One of the very best things about living in and loving Canberra is the complete lack of boundaries between artists and their fans. It’s likely that after watching a great gig, you’ll be able to chat to your local music idols at the bar, will bump into them repeatedly at cafes, or find out that they’re the cousin of your ex-partner’s best friend who you went to high school with.
I am a massive groupie of singer/songwriter Marianne Scholem and her quirky, offbeat tunes, and am lucky enough to be able to pick her brains on a regular basis about her inspirations, aspirations, and the exact meanings of her intriguing lyrics.
I caught up with Marianne over email about her upcoming album launch, her trajectory into music and how she fits in her ever-growing music career with her 9-5 day job.
Tell me a bit about your music – how would you describe your style?
I would say that indie-folk pretty much covers most of it. I’m a relatively typical (though at times rather offbeat harmonically) piano-playing singer-songwriter; some songs veer more into a cabaret-style than others but most of them probably fall somewhere between Regina Spektor and Kate Miller-Heidke. I was extremely flattered to be billed as an ‘Indie-Popster’ in this year’s You Are Here program!
When did you first start writing music and performing? What drew you to it?
Well, I was writing and performing my own piano compositions from about the age of six. I had a very classical-music focused childhood and young adulthood, and by the time I reached high school (the Conservatorium High School in Sydney) I knew that I wanted to be a composer of some variety. Initially I thought I’d like to score for films etc, and so completed a Bachelor of Music in Composition at the Queensland Conservatorium, but ended up choosing a more practical path into high school English and Music education. It’s only in the last couple of years, since 2012, that I have been writing more popular-style songs, teaching myself to sing and performing them in public. I think I was drawn to this style of music and performance as it was what seemed to connect with audiences more instantaneously, and was what I preferred to listen to in my own personal time. I was lucky to write songs with a fabulous musician, Greg Steps, in 2012 in Brisbane and we performed as the Dizzy Spells. Being in a duo gave me the confidence to then branch out on my own when I moved to Canberra.
Your lyrics are often very personal, and also cheeky! What is the basis for your inspiration?
Hahaha, very true that they are quite personal! I often think that songwriting is about the best form of therapy I could ask for. I’m inspired by my relationships; the good, bad and ugly, with lovers as well as friends and family. Some people have told me that some of the lyrics are too personal, to which I would reply, what’s the point if you aren’t going to bare your soul? That’s what makes the music connect and resonate with others and their experiences I think! Regarding the odd language warnings that my songs require, I do think that if you have the opportunity to be blunt or make the listener laugh in recognition, that can only enhance the experience.
Do you have a day job? How do you juggle music and your other commitments?
I do indeed, in the Australian Public Service. I can honestly say that it is the best job I’ve had in terms of being able to juggle the 9-5 around music and other commitments. I don’t think I could have pursued this musical path so completely and honestly, with as much effort, if I had remained working as a teacher, as teaching was quite emotionally and physically exhausting in comparison to working in an office. I have nothing but the utmost respect for teachers, they really work incredibly hard. But there is something wonderful for me about being able to tune out of work once I walk out the door each day and just focus on writing/rehearsing and gigging at nights and weekends.
You live and play in Canberra – what do you love and/or hate about the Canberra music scene?
Trust me, it’s all love!! I’ve been in Canberra since January 2013, and have never felt myself so at home creatively, in amongst a group of performers who really care about supporting each other and creating all the opportunities we possibly can for one another. I love that the Canberra music scene is small but mighty, with so much talent and passion and gigs on every night of the week. Honestly I don’t think I could have built networks to the extent to which I have in any other place quite as fluidly – I remember playing a gig last June when Smith’s Alternative bookshop had just reopened and David Finnigan was also performing that night. I’d never met him before but afterwards he sent me this incredible email of “Canberra people to connect with to help you on your way.” I ended up crossing paths with them in time of course but it was a lovely gesture that embodies everything I like about the generosity of Canberra’s artistic community.
You have plans to release an album this year, can you tell me a bit about the project?
Well, I’m quite excited, as it’s my first album. It’s a concept album entitled Ten Months, and it’s ten songs, written on average one per month from July last year, which chart the course of a rather fascinatingly doomed relationship that I experienced recently. The songs really tell a story in themselves, and I’m thrilled that something of which I’m really proud has come out of a rather awkward life situation. But my goodness, the quality lessons learned! Hopefully those audiences who come on the Ten Months journey with me will gain some wisdom and insight into some of the scarier sides of romantic adventures like I did. I’m incredibly grateful to the wonderful Reuben Ingall for recording it with me, and will be launching it at a gig at Smith’s on Saturday night September 20, 2014.
If you had to sum up your life philosophy in one song lyric, what would it be?
I actually wrote a song last week with the message ‘It’ll all work out the way it’s supposed to’ as the hook, more to comfort myself than anything else! But my current favourite message in song is the chorus from a tune by Diane Birch, where she sings ‘When you’re wasting time and nobody knows what you’re saying – speak a little louder’.
You can check out Marianne’s indie popster tunes online at her Soundcloud, or in person at the following upcoming gigs:
CMC presents: Cabaret: Confidential at the Turner Bowls Club, 8pm Friday July 11
Feminartsy presents Hissy Fit: A Feminist Lecture (Details TBA), July 31
Art Underground at Beyond Q Bookshop in Curtin, 7pm Friday August 8
Ten Months album launch at Smith’s Alternative, 8pm Saturday September 20
Image: Anna Mayberry