Exclusive Interview: 5 Minutes With… Marle Thomson

Marle Thomson is a nu-folk artist who hails from Amsterdam. Blending sounds from the genres of soul, folk and electronica, her “simply enchanting voice” (DWDD) and “dedication to authenticity” (Music Week) have won her widespread critical acclaim throughout the Netherlands and beyond. We spoke to Marle about playing for drunk people, her songwriting process and the marketing skills she’s picking up along the way…

Hi there, how are you and what are you up to today?

I’m good, thank you! I was just doing a final check on the master files for my new album The Canopy – Acoustic, which is very exciting. I can’t wait to share it with the world! It’s very sunny outside today, so after this interview I’ll grab my bike and go out to meet a friend. And tonight I’m attending Sabine Staartjes’s debut fashion show, a talented young Amsterdam designer whose clothing I wore during one of my concerts last summer.

For those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound?

I think it’s a mixture of soulful pop, with jazz, folk and electronic influences, with a modern twist. I always find it a little hard to ‘describe my sound’, because I actually feel really free to use all kinds of influences and sounds, listening as I do to so many different kinds of music. I think there’s even a Classical music influence (I played Classical violin for many years), and I love listening to Dvořák or Ravel, for instance. I have a light-sounding voice, especially in the kind of music I make at the moment, but I love to use every colour in it, and use the full range of my voice in this way.

What are the 5 albums that have influenced you the most?

That is a tough question! I’m not really sure which ones influenced me the most, but – especially if I think of my younger self – I think these should all definitely be on the list:

Lauryn Hill – The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill
Destiny’s Child – The Writing’s On The Wall
Stevie Wonder – Songs In The Key Of Life
Nancy Wilson / Cannonball Adderley – Save Your Love For Me
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowel

Which other artists are you into at the moment and why?

I’ve been listening to Jones a lot lately. I was driving home from a gig very late at night when I heard an acoustic version of her song “Melt” on the radio, and I was very touched by her voice in combination with the guitar. So beautiful! And I love to listen to Alan Hampton’s album Origami For The Fire, which came out in 2014. To me this is an amazing album, because besides his voice, the songwriting and production (especially the bass lines), are really beautiful.

What would you say some of the challenges artists face today in the music industry?

Well, what I personally find pretty challenging about today’s music industry is that you constantly need to be very visible on social media, and that can take a lot of time. Sometimes it feels like I have to focus on too many things at the same time. Sometimes I really just want to pick up my guitar and play, but I also need to think about my visibility both on- and offline. You can feel pressure because of social media, and whether you’re getting enough response on it. It’s a virtual world but it’s pretty important and it never stops. It’s a great medium to find your followers on a global scale, but sometimes it can seem a bit superficial to me. That is the challenge, I think: to find the right balance between being just a musician and being a marketing expert.

Where do you gather songwriting inspiration?

Many things! Sometimes just a thought or a word that I hear. Or a sentence from a movie that hits me. From life experiences I’ve had, and also from things I observe in my friends’ and family’s lives. Movies, books, thoughts, a walk in nature… Art and design as well, I really get inspired by other people being creative – I find that it frees my mind.

Take us through your songwriting process. Are there any particular steps you take when you put your music together?

For me it always starts with the music – the harmony and the melody – the lyrics follow later most of the time. I love to play on my guitar or piano, just listening to different melodic or harmonic ideas. And then I might feel that the idea could be a really good chorus, for instance, or the start of a song. And then, most of the time, some words emerge and slowly the meaning behind them comes forth and I begin to feel what direction the song needs to go in. But, after all that, you still just have the idea! To really finish the song and dig deeper into the lyrics is an intense process and can take a lot time. Writing lyrics in a different language can also be a challenge! I use a dictionary and thesaurus to look for alternative words, different ways to phrase the thought, so I can finally find the right way to express what I am trying to say.

What’s the best gig you have ever done and why?

Of course, I hope the best is yet to come! But what was really amazing and magical to me was my show at [Amsterdam concert hall] Paradiso last year. I’d never performed solo on that stage before, and it’s a pretty famous place in the Netherlands – there is definitely something special about performing there. We decorated the hall with many plants and trees, so it was like I was playing in a forest! And then when I started to sing, something magical happened: I really felt that my music touched the audience. That’s a feeling that is hard to describe, just very special.

And the worst?

Once I was booked in a small bar, but people were talking so loudly I couldn’t even hear myself singing – and I knew it wouldn’t make any sense to ask for silence because everyone was so drunk! That was terrible, but in the end you laugh about it…

If you weren’t a musician what would you be?

I think I would still be working in a creative field, because I just love to create things. I’m always attracted to fonts, logos and drawings, so maybe I would be a graphic designer.

Do you have any particular gigs or festivals that you dream about playing?

The Grammy’s, Oerol, Into The Great Wide Open, Down The Rabbit Hole, North Sea Jazz Festival, Grasnaplsky, Pinkpop, Lowlands, The Great Escape, South by Southwest, Central Park Summerstage, Isle of Wight Festival, Glastonbury… to mention a few. Oh, and I also would love to perform live on Jools Holland, Graham Norton and BBC Radio.

If you could perform alongside any other band or artist, who would it be?

This is also a really tough question – there are just too many artists that I would be thrilled to perform alongside! Beyoncé, James Blake, Stevie Wonder, Emily King, Sufjan Stevens, Gregory Porter, Lianna La Havas, Laura Mvula, Gretchen Parlato, Stromae, Vulfpack, Janelle Monae, Ledisi…the list is really endless!

Finally, do you have any information regarding upcoming releases, projects or gigs in the pipeline that you would like to tell us about?

My new single “Satellites” will be officially released on February 17 along with a beautiful video, made in collaboration by ‘Stof en Ruis’ (a Dutch photographer and filmmaker), fashion designer Alexandra Frida and visual storyteller NAOMI/JAMIE Studio. Also in February I will have a pre-release, invite-only special event at the new Pulitzer Hotel in Amsterdam, where I will present my new album. This concert will be filmed with a 360-degree camera and published on different blogs. The new album [The Canopy – Acoustic] will be released in April 2017, and followed up with a tour.

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