Monday 19th March 2018
Winning MTV’s Unsigned Artist Of The Year, selling out London’s The Lexington, giving TED Talks regarding the stigma behind disability in the music industry and all before releasing any music. With industry experts tipping her for big things, soulful singer-songwriter Marie Naffah finally releases her debut single “Let Me Wilt”, showing that “being yourself has never been cooler”. It all started in 2014 after Marie uploaded a YouTube video, leading to her being titled MTV’s Unsigned Artist Of The Year, putting her with the likes of Sam Smith, George Ezra and Ella Eyre. Soon Marie released ‘Blindfold’, the project where she delved into the stigma surrounding disability in the music industry and how we should tackle it, in response to her Grandmother losing her sight. The passion project led to Naffah giving TedTalks, making a documentary and gaining national coverage. Through the ‘Blindfold’ project, Marie met Kevin Satizabal, a blind pianist with whom she collaborates and plays live with at all gigs.
Please could you tell me about how it all started for you? Has there been anyone in particular that has inspired you to take the step in to music, and at what point did you know you wanted to make a career out of it?
I taught myself how to play the guitar when I was about 14 years old. From then, I started writing songs – albeit badly. Any occasion – birthday, christmas – you name it, there’d be a tune that my family would have to endure. When I was 18, I opened my eyes to the world of the London music scene, gigging everywhere and anywhere to audiences big and small. From then I was hooked I suppose. It was when I was awarded MTV’s Unsigned Artist of the Year a few years back I suddenly became much more serious about the whole thing.
Your latest single “Let Me Wilt” is due for release on the 23rd March. Could you tell me about the single, and how are you feeling about getting new music out there?
I can’t wait for everyone to hear the new music. Last summer was one of the most intense of my life – I got on a Greyhound bus from New York to Pittsburgh (after a series of Sofar Sounds shows) which led me to my new US manager, who introduced me to Tyler Watkins and the team at Postal recording in Indianapolis. I think the music we made together captures some of that Americana feel. We wanted something timeless – as most artists do I suppose. The guys at Postal were magicians. ‘Let me Wilt’, the first single, serves as a heading to the next chapter and I could not be more excited to be putting it out there with complete creative control.
Could you tell me about your writing process, and how you know when a song is ready? Being a solo artist do you have anyone to bounce ideas from?
My writing process tends to be rather private. It’s an unsatisfying answer but you do just sort of ‘know’ when a song is ready. The good ones tend to come out all at once. Sometimes I will play around with lyrics afterwards, but normally when it’s done you’ll feel it. My manager is great at providing advice without stepping on my toes. It’s a real skill and I’m really thankful for his input.
Who are your biggest musical influences, and how have they encouraged and helped you to develop your sound?
I started off as a lyric-driven, acoustic singer-songwriter, back when Laura Marling and Ed Sheeran were the king and queen of the cutting-edge music scene. Recently, things have moved forward and I’ve looked back – looking at old souls like Aretha Franklin, Carly Simon, Janis Joplin. Influences from my generation include those who will never fail to stand out in a crowd, the girls who went against the grain – Florence Welch, Amy Winehouse.
Are you looking to release an EP or an album in the near future?
I’m playing the single game at the moment. It seems right considering the music industry currently with curated playlisting ruling the show. I plan to go back to Indianapolis to finish the LP. My goal is to have an album full of single-worthy songs.
How does the single compare to your previous material, and how do you feel you’ve grown as an artist?
I feel much stronger as an artist. I feel more sure about the sound I want to make and I felt a confidence in the studio that I’d never felt before. The result is bigger, more mature and the variety of weird and wonderful instruments make for that fuller, brighter sound. However had I not written the previous material, I wouldn’t have got to here.
How did it feel winning the MTV Unsigned Artist of the Year award back in 2014, and how has it since helped you with your music career?
Being awarded MTV’s Unsigned Artist of the Year will be something that I will cherish forever. It led me to experience some great opportunities and connect with some great personalities who have stuck by me and offered me true advice. Having such a powerhouse choose me will always be something I am grateful for.
Your project ‘Blindfold’ is about raising awareness of the stigma behind disability in the music industry. Could you tell more about why this is something you feel passionately about, and what you feel the music industry should be doing about this?
The ‘Blindfold’ project has also been a highlight of my music career thus far. I started the project originally with a song I’d written about my grandmother who had lost her sight. The song explored the concept of blindness and the documentary is built around that song. Having teamed up with six visually impaired musicians and hearing their stories, I started to realise how discriminative and close-minded the music industry can be, especially to those with disability. I gave a TED talk about this very matter – I don’t have a big, ground breaking solution but I do want to help raise awareness and help the music industry become a more inclusive place. If a few more people are talking about it then maybe, slowly, things will change. It’s 2018, it’s ridiculous that someone who is blind should be turned down from playing a gig.
I’ve recently discovered Sofar Sounds and noticed you did a performance a little while back. How did the opportunity come about, and how was the experience?
Lucky you for being introduced to Sofar Sounds! I was approached by Rafe Offer, the co-founder of Sofar Sounds, while I was in session at Soho Radio. He told me about the concept. I have now played shows around the world with Sofar. London, Oxford, Brussels, Berlin, San Francisco, Boston, New York… so many. The initiative is flawless and I am so pleased they are gleaning more attention in the global press. It really is a special thing. Every time I walk into a Sofar, wherever it is in the world, it feels like coming home.
You’ll be performing your biggest gig to date on the 9th April at the Omeara in London. How are you feeling about the show and are there any songs in particular you’re looking forward to performing live?
There is no greater feeling for me than playing live. It really is my favourite thing to do. So yes, I am giddy with excitement to play my biggest gig to date. We had such a blast at the Lexington in January and I’m ready to get back on stage again. As for songs… I love playing all of them, but my band is particularly breathtaking in our new cover of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change is Gonna Come’. They are just so cool. So yes, come dance with me.