Gabrielle Marlena is young and earnest, character traits that describe many NYC transplants. Her second EP explores love in, around, and for the city. Brooklyn in particular is a character in Marlena’s music, the new boyfriend who remains steady, unlike the ones who often disappoint.
“Easier Love” is the title track and first single off Marlena’s follow-up to last year’s debut Good Music for You. On first listen, the catchy refrain brings to mind pop singer-songwriters like Ingrid Michaelson and Sara Bareilles: “It’s ok that you’ve found an easier love / and it’s ok that you didn’t try hard enough / and I will learn what I’m really made of.” Marlena’s voice stands out from the pack with its gritty underbelly, a throaty warmth that comes off as genuinely road-weary. In the video, Marlena scrolls through photos, texts, memories of her ex, as time speeds up all around her; the ache is there and so is the motivation to move on.
We caught up with Gabrielle to talk classical music, the Montreal folk scene, and what Brooklyn hotspot is her #goals performance space.
Watch “Easier Love” below:
AF: As a girl, you studied the clarinet and classical piano, as well as the glockenspiel. Not gonna lie: I had to look up what a glockenspiel was. What drew you initially to classical music?
GM: Wow… I’m trying to remember. I totally wasn’t drawn into it! I think it felt like the standard for my parents to provide their children with well-rounded educations that involved trying a little bit of everything. I definitely preferred music class in school over sports, so we started with piano lessons. I think the only reason I chose clarinet for the elementary school band was because my older brother played it! And for the glockenspiel… I think it was seriously only because my middle school band instructor needed a player, and I was the only one who was willing and able.
AF: You moved to Montreal to study Economics, but ended up getting involved in the electronic scene there. Draw the lines for us. How did that happen?
GM: The phrase “moved to Montreal to study economics” is weird to me actually (even though I’ve probably said that before). I moved to Montreal because it was MONTREAL. College was sort of my excuse to try out that amazing city, and I chose economics because for some weird reason I was really good at it. It wasn’t at all what I was really interested in, so I gravitated toward the music scene in Montreal. I actually wasn’t so much involved in the electronic scene as much as the folk scene. I definitely enjoyed the electronic scene (Montreal has a lot to offer in that arena), but in terms of involvement, the hippie folk circles in apartment basements were more my thing.
AF: I was about to ask what the folk scene in Montreal looked like… Is it all coffee and apartments and friendly Canadians?
GM: My second year of college, I started performing at this place called the Yellow Door Coffeehouse right near my apartment. It was sort of like a local YMCA type thing; they had these open mic nights where they had self serve tea and coffee in the basement of an old apartment building (obviously pay by donation). There would be a featured performer every night who played a full set, and a hat was passed around at the end for tips (there were banjos and it was weird and awesome and I felt right at home).
AF: Brooklyn is your home base now. I love the line from “Sorry I Ever Fucked You” that talks about using the G train as an excuse. Highly relatable content from a former Bushwick girl’s perspective.
GM: Lol. 2% of the time when that guy actually agreed to come to my apartment, it would feel like he was crossing oceans to see me and I would get all giddy.
AF: Taking the G train is a kind of dedication. Has the landscape of the city affected you musically?
GM: Well I think there is a very unique New York culture. Everyone is working so hard all the time, and anyone who’s lived here knows that it’s easy to feel lonely even with a million people around you. FOMO is a serious issue and feelings of loneliness often creep into my writing (or they’re actually the main subject sometimes). NYC makes you reflect a lot. At least once a week, I need to step back and be like “I can’t believe I live here!” It makes you think about life a lot and what could be elsewhere, and that makes for good writing material.
My newest EP is actually about emotions I was experiencing while I was out of New York on tour. When I had even more time to reflect on what my life in NYC looked like compared to what it could be like in a million other places. Tour made me feel very grateful to live in Brooklyn actually, and I was inspired to turn all my thoughts into songs when I got back.
AF: Absence makes the heart grow fonder?
AF: You’ve spoken glowingly about working with producer Katie Buchanan. Can you give us a glimpse into the production process?
GM: I honestly can’t imagine working with anyone else at this point. I’m stuck. Any other studio wouldn’t have enough tea. No, really, her studio is in her apartment and it’s awesome. The way our production process has worked is: I send her demos, we get together, talk about my vision and hers (most of the time we agree and feed off of each other’s ideas); then we start tracking the basic instrumentation. The sound will evolve bit by bit. Sometimes we will start by tracking a guitar part that I used to write the song… and then that guitar part doesn’t even make it onto the record, so it’s very piecemeal. Also, I want to say I am very grateful to have found a female producer and I’m never going back!!!
AF: I’ve also been digging the accompanying artwork by Sarah Myers. How did ya’ll come to collaborate?
GM: Sarah is soooo talented. We met at an art fair in Brooklyn where I was singing and she was selling her work. Turns out she is also an awesome violinist so we jammed a bit and she played a few house concerts with me. Our musical collab kind of faded (maybe we should get back into it!) but I’m forever a fan of her art. I saw one of her “shadowboxes” that she posted on Instagram and thought “I need that of me and it needs to be my album artwork!” Ended up choosing a portrait taken on an iPhone (lol) but her artwork has been totally amazing to have on merch.
AF: Tell us a bit about the video for “Easier Love.” It has a lovely, melancholy feel to it.
GM: Shooting this video was a totally new experience for me; it’s all filmed in one shot, so we had to do it like 30 times. My initial idea for the video was pretty different from how it turned out, but I’m excited about how it evolved. My idea from the start was to somehow incorporate photos on an iPhone that matched with the lyrics of the song from the time that I wrote it. I had strong visual associations with the lines. It’s very literal. It tells a story, and I would be thinking of certain images in my head when I sang it so I wanted to bring that to life.
AF: What music do you have on rotation right now?
AF: Do you write music in solitude? Or are you someone writing down lyrics on the subway?
GM: Both! I write down lyrics on the subway all the time, but I would never write a song with my guitar if there are people in ear shot.
AF: Where do you see yourself performing in five years? What’s the dream venue?
GM: Brooklyn Steel.
AF: What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given (in regards to creating music)?
GM: Write about what you know.
Keep an ear out for Gabrielle Marlena’s debut EP Easier Love, set to release this month!