Marissa Nadler talks about her beautiful new album ‘July’

We are just a third of the way through 2014 and already we have been treated to potentially this year’s most beautiful album. July by Marissa Nadler is a lush and dreamy exploration of regret, loss and yearning, a collection of songs of shivering, ghost-like beauty. Over the course of the last 10 years, Nadler has been honing her craft as a songwriter to the point where it feels like July is her most mature, fully realised and accomplished record to date.

We caught up with her just after the announcement of a Dublin show on the 5th September in the Button Factory.

First off, congratulations on the new album Marissa – it’s a really gorgeous record, one of the very best of 2014 so far. You must be immensely satisfied with the response to it?

Thank you! That’s very nice of you to say. I’m very happy with the reception of the record so far. There are few things more satisfying than sticking to something for as long as I have and then feeling this kind of reward back.
July feels like a giant leap forward for you both sonically and thematically. It is really beautifully produced and arranged and it feels like your most personal record to date.

It’s absolutely my most personal record. When I was much younger, trying to write songs about life with any weight felt a lot like dress-up. So, in my early records, I tended to deal more with surreal imagery and fictional storytelling that were informed, but not entirely, by real life. I feel that I just have more real life experience and more grit from which to draw inspiration now. I think it’s just a natural progression for me as a writer, now that I have real details to write about. Randall Dunn, who’s really known for producing Earth, Sunn O))), and Wolves in the Throne Room, gave these songs an amazing world to live in. He was subtle but also gutsy.

Tell us a little bit about the significance of the album title – I read somewhere it charts a personal journey from one July to the next?

I recorded the album in July, about a year after some of the events detailed in the record. I also like the idea of a very simple, unpretentious one-word title. Typographically, it fits nicely. Still, it’s absolutely not a concept record and definitely doesn’t adhere strictly to the theme of the “events of one year.” It’s only partially that, but many other things. I hope the songs live past any constrictions.

For all its dreamlike beauty, it is a pretty dark record. Your records have always had that dark side, but July seems to find that sweet spot where the line between dream and nightmare is blurred. Is that something you are consciously trying to portray?

Contrast is important to me. I think these songs have a more innate internal war between the darkness and the light than some of my early work. I don’t want my music to only appeal to one sub-culture of people. I just try to write the best songs that I can and that’s always been my main focus. Through the years, I think I’ve gone through some stylistic changes but have always had a pretty dark core to my aesthetic. But, there’s also country, shoegaze, and lots of other ingredients in my music. So, basically, I just try not to think about it and let the amalgamation happen naturally.Marissa Nadler

As a solo artist, do you ever feel an added pressure in that all the focus is on you to deliver? When you are part of a band, there is a sense that the burden of responsibility is shared but I imagine it must be more difficult as a solo artist delivering on the expectations of others or even living up to your own expectations?

I think the last part is the hardest. This new record does live up to my expectations, even though there were of course moments I was obsessing over the songs all the way up to mastering. Learning how to let go has been the biggest challenge for me, but I’m making progress each day. When it all comes down to it, nothing is really that important.

The reviews so far have been overwhelmingly positive – is that something you take much notice of or are you at a stage now where you are less affected by what others have to say about your music?

I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t read reviews, though I’m not as bad as I used to be. I’m learning how to not care so much about one person’s opinion. Self-acceptance as an artist is the most important thing because there’s always going to be songs that could have been better, and albums that could have done better. There’s always going to be some guy tearing you to shreds behind a blog comment board. That can’t be what breaks you. Still, that’s a hard thing to learn. Most artists have a desire to be seen and heard. For me, it’s a strange dichotomy between that desire and a natural instinct to be an introvert.

The only things that really bother me are sexist reviews, of which there’s only been one out of many that really stung. And I let him know it too.

Six albums in, what are the greatest lessons you have learned as a songwriter looking back at your first couple of records? Is it a case of finding little tricks that work for you in the song writing process or constantly trying to evolve and explore new things?

I try to start fresh in my approach with each album so it doesn’t get stale. I’m a binge writer. I like to save it all up and then isolate myself and write an entire album in one time period. I wholly anticipate continuing to evolve and explore new musical terrain.

You are currently playing a lot of live shows with loads more scheduled in the coming months. Is it difficult to keep that freshness each night and do you enjoy the experience of playing live? Does it ever feel like too much with the endless travelling and the mundane routine of it all?

Having had all sorts of miserable and not so miserable day jobs in my life, I’m at a point where I’m incredibly excited and grateful to be able to have this exciting life of travel and art! I’m at a point where I can truly appreciate it. Of course, it’s physically a bit draining, but it’s also quite an incredible way to spend a day. I’m enjoying live performing these days as well. I used to battle stage fright and I dreaded singing in public. Now, I’m just grateful as I said and happy to reach people with my music.

Are you someone that finds it easy to write while on the road or do you need a specific block of time and your own space to concentrate on writing?

I never write on the road. I’m more likely to be watching crime television, Boardwalk Empire re-runs, Six Feet Under re-runs on my computer…in a hotel room or taking a bath. I’ll write my next album when the touring is done for July. I’m saving it all up!
July, more so than any of your other records, has a real widescreen, cinematic feel. Would soundtrack work be something that you might be interested in?

Absolutely. That’s actually something I’m actively pursuing!! I’d love to work with David Lynch or Jim Jarmusch. I would also see the music working well in horror films, crime TV shows, sad love stories. I would be very into contributing vocals for abstract, ethereal soundtrack work. I expect some of this to start happening in the next few years. I think that could be very creatively freeing.

And finally, you have just announced a Dublin date at the Button Factory on the 5th September. This won’t be your first time playing in Ireland, right?

Technically, this is my second trip to Ireland. My only visit before this was affected by a fluke snowstorm, which apparently is rare for Ireland. I’m planning on playing more cities on a separate trip! I’m very much looking forward to it!