Kara Marni has spent so much time in her garden shed. Her makeshift writing and recording studio has, as one might imagine, provided a necessary haven this year. With the world enduring an ongoing pandemic, and the states witnessing social and political upheaval, creatives have folded into their art as vehicles of expression, healing, and hope.
“It’s given me a chance to rediscover why I started making music in the first place,” Marni admits to American Songwriter over a recent phone call. Liberated from industry expectations, and the pressures of constantly churning out content, the UK-based singer-songwriter found herself free to bound through endless musical pursuits to reconnect with herself and her craft.
“I’ve really enjoyed experimenting and playing around with sounds. I know a lot of people have struggled with it, and I have at times, but it’s actually been really good for me, in terms of my creativity,” she observes of the pandemic.
Conversely, the London native has craved human connection, owed in large part to her Greek heritage and bubbly personality. “As you can already tell, I talk a lot. We strive off that very touchy-feely vibe. I love giving hugs to my friends, and I love seeing people,” she says. “Mentally, it’s been a challenge. I actually wrote a song about this the other day. It was touching on my feelings during this time where it’s been mentally challenging being with my thoughts 24/7 and having no distraction. Sometimes, if I just want to get out of my own head, I’ll go out and hang with friends. It’s been hard to just be.”
Amidst such mental suffocation, her creativity has unexpectly thrived. Marni was able to not only pour her heart out in her songwriting but flex her muscles as a producer. In the aftermath of her new song “Young Heart” hitting impressive streaming benchmarks, notching millions across the board, she decided to take a whirl and strip the pop production back to its roots. With an acoustic iteration, she displays a magnetic knack for sculpting melodies, as well as playing tango with an acoustic guitar.
“It’s my first-ever song I’ve released that I produced in my shed by myself at home during lockdown. I’m super proud of that, because I’m absolutely useless with anything computer-related,” she admits with a laugh. “I’ve really always wanted to be able to vocal produce and use Logic properly and know what the hell I’m doing with all those buttons.”
Within such an organic framework, the song’s core message ─ the push and pull of emotions and logic ─ comes into crisper focus. “In a lot of relationships, there’s almost always that angel and devil on either side of my head. One of them is going with my heart and not thinking about the consequences, and the other is telling me to be cautious and open my eyes to the red flags and listen,” Marni explains. “This song was very much born out of that feeling. It’s a letter to myself almost, asking myself why I keep putting myself through the same situations and not learning sometimes.”
In the song’s original form, Marni teams with Atlanta rapper Russ, a collaboration that came about over social media. “It was the night before my first headlining tour last year, and I had an really early flight. When you’re meant to be going to sleep, you look at your phone and start scrolling,” Marni remembers. Flipping through her Instagram message requests, she stumbled upon Russ’ adoring message over her previous song, “Lose My Love.”
“Once that happened, any kind of sleep went straight out the window,” she laughs. Instantly, a friendship ignited. Marni then sent him the song’s barebones that very night, and “within an hour, by the time I got into my car to take me to the airport, he’d sent me back the two verses,” she says. “It was the quickest turnover I had ever experienced in my life. Usually, these things are slow from actually writing the song to recording to mixing and mastering.”
Their virtual collaboration then takes center stage in the animated music video, paired with an accompanying video game. Created by Ivan Dixon (Childish Gambino), the visual depicts Marni and Russ’ burgeoning work relationship, extracting specific details from their real life homes. Marni remarks, “Everything you see is from real life. It’s the animation version of my house in every way. The attention to detail was really incredible. It was meant to be, and it’s thanks to COVID-19 that it happened.”
Having grown up loving the work of Nina Simone, Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin, Marni’s penchant for R&B-laced melodies and structures comes as no surprise. Her father, the consummate music collector, possessing the largest collection of vinyl records she has ever seen, pulled her into the power of music at a very young age. Later, poetry and creative writing became her muse, bestowing her with strengths in lyrical phrasing and imagery.
“I never really thought about putting melodies to the words,” she admits. While it would be some time before songwriting would strike her fancy, Marni continued gathering bits and pieces that would soon serve her work quite well. She began issuing one-off singles in 2017, eventually releasing her debut Love Just Ain’t Enough a year later and the follow-up, No Logic, in 2019.
Over the years, Marni has observed a gradual willingness to be vulnerable ⏤ and the floodgates broke wide open. “I’ve become more open to say things I was maybe too scared to say before. I go to those places that definitely feel more uncomfortable. My approach to songwriting is a bit more methodical than before where it was sporadic,” she reflects. “Now, even if I’m not feeling so inspired, I can still write a song. I’ve practiced enough that I can still get an idea down on those days. It’s a part of your brain you need to practice. It doesn’t always have to be an amazing song. It’s a muscle.”
Marni eyes a series of more singles, leading into a project tentatively expected in 2021.
Photo by Will Spoon