Marissa Nadler Lands on Richard Thompson’s Turntable
Seven years ago, just before Marissa Nadler’s 30th birthday, I watched a simple homemade video that was uploaded to Couch By Couch West, the online fest alternative to SXSW that launched in 2011 and sadly faded away after five years. The fingerstyle guitar and upper-register vocals really struck me as being familiar, yet it took me several days to realize that not only did I know Nadler’s music, but I actually had a whole bunch of her songs already sitting in my digital library. Some were downloaded from her website and Bandcamp page, others came from music nerds and weird old men from faraway places who file-shared late into the night and wrote things about her like this:
“Marissa Nadler could be a damsel who has tumbled from a frayed tapestry in search of her unicorn, a crystal doll who has escaped from her vitrine, or a tubercular maid who has slipped out of her Victorian deathbed photograph to traipse this earthly plane.”
“Part of me wishes she’d use her siren’s call to unite Sisters of the Moon in a woodland super-group of nymphs and urban wood-sprites.”
“She’s like a young Stevie Nicks, all doped up and duped to serve as Devendra Banhart’s geisha. Nah, too strong for that. How ’bout Donovan reincarnated as Linda Ronstadt? Except instead of a ’70s pop star, in this life she’s Fairy Queen of the Muir Woods, a mythical creature spotted only by hippie chicks who dare to eat strange mushrooms and venture into the redwoods past nightfall.”
Baby, I Will Leave In The Morning, May 2011
Throughout Nadler’s music career, which formally began in 2004 with the release of Ballads of Living and Dying, attempting to explain what sort of music she makes by putting a genre Post-it note on her is the equivalent of herding kittens hyped up on catnip. I tried my best to do it with a No Depression feature article that I published in 2011 titled “The Demystification of Marissa Nadler.”
After gently and courteously stalking her through social media and email, we put together an interview that introduced her to y’all bunch of alt-country hillbillies, aging cowpunks, and Americanarama-ites. And if you could get past the image of a Goth princess in heavy makeup with long flowing dresses who played freak-folk acoustic guitar with effect pedals and sang through layers of reverb as she opened late-night shows for metal bands, you might get as platonically smitten as I was and respect her work as an artist and musician.
Firecrackers, June 2014
This was my take on Nadler back then:
“She is not living in the land of unicorns and dragon slayers, her music is not all incense and peppermints, and it sits neatly on the shelf with artists ranging from Joni Mitchell to Emmylou Harris to Vashti Bunyan. There is a lot of talent, strength,and intelligence in this woman, and although I’ll admit that I fell for the image at first, it offers great satisfaction for me to help assist in the demystification of Marissa for you and bring it all back to Mother Earth.”
All The Colors of The Dark, February 2016
Today, at age 37, Nadler is married, still lives in the Boston area where she was raised, is an accomplished illustrator and artist, has toured all over the world while developing an adoring fan base, and has just released her eighth studio album, For My Crimes. It’s a more stripped-down album compared to some of her past work that nevertheless feels lush with a brilliantly executed production and mix. The songs are mostly guitar-centric with harmonies from Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Kristin Kontrol. Here’s Nadler’s description of her songs, which she shared with Jeff Terich at San Diego City Beat:
“They’re written from personal experience, but I think it’s a good thing if people think they feel they’re more like character sketches. I really believe in the power of people to connect with music like that. I was very much writing a personal album—pretty confessional songwriting for me, I guess. I don’t put people’s names in songs, though. It gets pretty tricky when art and life collide. It’s a very hard record for me to talk about because the songs are so personal, and I want to make sure not to cause any fires that I can’t put out.”
Blue Vapor, August 2018
Several days after the Sept. 28 release of For My Crimes, I sent Nadler a link to an article from The Quietus, an English music and pop culture site “for people aged 10 to 73.” They have an ongoing feature called “Bakers Dozen” in which they ask people to list their favorite albums, and Richard Thompson just published his. Along with Moby Grape, Crowded House, Offa Rex, Squeeze, The Watersons, The Left Banke, and others was Marissa Nadler’s Songs III: Bird On The Water from 2007, which was nominated as Best Americana Record of the Year at the 2007 PLUG Awards. Here’s what Thompson wrote:
“My youngest son, Jack, introduced me to Marissa Nadler. Her music is really strange, lovely stuff. I think it’s a little bit linked to shoegazing, or that sound, although I don’t know a lot about that. I find it very mesmerising and very dreamy, especially the way she harmonises with herself. I’m also never quite sure what she’s talking about – there’s lots of ambiguity in her lyrics, which I like. Songs and stories don’t always have to be straight.”
Within minutes of getting my message she replied “Insane!!! I’ll have to send him my new one! He’d probably like it if he liked that one.” I complimented her on all the press she has been getting on the new record. There’ve been articles and interviews from Rolling Stone, SPIN, Paste, Revolver Magazine, Consequence of Sound, Red Bull, and now, No Depression. She used to read ND back in high school and has covered songs by Gram Parsons, Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and Bruce Springsteen. On her new album there’s a song about listening – or rather not listening – to Gene Clark from the Byrds. She’ll be on tour in the US and abroad throughout the year, so check out her site for dates.
Many of my past columns, articles, and essays can be accessed at my own site, therealeasyed.com. I also aggregate news and videos on both Flipboardand Facebook as The Real Easy Ed: Americana and Roots Music Daily. My Twitter handle is @therealeasyed and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.