Get in line: there’s a small wait but good seats are still available for The Mariella Show (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reverbnation). Four months ago, after listening to the New York City-based vocalist’s single “Lovesick”, I wrote that “With a growl and purr of the sort most commonly heard in jazz, she’s my new favorite vocalist. She has it – that distinctiveness, that quality that all of the greats have that makes them instantly identifiable and instantly pleasing.”
I thought I was checking in as a charter member of the Mariella Fan Club, but as a mainstay of the New York City circuit, Mariella already has a significant following, not least of all as co-creator and co-host of one of New York’s longest running hip-hop jam sessions, Freestyle Mondays.
I had the opportunity for a rather wide-ranging chat with Mariella – about her background, yes, because it’s an interview and you have to do that sort of thing, but also about gigs in Guangzhou, China; about working with the diva’s producer par excellence Mark de Clive-Lowe; about beatboxing on Sesame Street and the blinding ball of energy of a vocalist hustling to make things happen. Don’t worry about blinking – you won’t miss it.
When I heard your collab with Mark de Clive-Lowe, I thought you had to have had some sort of a jazz background. What exactly is your background and training?
My grandfather was a jazz musician and both of my parents are big jazz enthusiasts so I was listening and learning jazz pretty early on. I first got my start as a vocalist playing jazz standards in small clubs and restaurants and it really influenced my vocal and writing style. Piano and flute were my first instruments and I studied at Conservatory. It wasn’t until adulthood that i realized i wanted to focus my attention as a vocalist and i studied with pianist Andy Bemkey, and Continuing Ed classes at the New School. I’m currently studying voice and theory with Vickie Natale, an incredible vocalist and writer based out of NYC. Never stop learning!
How did you come to collab with Mr. Mashi? What is it about this dude that so many outstanding vocalists seem to love to work with him?
I’d made a list of my heroes and people I wanted to work with and Mark was at the top of that list. We soon connected through a mutual friend and that collaboration led to incredible chemistry between us. We’ve since written and recorded 4 songs that we’ll be dropping very soon – proving how powerful visualization is.
It’s so easy to write and sing to a Mark de Clive-Lowe production- vocals sit so well in the pocket, his chords and melodies are so inviting, and as a producer he knows exactly how to get the right performance from his vocalists. I was drawn to him from following what my favorite vocalists were doing.
Is he producing the full-length LP that was promised in the promo for Lovesick?
Mark produced 1 song on the EP which is currently getting mastered in Berlin – we’re looking at a Sept release! The Lovesick remix which was released in March – it will be re-released on limited edition vinyl this fall, and Mark is producing another EP which is currently getting mixed down! Release for the Mashi/Mariella EP is still TBA.
I find it really really hard to believe that this was your debut EP! How many years of recording have you done in the past before this one was finally released?
I have several demos and about 10 years worth of recordings under my belt. Some have the light of day as collabos on other people’s records. I never felt comfortable releasing a demo and calling it an album – especially if something didn’t sit right with me. Either the production was shaky or the vocal performance made me cringe. Releasing as an indie can also get pretty expensive – which is another factor in the delays.
But I finally have several projects that I feel really good about and have the means to release them, so it’s time! The EP I’m releasing in September features production by Zeb and Sabo, Mark de Clive-Lowe, DJ Vadim and Rogue Pop. The followup remix record has some tasty treats from Rich Medina, MdCL, DJ Obah, JBoogie, and Rogue Pop.
Your bio says you have had a residency in Asia? Where exactly and were you living there or flying in on glamourous jetliners every month?
My residency was in Guangzhou at a huge nightclub about an hour outside of Hong Kong. I was in a smaller live music venue within the club and the main room featured huge acts and DJs – both Tiesto and Oakenfold played while I was there. The club put us up in an apartment close to the venue which also housed some of the other ex-pat residents, so we basically played video games by day and music by night. The airline overbooked our flight to Asia so getting bumped got
us a first class ticket there – the only really glamorous part of that 3 month adventure. I flew coach back.
You won the Billboard World Songwriting Contest in 2008. I know it’s an honor to be recognized for that – how many doors does a platform like that open for you?
Well, for starters there’s a nice plaque on my wall which makes me look really good to guests at the house. It also gave me credibility as a writer and opened the doors to working with producers and musicians who either hadn’t heard of me or didn’t think I was a contender. That win is still opening doors for me, as I continue to solidify myself as a serious talent. There was a nice cash prize that I squandered pretty quickly as well.
Sesame Street! That is beyond cool! How did you get that gig and do pre-schoolers walk up to you on the street and start “mmmmmmm!”ing? I had no idea they had beatboxing on Sesame Street, should I start watching more episodes to get in touch with the times?
Being featured on Sesame Street is a life long dream I’ve been able to cross off the list! I was spotted at my weekly event Freestyle Mondays by Graham MacKenzie who wrote both beatboxing segments for Sesame Street and it was right when they were casting- twas a very lucky break. Both Sesame Street and Yo Gabba Gabba are very in touch with the times and pretty hip! Biz Markie is a regular on Yo Gabba Gabba so you’ve got a whole new generation of future beatboxers tuning in.
I have been recognized by kids and parents in random places which usually starts with an “Excuse me, are you the beatboxing girl on Sesame Street…”
I’m sure this is going to sound wrong and offend everyone, but there is among a number of vocalists what I call the Songbird Syndrome – some that I know personally seem to want to wait for things to happen (invited to jam, invited into the studio, invited for a gig) rather than making them happen. You’re like this insane ball of energy and I had no idea you had all of these local projects in NYC going on. Tell me a bit about Freestyle Mondays and some of the other live things you’re involved in?
There are a lot of people who let time slip away by waiting for an invite and in a place like NYC you have to make your own opportunities. I know so many promoters, DJs and bands who started incredible parties because they weren’t being included on other people’s events.
I began Freestyle Mondays along with my partner ILLspokinn as a place for musicians, MCs and singers to have a collaborative home. Too many open mics in the city where you sign up, play your song, and don’t really get to stretch yourself as an artist or become part of a community. Freestyle Mondays is off the top of the dome and a cypher format- meaning the band improvises a song, ILL and I improvise the melody, lyrics, and hook and MCs and singers stand in line for a chance to cypher with us for 16 bars before the hook comes back in and its another MCs turn. You never see the same show twice, or see or hear an MC/singer or musician spit the same theme.
We’re not on a stage so the band, the talent and the audience are all part of the event. The MC line blends in with the audience, and you really get to share the party with the whole room.
Freestyle Mondays has birthed several bands, collectives, non-profits and after school programs – namely Urban Art Beat, which started from Freestyle Mondays family mentoring underprivileged youths and has expanded to four NYC public schools. We’ve also gone global – this October marks Freestyle Mondays’ 10th year in NYC and our 1 year anniversary in Prague. You also never know who’s gonna sit in and we’ve had members of The Roots, N’Dea Davenport, Marcus Miller, Daniel Merriwether, Les Nubians, Ben Harper, and other notables take the stage.
A friend of mine has a great voice but has spent the last 10 years unsuccessfully trying to do the “woo woos” from Rod Stewart’s “Hot Legs”. He cannot do it. If you could mimic anyone else, who would that be?
Chaka Khan and that incredible belt! Ella Fitzgerald’s scat, Queen Latifah’s flow, Stevie Wonder’s phrasing, Roisin Murphy’s sense of style, Minnie Ripperton’s upper register, and Loleatta Holloway’s incredible range. And I also wish I could yodell.