CULTURE

Heavy heart and melancholy work belie this songwriter’s tender age

With just two albums released over the past year or so and still in her early 20s, neo-folk artist Marissa Nadler sounds like she’s been around for far longer and weathered considerably more than can be expected of her age. There is an eerie quality to the New York-based artist’s dark folk balladry that deals with matters such as death, often tragic, and doomed love. Even so, her work isn’t moody or abrasive, but gentle, sensitive and kind – from a troubled and introverted soul that confines trying matters to themselves rather than spread the emotional turmoil around. Nadler plays intricate finger-picked guitar and delivers her melancholy tales with a reverberating and haunting voice. Her debut album, «Ballads of Living and Dying,» which includes an arrangement of Edgar Allen Poe’s poem «Annabelle Lee» as well as «Virginia,» a song that respectfully chronicles the death of Virginia Woolf, has generated striking press reviews since its initial release in 2004 in the US by Eclipse Records, a small independent label. Her work began gaining exposure in Europe earlier this year following the release of Nadler’s debut album by UK indie label Beautiful Happiness Records. The songwriter has already followed up with another telling effort, «The Saga of Mayflower May,» which, like its predecessor, is generating acclaim and drawing listeners. Having just completed a nine-date British tour, Nadler will play one additional show beyond the UK circuit, in Athens this Thursday, before heading back to New York City. The young artist plans to return for a full European tour in April, but, for now, Athens will have to do. Nadler recently discussed her work and thoughts in an email interview with Kathimerini English Edition ahead of this week’s show. If I’m not mistaken, you used to make CDs at home for loved ones before being discovered by Eclipse Records in Arizona for last year’s debut release. How far back does the homemade process go and had you already struck a musical direction comparable to what’s on your official releases? I started making these CDs when I was about 18 or so, and really the music had the same melancholy vibe, but, really, not until «Ballads of Living and Dying» did I really hit the stride of what I was going for. I was able to find someone to help me record a bit more professionally and that helped. The musical direction has always been about the same, in that I always knew what kind of music I wanted to make. I like sad and beautiful things like dead birds and rust. Has the outside interest surprised you? The interest has surprised me and made me happy that I might be able to eventually actually support myself doing something I love. It’s both impressive and – not in a bad way – unsettling to sense such weathered and dark maturity from a young artist such as yourself. Would you like to comment? I am a very sensitive person and always have felt things very hard. Heartbreak and woeful things really affect me and I try to access that feeling through my music. In many ways though, I feel like an old soul and am already getting tired. I feel like I am 80 years old sometimes. The overall melancholy and longing your music elicits gives the impression that you set songwriting aside for the gloomier thoughts and feelings in life. Do you, or could you, ever write with positive energy as the impetus? No, I really never write about happy things. Lately there just hasn’t been that much joy to write about. Things are a struggle. Perhaps once I fall in love I could write some glorious love songs, but until then I think the future of my songs will stay bleak. Your singing voice is quite remarkable. Is it a recent discovery, has it required work, or was it just there? It did require some work. I had to find it, definitely. I was always a very, very shy person and it took me a while to find the confidence to sing with authority and meaning. I never took any lessons or anything, but spent many long hours singing and practicing. There seems to be some sort of folk music revival going on these days with young artists like you involved. If there is such a movement, could it be some sort of a reaction to the radically new ways in life created by modern technology’s astonishing affect on just about everything? Do you have any thoughts, or, possibly, an explanation? Yes, perhaps there is an overall dissatisfaction with the technology of modern life, and the idea of getting back to the roots is perhaps what people from my generation yearn for. Growing up in a world of plastic, you start to yearn for wood and homemade-looking things, and homemade-sounding things. Could you name any particular favorites when listening to the work of others? Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, the Band, Big Star, Josephine Foster, Nina Simone, Billy Holiday, Pentangle, the Music Emporium, Gregorian chant, opera, Portuguese fado music… lots of stuff. Anything else you’d like to add, perhaps about the upcoming show in Athens? Just that I am really looking forward to coming to Athens. I am very excited. Thursday, 10 p.m., Small Music Theater, 33 Veikou, Koukaki, tel 210.924.5644.