The last few years has seen a surge of musicians leaving labels to self-release albums. The frequent arguments against label partnerships have included more freedom of artistic expression, no hassle from suits and the ability to keep 100 percent of the profits.
Folk singer and guitarist Marissa Nadler counted herself among that crowd of musicians. The 32-year-old Massachusetts native released her previous two projects, 2011’s self-titled album and 2012’s The Sister EP, on her own label.
Nadler had been dropped by Kemado Records after the release of her fourth album, 2009’s Little Hells. With the help of a Kickstarter campaign and a lot of legwork, her self-released albums made money and garnered strong critical reviews.
“I did learn every single intricacy of that self-release process,” said Nadler, who performs Wednesday at The Chapel. “It’s just that unless you’re Beyonce or Radiohead, it’s very hard to get that self-release to reach beyond that built-in fan base you already have. (And) what people don’t realize is that I maxed out four credit cards to do that the right way.”
Additionally, those intricacies of the business wore her out. Instead of focusing her energy on being creative, she was in charge of her own public relations campaign, boxing up albums and worrying about sales.
“Also, it’s very hard to keep giving yourself pep talks when you’re on your sixth album, and you’re (thinking), ‘Nobody even gives a shit what I’m doing anymore,’” she said.
Nadler learned a lot, but was very happy to sign with Sacred Bones Records (home of David Lynch and Zola Jesus, among others) for her new album, July, which was released February 4th.
“I had vowed to never work with another record label again as long as I lived when I started self-releasing, but I guess I changed my mind,” she said.
July is her most personal, soul-bearing work to date, Nadler said. Written in July 2013, the album chronologically follows her life from summer to summer. She chose the name because she enjoyed the evocative simplicity of the one-word title. Joni Mitchell’s Blue was an influence.
The gravitational center of the record is the song “Firecrackers,” which details a break-up on the Fourth of July.
To produce, she turned to Randall Dunn, who is most famous for his work with doom and metal bands like Earth and Sunn O))). The two had previously been introduced by her booking agent, who also worked with some of those other bands.
“A lot of black metal is very beautiful and lush and atmospheric and ambient, which is a lot of the same qualities I’m looking to make in my own music,” Nadler said. “I think my music has that lushness and atmosphere. The lyrical content is more introspective and…melancholic and reflective. I thought it made a lot of sense to work with him.”
Dunn helped Nadler introduce strings to her recorded music for the first time, among other tweaks. But the most noticeable addition to the album is the presence of three-part harmonies — which Nadler wrote and recorded herself. It is those harmonies that presented a unique problem, which Nadler solved by bringing on an all-female band to tour with her.
“When I tried to sing the songs, with just one voice…it just sounded like it was missing something, so I was looking for multi-instrumentalists who could also sing to create the harmonies of the album,” she said.
Joining Nadler are classically trained cellist and keyboardist Janel Leppin, and violist and lap steel guitarist Nina Violet.
Nadler released her debut album in 2004, when she was 22. Ten years later, she doesn’t even remember what events led her to write it.
“When I was younger, I was afraid to say what was on my mind. I put Edgar Allen Poe to music, and I covered a Pablo Neruda poem. Now I don’t rely so much on those crutches,” she said. “I feel like the (July) songs…have a wide range of human emotions and I just write what’s on my mind,” she said. “I see it as being more honest. Maybe because of that, it’s affecting people in a stronger way.”
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