Q & A with Songstress Marissa Nadler

Photograph by Courtney Brooke Hall

Marissa Nadler’s voice is that of a modern-day siren’s: alluring, mysterious, enchanting. And while sirens exist in a world of mythology, Nadler’s music inhabits the realm of (at times, harsh) reality. After stints living in New York and L.A., the Needham native returned to the Bay State and just released her eponymous album on her own newly created label, Box of Cedar Records. Though Nadler is about to embark on a summer tour, the songstress took some time to chat with Boston Daily about stage fright, “evil” record companies, and her side gig as a pillowmaker.

Why did you decide to start your own record label?
It wasn’t working with [my other] label anymore, and I didn’t feel like going through the process of trying to prove myself to somebody else. A lot of artists have been eschewing traditional ways of doing things, so I just decided to put it out on my own. I don’t think labels start out saying, “We’re gonna be evil.” They start from a love for music, but but it gets harder to make that work, even for indie labels.

You studied painting at RISD. What was the catalyst for the change to music?
I had been playing music in high school and was fairly serious about getting better at guitar but didn’t have much confidence in my voice. I was writing songs, but I was so shy that I didn’t have the guts to sing loud enough to get good at it. It wasn’t really until I had more privacy that I was able to get better at singing, and I guess I started enjoying writing songs so much it took my interests away from painting.

That degree of stage fright seems like a difficult thing to overcome.
I’m still really shy and it is hard. It gets in the way when I’m trying to perform. It’s obvious that I’m shy when I’m performing, but I can get over it enough to sing well; I’m just not dancing or telling stories.

Is there anything you do before a performance that helps?
I’ve tried pretty much everything, but the only thing that helps is getting onstage and playing first song and realizing you don’t suck. I still have a lot of self doubt. I think it’s probably a healthy thing to continue to have self doubt deep into your music career, because it keeps you working harder.

How has living in Boston affected the way you approach music?
I think the climate has definitely influenced it. The four seasons play a big role in my songwriting. It’s nice to live in a place with traditional seasons and ways to separate time passing. Also I think the landscape of Massachusetts has influenced my aesthetic: the woods, the older houses, the history.

You have your own Etsy shop where you sell handmade pillows.
I like doing the Etsy shop a lot; it does well. People like to buy handmade things in this modern world, and I’m constantly making things for orders. It keeps me really busy ? a lot of people who bought the record want something handmade by someone they like. The pillows take a long time to make, though; each one takes about five hours of embroidering.

How do you think your music has evolved since you started releasing albums when you were 21?
I’m pretty much focused on the craft of songwriting. With each record, my vocals get a bit more confident. I went through phases where I had too much affectation, but the past couple of years have been the first time where I felt like I’ve been singing really naturally and it doesn’t sound put on. I think my songwriting has become more autobiographical; my first record was pretty heavily influenced by the American Gothic, but the last three have been more focused on personal writing. For now, I hope that people will feel a connection to the lyrics and find some beauty in the music as a whole.