Artist of the Month: Marlaena Moore

Photo by Levi Manchak

Photo by Levi Manchak

Meet our March Artist of the Month: Marlaena Moore

After first hearing Edmonton's Marlaena Moore at Calgary's Femme Wave, I was hooked. She has one of a voice that's been described being able to "quiet the loudest of rooms and rattle the quietest of rooms". Not only does she have an amazing voice but her songwriting abilities could rival some of the greats. Singing from personal experiences, each of her songs contain rich imagery, giving you a visual aspect to go along with the music.

I sat down with Marlaena after her performance at Calgary's Big Winter Classic for a conversation that spanned her start into music, her take on Canada's various music scenes, feminism, women in music and her current and future endeavours.

Going back, how did you initially get into playing music?
I’ve been playing music as long as I can possibly remember. I’ve always sung and always writing weird little songs and then, when I was 13, I started getting serious about it and writing mostly on the piano because that’s what I’d learned. I wasn’t too great at it. There were certain songs I thought would sound better on guitar so I slowly started to pick that up. I’m a self-taught guitar player. It took off from there. I started playing open mic nights when I was 14 or 15 and then started playing actual shows, because I was allowed to go to bars, when I was 18. I’ve just been going from there.

When did you decide you wanted to do music more professionally?
It made sense because it’s all I want to do. There wasn’t a decision involved, it seemed like a natural course of action. For a while, there’s times where it gets frustrating and you want to stop but it always manages to reel you back in somehow. 

Growing up, what was the music scene in Edmonton like?
When I was growing up, I honestly wasn’t too attached to the music scene in Edmonton quite yet. I didn’t get involved until I was 18. When I was getting into local music, that’s when OLD UGLY, the record label Joe Gurba ran, was really hitting its stride and was at its peak. The artists involved with that are so, so amazing and people I look up to so much like Jessica Jalbert, Faith Healer, Renny Wilson, Jom Comyn, Caity Fisher, Liam Trimble, Mitchmatic and everyone they played with just blew me away. It’s really beautiful and still, to this day, I’m constantly being blown away by the Edmonton scene. There’s heaps of talent, people are so talented, lots of different genres. You never get bored, I don’t find there’s on particular scene that’s bigger than the other. I could be wrong about that. Everyone is really supportive of each other. I love it. 

I’ve been thinking about this a lot – when you hear a Toronto band, you can almost tell they’re a Toronto band. Even when you hear a Vancouver act, you can almost tell as well. Alberta doesn’t necessarily have a sound.
No, I don’t think so. I like it that way though. I like that a band can go play anywhere in Canada and people will be surprised you’re from Alberta. 

You’re from Edmonton scenes but you just recently toured the west coast. How do you believe the scenes vary?
I really love Vancouver a lot. It’s a great city and a lot of really amazing bands come from there, really love people come from there. But, I found playing there, the crowds seem to be a little more self-conscious. It’s a bigger city and it’s a little scary, right? Victoria definitely has more of an Edmonton vibe to it. It’s a mini big city there. I have a really big fascination with Canadian cities because there’s only so many. Every city has a different personality. Every city is like a person, all very different. They have certain quirky things about themselves.

You said throughout your teenage years you played open mic nights. Do you find since then, because of Canada’s lack of all-ages venues, it might be harder for a teenager to find those opportunities now?
It is definitely a lot tougher. I think all-ages venues need to be more of a thing. You need to have more all-ages hall shows. It’s very difficult to set that up but it’s really important, especially for growth and development of younger artists. That’s when it starts happening, generally people start playing music around that age because they’re little weirdo teenagers who have something to say and just want to be understood and want to find people who think like them. If they’re not given opportunities to play, they can definitely get swept under the rug and forgotten about. All-ages venues need to be more of a thing and all-ages shows.

Do you believe if we had more all-ages venues, maybe acts like yourself might be able to get a stronger audience and a stronger fanbase?
Possibly. I’m not too sure. Just by expanding the people who go to shows, you’re expanding fanbases of tons of artists.

Do you find Canadian music scenes are welcoming towards women?
I think it’s definitely improved. I’m sure there are cities that are better than others, for sure, just depending. When I toured with Switches, we were very happy to find out pretty much every show we played had a female presence to it. It’s strange. I don’t want to single out any city, that’s for sure, but there are some towns you get the occasional really weird, shitty comment. It’s one of those things, too, where it’s just the general attitude, right? Where it’s getting better but it’s definitely almost not better at all. Even in the more progressive cities, you can still find someone giving a really weird, shitty, backhanded compliment.

You sing about everything from the male gaze to masturbation. Is there a topic you might not feel comfortable singing about? Or do you like to put everything out there?
I’ll sing whatever I feel like. I always write out of personal experience, generally things that have happened to me, and then there are certain times where there’ll be songs where it’s almost written accidentally. “Feel It”, I say it’s about masturbation to get a reaction. It really is about reclaiming sexuality. I was in a place where I was feeling, “Oh, I’m so alone, I don’t have anyone to touch me and make me feel nice” or I felt very un-sexy or un-womanly and it’s like, “Well, I’m the decider of that, why should someone else, much less a dude, be the decider of how I feel about my sexuality? That’s weird.” It’s one of those things where I found all my songs have strong feminist themes by accident, in a way. My first album was really about growing up and coming into some womanhood and not knowing what to do with it at all. Learning about that and finding the strength to be vulnerable, I like to call it. That is something, especially for a woman, that’s really terrifying. Being vulnerable as a woman, no one wants to do that because you’re already not doing so great, in a way, as a lady, sometimes it can be a little tough and, when you’re able to not let yourself be hardened and be really raw with people, it can be very powerful and really important. That’s the thing, I don’t blame women when they want to be hard on themselves and be as tough as they can be because the world forces you to do that. But when you’re able to find somewhere you need to be vulnerable and share it with people and share it with an audience, it’s very powerful stuff. 

I first saw you at Femme Wave, which is, very obviously, a feminist music festival. Do you consider yourself a feminist?
Absolutely, 100 per cent. 

Being a feminist, you said your songs are very feminist themed, without meaning to be.
With this last album, there were certain themes I really wanted to stay strong to and I really wanted people to hear. I do have a lot of fascination with the male gaze and how it has such an impact. When I was first reading about that and really getting to know what that was, it was freaking me out a little bit. I was like, “Oh my god, I’m imprisoned by this constantly.” So much of what I do is so influenced by that and it made me sad. I found it to be a very relatable topic. It sucks.

I hope Femme Wave happens again next year.
I hope so too. It was so lovely. Femme Wave was such a lovely, vibe-y festival. There were so many people who came out who don’t usually come to shows and that’s really interesting to me. If more shows had this similar theme, you could get more people coming out and feeling like they can, feeling like they can go and watch someone on stage they can relate to and see themselves in someone they’re watching perform.

I know Cassia [Wares] mentioned you have extensive knowledge of bands with women. How did you manage to grow that specific encyclopedia of music knowledge?
Last year I started co-hosting a show on CJSR called Fem Waves, which was all female artists. That really increased my knowledge a lot. When you go on a radio show, it makes you really thirsty for knowledge. I was really, really into punk music. Actually, for a while, I realized, “Oh, even though everyone I’m listening to right now is pretty much all female-fronted, female-run, it’s very white.” And that happened by accident and I knew I needed to go outside of that and I found lots of amazing blogs and resources of artists that got swept under the rug a little bit. X-Ray Spex was one classic, classic punk band, original riot grrrl before that was ever a thing. Alice Bag of the Alice Bag Band, she’s this amazing Latina woman who’s punk as fuck, the most punk shit in the world. It’s one of those things, too, thinking of female bands, female-fronted bands should not be a tricky thing anymore. If you don’t know then go know, it’s so easy to.

Especially all these festivals lacking in women.
The most important things festivals can do, that doesn’t happen too often, is having female headliners. That’s so, so important. With festivals, I’ve been to quite a few where there is a general split. The band’s playing, there is a strong female presence. I went to Burgerama last March and there were so many amazing, badass rocking ladies but all the headliners were guys.

Was that where Kathleen Hanna performed?
That was Burger A-Go-Go. Which is sweet but you should just have them play Burgerama too, you don’t have to make it a special thing. It’s great they did that and they didn’t really advertise it as this super female feminist thing instead it was just bands who happen to be women, which I thought was great. But, yes, if I could beg anything of festival curators, more female headliners because you can see a female presence at festivals but, in terms of headliners, it’s far few in between. 

Talking to Lights about Coachella, this was right when everyone was talking about the lack of women at festivals, she mentioned there was a lack of women but the lack of women playing are phenomenal. Most of the acts she wanted to see were women.
It’s not just finding artists. Finding phenomenal female artists isn’t hard either. 

The women out there, they’re almost expected to be phenomenal.
That’s a thing too that really makes me very sad. Women are never given a chance to fail and grow. That’s so important for artists’ development. There are so many guys that really are able to pay their dues and get no flack because of their gender. They’ll get flack because of their abilities but their gender will never come into it. Whereas women, when they’re trying to grow and develop as artists, their gender will always come into it. And weird backhanded things like, “Oh yeah, generally women can’t play drums but you’re pretty good.” You’re expected to either be phenomenal or don’t bother trying at all. How can you do anything with that? You can’t do anything. You really need to be able play and grow and fail and learn. If you’re expected to be phenomenal right away, you’re just going to want to give up. So women who don’t and actually power through it, that’s some powerful shit right there.

What do you have planned for 2016?
I have a lot planned for 2016. My next album is going to be coming out in April. I’m going to be touring with Wares. Her and I are going to be touring across Canada, far west as Victoria, far east as Halifax. I want to write my next album and then I want to go on tour again. I’m feeling the momentum and I really don’t want to stop. I’m liking it a lot. 

Will the album be released through Sweety Pie Records?
It will be, yes.

Is it your record label or is it just something you’re on?
I co-run it with a bunch of my very, very dear friends in Edmonton. It’s collective based and community oriented. We’re going to be releasing Wares’ as well, those tracks are so incredible, it’s going to be a 7”. We started up in last August and we’ve been building a rep locally and we’re trying to build it more and more. We really want to do a Calgary compilation because we love it here so much, we love so many bands here. We have a lot of different things in the works.