Lizzie Marvelly

By Poppy Tohill

The last time we talked to Lizzie Marvelly her classical crossover debut EP Collisions had just been released. Now two years later she runs her own media website, writes a regular column for the New Zealand Herald and is about to hit the road in celebration of her tenth year in the music industry and she’s only 27 years old.

“It is crazy how time flies!” Marvelly chuckled as she boasted of sitting next to a warm fire at her parent’s Rotorua home, while I continued to hug my heater on one of Auckland’s beautifully cold and rainy mornings, as we reminisced about the past two years, since we last talked.

“Following Collisions which was released in July 2014, I did some co-writing with Pete (P-Money) and we released the single Made For You in 2015 which featured on the film Born To Dance,” Marvelly exclaimed, admitting the single is her last music release of late. “Around that same time I then started my website, Villainesse and in May 2015 we launched the My Body My Terms campaign. Then I began writing for the Herald at the beginning of this year and my life just became absolutely crazy and full on!” she chuckled.

From a musical journey that has included two major international signings, two top-ten albums, a top-fifteen pop debut, European tours, performances throughout Asia and Australia, not to mention, countless national anthems, Marvelly admits with a laugh, “It’s really a pleasant surprise that I’m still in the music industry after ten years! It has been a really interesting 18 months for me since the launch of Villainesse, because it has just been so busy,” she proclaimed. “The funny thing is I’ve done a lot of songwriting but I’m stalled at this particular point where the songs are written, I just need to actually get into the studio and record them now!”

“As my time suddenly became super in demand I consciously stepped off that hamster wheel of constantly having to put out new music,” Marvelly confessed. “Because when it comes to music, I really want to make the music that I love and make sure I have something to say at the right time, so it has been great not having that huge pressure of releasing music to a commercial schedule. That time has instead allowed me to do a lot of listening and writing, but now it has definitely gotten to a point where I know I really need to get into the studio and it will happen, eventually!” she quirked.

“On this upcoming tour I will definitely be performing some new songs though!” Marvelly assured us. “It's really interesting because throughout my whole career I’ve always recorded things before actually performing them and to me that feels like a strange way of doing it. So I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to play these new songs before they’re recorded. I have a lot of respect for my audience so it’s a great way for me to see what they think and the way they react to this new material,” she added. “I’m also just really excited to go out there and connect with an audience again and enjoy being an artist, because I really miss it!” 

With a tour and new music on the way, Marvelly reassures us another release will be following. “I’ve often said in the past that the album is sadly a bit of a dying medium, but I think it really depends on what the purpose is,” she exclaimed. “If the purpose is radio play and being play listed on Spotify charts and whatnot then I think singles are definitely the best way to go, but I don’t really think that’s my purpose with this particular record that I’m speaking about in hypothetical terms,” she chuckled. 

“It's funny because I’ve been pretty true to form and for no conscious reason, but it usually takes me about three years to record and release a collection of music and 2017 will be exactly three years since the release of Collisions so it’s okay! Some of the songs I’m writing, converge the things I’m writing about in my columns on Villainesse so I don’t really want to abruptly release an album that’s very heavy and full on, so the collection of songs will actually determine whether it ends up being an album or an EP,” she revealed.

“I think it’s a real mixed bag,” Marvelly responded, when asked her thoughts on the ever-changing face of the music industry and social media. “For the economic model of the music industry not so much social media but obviously downloading, torrenting and streaming have completely changed the game. I think I was lucky to be in that time when people still did buy CDs because I think the economics of the industry have changed immeasurably,” she continued.

“I think it’s great in some ways with social media, how especially young artists who probably wouldn’t have had a show in hell of breaking through, now have that medium and access right at their fingertips, from their bedrooms. In some ways that’s really wonderful but it has become so saturated,” she explains. “I don't want to be mean but there is a lot of crap out there and for every mind-blowing cover you get on youtube, there are probably another 100 that really aren’t mind-blowing,” she added with a laugh.

“I think music has been more democratised so I really don’t know what the long term outcome will be. Economically, touring is still more rewarding than any other activity, because live performances are where all the money is,” she proclaimed. “There’s always been this conversation about music being an art and the money should come secondary, but you have to eat and pay your bills!”

“When people talk about going into the music industry, I’m a real supporter of a realistic view and I believe you can definitely make a living in music, but you certainly have to adjust your expectations,” Marvelly went on. “I think there is this incredible sense of glamour that surrounds music and frankly we all create and perpetuate this image, because glamour sells and it has been like that forever. But it’s now at a point where very few artists are actually willing to admit that it is really hard. You may have a day job as well or be struggling from gig to gig and some may even be on the benefit. Music is hard, it’s not easy,” she concluded, honestly.

In addition to writing and performing music, it is the world of media and journalism that has kept Marvelly exponentially busier over the past two years. “As a musician I used to worry that I could only be an artist and nothing else, because that would be selling out or not prioritising my music,” Marvelly expressed. “It was like this culture of guilt that existed and it was actually the creation of Villainesse that helped me open up and broaden my boundaries, making me realise that I can do all sorts of things, as long as I’m passionate about them.”

“The idea for Villainesse came partly out of the realisation that as much as I love music, it wasn’t fulfilling me entirely,” Marvelly truthfully responded, when asked about the early beginnings of the website. “I spent a number of years studying, touring and writing which really filled my soul in a way, because I was constantly learning and being challenged, but when I finished my degree at the end of 2014, I really missed all of that,” she acknowledged.

“Having been written about in the media for years, I’ve always been concerned about the way young women are portrayed and the lack of young female voices,” Marvelly declared. “So I wanted to try and make life better for young women and present an alternative to the mind-numbing bullshit that is peddled in magazines about how skinny you should be, what kind of guy you should date and how to get a boyfriend,” she explained.

“Around the time I created Villainesse there was a couple of things happening around the genesis of My Body My Terms. The Chrissie Hynde’s case had just come out in the news and I knew someone who was a victim of revenge porn, so with all these myths around sexuality, sexual violence and all that shit around victim blaming, I decided to try and do something about it,” she admits.

“We have the worst sexual violence statistics in the OSED and that to me for little old New Zealand is completely unacceptable,”she declared. “I just think the way we deal with things in this country is to generally shut up about them and while we know it’s happening, we chose to sweep it under the rug because we don’t really want to think or talk about it, which is the exact reason why I was compelled to do something about it,” Marvelly confessed. “I don’t want that for future generations and I don’t want any other young female artist to have to put up with the same shit experiences I went through in the music industry,” she added honestly. “Whilst it’s a cultural problem that comes down to society and the way people think about women predominantly, it’s also a lack of education and ignorance,” she concluded.

Although believing social media has opened up a great platform for these issues to be widely discussed, Marvelly admits she has unfortunately been profusely exposed to the disadvantages of various social media networks. “There’s rarely a day that goes by without me encountering some keyboard warrior,” she remarks. “It got exponentially worse when I started writing for the Herald, just because of the sheer size of their platform,” she went on.

But when it comes to dealing with them Marvelly explains she has become very trigger happy with the lock and ban button.“Frankly if you’re going to be a dick head then that’s what you deserve,” she laughs. “I have absolutely no problem whatsoever blocking someone, because at the end of the day it’s your sanity, it’s yourself you’re looking after and you don’t have to be faced with violence on the screen. The other thing that I think is really important, is to sign out,” Marvelly continued. “I’ve often found that when I’ve had my worst online dramas, signing out and actually talking to the people around you who love you, is the most important thing. Because overall, it’s not what the anonymous trolls are saying that matters, it is what the people who you care about and those that care about you, that matter,” she honestly admits.

“Sometimes I will engage and point out the absolute lunacy of what these people are saying, but other times I’ll just delete the comment because I really can’t be bothered. My profile is a community, not a place you come to claim some kind of freedom of speech, so if you want to play here, you play by the rules,” Marvelly exclaimed.

“I also think that online trolls are just really cowardly, faceless bullies,” she declared. “They’re behind a screen so they think there’s no real consequences for them, but like most bullies, they generally live with huge sadness and emptiness, so I do feel sorry for them in some ways. When I give talks at schools I tell kids there’s one basic rule with social media and it’s not hard to remember or understand,” Marvelly acknowledged. “Basically, it’s - ‘don’t be a shit-head.’ That’s it! It’s not hard,” she adds with a laugh, “I just wish more people would get up with the play on that!”

Having faced her own battles with depression, Marvelly went on to share her best advice when it comes to overcoming such hardships. “It quite often feels like you are isolated and that it’s hard to reach out and admit you need help, but it’s so important to do just that if you’re struggling in anyway,” she disclosed. “Something that I certainly didn’t realise when I had depression and something I think a lot of people don’t realise, is that people want to help you, they actually care and would far rather you came to them for help, than suffer in silence,” she proclaimed. “If you’re in school you can reach out to a trusted teacher or guidance counsellor, but there’s also always friends and family, or if you don’t feel like talking to someone face to face, there’s some incredible services such as Youthline and Lifeline. But all I can say is you should never feel alone, because you’re not,” she sincerely concluded.

Last but not least the burning topic arose. Feminism. “I was wondering when this would pop up!” Marvelly joked. “To me feminism means equality and the reason I think it’s so important is because I believe everyone deserves a fair chance,” she stated. “I think women, historically and today have not had that fair chance and while I think we are, as a society moving forward in a positive way, the battle still isn’t won. We still have a pay gap, disproportionates and violence against women that we need to work on eradicating,” she continued.

“Feminism is a social justice movement for equality and a fair chance, it’s not about man hating, which is ironic, because I think any group that has traditionally held power will try to minimise any group that threatens that power structure, which is what has happened with feminism, throughout past generations,” Marvelly declared. “I like to think that we are now in a place, and countries like New Zealand especially, where we don’t have to have that knee jerk reaction. If you ask most people whether they believe men and women should have equal opportunities, they say yes, but if you follow that up by asking if they’re a feminist they say, ‘oh god no,’ which is pure ignorance that results from long campaigns by the media, especially in the 70s and 80s of sensationalising this quest for equality, but that’s exactly what it is. It’s a quest for equality.”