On The Right Path | An Interview With Marissa Nadler

Gripped by wanderlust while suddenly housebound at the start of the pandemic in 2020, singer-songwriter Marissa Nadler escaped into writing. What became of this period was arguably some of the musician’s most stunning work to date. The 2021 release of The Path of the Clouds, Nadler’s ninth solo effort, beams with stunning tracks centering on metamorphosis, love, mysticism, and murder. The lines between reality and fantasy and the focus on the past and present flow seamlessly. Nadler’s lyrics showcase someone being as personable as she ever has.

In February, Nadler dropped the five-song EP The Wrath of the Clouds, further cementing this transitional era. In the press release for The Wrath of the Clouds, Nadler said in regards to the covers, “Once I heard ‘Seabird’ for the first time, I just couldn’t get it out of my head. I love that song so much and I had to cover it. It was a different kind of singing for me and really fun to do. ‘Saunders Ferry Lane’ is one of my all-time favorite songs. I fell in love with Sammi Smith’s haunting version years ago and have always wanted to do a proper cover of it. Milky Burgess and Joshua Grange play on both cover songs. These were a really nice capping off to the season of this writing.” Nadler also mentioned that the remaining three tracks were songs that she considered lost gems that had been forgotten. To flow with the covers, Nadler returned to the studio to create rich and sonically pleasing work.  

Who were some artists who inspired your passion for music growing up?

I mean, growing up, we take in music from different places. It seeps in on car rides, on trips with friends, through the radio waves, on MTV (at least for me), from my parents. There was a real contrast between the classic rock, psychedelia, and prog rock that my parents were into and popular when I was growing up. (Grunge, mainly). My influences really run the gamut, but I will say that I just love a good song when I hear one. I got into folk music and acoustic music way later. I was into many blues and jazz singers in my teenage years.

What could you recall about your early days of being an artist? Do you still feel like you are that person today?

I’m definitely the same person. I recall that I’ve always been a very hard worker and have always put the time in when I wanted to improve at something. It wasn’t like I picked up the guitar and could write immediately. Many hours of struggle and torturing myself to get it right. Healthy- I’m not so sure. But I was always driven. While singing was always very natural to me, even from a very young age, I honed my craft consistently. The same goes for my visual art practices. When you want something that bad, you go for it. I wanted to be really good at drawing, so it was practically all I did growing up. Then it was painting. And I’m still the same person, just picking new mediums to learn and seeing how they inform my creative output in new ways. 

Having studied visual art, how much do you incorporate that into your music?

I don’t really see a division between music and fine art for me. I’ve never stopped making visual art, and I approach the way I see the world and interpret it through those same eyes. I think that is most evident when you read my lyrics, especially for The Path of the Clouds. I really tried to, for lack of a better expression, to paint the scenes as vividly as possible. 

I enjoyed your contribution to Lost Horizons’ latest album, In Quiet Moments. How did the collab come together?

Thank you so much. Simon Raymonde runs Bella Union, which is my excellent record label overseas. Simon also happens to be a Cocteau Twin and one hell of a musician and writer. Whenever he asks me to do something, I’m over the moon and eager to do it. I co-wrote the song Marie for the new Lost Horizons album, as well as a few songs for the first one. It was a dream come true to collaborate with him. He ended up playing on five songs on The Path of the Clouds, which added a ton of his own unique melodic sensibility. 

After recording nine albums, does it feel like you are still discovering things that you didn’t know?

I try to just look forward. I guess it sounds like a lot of albums, but It is what I do. I feel like I really started to hit my stride as a writer about halfway in-so for those people that think most artists make their best work when they are young, I would strongly disagree. 

When you were writing the songs for The Path of the Clouds, did you outline where the words would go? Or did all come freely?

I don’t do outlines. My writing process is fairly organic. I put the time in and keep working at the lyrics until I am happy with them and until they have a good flow. 

Did it feel like you had to fight to get the lyrics to come along at the beginning of this recent release?

No, I didn’t. I used different methods, but there was no fight. I maybe wasn’t sure at first where all the note-taking and obsessive storytelling was going, but I’m really glad that I didn’t give up on some of the story songs. 

What would you say are some of your favorites on the new album and why?

I have to say I’m really proud of the whole album, start to finish. I can’t really pick. 

Looking back at the time you were in lockdown and writing for the latest album, that it was serendipitous in some way?

We’re all still in lockdown, it seems. 

I read that you were obsessed with Unsolved Mysteries during the lockdown. What were some of the stories that you still have questions about?

Obsessed is an overstatement. I love crime tv, podcasts, and storytelling in general, especially true stories. I put that in the bio, and people just ran with it. There are three or four songs directly inspired by episodes from the original series. I didn’t really like the re-do because Robert Stack’s narration was part of why I love that show so much. He had a masterful tone and command. I still have questions about whether all the people in the songs that I wrote about made it or not. I like the stories without the tied-up endings. 

You learned piano before writing the songs for The Path of the Clouds. How different would you say the album would sound if you recorded demos with a guitar instead?

I actually, in many ways, did record the demos with a guitar. I just wrote some of the melodies initially on the piano. I just think, in general, my approach was freer and more probing. 

You enlisted help from amazing multi-instrumentalists such as Milky Burgess, who recently worked on the soundtrack for Mandy. I can hear his work throughout and was enthralled. What were some of the takeaways you had working with the artists?

Milky added a lot of great riffs and textures for sure, and it’s always a treat to work with him. Jesse Chandler, Simon Raymonde, Mary Lattimore, Emma Ruth Rundle, Amber Webber, Seth Manchester, they all did as well. I chose friends of mine who did different things and had different sensibilities. The process was definitely organic, and some of the ways the songs grew really surprised me in the best possible way. 

Would you say that having experienced what you have in the making The Path of the Clouds is a rebirth of your process into creating music?   

Some people might hear the album and think that. To me, it’s just an extension of a body of work that I’ve been building for twenty years or so. It would be crazy for me not to strive to get better with each album, so for each album and each project that I do, I strive to make it unique and expressive and an improvement. So, it’s a rebirth every single time.