By Poppy Tohill
After two successful classical crossover albums, debuting in the top ten on the Official New Zealand Album Charts and evolving into exciting new territory, talented songstress and now pop star, Lizzie Marvelly, can add a top 15 position to her achievements after the release of her debut EP, ‘Collisions' debuted at number 14 on the NZ Charts and also reached number four on the Official Local Album Charts. Recently also announced a finalist for the International Unsigned Only Competition, I had the pleasure of catching up with a bubbly, chatting Lizzie for a talk about all things ‘Collisions.'
Kick starting the interview with a bit of history, I began with asking Lizzie what growing up with the experience of touring from the age of sixteen was like for her. "It was pretty amazing actually," she chimed. "I discovered that I really loved music when I was very young. I actually started playing piano when I was about three years old and then singing was just kind of a thing that I didn't know that I could do. But one of my uncle's heard me singing nursery rhymes with my cousin's when I was really little and he said to my dad, 'Do you realise that she can sing?'" she laughed. "So it was all a bit of a surprise and then once I started playing piano, I started ballet and singing and I just fell in love with music and I just really wanted my whole life to be music. So when I was growing up I'd watch as much as I could, like Top Of The Pops, I'd go to shows if I ever could and I was in bands and singing with my friends, so yeah it was amazing. I think music is incredible and I think as a young person it definitely kind of ruled my life."
"I grew up in the era of Britney Spears, NSync and all the kind of Spice Girls artists, so I loved them from about seven into my teens and then I discovered Mariah and Whitney and I just loved the diva's," Marvelly replied when asked who her musical inspirations were when growing up.
"Then when I was in high school I got quite into Pink Floyd and Leonard Cohen before getting back into the 80s stuff like Blondie and those kind of artists. So yeah, it's been quite a journey."
"Aww that's a hard one!!" Marvelly burst out, when asked what she thinks she'd be doing now if she wasn't a musician. After a long, "Ummm," she pricked up stating, "I'd probably be acting to be honest. Or writing fiction. I think that I'd definitely still be in the arts somewhere. I don't really ever see me moving out of the arts. Hopefully.. fingers crossed!" she quickly added.
With both of Marvelly's classical crossover albums debuting in the top ten New Zealand Charts and her debut EP debuting in the top 15, she went on to fill me in on how she believes her previous releases have helped her get to where she is today with the release of ‘Collisions' and her recent transition into the pop scene. "I think that it's all part of it" she admits. "I think that the two classical crossover albums, to be really honest were both a help and a hindrance, in a way. Because I think people have seen me in a very specific way up until this point, so having that kind of perception, (like it's not a thing for me because I know what I'm doing and I love what I'm dong), but I think it's been a bit difficult for some people to get their heads around it," she honestly remarked. "But I think that my classical career has definitely taught me a lot. I experienced a lot both as a professional and as a person, I think touring around the world when I was 19 certainly kind of showed me who I was. I really got to know myself quite well and had some amazing experiences, so I feel like it's really hard to separate the two, because I feel like it's been sort of one continuous journey."
Continuing on the topic of her differentiating past and present styles, Marvelly went on to tell me just why she decided to transition from classical to pop. "I didn't love the songs anymore," she truthfully confessed. "I had this kind of moment where I had just come off the road from a tour and I had an amazing time, I loved the guys I was playing with and I loved the audiences and everything, but I just realised that the music I was singing just wasn't making me happy anymore. I got into classical when I was about 15-16 years old, so I just think I kind of grew out of it really," she continued. "Then I just really wanted to write. I had this burning need to write and it all just sprang from there I suppose."
"It was very natural for me, because it made sense and I just kind of had to listen to what my heart was saying and just follow it. But I mean with any transition, I don't think that it's always easy," Marvelly went on when asked whether she found the transition difficult or natural. "I definitely have had some hard times and hard moments, both personally and professionally with the change. But I think that it was definitely worth fighting for. I had this voice in my head that just kept saying you're on the right path, you're doing what your hearts telling you, so just keep going. I think that it was a really kind of natural thing and I just had to stick to it," she honestly explained.
After congratulating Marvelly on her semi-finalist placement in the International Unsigned Only Competition, a thank you following "I was totally stunned, I didn't expect that at all, it's amazing" was the humble response from the (in my opinion) well deserved, semi finalist.
"I think it would be incredible," Marvelly exclaimed when asked what winning the competition would mean to her. "There's some amazing people who are involved with that competition as mentors and I think, for me, my kind of dreams and aspirations now are so much to do with writing, I want to keep writing with lots of different people, write for my own projects and for other people and just become a better writer," she continued. "I think it's about learning and a lot of doing, the more you do the better equipped you become, so to have mentors like the one's who are involved in the competition would be amazing."
"So were you writing your own material before ‘Collisions'?" I went on to ask. "Yes I was writing my own stuff, but I was just always really self conscious about my writing," she admits. "There were probably about three songs across the two classical crossover albums that I wrote. So I was always writing, especially at high school I did a lot of songwriting but I never wanted to show anyone and I never wanted to play anything for anyone, because I was just too scared I suppose, because songwriting is quite a revealing process, so before ‘Collisions,' not so much, but then I just kind of took the leap. It's something I've always wanted to do, so I just had to get over the fear and do it," she exclaimed.
"It was a process," she responded when I asked how she managed to get over the fear of sharing her own original music with others. "I was kind to myself in a way. I think the first step for me was just acknowledging that I was terrified," she chuckled. "Once I had acknowledged that," she continued, "I began writing alone quite intensively. Like I'd always written, but I'd write a song, then I'd have weeks at school that were really busy and then I'd write another song in the holidays, so it wasn't something that I was really able to sink myself into it. So I just acknowledged the fear, started writing almost everyday and was like, ‘look, if you're going to do this, just write lots of songs and see what comes out,' and I also gave myself... this is going to sound so weird" (she quickly slipped in before carrying on), "permission to be crap," she laughed. "Because you know, you can't expect to start really doing something and be instantly good at it," she explained. "So I think I gave myself permission to write some absolutely terrible songs, and when I look back at them now, and I don't do this by choice..." she again quickly inserted into the conversation, "If my manager ever says, go back and look at your older songs, you might learn something, it's one of the most painful experiences because those first songs are so bad, but you just kind of have to get through that and keep going and if you love something, it just gets better and easier. I loved it so much that I kind of took one step at a time. I probably did writing for about ten months on my own before I started co-writing and then that was little steps from there too, so I just took it slowly," she concluded.
After that dose of inspiration, Marvelly went on to explain a little bit about each song from ‘Collisions.' "I recorded the EP both in Sydney and then one song here in Auckland," she began. "I worked with three producers, one was Stewart Crichton, the other one was Lindsay Rimes and the one here in Auckland was Mahuia Bridgman-Cooper. I wrote ‘Collisions' over a period of about two years. I wrote it in London, Sydney and here. The stories behind the songs are... well, with the title track ‘Collisions' it's about a really really bad relationship that I had a couple of years ago and it was one of those ones that I knew it was all bad but I kept going back to it and it kept exploding in my face. Sort of like a head on car crash, which is kind of where the inspiration came from for the word ‘Collisions,' because every time it happened I thought it was like a head on collision, just carnage," she laughed, "so that was that," she continued chuckling.
"The next one in the track listing is ‘My Own Hero,' which stemmed from another, different relationship. It was just this moment when I kind of came out of it and I realised I had to be my own hero, and I was my own hero, I am my own hero, but especially as young women we are quite often socialised and inoculated with the whole idea of a knight in shining armour. I mean as stupid as that sounds, I think that so much of our society is based on those ideas," she exclaimed. "So for me it was like a really empowering song. When I got to London, I just had this feeling of freedom and that's kind of what that tune is about."
"Then ‘Generation Young,' is sort of like another empowering anthem," she admits. "I wrote that in Sydney and my co-writers and I were all just sitting around talking about things. Shinae and I are both really similar in age, so we were kind of talking about how we hear a lot of older voices, especially in the media. But we don't really hear much from people our age or people who are younger," Marvelly went on to explain. "So it was kind of like a call for people to stand up and speak out. Be heard and also be confident in the fact that they are enough and that it is okay to be who you are. So yeah, that's kind of what ‘Generation Young' was about," she remarked.
"Glory Days,' is more about some of the darker times that I went through, recording and writing the EP and also just over the last couple of years, especially with the change from classical to pop. I think it kind of documents some of the struggles also," she exclaimed. "Some of it is a little bit aimed at a few people who maybe just didn't believe or didn't get it, or who are just sort of trying to make me something that I didn't want to be. I just wanted to be myself, so it's a bit of a struggle song."
"Then ‘Letting Go,' which is the final song, is actually the only song that I wrote without co-writers, so it was just me. I wrote it in March last year and it was kind of about how I'd just had a friendship and relationship end at the same time. It was sort of like that moment when I knew things were going to change and while that was exciting it was also sort of scary and I didn't really know if I was in the right place," Marvelly continued. "It's kind of about uncertainty, but then also having that will, I suppose, to keep going forward and let go, to be prepared for whatever was to happen, to happen and let it be a good thing."
Continuing on to talk about Marvelly's songwriting process, she went on to tell me about the process she goes through when writing lyrics. "It changes," she remarked. "My process is kind of constantly evolving. I used to start with the music and then I'd often go, verse, music, verse, words, chorus, music, words, music. I'd kind of go step by step, like that. But now, it's so changeable, I might get a lyric that just rocks around in my head for a couple of days until I write it down, or I might get a melody, there's no rhyme or reason really. But when I'm co-writing I quite often like to go in actually with a blank page and to sort of vibe off the people that I'm wiring with. I think that it's quite cool if you can write something in that immediate moment. I always have lyrics with me incase we're not getting anything, to kind of bounce off, but if we can, then generally you can kind of write something fresh," she explained.
"It's like trying to chose out of my babies," Marvelly burst out laughing when asked if she had a favourite song on the EP. After a while of humming and haring, she went on. "At the moment, it kind of changes and I go through phases. Right now, I think maybe, ‘Glory Days,' is my favourite, but also ‘Collisions' as well. But yeah, I go through phases with them," she chuckled again. "It's always constantly changing."
While chatting about writing, I asked Marvelly who her dream collaboration would be with. "Joni Mitchell," she sharply responded, faster than anyone else I've ever asked that question before. "I don't know whether she does much co-writing anymore, actually I don't think she really writes much anymore, she hasn't released anything in a long time, but I just think that she's the most amazingly talented genius that has pretty much ever walked the musical planet," she laughed.
Soon taking ‘Collisions' on the road to perform some shows in her home area of Rotorua and the Bay Of Plenty, I asked if Auckland could expect some shows anytime soon. "I hope so!" Marvelly cheerfully responded. I did an industry launch last week, so that is definitely the plan. I'm going back down to the Bay Of Plenty to do a couple of shows soon to play to my home crowd, which I'm really excited about. Then yes, definitely, I really want to come back to Auckland. We don't have any details set in stone yet, but hopefully I'll be announcing something soon."
"They can expect the new music from the EP," Marvelly replied when asked what fans can expect from her live shows. "I play with my guys. So Ihave an amazing keyboard player, Callum and then my drummer Adam, and at the moment we're sort of still in that experimental phase. Obviously the music from the EP is all in the set, but we're kind of playing around with a couple of original songs that I've been writing recently that we might introduce into the set also. There's a couple of covers that we might put in there as well, so it's kind of in that phase at the moment where we're not really bound by any kind of prescription, lets say. It's cool," she remarked. "For example at last nights rehearsal we had a song that we were going to do as a cover, but we've created a really different version of it. Then we had another song, which is actually like a mash up, and again we created quite a different version. Because if I'm going to perform a cover then I really want it to be unique and interesting," she declared. "Because I don't think there's much point in kind of replicating something that the artist has already done, I think that it should be some kind of new take or interpretation," Marvelly concluded.
On the topic if performing, Marvelly filled me in on what it was like performing in Dubai a few years ago. "It was cool," she chimed. "Dubai I find, is a really amazing city. I don't normally get culture shock, but it was very different from anything I'd ever experienced before," she admits. "It's just kind of this massive hulking city that is constantly under construction. There are cranes everywhere and it's in the middle of the desert. So for a girl that's used to lush, green New Zealand, to that, it was like, ‘Woah!'" she laughed. "The reason I was performing over there was, I'd been on tour in Europe and then I'd come through Italy. I was on my way to perform in Hong Kong and I was over there around the time of the Rugby Sevens, so I stopped over and performed there a couple of years ago now. But yeah, it's been amazing," she added. "I've travelled to some great places, it's been really cool."
After what has been an already successful year for the young songstress, Marvelly filled us in on what the rest of 2014 has in store for her. "Shows, touring around, getting ready to write the next EP," she responded before laughing. "I just can't wait to get back into the studio, so I'll head back over to Sydney and back to London later this year and do some more co-writing. Hopefully do some writing for some other artists which I think would be really awesome too. So yeah, just a lot of writing and a lot of performing and probably a lot of airports and hotels," she jokingly added.
"Is an album maybe going to be on the cards again for you one day?", I slipped into conversation. "It's interesting," she paused. "That's a good question. I hope so, but then I'm really old school. I grew up loving albums and the format I think for me, you know a body of work it really appeals, but I don't know. The industry is changing so rapidly now, that if I made an album it'd probably be more of a personal thing for a very personal reason and I don't know whether I could really justify or afford it. It's a big commitment, it takes a lot of money now to create an album, so as much as I would love to in a heartbeat, not right now, " she remarked, "I don't feel like I'm ready right now. To make an album is a big personal statement and I don't feel like I'm quite ready as a writer to write a full album, but in the future I'd love to, but I don't know whether it will be realistic at that time," Marvelly concluded.
Already having achieved so much, Marvelly let me in on what is next on her career bucket list. "It's hard. It's funny, I don't think I really think like that anymore," she admits. "I used to when I was younger and then I had this crazy moment when I was about nineteen or twenty, I remember it so vividly," she declared. "I had just played the Royal Albert Hall and that was like my life goal and I'd just done it! It was the most bizarre kind of like, ‘okay what happens now moment'" she laughed. "So I think, since that experience, because it was quite profoundly shocking in a way, I don't really think about milestones, I just think about following along the journey and being pleasantly surprised by what comes along and just being present in the moment. That probably sounds really happy, but that's just kind of how I think about things," she chuckled once more.
Before drawing the interview to an end, Marvelly was kind enough to share the best piece of advice she's ever been given with us. "The best piece of advice I was ever given," she began, "well there's all of the normal stuff like work hard and all that, but the best piece of practical advice I was ever given was to be really easy to work with. I think a lot of the time as musicians, we're so caught up in what we're doing and how much we love music, that we kind of forget that it's hard work for everyone and I think it makes it a lot easier if artists can be easy to work with," she responded. "It's a weird piece of advice, but being easy to work with is key. Also it's just a good vibe. When everyone is working together it's just so much more rewarding for everyone," she honestly concluded.
Check out Collisions at iTunes