Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start writing music? Tell us about it.
I started writing music when I was in the midst of a very hard time. I literally had anxiety 24/7. It was like one long never ending panic attack. My daughter was struggling with depression and anorexia and I had just got out of a very unhealthy relationship. I was already a playwright, monologuist, and solo performer. During this hard time I discovered that the only thing that gave me momentary respite from anxiety was singing. So I started to sing every day to feel better. Then I began to sing in my weekly acting class and to put together these cover songs with my writings; after a short while I started writing my own songs, they kept coming to me, one after another, so I put these original tunes into my original writings and before I knew it I was developing a show (a rock opera) called "A Brief Night Out" which I performed in NYC. I then knew I had to find a musician. I met Tomás Doncker and he believed in what I was doing. We fine tuned my songs and he began co-writing with me. He then convinced me to make an album out of the songs from "A Brief Night Out" and that album became my debut album. Six months later, I released my 2nd album "Speak". What can I say? I was hooked.
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
After I released my debut album, "A Brief Night Out" and my 2nd album "Speak" back to back, I began performing in a lot of clubs in NYC. One time I was doing a sound check in a venue in Tribeca -- no one was there except me, my bandmates, and this one lady who was there sound checking with another performer. During my soundcheck she was dancing and bopping and seeming to enjoy herself greatly. Afterwards I went over to her and she said, "There's something about you, that's exciting and different. I like it." She said that she was born in China and that she often did events where she would bring prodigies from NYC to perform in China and vice versa. She then said she might have an opportunity for me. Of course I was very intrigued by all this. We met a few days later and we both realized I wasn't right for what she was doing. She needed classical musicians or musical theatre type singers. That was that. About a year and a half later I get a message on my phone, "Hi Marla, this is Ji, I don't know if you remember me, but I never forgot you. I think I have something for you." I immediately called her back and we met the next day where she brought her friend who was putting together The First UN International Peace Day Festival in Linzhou, China. She told him I would be perfect for the festival and he said "Ok." I said, "OK". That's it. He said "Yes, you can bring your entire band and your photographer/ videographer. All expenses paid.." I was stunned. Here I am just a year into doing music and I'm being offered a gig at a UN event in China - fully paid for 6 people. Guess what? It actually happened. We went, they put us up in a 5 star hotel and and and -- -I'll end the story here -- it continues to be pretty crazy -- they awarded me a "Messenger of Peace" award at the festival. My song "Piece of Peace" was written for this festival and we shot an incredible video on location in China. Check it out on youtube. It's pretty awesome.
What has been the high point of your music path?
The high point is all of it. I love creating and performing music. It still feels unreal even after all these years. I am very fortunate to work with a world class band, The True Groove All-Stars, and with my world class producers, Tomás Doncker and James Dellatacoma. I have been blessed from the beginning. Someone/something out there has been saying YES to this music path.
So, how do you approach songwriting or what is your creative process like?
There are many ways in -- some albums/songs I've written because they have come to me. I just start singing a melody and a verse or chorus out of nowhere or out of some thought/feeling I am having and then I take out my phone and capture it quickly. Later on, I go back to it, and flesh it out. Other times, Tomás comes to me with beats, or a loop that he and James have created and I start riffing with lyrics. Most of my album "Half-Life" was written like that. Regardless, of which way we start, Tomás and I get together and make it happen. He gets me and my eclectic/eccentric/weird mind and because he has an incredibly vast knowledge of music (ALL MUSIC) he knows how to take what I bring and make it Mase. My latest album "The Fine Art of Pissing in the Bushes" (finishing up the final 2 songs) started out with me playing around with ideas and songs on the keyboard during lockdown. This is the first time I wrote my songs on keyboard. I did play classical piano as a child so that helped.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
We all know the challenges facing Indie Artists today -- it's not how to create, it's how to be heard, how to be found amongst the millions of others who want to be heard, who are doing this, and of course, how to find creative ways to make money in this business. The old model is long gone and it's the Wild West out here. One thing that hasn't changed -- Quality is quality - truth is truth -- the real deal artists have to stay at it because it's what we are called to do. No choice.
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
I used to say Eminem (maybe I would still say that) because we both are honest and don't hold back what we want to talk about in our work. We put it all out there. We also have the same birthday and we are both MM. If The Clash were still around, I'd love to perform with them too....
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
Nothing unique here - we get together with the band and we rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. Tomás is the MD, he's very organized, actually everyone in the True Groove All-Stars is very conscientious about what they do. They come prepared and ready to work. Everyone is on time and brings their best game and their best ideas. No fucking around and yeah, it's a blast.
Pick one song that was your greatest challenge to write. Tell us about it!
My song "Hold You" on my 2016 album "Miracles~Lost & Found" took some working on. It's about my daughter and the struggles she had, the whole family had, with her depression and suicide ideation/attempts when she was a teen. It took us a while to get the right sound and tone. I didn't want it to be misleading or misrepresentative of the situation which was very delicate at the time we wrote it. (Sadly, my daughter did end up killing herself in 2017 -- but that song was written before -- that whole album has an underlying or not so underlying death & fascism theme -- perhaps I felt it coming -- the personal and the collective.)
What's coming up in the future?
As I mentioned, I am finishing up my new album "The Fine Art of Pissing in the Bushes" -- I already released two singles from that album "Superhero" and "8:30". The video for "8:30" was a Finalist in the Munich Music Video Awards and a Semi-finalist in The International Music Video Awards. I wrote much of it during NYC lockdown in 2020 and a few other songs this year. It's a softer sound than most of my previous work. It was written, as I said earlier, on the piano (or much of it) and has quite a bit of spoken word and humor too. I also have this classical piece I've been working on which I would like to do next. It's an Opus to my daughter.
Tell us where fans can access your music?
All the usual suspects:
About Marla Mase
If there’s a qualification to be a modern day renaissance woman, Brooklyn’s Marla Mase checks all the boxes – writer, actor, musician, raconteur and above all, a magnetic performer. A long time beacon of artistic innovation on the New York music and theatre scenes Marla Mase’s vision is informed and illuminated by her gritty poetic activism. She has performed to rapturous audiences from the Bowery to Beijing and has had her plays/rock operas performed at the legendary La Mama Experimental Theatre Club, NYC Summerstage, SXSW to name a few.
Along with triumphant tours in China, Europe and the United States, Marla received a ‘Messenger of Peace’ Award from the Friends of the UN for her visionary work as a songwriter and performer.