11th Annual Adult Contemporary Song Nominee
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Record Label: Self-Released
Home Base: Los Angeles, CA
Genre: singer/songwriter, indie, pop, rock
Categories Entered: Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Adult Contemporary
Work Submitted: “Balloon”
Artists Featured: Mariana Bell
Who are your influences? Shawn Colvin, Ani Difranco, Dave Matthews, Joni Mitchell, Bruce Cockburn, innumerable artists….my friends, my family, my exes and loves.
Describe your nominated work. Funnily, this song is what I call a bit of a “snarky” and sarcastic song off my album, Push. It’s about the loneliness of climbing your way to the top if you aren’t careful about stepping on people as you go up. There is a heavy burden and a loss that comes along with all that self-involvement, pride, and bragging. I have a lot of extremely successful, talented friends in the music industry, some of whom have retained their humility, graciousness, wonderful connection to their friends and people who helped them, and respect for their peers… Some others have not, so this is like a warning to them and to myself to keep the right priorities.
Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording? Not particularly, just got in there and worked on it… although as we were doing vocals and mixing, the backing lines and the effects to make those more hollow (heard mostly in the bridge for this song) just kinda came up. We were going for a little bit of looking in the mirror and that voice that comes back at you, voicing those demons a bit.
Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned? As above, most of my best stuff in the studio is usually during vocal sessions- since I sang in choir for 12 years, harmony, call-and-response, and just vocally playing around is where I can be most creative, and alone in a vocal booth I am less inhibited than anywhere else (except perhaps live on stage). On another track, CA Clay, we just had an extra half hour during the initial studio time, so I asked the boys (Adam Tressler, Adam Countryman, Andrew Meskin, and Joe Hanley) to come up with something to fill in a musical gap in the progression of the record. They wrote a whole song and we tracked it then and there, to which I later wrote melody and lyrics, then sang over. It’s one of the better-received tracks on the record! That’s certainly a happy accident. It was my first time co-producing, so I really felt in control over how things came out. While I am no engineer and the technical side of things is somewhat lost on me, luckily I found a way to articulate how I wanted things to sound, and the guys I was working with could all translate that into something great.
How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses? I work at a bar; it will be a very long time before this is recouped, but it’s worth it… we had so much fun, Eddie (Jackson, co-producer) and I are talking about doing it again soon!
Why did you choose to submit this work to The 11th IMAs? I am constantly trying to find new ways to get the music out there. I am particularly proud of this album, and have submitted before to the IMAs, so it’s amazing to have been recognized for this work, especially since I have no label, manager, or industry cred of any kind. To be nominated in the same year but different category with Bruce Cockburn, my friends Bleu and Wendy Parr among others- that’s some really heavy props. I’m sort of stunned.
What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it? Success is a very dangerous and sticky beast. This song nominated is precisely about that. I think if an artist defines success with tangible things, money, awards, number of fans, he or she will quickly become complacent, ungrateful, and bogged down in the minutiae of that “stuff” and getting the big “house” (it’s just a place, you know?) which I think leads to very unhappy, selfish, discontented and lonely people. There is a wide and wandering difference between contentment and satisfaction. I will never be satisfied because as soon as you allow that, you close yourself off to growth, to change, to reaching for a perfection that is not achievable. The striving and the trying and the struggling makes us who we are and thus in that activity we must be content. It’s why I called this album Push: there will always be walls and limitations (both self-imposed and external) against which you must push, and hard, to get anywhere in life. I am honored every time someone compliments me, and with each fan who lets me know that they have my CD in the car, and with every show I get to play with great musicians even if only one person is listening. Of course, I would love awards and accolades, acknowledgment by my peers and idols, a big tour and lots of fans, but I’d be in big trouble if not getting those things made me stop doing what I love. There are innumerable people in the world who don’t get to do creative things, who don’t even get access to them, so I like to keep it all in perspective as much as possible. The short answer to this question, however, would probably be opening for and singing with Shawn Colvin or Ani Difranco on a worldwide tour.
How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals? Exposure, exposure, exposure. Tick off another box that might be another step closer to a great festival circuit, more fans, and working with more fantastic people.
Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique? I have worked very hard and earned every single one of my fans, usually one at a time, with a lot of help from them and the musicians I have been lucky enough to work with. They are a ridiculously dedicated and fiercely loyal bunch of folks, with a lot of intelligence and talent in their own rights. I have one friend and fan who drove two or three hours for my CD release party and two hours right back home just to be there that night. Their numbers may be small, but they are quality individuals who keep me afloat, and each one utterly precious to me. I think they don’t even realize that when I get an email from someone on that day that comes around occasionally when I want to just quit because it is so hard, that little encouragement, that big thank you hug from someone at a show, it literally puts months on my calendar, extending the life of my career and my ability to keep at it.
What is your guilty pleasure on the road? Any close calls or mishaps while on tour? I try to eat well… but if I have a long drive, the cheetos are a big problem for me. You know I’ve been on the road awhile if my steering wheel has a fine dusting of neon orange. As for mishaps, I can’t think of much, other than the usual forgetting of some piece of gear and having to improvise, or one show a long time ago when we lost the car keys in upstate New York and had to get a tow truck for an hour to a dealership…
Who are your musical heroes & influences? Shawn Colvin has the most incredible voice, like liquid silver. Ani Difranco is the bravest and most prolific woman singing right now. Both these ladies also play mean guitars. Joni Mitchell and Joan Baez really pioneered what I try to do, especially politically if not just musically. Bruce Cockburn really says a lot with his music, and my friend Ellis Paul is truly an inspiration to be better, both as a person and an artist.
Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why? The entire record So, by Peter Gabriel. Mercy Street and In Your Eyes. Perfection.
What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans? Nada Surf, Let Go, is one of my top 5 all-time favorite records, and anything by a band called As Tall As Lions. I like hip hop and electronic music a lot. I listen to Pretty Lights and love dancing to dub-step etc. Instrumental stuff like Ulrich Schnauss and The Album Leaf makes me very happy.
How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming? I buy music, or trade my own cd for it, but generally it’s at people’s shows, so a lot of mainstream stuff is not on my ipod (which is NOT to say that I think Adele isn’t incredible, or that Robyn isn’t fabulously fun, but that music just seems into the collective psyche of the populace in such a huge way, I feel like I almost do have it already.) I tend to find things through friends or by accident. I just heard the most awesome Australian band called Alpine at SXSW this year, who were unbelievably great. I am pretty bad at staying current with trends and what’s new, there is simply so much music out there.
How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free? Most of my friends do it now through licensing and publishing. It’s a bummer, because no one wants to be seen as “selling out,” but one well placed song on Gray’s Anatomy or a car commercial can get you the $x,000’s of dollars you will probably have taken from you by giving away your cd and recordings to people. I am not alone in thinking integration is key to getting heard- you have to be involved in absolutely every possible media outlet and social media platform for people to hear you. However, none of that is a substitute for putting out thoughtful, well crafted, original music. I wish we didn’t have to have gimmicks, bells and whistles, but it forces you to be more creative to be noticed, and then there are still some people who do appreciate just plain old music.
What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today? I think in general we live in a more entitled era. There’s not a lot of patronage for the arts in our culture, nor is there a lot of desire to hear new things. Too many people want to hear things they already know, and be on the cool bandwagon, but they leave it very quickly for the next thing. We’re all guilty of this lack of dedication to an artist or group- rather than supporting a whole catalogue of their work, we get the one single that’s hot and move on. I always use the analogy of like, a CPA or attorney, and how they would literally laugh in your face if they were asked what we are asked all the time: “Hey, can you just work for me for free, and trust me, the exposure will be worth it!” The arts are the only field in which you can work very, very hard for decades, be extremely accomplished at what you do, and still have to start each day basically at the bottom and not get paid a lot of the time. However, we also get a lot of great things like not being chained to a desk working for other people all day.
Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future? Possibly, but interestingly, vinyl is making a strong resurgence, putting the emphasis back on the entirety of an album, hi-fidelity audio quality, the artistry of the song sequencing, and the fully thought-out artwork, design, and liner notes. I like this.
Finish this sentence: The music industry is…an oxymoron.
What do you have in the works for the upcoming year? I am working on songs to put together a new recording. I have a self-induced pressure to keep putting new material out to keep myself and my fans interested, but an inherent laziness against which I am always fighting. I can’t wait to be in the studio again, as well as branching out into production for other people as well. I’ll be doing my usual round of mini-tours to the areas I play a lot. I’d like to make this a year in which I get more of a team of support (manager, booking, etc.) because I have been doing this on my own a very long time and could use some help. I’m excited to see what happens!