singing along or lip-syncing to the song while using the custom toothbrushes you sent them as microphones. Where did that idea come from?
MK: That idea totally hit me out of nowhere when I was on the road. I was on tour in December, actually. It was the first time I was on a solo tour down the East Coast from Boston down to Tampa and back. So, I was doing a lot of thinking in my CR-V for a couple of weeks. And I knew that these releases were coming up. We were just finishing these songs in the studio. And I was starting to think about creative ideas and then this idea of literally creating custom Marielle toothbrushes was just so obvious to me that I wouldn’t even say it. I would tell myself, that would never work. If we do that, how can we do that so that it can be next level and be creative and not just toothbrushes? That there’s a purpose for the toothbrushes. I’m always trying to think of ways that my songs can reach further audiences than just through my own social outlets. And the way to do it is to have other people post about it. A lot of times your friends post so much for you anyway so they’re like, what’s in it for me? So, I really wanted to have a project that could involve everybody and they could post it and say I’m in a music video and it was so fun to do. So, that’s kind of what created the idea. I honestly was very afraid that no one would actually go through with learning every lyric and putting themselves in front of the camera with the toothbrush. Because it seemed silly. I asked a lot of people to step outside of their comfort zone. And it was totally voluntary for all of them. People would send them in and I was so grateful that everybody got to be a part of it.
MM: How many hours of footage would you say that you received?
MK: Oh my Gosh. [Laughs] I had everybody limit to only three takes. People wanted to send me twenty-five different takes and I was like, listen, I don’t have time and you don’t have time. I would say if the song is roughly three minutes, and I got three takes from everybody, that was like ten minutes from fifty people, so about 500 minutes. It was a very long editing process but it was so worth it. I loved the whole part of it. Because I got to see my friends and some people I’ve never met before totally putting themselves out there for the song.
MM: Were any of the videos you received too weird or disturbing to use?
MK: [Laughs] Every person who submitted got a piece in the video. Some were a little bit more camera-friendly than others. Some people were more comfortable than others. But there was always a piece in every video that was usable, which was cool.
MM: Yeah, very cool. So, were the guys you were performing with last Friday night officially members of your band or were they just friends or hired guns that you brought aboard just for your current dates?
MK: They are definitely part of my band. So, I’m still a solo artist, Marielle Kraft, but this is the core band that we’re gonna be working with for the summer and moving forward. For the foreseeable future anyway unless something happens. We’ve gone through a couple of different seasons with a couple of different musicians. We started out with just a trio and now we’re up to five people. We’ve definitely put in the rehearsal time and the work and we’ve built some chemistry together. We had such a good time. These guys are so fun, and so different, and we jive so well. They make me better and, hopefully, it goes both ways. I’m really, really glad because this is the first time we’ve gone on the road with this group of people. I feel pretty confident in them.
Sam Capolongo (electric guitar, keyboard)
Sean Gallagher (keyboard, synthesizers, electric guitar)
Daniel Valenzuela (drums, percussion)
Ed Roach (bass)
MM: I know you’re doing a handful of dates in promotion of the release of The Deep End. What do you have planned beyond that?
MK: The tour is gonna end this weekend. We have just a few dates and then we are doing some full band dates in August. We’re doing a music festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania called Musikfest. That’s a huge festival. It’s ten days and has massive headliners like Lady Antebellum and The Chainsmokers. Like so many people that are household names as well. So, I’m playing one solo set and one full band set at Musikfest in a few weeks in August. We’re also doing a really big show at this venue that’s opening in New Jersey called The Music Barn. The Music Barn is gonna be a new venue and they asked us to be the ever first headliners to open the venue for the rest of eternity. That’s such an honor. So, we’re gonna have a full band show for that. That’s on August 9th. Then in October I’m gonna take my guitarist Sam and we’re gonna head out on the road for almost the entire month of October. All across the Eastern seaboard on tour, just the two of us, opening up for an artist named Heather Mae. So, that’s gonna be really awesome and a change of pace. Yeah, we’re going from Boston to Atlanta to Nashville and pretty much everywhere in between. It’s gonna be a huge tour.
MM: I’m sure you must look at your Spotify stats from time to time. Where do you find that you’re getting the most listeners from?
MK: In terms of location?
MM: Yeah, where do you find that you’re the most popular?
MK: My top one has pretty consistently been New York City and the second one that’s been pretty consistent is Chicago. I’ve never played a show in Chicago so I’m really excited to do that in October. We’ll see what happens out there. Other bigger ones are Philly and Boston, of course. D.C. And random UK cities like London is a pretty big one. It’s cool.
MM: Was streaming already the way people consumed music when you were in high school?
MK: When I was in high school it was still iTunes, downloading and purchasing songs. I think the transition into streaming happened when I was in college when Spotify really took off back in 2013, 2014.
MM: Who are some of the artists you listened to when you were in high school?
MK: I’m a big Taylor Swift fan. She’s pretty much the reason I song-write. The Speak Now album is the album I learned how to play guitar to when I was sixteen. Because, one, there’s no hard chords on the entire album and, two, because she was my favorite artist at the time. She’s a huge influence for me. The other one is John Mayer. His Continuum album is one of my favorites of all time. Another big one is Shawn Mendes. I really like him a lot. He was more college, though, because he’s younger. But, yeah, those were some huge influences in high school for sure.
MM: Do you tend to listen to more music that makes you feel nostalgic or new music?
MK: New music. Definitely, new music. I’m sure you’re familiar with the Spotify playlist called New Music Friday where every Friday all of the new big releases are put on this one playlist and every Friday I listen through the playlist. So, I’ll discover new artists from that playlist. Or I’ll look at the Pop Rising playlist on Spotify and see what’s trending and what’s coming up on the scene. I’m always trying to adapt what I’m doing to the next wave of pop music. Or be right in the lane with it. I love the way that music is evolving. Sometimes it’s in really amazing ways that blow your mind. Yeah, I’m always looking for the next hit, or the next song, or the next new artist.
MM: I saw that you included Mat Kearney’s “Wanted Man” on your “kind of tired but still smilin” playlist on Spotify, which I thought was interesting because when I was listening to The Deep End I actually found myself thinking that the two of you should collaborate.
MK: He’s awesome.
MM: Have you ever met him?
MK: I’ve not met him and I’ve not seen him in concert yet. But I’ve listened to his music for years and I think he has some really awesome songwriting and you’re right, it’s definitely comparable with my music. Pop production but still like meaningful songwriting. Yeah, he’s really good.
MM: I’m seeing him in concert on August 4th, so I’m looking forward to that.
MK: Is that your first time with him?
MM: That will be my first time seeing him, yeah.
MK: I hope it’s good. You’ll have to let me know how it is.
MM: Do you have any fellow female singer/songwriter friends who we might’ve heard of?
MK: Who you might have heard of? I don’t know. They’re not like big yet. But one is Bianca. She’s been working on her first debut EP out in L.A. this past year. So, I’m excited to hear what happens with her. I also have a friend from high school. You might’ve heard of her. Her name is EZA, E-Z-A. She’s out of Nashville and she’s a pop artist. She went to East Greenwich High School with me and Bianca, actually. But she was signed to a Sony imprint last year and she’s gonna be releasing her first EP by the end of the year. So, she’s really talented [and] amazing. She’s got a couple songs out on Spotify but her first project with Sony will be out in the coming months. And I have a couple songwriting friends who are out in L.A. But they’re male, not female.
MM: Does there seem to be a sisterhood among female singer/songwriters or is it more competitive?
MK: Hmm. I would like to think it’s a sisterhood because there’s fewer of us and we have to kind of stay in it together, but I think the industry tends to make it more of a competition because they’re always pitting female artists against each other. Singer rivalries. Especially at the top. I don’t feel much of that pressure where I’m at right now because I haven’t climbed that way yet. I’m still on the grind, and working every day, and trying to make it with my other female singer/songwriter friends. We’re trying to build each other up and say that we can do it together. But, yeah, it’s always a looming thing to know that once you reach a certain point it does become competitive with everybody else.
MM: When you’re depressed are you more inclined to listen to happy songs to cheer yourself up or do you find companionship in depressing songs that you can relate to at the moment?
MK: Definitely, sad girl songs for sure. When I feel something a lot of times I’ll really, really feel it until I can move off of it. I feel like if I try to ignore it and move to happy songs I won’t ever fully process what I’m feeling. So, I’d rather wallow and be alone for an hour and release that energy than not fully address it.
MM: If the world was going to end in one hour and you only had time to listen to one album again before you die, which would it be?
MK: Probably the Speak Now album by Taylor Swift because that’s where it all started for me with music. I can sing every single word and play every single chord on that album. And I think that just really reminds me of those formative years of high school and becoming an adult.
MM: What do you think about her going from country to becoming a pop star?
MK: I was not surprised. I think she probably had that idea since she was eighteen. She’s always wanted to be the most relevant and I think she saw that opportunity more in pop than in country. But I’m partial to her old songwriting just because it was so storytelling-based and incredibly detail-oriented, and she lost some of that in her new music. Those party songs are so fun, but as a songwriter, a piece of me is sad that she left those songs behind. She’s still dominating the world so I’m trusting what she’s doing.
MM: I really like her album Red because she’s still got country songs and stuff on there but she’s also got pop songs. So, I wish she’d make albums that had a mix like that.
MK: I agree.
MM: If you could resurrect any one musician from the dead and they’d be happy to be back, who would you bring back and why?
MK: Probably Amy Winehouse. I think that she was absolutely taken too young. But she had the edge and as a female solo artist, she was so unapologetic about who she was that I think we could really use her energy right now. And she was so clever, and such an amazing performer, and was hilarious. Although she had so many demons and caused trouble, she would also give a voice to a lot of people, especially young females. So, probably Amy Winehouse.
MM: Final question. I ask everybody this. If someone was giving you a million dollars to give to charity and it all had to go to the same charity or cause, which would you give it to?
MK: Well, definitely something education-centered. I would want to pick one that isn’t just a national one where the million would be split up in a lot of small ways. I think I would want to pick one that was just a small, community-based non-profit or charity where it could make a massive impact in their lives. There’s an after school program that I volunteered with in high school called After School Arts. It’s based in Providence, Rhode Island. So, this program was working with some of the least resourced schools in inner-city Providence with elementary and middle school students. Because their arts programs were cut, they provide them with instruments and music lessons and outlets after school. I volunteered at that program and it would be a really cool way to allocate my million because it would be going to kids at schools that are gonna be their generation’s artists and giving them a way to express themselves at a young age.
Special thanks to Marielle for taking the time to do this interview and to Billy Cook at One In A Million Media for arranging it!
Catch Marielle live at The Music Barn in Mullica Hill, New Jersey on August 9th, 2019 and later this year on tour with Heather Mae
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