Marissa Nadler Discusses Her Upcoming Tour and Making Art For Art’s Sake

Marissa Nadler photos provided by the artist

For years, Marissa Nadler has carved her own corner into the world of dream pop-infused folk music. A key musician of the record label Sacred Bones, each album of hers has sounded more and more full and larger in scope than the last. This June she will be performing up the West Coast, including a show at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. I got the change to talk to Marissa about her upcoming tour, what her next album might sound like, and her inspirations as a songwriter.

Tyler King: What goes into your preparation for a tour?

Marissa Nadler: Well this will be a solo tour so right now I’m just trying to run through material, dusting off old songs and preparing new ones. Right now I’m trying to get the technical logistics of the songs figured out.

TK: In the announcement for this tour it was mentioned that you would be playing some new songs. How far into the recording process for your next album are you? Or are you only tentatively working on that?

MN: I’ve got a bunch of good new songs written! At this point I’ve released so many records that each one needs to be really special. I’m not rushing the recording of it, but I have about three-quarters of it written right now. I think it will be more stripped down than the last couple have been.

TK: I’ve definitely noticed this theme with your last few albums where it seems that with each one you’re working with more collaborators than the last one and each one feels, for lack of a better term, more “full” than the one before. Is it a conscious decision to strip things back on the next album?

MN: I think it has to do with logistics as well. It’s hard to tour a “big band record” as just myself. There were a lot of songs off of my last album The Path Of The Clouds that I was very proud of in terms of producing the sonic layers of and experimenting with new terrains in that regard, but in terms of touring it it was a bit more difficult. So stripping back is also a way of continuing to change and keep things fresh. It’s much easier for me to tour a record that I’ve recorded alone.

The Path Of The Clouds

TK: When you do a tour as a solo artist, compared to performing with a full band, do you tend to go in with a prepared setlist, or do you decide what songs to play on the fly?

MN: I think for this tour I’ll go in with a prepared setlist, just because with having released as many records as I have I’m not prepared for someone to yell out some obscure song from my second record that I haven’t played in twenty years and be put on the spot to play it! I am practicing looping a bunch of parts for this tour so I’m trying to stack harmonies on top of each other for the prepared setlist. Hopefully that can give the solo set a bit more of a dynamic feeling.

TK: A couple of years ago you contributed a couple of songs to a Townes van Zandt tribute album. Was he a musician who influenced your songwriting in any way?

MN: I’ve been a big fan of his since I was maybe twenty or so. I had a friend introduce me to his music when I was a freshman in college, and I happened to like a lot of his songs. And then the project that I contributed those songs to came about by invitation, and it felt like a natural thing for me to do.

TK: I saw an interview with you where you mentioned another big influence on you being Elliott Smith. I’m a huge fan of his too, and I love your cover of his song “Pitseleh.” What made you decide to cover that song, and is XO your favorite album of his?

MN: I think my favorite album of his is either/or, but I do love XO as well. I prefer the less-produced stuff of his! I actually went to see him when I was a senior in high school at this small club before the film Good Will Hunting came out. I was always a huge fan of his. I remember I was driving when I heard that he had died and I had to pull over to the side of the road. “Pitseleh” is just one of the many songs of his that I like, and I was asked by this club in New York called Glasslands to contribute a song to an Elliott Smith tribute album they were putting together.

TK: You’ve covered a wide range of artists: Metallica, Phil Collins, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, and so many more. With “Pitseleh” and the Townes van Zandt covers being done due to outside entities asking you to contribute something for them, what compels you to cover a song for your own sake?

MN: I just love great songs! That’s basically the answer. But I do tend to gravitates towards slower, pretty songs. I’m also a lover of a great hook. Honestly I keep a list in my head of, ‘Oh I like that song, I wonder what it would be like to sing that one. I should cover it, nobody else has ever covered it.’ I haven’t done a bunch of covers as of late because I’m in the middle of writing my next album, but it’s just fun to honor your favorite songs in that way.

TK: Are you planning on putting any covers in the setlist of the upcoming tour?

MN: I still haven’t fully figured out the setlist yet, but I kind of want to throw in one or two. I’m just not sure which ones! Because my catalogue of songs is so deep, it’s hard to figure out what songs to play live sometimes.

TK: On your BandCamp there are three albums of just covers!

MN: Yeah! [laughs]

TK: You released a collection of songs on BandCamp in the early stages of the pandemic called MOONS. It was five songs, and the first two were very ambient soundscapey songs. Is that a kind of music that you ever plan on returning to?

MN: Yeah, it is. As well as stripping back for what the next record will be, there are other styles of music I want to record at the same time. I definitely have an interest in doing a record, or a few records, of ambient new age music, just because it feels like such a natural thing for me. Sometimes I prefer to listen to music that doesn’t have any lyrics, something relaxing like that.


TK: You mentioned that you were proud of having produced some of the sonic layers on The Path Of The Clouds, and while your music doesn’t have an ambient quality to it, it definitely has what sounds like an intentional atmospheric quality to it. So for me at least, those two songs on MOONS felt like a natural style of music for you to dabble in.

MN: That’s good to hear! [laughs] In fact, part of the live setup for the tour will be recreating some of those ambient parts as interludes to break up the monotony between such wordy songs!

TK: You’ve also collaborated with a lot of people: Angel Olsen, John Cale, and Simon Raymonde from Cocteau Twins just to name a few. What is it that compels you to collaborate with another artist?

MN: It really depends on the situation. Simon runs my European record label, Bella Union, so we were in touch and friends anyways. We first collaborated on two records of his with his project Lost Horizons a few years ago. So when I was recording over the pandemic and needed bass for The Path Of The Clouds he was the first person that I asked, and he really knocked it out of the park with these really beautiful basslines for a bunch of the songs. And then Angel Olsen and I go way back to maybe 2006. And then the John Cale song, “Poison,” was set up by this producer that I was working with who was also working with John, and he just sent John the song on a whim. And he liked it, which is kind of cool because he didn’t know who I was, he just liked the song enough to sing on it. During the pandemic you had to work remotely, so The Path Of The Clouds came out with a lot of remote parts having been recorded for it. Switching it up, this next one is just going to be a solo, intense, bare-bones record.

TK: Going back a little bit in your career, it feels like there was a shift in your songwriting style with your 2014 album July. Why do you think that was, and how has your songwriting changed since that point?

MN: I think my songwriting got a lot less romanticized and idealistic and more realistic and confessional. My first record, Ballads Of Living And Dying, especially was incredibly mythical with make-believe characters in the lyrics.

TK: The last song is the Edgar Allen Poe poem “Annabel Lee” set to music.

MN: Yeah! I was twenty-two years old when I made that record, an “art school goth kid,” and looking back on it it’s charming because I delivered it really sincerely. The world was changing a lot at that point and I was hating computers and loving anything old-fashioned, so I was gravitating a lot towards antiquity and old poems at the time.


TK: And has your approach to performing live changed over time?

MN: Yes. It’s gotten a lot easier. I used to have really bad stage fright, but that’s gotten so much better. Now I can deal with it and before I couldn’t. I used to be so shy and meek that it plagued my live performances for many years. And then I started to believe more in the songs and that changed me a lot.

TK: Your debut album turns twenty this year. Since that time, has there been a moment for you where you felt like you’ve “made it?”

MN: [laughs] Never! My status as a musician is a cult status. I think the concept of “making it” is really subjective, but I don’t think about that. There was a point in my life where I thought, ‘Well I just can’t do anything besides be an artist,’ and I’m content at being at whatever level I’m at where I can make music for a living.

TK: Is that how you would define “success?”

MN: I think of it as artistic success, yeah. That’s really the only way that I can measure my own success. Commercial success is one thing, but knowing that you’re trying to make art for its own sake and sometimes succeeding is my version of success. Everything else fades, but great art lasts.

TK: One of the shows coming up on your tour is at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. Do you have any ties to the Bay Area outside of playing here occasionally?

MN: One of the first name plates that I ever got was at the now-defunct Aquarius Records for my very first record! So I always included San Francisco in my touring itinerary because they helped me grow a fan-base there. I also really like the radio station KALX! There’s a DJ there named Greg Scharpen that’s had me on his show many times. It’s always been a good city to me. I played the Hemlock Tavern there maybe twenty years ago!

TK: I remember the Hemlock!

MN: I played there so many times. I just really love the area. Unfortunately I suffer a fear of going over bridges, so that’s my one problem when I play in San Francisco!

TK: Well the night before the San Francisco show you’re playing Felton. You can just drive straight up into San Francisco, you don’t have to take any bridges.

MN: That’s wonderful news! I didn’t always used to be afraid of bridges, that’s just something weird that started happening to me. My dad thinks I should get sunglasses with blinders on the side for when I go over them now.

Marissa Nadler

Visit Marissa Nadler’s website here

Buy tickets to see Marissa Nadler at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco on June 27th here