BY SOFIA ARMANDO//
Hello my fellow GWU community, DC dwellers, and music lovers.
My name is Sofia Armando, and on behalf of WRGW District Radio, I am so excited to introduce my very own column, “DC’s Acoustic Audit”. This blog column will be dedicated to writing about up-and-coming artists, where I will scope out the most popular music venues for live performances in exploration of DC’s local music scene. Through “DC’s Acoustic Audit”, I hope to pay homage to all dedicated musicians and creators in pursuit of their dreams, and do my part in spreading the love for the art of music and the artists that I go see. I will be dividing my analysis into two parts: pre-show and post-show. For my first entry, I went to see indie-pop singer-songwriter Marielle Kraft.
First things first, I had to pick a venue and then choose an artist to go see out of everything each venue offered. Songbyrd Music House was on my radar since moving here last semester: a female-owned live music venue, bar, record store and coffee shop acclaimed for it’s laid-back vibe, great sound space, and delicious food and drinks. As I scrolled through the artists that would be performing that week on Songbyrd’s website, Marielle’s picture caught my eye: wearing an all white outfit behind a baby blue sky with arms wide open. She seemed so comforting and inviting that I had to choose her as my first artist. Other than familiarizing myself with her music beforehand, I took the metro to the show not knowing what to expect. I arrived at the venue (filled with around 40 people) and took a seat at a table when the band came out and red concert lights came on. Then came out Marielle.
Marielle, former teacher and Delaware Blue Hen, was exactly like I had gathered from just a quick search through her Instagram and music. She’s an authentic performer who invites you in with her relatable lyrics, charisma, and interactions with the crowd, along with being an incredible vocalist with great technicality and a classic indie pop tone accompanied by a subtle country twang. After experiencing her candid live show, I feel as though I’ve been Marielle’s friend for years. I even got the chance to talk to Marielle at her merch table after her concert; I told her she’d be the subject of my first blog entry. I am so happy to say that Marielle offered me to interview her for my column and that I will be doing a Q&A with her for my post-show part of the entry:
1. After opening the show with your first song, you mentioned to the crowd that you’re a former teacher. What made you decide that you were ready to move on from teaching to pursue a music career?
a. I don’t think I was! I mean- who ever really knows when they’re ready for a major life change? But that’s the beauty of taking the leap. I loved teaching and spent years preparing for that career, but I found myself unexpectedly falling in love with music at the same time. A teacher is something I will always be, but I had to give this dream a shot while the fire was burning. I haven’t regretted it.
2. You also mentioned during your show that you wrote a lot of songs during the pandemic. Did your writing style change throughout the last two years? What is your writing process like?
a. When I transitioned into full-time music, my main focus was touring. I was on the road constantly, playing small and smaller shows up and down the East Coast until a few people turned into a few more. I was writing only when it was convenient and when I felt completely inspired. When the pandemic put a physical stop to touring, I turned to songwriting in more of a methodical fashion, booking virtual sessions 4-5 days a week and writing even if I wasn’t overtaken with inspiration. I viewed it both as a coping mechanism and a job for the first time. This felt like boot camp, and really pushed me to develop a stronger writing voice and find co-writers (like Hera Lynn, who co-wrote my last singles) that I could develop relationships with overtime.
3. Follow-up question: How are you handling touring and being away from home after having to stay inside for so long?
a. I love it! I missed this life so much!! It’s more exhausting than I remember, but I am filled to the brim getting to play to a room full of real people again and experiencing the world outside of my 4 pandemic walls. The gratitude this time around for those who are showing up after nearly 2 years apart is much more palpable than before. It feels special, like a gift.
4. I noticed a lot of recurring elements to your songs: a catchy 8th note drum groove, infectious snaps, and faster-paced choruses that reminded me of artists like Alanis Morissette and Paramore. What else would you say serves as a distinct trademark in your music production?
a. Yes! A catchy chorus is important to me – I want to stick with you after the song ends. A lot of my songs have guitar-based productions because that’s how I write all of them with just my guitar and me. I have also loved including gang vocals in the final chorus of a few of my recent song (like “In It Together”, “Everyone But Me”, “We Were Never Friends”) to bolster the energy and encourage sing-alongs during live shows. I also love playing with lyrics in a clever way, whether that means using humor or metaphors or flipping the meaning of some lyrics at the end of the song. For example, in my most recent single, “Second Coffee,” one line in the bridge changes the meaning of the whole song. When I wrote “I don’t wish it was mine”- the song instantly changes from a ‘missing your ex’ song to a ‘I’m actually doing fine without you’ song. I love twists and turns like that.
5. During your set, you noted Tracy Chapman as someone you had been listening to a lot recently. You also acknowledged Taylor Swift to be a big inspiration as well before performing a fantastic mash-up of “I Knew You Were Trouble” and your song, “Test Drive”. Who are your other idols and musical influences?
a. Recently, I’ve been obsessed with JP Saxe’s record and Maisie Peters’ new album. Their abilities to make profound concepts seem so simple through conversational lyrics is inspiring to me in my own writing.
6. You seemed so comfortable in front of everyone as soon as you stepped foot on stage. You talked to the crowd in between every song and even told us to get closer to the stage at one point. As someone who struggles with performing in front of a crowd, how did you get to feel so safe on stage?
a. It took a while to develop a confidence on stage. I still get nervous before I step out there! Part of me thinks I always will. The talking in between songs helps me stay in the moment and treat each show as its own entity. I treat it like a conversation between me and the audience- we tell jokes, I tell you about my day, I let you in on some secrets. Ironically, oversharing to strangers gives me a sense of relief. It’s like we’re all just pals hanging out and I’m no different than anyone else who showed up.
7. Relationships seem to be an apparent theme to your songwriting, be it boyfriends, friendships, mother-and-daughter relationships, and ex’s. What’s the secret to writing relatable lyrics about relationships while also staying authentic to your own experience?
a. If you know the secret, I’m all ears! I just try to stay as true to the story as I can. There’s a fine line between sharing my experience with honesty, while not giving away absolutely everything. It means so much to me when listeners relate to my lyrics. If I am bending details or exaggerating the situations, then I might compromise the emotional process of someone else. So I try to write as sincerely as I can. If others see their own truths in mine, then we all feel a little less alone. And that is more important to me.
8. In terms of the overall composition, what is your favorite song that you have written and why? Which song did you have the most trouble writing and why?
a. “We Were Never Friends” might be my favorite song at the moment, and its production was the most challenging. The tempo change between the verse and the chorus hits so hard in the production, but it was an undertaking to make it feel both powerful but natural to the song. My producer, Will McBeath, absolutely crushed it, and it came out exactly the way I had hoped. Contrastingly, the lyrics in that one came easily and quickly. I told my co-writers, Hera and Suzie, about the breakup conversation between my ex and me, and the verses are pretty much verbatim.
9. Do you have a plan for after your tour? What’s next for you as you move forward in your music career?
a. In December and January, I’ll be back in the studio with Will cooking up the next batch of songs. After writing so much this last year, there are so many to choose from, but it’s a challenge I’m looking forward to taking on. Then, I’m heading back on the road from February to April for a spring tour and hopefully releasing even more new music late 2022. Living in Nashville has given me more access to collaborators, so I hope to continue working with talented people and honing my own skillset. The big goal is to one day play at Red Rocks in Denver and tour the world.
10. What advice do you have for people like me that are going into their twenties and in the process of formulating their future careers?
a. The only way to know if you can do something is to try and do it. I had no idea if anyone would buy tickets to my first tour, but I hit the road and showed up and other people did too. I had no idea if I could write a good pop song, so I sat down and wrote tons of subpar ones until I finally did. Even if you’re scared, take the first step anyway. How will you know until you do?