The songs that stay with us have an enduring quality that lift them beyond genre, they may be essentially pop but they are inherently something else; they tap into real feelings, they walk the fine line between ticking the contemporary box but at the same instant making a nod to everything that has come before.
Music reflects our lives and the songs that seem to endure are the ones that we can all find something of ourselves in. Whilst melody and earworms are important, it is widely accepted that the ability to connect is the thing that matters most.
As we come out of a pandemic, hopefully, and restrictions are lifted, artists are getting back to what they do best, writing, playing and connecting with their audiences but for the first time in a very long time, with the lockdown we have all endured, we all have something in common and Marie Naffah’s new EP and her current output of music has that in mind.
There are many artists out there making music but when I went to see Marie play live at the incredible St Pancras Old Church and listening to her music and seeing the way that she communes with her audience, it was immediately clear to me that I was in the presence of an old soul, someone who has found the way to tap into the contemporary in a nostalgic way. The chance to see her play in this venue seems like a match literally made in heaven and the chance to ask her a few questions about her music one not to be missed.
This week has seen the release of her breath-taking single ‘Angie’ and video which was shot in NYC and Amsterdam by Holly Morrison who Marie says “is a master at capturing a feeling in visuals”; she describes this work of art thus:
“‘Angie’ is about internal chaos, pent up energy and eventual release. It has been unreal to see it play out on screen”.
Speaking of the track itself, Marie says:
“’Angie’ is about accepting that sometimes it’s easier to be sad than pretend to be happy. The song says ‘that’s ok- you be upset, I’m here’ it can be scary sharing something so raw, but I think that fear is good- it means something. I’d listen to Leonard Cohen in the studio and remind myself that softening the blow doesn’t necessarily make for good music. These songs are the product of a hard two years. I guess everyone’s felt it in some way, so I hope it resonates with people”
The new EP ‘Trains’ will follow soon on May 27, and I hope reading Marie’s interview will encourage you to search out this singer and her work. Personally, I can’t wait to hear the music she has to release.
EP: It must be super exciting to be able to play live again. Not only from the point of view of allowing people to hear the music that you have been busy writing but from the communion aspect of bringing people together to experience the joy that is live music. I was lucky enough to come to see you and your terrific six-piece band light up St Pancras Old Church last week. Never has a venue better suited an event; it somehow felt like an event that required a congregation as much as it required an audience. There was a soul, an almost spiritual feeling of coming together. Did you feel that at all?
MN: What a wonderful way to describe it! Yes, you know what – I felt it too. I love how much my fan base feels like a proper community – we’re like a giant family! I think church-gigs can lend themselves to a special sort of behaviour from the crowd. People feel lucky to be there. There seems to be a glitter that sprinkles over the entire event. I felt that on Friday night and I won’t forget it in a hurry.
EP: You haven’t long finished your NME and Squarespace inspired tour. Having won the chance to bring your idea to life you toured 50 free gigs in 50 days in an initiative that had at its core kindness and communion, playing music in all sorts of settings. After the enforced solitude of the pandemic and its lockdown of so many freedoms, did you enjoy the celebration of returning to live music? Did you find the event as life affirming in reality as it sounds as a concept?
MN: I cannot tell you how great a feeling it was to play live again! Performing to crowds is where I find my purpose – my power. Without gigs being possible during the pandemic, I found it difficult to grasp the point of it all. I missed the dialogue, the spontaneity and the connection. 50/50 gave me that chance to reconnect (fifty times over!)
Not only did I fall back in love with the spark of live music, but also the people that came with it. Fans opened up their homes, hearts (and wine bottles!) for me. They showed me their worlds. I feel closer to them as a result, and that for me was pretty life affirming.
EP: Your new EP ‘Trains’ was written during the journeys you embarked upon in the completion of this tour. From what I’ve heard, it sounds more melancholic than the music you’ve made before and seems like some of the most soul baring music you’ve made. Is this a reflection of how lockdown made you feel; was that a time of introspection for you?
MN: The Trains EP is definitely a product of a more melancholic time. Like anybody during lockdown, I had my frustrations and I was bored. Generally speaking, I like to use songwriting to untangle the wires in my head, so it feels counterproductive to filter myself. I want the feelings to fall out of me, making the experience for the listener as direct as possible.
There is very little hiding in this record. I think I was almost testing my bravery as a songwriter. So many of the artists I admire (Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan) write so rawly and that’s often the stuff that gives me shivers. I wanted to give that a go. I do think that having the pandemic as a shared experience made it easier for me to be so honest, it felt good to know that most people would relate in some way.
EP: Your last EP ‘Golden State’ couldn’t be more different with its escapist images of sunsets in California and its wonderful evocation of one of my favourite drives, the Pacific Coast Highway. The journey from the Hollywood escapism of ‘Golden State’ to the almost cinematic framing of times of reflection encapsulated in ‘Trains’ is stark but in some way is brilliantly illustrative of the many facets that make up our personality and how it is shaped by our surroundings at certain times. Was this a conscious decision to create this crack in your personal mirror, two sides of one personality or has there been a real shift in your emotional equilibrium. If so, how much has music helped you deal with these two extremes?
MN: I love your description of this – I might have to steal it!
You’ve hit the nail on the head really. I want to be able to satisfy a listener’s range of emotions. We’re complex beings, and I’d love for my music to cater for those intricacies. I want to kind of say ‘I’m here for you, whatever mood you’re in.
EP: Not long ago you released a super version of the classic ‘Natural Woman’ on International Women’s Day in aid of the super charity LOOK UK, who provide help to empower visually impaired and blind young people, with Celine Love, Fox Gunn and Viia, three brilliant London artists. Having watched you play, it was amazing to see your excellent keyboard player Kevin, who was visually impaired, and witness the incredible relationship you had with him on stage. Why is this cause so close to your heart?
MN: Thank you so much! I’m so pleased you enjoyed the project. It was amazing to team up with such talented women for a great cause.
The empowerment of visually impaired people, especially when related to music, is really important to me. When I was 18, I wrote a song called ‘Blindfold’ which was based on a conversation with my grandmother who became blind as a result of AMD (age-related macular degeneration). I wrote the song fully blindfolded and performed it at every show. I later teamed up with a group of six blind and visually impaired musicians in order to record the track which formed part of a short documentary that sought to raise awareness and understanding for the issues surrounding visual impairment and sight loss. Those musicians taught me a lot, and it led me to give a TEDx talk entitled ‘Making Music With The Blind’ which was a fantastic experience. I’m no expert on sight-loss but I think I learned to think more about inclusivity in the music industry. The greatest gift of that project was the people I met – namely Kev, the greatest pianist I have ever come across. We’ve been playing together for over five years now and he knows my performance (and stage chat) better than anyone.
EP: For me, you seem to inhabit a space that is somewhere between lyrical poetry and music with your insightful and honest lyrics, you manage to be both contemporary and yet nostalgic. Is this something that has developed since you were named MTV’s Unsigned Artist of the Year, or is it something that has developed from your musical and life experience influences?
MN: I really appreciate you saying that. One of the biggest turning points for my sound was a trip I took to the East Coast of America sometime after winning that award. I recorded some songs in Indiana with some really talented musicians who reintroduced me to Blues, Americana and Bluegrass music. I came home with the wish to infuse my London Indie Pop with some kind of old-school soul. I wanted to blend the sounds of Florence and The Machine with those of Janis Joplin. I am constantly trying to tread the line between timeless and contemporary.
EP: Was the MTV award a blessing or a curse in that it must have applied a little pressure but at the same time raise your profile? Is it important to you to retain creative control of your musical direction?
MN: I will always be grateful for that award. As an unsigned artist, getting to share the bill with the likes of Sam Smith and George Ezra is something out of a dream. However, I was young and less sure of who I was as an artist. I knew fame didn’t dazzle me enough to compromise my authenticity. I learned that finding the right team of people was incredibly important. For me, I’ve now found those people who allow me to retain complete creative control and let me be exactly who I want to be. Shout out to Frictionless Music!
EP: Finally, with the new EP on the horizon, can we expect an album this year or are you going to concentrate on live performance, having been away for so long. Where can we expect to see you play and how can we keep up to date with the exciting times ahead?
Some things in life are inevitable. For a while, that inevitably was a new Shrek movie with an updated pop cover like “I’m a Believer” from Smash Mouth. These days it’s a new Despicable Me movie, this time in the form of spinoff Minions The Rise of Gru. And just as we all predicted, the new Steve Carrell led film comes stacked with a loaded soundtrack headlined by St. Vincent.
For her contribution to the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack, St. Vincent covered “Funkytown” by Lipps Inc. Her version was produced by Jack Antonoff and continues a run of luck for the musician that earlier this year saw her win a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album.
Antonoff also gave St. Vincent a shout-out for her album Daddy’s Home when he won Producer of the Year at the Grammys.
Announcing the release of her funky cover, St. Vincent took to Twitter and wrote, “Excited to say the @Minions (including @jackantonoff) and I have just released our version of ‘Funkytown’ from #TheRiseofGru soundtrack. Shout out to Gru and them…” Included with the post was a graphic of St. Vincent as a minion.
Joining St. Vincent on the Minions: The Rise of Gru soundtrack are Tame Impala, Kali Uchis, Brittany Howard, Thundercat, Caroline Polachek, Diana Ross, and Weyes Blood, just to name a few.
The album will be released on July 1, coinciding with the film’s theatrical release. You can listen to St. Vincent’s cover of Lipps Inc. “Funkytown” below!
Back in October of 2021, Parmalee released ‘Take My Name’ as the second single from their third studio album. It was written with and produced by David Fanning, producer of the massive hit ‘Carolina’ that introduced me to the band back in 2008, Ashley Gorley and Ben Johnson. Robyn Collins of ‘Taste of Country’ described the song as “a musical marriage proposal” and lead singer of the band, Matt Thomas, says it was inspired by the marriage of brother Scott; he says “it made me think about what I would want to say to my future wife.”
Some songs almost become bigger than themselves when they tap into the lives and moods of everyone and this is very much one of those songs. It’s not difficult to see why this song has been adopted by fans all over the world irrespective of their taste in music; its words conjure all the romance and love that you’d hope to feel when you ask someone to marry you. It’s lyrically a shopping list of everything you feel at the moment you realise you’ve met the one, even if that’s after only a short time. I remember proposing to my wife after just 8 weeks and if I try to remember what I was feeling at the point I proposed and tried to put it into words I would hope it was very similar to this song. Now over 31 years later and still happily married I listen to this song and it brings all those feelings back in a rush so why wouldn’t it be the perfect song to overlay a proposal, sing at the wedding or just be part of the moment; it’s how I’d love my sons to feel when they propose to their partners.
Parmalee are very aware of their fans needs and were quick to record a wedding version for such occasions with a less catchy percussion and a softer piano focussed vibe than the original version. There have even been brilliant occasions where the band has turned up to “crash” a wedding and sing this song to the happy couple reminiscent of Maroon 5 and their song ‘Sugar’. None of those guests will forget that wedding in a hurry!
With all the interest in the song and the brilliant videos and messages the band have received, they felt the time was right to make their own narrative video to accompany the song as an addition to the previously released visualizer. The ‘Wedding Version’ video of the romantic song was filmed in Gallatin, TN and directed by Shane Drake. The heart-warming story follows the journey of the protagonist through middle school and all the way to adulthood featuring kids from a local school, an original 1968 Mustang Shelby GT350 and appearances from the band with the lead being played by frontman Matt Thomas.
“From the jump, the fans have really latched onto this song in such an amazing, life changing way- our fans have been the reason for so many of our own major milestones, so it means that much more to us that folks are using our song for their proposals and weddings and allowing us to be a part of those major moments in their lives. We wanted to pay tribute to the fans who have been on this journey with us since the beginning so in the music video you’ll see a story of love and loyalty unfold across the years-but don’t expect to see any weddings or proposals – the fan created videos far exceed anything we could depict. We love watching them.”
With over 135 million global on demand streams, the song has raced up the Country charts, outpacing the band’s previous single, the multinational Number 1 smash ‘Just The Way’ with Blanco Brown and has been popping up all over TikTok with creators playing the song over proposal and wedding videos and even sparking a trend of using the sound of the song and writing “if your man doesn’t make you feel this way then what are you doing?” over the video.
Coming from their recently released album ‘For You’, an album that has garnered critical acclaim with American Songwriter calling it “authentically real, genuinely inspired” and Billboard saying that “Parmalee find itself in the enviable position of being able to tap into multiple audiences”. What is very clear is that Country music is slowly starting to find a new, younger audience in the UK to stand alongside the existing fans of the genre. Zack Bryan has recently found himself high on the Spotify album charts and UK stars like Ed Sheeran have appeared alongside Country stars like Luke Combs at the Country2Country festival. Even Tom Odell has found himself headlining the British Country Music Festival in the Summer. Parmalee may be the band to really break down the barriers between Country music and the UK Charts with this song as the musical genre of this release is far less important than the honesty and emotion of the lyrics and Romance will always break down all of the barriers, or at least I would hope it would.
‘For You’ is out now and can be streamed and downloaded here. Find out more about Parmalee and their music online on their official website.
This Copenhagen DIY pop artist has managed the difficult task of mixing her soulful voice with vibrant dreamy production and lyrics with real streetwise attitude. The result is something that has given her the hit single ‘Obvious’ which Danish radio loved and the internationally acclaimed single ‘Back to Business’. Now she is releasing the excellent lead single ‘Summer’s Already Gone’ which sounds very modern Bond in its lo fi production but tells an unusual love story. Not a story about falling in love with a person, but about the love affair that always ends; the affair with Summer.
“I wanted to write a song that could represent both the fearlessness of the magical Summer days and the truly blue sadness of the re occuring love story it actually is when Summer eventually comes to an end. I know it’s a heartbreaking, melancholy feeling but it’s also everything I love about Summer.”
The song was written in Mercedess’ living room with Danish indie superstar Goss and the guitarist Søren Breum and is produced by the critically acclaimed artist Vera. It allows the velvet of the artist’s voice to tumble over the muted trumpets, break beats and flirty acoustic guitars and strings bringing to life the seasonal heartbreak.
The fact that it is about the love and anticipation felt for Summer is almost more poignant this year as we embark upon the first free Summer for a few years. The affair with Summer this year promises to be a torrid passionate affair as we’ve been apart so long but the heartbreak of its end will be felt more keenly. This song will be the soundtrack to the affair for sure.
The single is released on the same day as the debut album from this exciting new talent. Mercedess says of the album: “Casa Fantasia is an album about longing for closeness and honesty. These songs are an escape from reality-a place to feel free and be yourself. Writing it was a personal journey and process to me that hopefully will make space for creativity, art and emotions for others too”
The album promises to do just that with the artist’s melancholy and yet warm and dreamy vocals and marks an exciting new chapter for an artist destined to find international acclaim with this collection of music. Summer may come and go but I’m sure the appeal of Mercedess will be perennial.