When Marissa Nadler was told in August by her record label Mexican Summer that they were no longer interested in releasing her music, she was understandably upset – the label takes its name from one of her own songs, after all.
But after a spell of questioning, dark days, the resourceful Boston-based musician concluded that she’d had enough of the conventional methods of releasing her music and threw her energies and talents into raising the money for a new recording in ways both ancient and modern: selling her homemade crafts and exclusive CD-Rs through her Etsy store, and appealing to her considerable fanbase for help via crowdfunding website Kickstarter.
In less than a week of launching her campaign she had achieved her fundraising target of $11,000, and, proving just how critically adored she is, received unprecedented support in her endeavour from music journos all over the world. Thrilled and inspired by our old friend’s success, we asked Marissa to share her experience of the Kickstarter campaign and got a few tasty morsels of info on the album that will eventually emerge as a result.
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Despite the critical success of Little Hells and the band tour, you found yourself without a record deal. What is wrong with people?!
Well, Little Hells was critically successful, and I toured the hell out of that record – no pun intended – but, at the end of the day, I learned it is a business. I was so naïve and innocent as to the workings of things.
How did your departure from Mexican Summer impact on your outlook and/or creativity?
I became extremely depressed for a good long while. I couldn’t believe that it was even possible for a label that named itself after my own song, ‘Mexican Summer’, to…yeah. Well, I don’t want to get into too many details of it but it’s pretty obvious what happened. It totally left me with an incredibly bitter taste in my mouth for the music industry. How does a song I wrote about love and longing end up as a logo on tote bags and t-shirts for a label that would…yeah, it was pretty devastating.
However, I got over it. I realised that all the work I have done over the past decade, and four records, and countless years of touring, would count for something. I also realised I was better off calling my own shots and doing what I wanted to, creatively speaking. I am so much better now, and in a way it is a total godsend. I feel more empowered than I have in a long time.
What first motivated you to get involved with Kickstarter? How long before you started the campaign did you think it over and plan it?
I had heard about the fan-funded album model and at first I wasn’t sure about it. Then I saw how successfully other artists were utilising it and I went for it. I didn’t want to go through the motions of proving myself to another label. I feel like I have done enough of that. People were really talking a lot about Kickstarter. I heard of musicians – some just starting out, and others really well established – using it to raise funds. I thought that it might work out better than things had in the past for me.
How did you set the target of $11,000? What considerations did you make to reach this figure?
The recording will cost around $10,000. That amount will be paying for studio time, compensating musicians, the cost of mastering, mixing, the cost of tape, etc. Then the Kickstarter website takes around 5% of the top, plus an additional 2% for the cost of credit card transactions. So, I really hope that I earn enough to pay for a lot of the manufacturing costs associated with pressing the vinyl, etc. $11,000 is the minimum I needed to record the album. But, to be in a really good position, it would be great to make enough to cover the manufacturing too.
How far does $11,000 really go these days when making a record?
Well, it depends on what kind of fidelity recording you want to make. I decided I wanted it to sound as good as it could. As well as pressing the vinyl, I hope to cover the costs of making the CDs, making the posters, making the t-shirts, mailing everything to everyone! So, the more the merrier obviously! Fingers crossed, as the campaign has two more weeks to go.
How did you decide on the reward tiers? How important is it to have the very top-tier packages? I mean, who has a spare $6000 lying around?
Well, I am not sure who has $6000 lying around – I could let you know by early December. I had the idea that a group of people would band together and I would come and play their dinner party and hang out or something. Or that a club might get excited about being a part of the artist movement. I think that some people do have that kind of cash around. I think the top tiers exist partially to get people excited about the campaign.
Your videos for the campaign were very funny, and humble too. Can you give some insight into how you came up with those?
I think that a lot of people don’t know I have a sense of humour. I guess I was playing with the mythology a little. Ryan Walsh (who also has a Kickstarter campaign for his band Hallelujah The Hills) made the videos. It was a joint effort. It was as if he stepped inside my brain to create the animated sequence.
Your Christine O’Donnell spoof was especially brilliant. What are your thoughts on the midterm election results?
Thank you! I am so glad you liked it. I thought it was pretty funny since people have been calling me witchy for as long as I can remember. It was fun to poke fun at that. On a more serious note, it is unfortunate that the country seems to be turning more and more conservative in some states. I hope it is just a temporary thing.
You started out raising funds for your next album by selling CD-Rs and handmade crafts through your Etsy store. How’s that going?
Yes, I started that around the same time I was truly broke. I wanted to record and I started selling CD-Rs on Etsy. I love that website. I went to art school so I love making things with my hands. It felt good to get away from mass production and really send people handmade things. My Etsy site is still up and running and doing well.
Do you feel like you have established a stronger connection with your fans through the Kickstarter campaign?
I think I have. I hope I have. I think a lot of time artists spend all of this time creating the façade that they are infallible and strong. To show weakness publicly is a hard thing to do. To say, okay, things didn’t go as planned and I am trying this now…it’s hard, and I think people that listen to my songs understand that. One thing I have never shied away from in my songwriting is writing about human weakness. That to me is what attracts me to writing. It connects me to people.
Were you wary of crossing the line between raising awareness and spamming? Do you think there is a danger there?
Yes. I was extremely worried about driving people crazy. On one hand, you really need to constantly update in order to spread the word. People do not just miraculously stumble upon your Kickstarter website. On the other hand, you don’t want to make people annoyed or uncomfortable. There is a fine line to tread and one needs to be cognisant when enough is enough.
What do you see as the strengths and limitations of an idea like Kickstarter?
I think the strengths are that the community has a way to get together and fund the arts. In particular, people can fund the arts that the entertainment industry may have deemed unprofitable. (i.e. non-mainstream music, non-sexually objectified female musicians, etc.). The weaknesses are that some people will abuse what in theory is an extremely pure idea. You have to make people completely aware of what they are paying for. There is no reason that other struggling artists and writers should have to pay for a vacation for their sad songwriter friends, you know?
Now that you have met your target, what’s your next move? Where do you plan to record the album, and who with?
I am recording the album with Brian McTear at Miner Street Studios in Philly. I love him because he is extremely professional, and a very hard worker. I like the sounds he gets.
How many songs have you written and demo’d for the album?
A lot. About thirty-seven songs written. I will most likely have a twelve- to fourteen-song record.
We’ve heard two songs, ‘I Love My Man’ and ‘Daisy, Where Did You Go?’ – are either of those likely to end up on the album?
I think ‘Daisy, Where Did You Go?’ will. I’m not sure about ‘I Love My Man’. That song has been out for so long that I want all the music to be fresh!
Do any of your other new songs revisit the characters from your previous recordings?
Yes! They do! I don’t want to reveal too much yet.
Has your new-found romance inspired some, shall we say, ‘happier’ songs?
Um…not happier songs. More reflective, I suppose.
Any other tidbits you can tell us about your new material? Song titles, lyrical insights, influences etc.
All I can say is that I think it is the strongest material I have ever written and I am really glad that the setbacks mentioned in the first question are not going to keep those songs confined to my notebook for eternity. I am excited to share them. It will not be as ‘band’-oriented as Little Hells, but will have instrumentation.
You have a short tour of Ireland coming up. Have you toured much there before?
I have never toured in Ireland before. I am excited. I hear it is a very beautiful country and that the people are really nice.
Who are you looking forward to seeing most at ATP in December?
Josephine Foster. I have known her for a long time and I really identify with her as a person and as a songwriter. I look up to her and I think she is the real deal.
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Marissa’s Kickstarter project continues accepting pledges until December 9. Join the 330 other backers here.
Marissa plays the following UK & Ireland dates from next week:
30.11.10 Speakeasy, Belfast
01.12.10 Crawdaddy, Dublin
02.12.10 Cyprus Avenue, Cork
03.12.10 Roisin Dubh, Galway
05.12.10 ATP’s Nightmare Before Christmas, Minehead
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