Each month GoGirlsMusic.com spotlights an artist or band from its community, asking a series of questions. This month we feature Marla Mase – writer/performer/producer/singer/songwriter from New York City. She writes songs, plays, monologues, short stories, erotica, blogs, and poems. She is known for her gutsy, sexy, raw performance style and her intelligent lyrics. Enjoy!
For me it all begins with the word. I consider myself a writer first and all my art stems from that. Generally, I ‘feel’ ‘see’ something, and suddenly there is an urgency – to capture it, to get it down before it passes on by. As far as music is concerned, I came to it later on — I was writing an abridged version of a longer play I wrote Man/Woman called A Brief Night Out and all these songs were coming to me. I performed it the first time singing the songs a cappella but when the songs wouldn’t stop I knew I had to team up with a musician. That’s when I was introduced to Tomás Doncker my guitarist and co-writer. However, years earlier I used to always say, “Really I should be a rocker but I don’t write music and I don’t sing — Oh well, next life. But really deep down I’m the female Jim Morrison.” Funny thing is, I have been called The Female Jim Morrison on more than one occasion so I guess I did know somewhere that Music/Rock-n-Roll was for me.
Describe your music style and name three musicians you have been inspired by and why.
Although I am considered a rocker, truth is my music is very eclectic. The style/genres range from world, to funk, to reggae, to rock, to punk, to folk, to Broadway, to pop and so on. I am so lucky to be backed by the Tomás Doncker Band — Tomás has been the forerunner (actually he ‘coined’ it – of Global Soul — fusing music from Brooklyn to Ethiopia– (as he describes it) and so the band always brings a funky urban groove to all that I write. There are very few songs that I write that you can’t move or shake your ass to.
- Pete Townsend: love his writing – his lyrics, the way his songs shift from rock to that signature soulful bridge — I sat many a night listening to him as a teen. I prefer when he sings to Daltrey – nothing like having the songwriter singng his own tunes.
- Tomás Doncker: must include him here, his versatility in playing and songwriting is incredible—he knows exactly how to ‘play’ my sound and he does this with all the other artists he works with and produces (Heather Powell (country pop), Lael Summer (soul/pop), Kevin Jenkins (R&B), Yusef Komunyakaa (Pulitzer Prize winning poet), and of course with his own work. Power of the Trinity, his multi-media theatrical spectacular about Haile Selassie, just off of six nights on NYC Summerstage, is being heralded as the next Fela and is being eyed for Broadway. He’s a force to be reckoned with. And he’s a Downtown NYC legend.
- David Bowie: for the risks he’s taken, for changing it up all the time, not standing still, always reaching out and beyond, performing in other bands, and keeping himself fresh. I love that he doesn’t sit in the complacency of his success. And of course his voice and style, being a barrier breaker.
What’s your ideal venue atmosphere?
Hmmmm, I do like down-n-dirty rock venues (with GOOD SOUND), I like when I can walk off-stage and go right into the audience and perform right in someone’s face — for me it’s all about communicating so I like it better when I can see my audience and make eye contact. I think of every show as an opportunity to develop a relationship with the people in the audience.
Describe how your music career has evolved since you first started performing.
Quite honestly Madalyn, it has been fast and furious. I put out my first album, the rock opera/play, A Brief Night Out in November 2010 and then followed it six months later with my 2nd album, SPEAK, then half a year later, I recorded the reggae tune, AnnaRexia, and last month BILL LASWELL did the dubmix of AnnaRexia (I am beyond grateful for that one) and now I am recording Piece of Peace, which I wrote specifically for UN GLOBAL PEACE DAY. I have been invited by the Friends of the UN to perform in China for UN GLOBAL PEACE DAY on September 21 and they asked if I could write a song for the event. I am so honored. During this time I have done many gigs, mostly in the NYC area, with a few festivals outside of NY. I put up the theatrical version of A Brief Night Out last December and will be reviving it with Broadway legend, Martin Vidnovic, performing it at American Repertory Theatre in Harvard (Oberon Theatre) in February 2013. I also am doing a Northeast Tour in October when I get back from China. What can I say? It’s been very exciting and yes, I do love performing.
How would you describe the music scene in your area?
Well, it’s NYC, and NYC has it all and yet it is lacking as well. Venues are more interested in draw than developing new artists and exposing them to their clients and I think this has damaged the music scene or taken a big chunk out of the heart out of it for both artists and audiences a like. I’ve done gigs outside of NYC and the venues and audiences are serious music aficionados and they will come OUT to see people perform and venues will promote those they believe in. It’s too bad because NYC is considered a hub and yet most musicians I know feel this way- that it is much more interesting to play outside of NY. Also, it’s so expensive to live here, to run a business here so venues must rely on big names to insure they can pay their rent. Same with artists — working so hard just to get the basics—it curtails creativity and risk-taking.
What was the inspiration for your latest release?
Well, putting Piece of Peace aside, (well, let’s not put it aside – as I said I was asked to write a song about peace for Global Peace Day and initially I had to laugh since I always say that the only things I write about is war and sex but I guess War and Peace is essentially the same thing (it’s how you look at it) and I kept thinking ‘just give me a piece of peace’ that’s all, just a piece and if we all had a piece or shared our piece it would make a whole, like a tapestry. ) My latest release, AnnaRexia, is a reggae tune. I came up with it when I was playing Frisbee in Coney Island last summer and there was all this reggae playing. Suddenly, I heard it the song and sang in to my phone, ‘Anna Anna Anna Anna Rexia, AnnaRexia’ — the subject matter is VERY important to me. My daughter struggled for many years — it is part of our home, our history, my entire family was affected — a lot of grief, a lot of trauma and huge miracles too. I speak of this in other songs of mine as well but this one is about the Disease Itself – it is actually one of the few songs of mine that is not personal. I don’t say ‘I’ once in the entire song.
What do you think is number one for a musician to think about before preparing for a CD project and do you have any tips on saving time in the studio?
Number One is having a great producer and engineer behind the project. With a great team of people it isn’t all that difficult, in fact, it’s easy (perhaps not for the producer) and fun and if an artist let’s everyone else do their job and trusts in his/her team, it will be a smooth process. Again, the producer is key. Someone who gets YOU and your work, doesn’t try and make it about him/her, and lets YOU, your truth and YOUR essence shine. If all this is in place studio time should be quick. The producer lets the musicians know what he wants and they come in, prepared and ready to go— BAM, it’s done. I always rehearse with the band before the studio session so there is no ‘figuring’ things out in the studio. And oh yeah, having top notch musicians who are professional and serious about what they do saves a lot of time as well. A lot of talent out there but unfortunately not everyone is reliable. Reliability is number one in my book. And being respectful.
Being yourself. Trusting that you are enough, that what you are bringing is enough and that you don’t have to be like anyone else or let anyone else sway you from your self. And to keep working at it and not being afraid to fail –actually I don’t believe in failure when it comes to this — everything that happens in a gig is a learning experience and I truly look at it that way. If something happens awry I see it as kinda cool. Shows me how to deal with it and I have discovered that nothing is that big of a deal. Nothing. What could happen? It’s my words, my gig, it’s all a learning/testing ground. I think people run into trouble when they allow their perfectionism to overtake them and don’t allow for mistakes and risk-taking. Also, an artist has to be prepared to promote promote promote. The fun part is creating, recording a CD, but the work really begins when the CD is finished — now what? I have to admit I get a little down when I finally have a ‘product’ in hand because I know how much work has to be done in order to get that product heard and out there.
Describe your toughest moments in your quest for a music career and tell us how you overcame them.
My toughest moments were all the years I spent NOT doing what I knew I wanted to be doing, what I was ‘called’ to do. This also includes my writing and performing by the way — but I spent so many years hiding, letting fear take over, thinking that things had to be a certain way before I could get out there, do something and it’s just not true. It literally took a breakdown to cause me to break-through and just do it. Fear or not, perfect or not, I knew it was life or death. Literally. Once I opened the door to action and putting the negative voices aside (or at least not letting them rule my life) it’s been quite a thrill even with all the frustrations that comes with being in this business.
What advice would you offer up and coming artists that get discouraged other than don’t give up?
Keep the momentum going even when it feels like there is none. Take actions. You never know what may happen, who might see you, try to say yes more than no. And believe in yourself and your work.
Tell us something you want the music world to know about you.
I’m not going anywhere. I like wearing ripped clothes (and no I don’t sew ) and I have a real soft cornball side. Edelweiss is one of my favorite songs.
What have you gotten out of being a member of the GoGirls community?
An opportunity to meet with/chat with other women artists all over the country who are out there doing their thing plus some great festival opportunities — I think it’s important that the world has some real women role models and the women at GoGirls are definitely real. Each one unique, each one spunky, each one changing it up one song at a time.
Final words to the Women Out There –
LOVE YOUR ASS!!!!! And I mean your literal ass — — it will make your life so much easier, trust me.
Connect with Marla at:
Google+ : marlamase