[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he fact that Marissa Nadler is properly introducing Boston to the strongest songs she’s ever written on the eve of another July is kind of perfect, because this is the month that’s proven to be a bit of a muse for the singer/songwriter. Two Julys ago, the trials and tribulations of daily life inspired an album of the same name, Nadler’s eighth and the work that would ultimately serve as her debut with Sacred Bones, the record that boasts Zola Jesus and David Lynch (yup, that David Lynch) on its roster.
She’s constantly touring and selling out rooms across the country, but July had Nadler holed up in her apartment, rarely leaving the house unless she absolutely had to (or until she had a craving for River Gods, a frequent haunt). It’s not like hard work and dedication isn’t the norm for Nadler — she self-released most of her work before this record via her own label, Box of Cedar — but something clicked with July, and she’s looking forward to maintaining that unquenchable thirst for expressing herself so exquisitely through song well into August and afterwards.
We caught up with Nadler to talk all things July, Boston, and why she’s particularly thrilled to be sharing the stage tonight with Faces on Film and Gem Club at the Sinclair in Cambridge. It’s a bill that showcases three exceptional, genre-dodging Boston acts, and it’s fantastic to see Nadler basking in the glow of her hard-earned achievements in such great company.
Hilary Hughes: It’s been a minute since the last time I saw you, and also the last we chatted: the last time you had a record come out, that was two years ago. We caught up about it for Bust. Lots has happened since then. You released that last record yourself, right?
Marissa Nadler: Yeah, Box of Cedar. I did a full-length record, a self-titled one, and then The Sister, which was more of an EP. I self-released them.
And now you’re on Sacred Bones, which is super exciting! What was your reaction when you realized that you and David Lynch were labelmates?
That was a good thing! [laughs] I’m a huge David Lynch fan. That was a big selling point, one of many, I guess. I just think they have a carefully curated aesthetic for a label.
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That must’ve been a huge transition, having complete control over every aspect of your music and business to signing with a well-known indie label.
I was definitely ready for the change. I think I spent a couple of years just pretty much doing nothing but running my Etsy shop and kind of going out of my mind. There was a stasis. Things feel like they have a lot more momentum with my career when there are people helping me. I’m not a natural extrovert in terms of self-promotion, so to have that combined with having to do it all on my own can be a little… [laughs]
Having more people in your corner is a very rad thing! You’ve got a real stacked bill at the Sinclair, with Faces on Film and Gem Club. How do you feel about those acts?
I picked them myself and I feel really good about it! I got my night at the Sinclair a few months ago, and in terms of Boston — you know, I don’t really know what my draw is like in Boston, because I haven’t really been here since the new record has come out. Mike [Fiore, Faces on Film] is one of my really good friends, and I just met Christopher [Barnes, of Gem Club], who’s really cool. I just thought that that would be a really dreamy bill with a lot of melodic singers. I think Faces on Film is so criminally underrated. I just keep waiting for the day they blow up.
Is this technically your local CD release show for July, then?
I guess so! I mean, I did a thing at Red Star Union, which was really cool, but this is the first proper gig since the record’s come out.
And that was back in February. How has your relationship with July changed from then to now? It’s great that you’re able to play behind it and properly introduce it to Boston after spending more time with it since its drop.
I guess I feel good about the record still, which is a good sign, because I’ve played a zillion shows with these songs. I haven’t gotten sick of them. I think this is my strongest record. I have about eight now. But I really think there’s something very different about this one. I think I’ve changed a lot during the years between the last album and this one.
What about the stuff we hear on the record? Were there any songs that were directly influenced by events that had happened in your life, specifically, or was it broader than that? A lot of your lyrics are so relatable and universal that it sounds like you’ve ripped a page from the diary of whoever’s listening to you. Are these songs rooted in a very specific place in between records?
Oh, definitely. That’s kind of the reason I named the record July: it loosely chronicles the events of my life from one July to the next. When I recorded the record the following July, it’s not a break-up record, at all, but it definitely very carefully details the ups and downs of my personal life in a way that’s very different from my early work. It was very much complete, but kind of obtuse and mysterious.
I think the mystery’s still there, but there’s a lot more substance in the lyrics. A big goal of course is to always write from what you know, but also, I have a really strong interest in making music that will reach people and hit some kind of emotional nerve.
Which songs from July are resonating with you the most right now?
It’s weird: I’m just about to release a video for “Firecrackers,” and there wasn’t an obvious radio single on this record, but I tried to make them all catchy. “Drive” and “Firecrackers,” they’re songs that I feel the most connected to. When I first released the record, they were different songs. I think it’s a morphing thing.
It should be. You interact with songs and they communicate with you, you know?
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Going back to the Boston connection… I think that Boston seems to be at an interesting turning point in terms of how the city supports local music and what kind of resources are available for musicians. (The Sinclair’s a great example of that.) How do you feel about where the Boston music scene is at, in that regard?
It’s a good time to be a musician in Boston, for sure. I keep to myself a bit, but I do find that the scene, there’s a great community of music journalists in Boston who have been very supportive. Faces on Film, Gem Club, all of these other bands are doing really well outside of Boston but being embraced by the hometown community, which is great.
Going back to your bill mates, here: what’s the most arresting thing about each band, Faces on Film and Gem Club? What struck you when you experienced their music for the first time?
Well, Faces on Film, I think that Mike has an incredible ear for melody, one of the best I’ve known. His lyrics reference a lot of the classic rock I grew up with and he makes it modern. I think he’s a great songwriter. Gem Club, they have a real beauty to their work. Christopher is a really honest songwriter.
It’s refreshing to see a lineup that isn’t necessarily guitar-heavy, either. It’s hard, trying to categorize any and all of you. You’re all in this space where the adjectives people use to describe you are constantly changing.
I’ve always tried to not have a genre (laughs). Just because I think once you get pigeonholed in a genre, you’re stuck with that for life! I kind of try to be a bit amorphous.
It’s good to be a chameleon!
I think so!
When you look back on the learning experience and growth you felt as an artist throughout July, what was something that you want to carry beyond it in future pursuits? What’s something you walked away from July with that you want to hold onto?
With this record in particular, there was a really strong work ethic that went into the writing process. I always had a strong work ethic, but with July, I didn’t really leave the house for six months when I was writing the record until I needed to. I was really focused and bent on having the songs be honest. I think that’s something I want to continue, that work ethic and that focus.