Nicole Marxen says that she was “really insecure” when she started out in music. “I didn’t grow up playing music,” she says on a recent phone call. “It’s something that I got into by accident in my early 20s and was obsessed with it, but I always felt a little behind everyone else.”
Earlier this year, Dallas-based Marxen, who cut her teeth with the band Midnight Opera, released her first solo EP, Tether, and since the summer she’s been playing live solo as well. “Forcing myself to do it on my own really helped me navigate some of those boundaries that I could not get past,” she says. “Playing live by myself too has been a really good experience because you don’t have anyone else up there to bounce energy off of or depend on. It’s just you, so you need to be able to work a room.”
Today, Audiofemme premieres the video for “Bones / Dust,” directed by Salt Lake City-based Richard Krause. “The first time I heard ‘Bones / Dust,’ I knew I wanted to make a music video for it,” writes Krause in his director’s statement. “Nicole’s vocals are haunting yet beautiful, like a siren’s call. As I listened, atmospheric black-and-white images flooded my mind. A world encased in fog. Giant monsters emerging from the earth, coming for humanity. Shadows and light painting the scenes.”
“He came to me with some test renders and I was just blown away,” says Marxen.
“Bones / Dust” was one of the earliest songs that Marxen wrote for the EP, dating back about five or so years prior to the release of Tether. Much of the rest of the collection was written around 2018 and reflect Marxen’s grief over the loss of her mother.
“She passed away ten years ago, but because I was so young when it happened and my life was so busy, I really didn’t grieve until 2018,” she says. “Things were just moving so fast and I had a lot of living to do before I was in a place where I felt safe and secure enough to do so.”
Marxen was inspired to write – and to process that belated grief – while going through her mother’s belongings. “Sorting through her stuff was really the thing that triggered it and left the floodgates open,” she says.
She points to “Moonflower,” from the EP, as a song that came out of this process. Marxen notes that, at the time, she was getting interested in plants and gardening, as her mother had been. “I wish it was something that we could have experienced together, bonded over, but the fact that it found me regardless, I thought that was really beautiful,” she says.
To bring these songs to life, Marxen knew that she would have to work solo. “Looking back on it now, I understand it a little more, that it was a pretty integral part of my grieving process to do something with those songs alone,” she says.
For her solo debut, Marxen turned to producer Alex Bhore, with whom she had previously worked. “I just had 100% trust in him that he was going to help me do the songs justice,” she says. “I’m still super proud with what we were able to come up with and I love working with him.”
Gradually, the EP came together over the course of about a year and a half. “Now, I just trust the process so much more,” she says. “I trust that we’re going to do songs justice and, if it takes a while, that’s okay. Sometimes, it takes time to find what’s right. That’s the only way that I want to write music right now.”
Marxen began performing live again in July; she’s been playing mostly in and around Dallas, but one gig took her to a Victorian home in Wichita, Kansas. “They were just the coolest family ever that opened their house to this goth night,” she says of the hosts for the show. “The promoter found my music somehow and asked if I wanted to do it and I said yes, so I went and didn’t know a single person, but by the end of the night I had a million new friends and it was really cool.”
With shows lined up in Fort Worth, Dallas and Denton this December, Marxen is also at work with producer Bhore on a full-length album. “I feel like I’ve expressed my grief fully and now it’s time to figure out what else I need to say,” she says.
“Honestly, [Tether] just helped me find myself as an artist. I couldn’t really write any truths without going for my most painful one first,” says Marxen. “It was something that I needed to deal with it and it wasn’t until dealing with it that I was able to set myself free.”