Ultra-talented UK singer-songwriter Kara Marni has spent the past couple of months working largely out of her back garden shed, where she’s been writing new music and doing live-streamed performances in spite of the ongoing pandemic. While it’s been a frustrating and difficult year for most, the music industry has been hit especially hard as a result of new COVID restrictions, the UK included; Marni has been trying to focus on the positives, though, like honing her production skills and staying connected with her fan base online. We got caught up a few weeks ago, so check out our full conversation below for the full state of affairs:
So I hear you’ve been spending a lot of time in your garden shed to do songwriting the past couple of months; what’s your setup like out there?
I have! My little shed has started becoming a little thing, to be honest, because I do these little shed sessions. I never really expected to start posting or doing live sessions from the shed, but it’s just so happened to become my little isolation room during the quarantine. I’ve got a keyboard in there, two guitars, all the wires I need, a Focusrite and a computer…all the basics, really, so I can just get everything done in my shed, which is amazing. I’ve also learned how to vocal produce, which has been a super big achievement for me because I’m the least tech-savvy person on the planet. I vocal produced my next single, which is the first official release that I’ll have recorded in the shed.
That’s super cool! Yeah, I feel like a lot of people have been talking about how they’ve been forced to do a lot of things on their own that they might normally outsource to someone else. I wonder what that landscape will look like when things go back to slightly more normal, whether people will want to keep doing most things themselves from now on. How do you feel about it?
To be honest, since I started in music I’ve always felt a little bit like…not set back, but I’ve always wanted to understand. You know, when the producer leaves the room and you click a button on the computer just to try to write the second verse or something, and something comes up where you’re just like, “Oh my god, have I just deleted everything?” But I’ve always wanted to know how to do it, and I think it’s really equipped me moving forward, being able to come into the studio from a different angle now that I know what I’m doing. I’ve loved every second, and I want to continue doing it; it’s so empowering, especially in a space that’s so male-dominated, you know. Now that I think I about it, I don’t think I’ve ever worked with a female producer. It’s amazing to have learnt that field myself, to be able to do it myself. Now I don’t really need someone else to do it; I can do it.
Amazing! And you’re obviously at the helm of your live-streamed performances as well. Does that feel good, or strange, or both, just in terms of performing to a sort of invisible audience rather than to an actual room of people?
I mean, it’s definitely weird. I’m not gonna say it’s not, because it’s still a bit weird trying to do performances over the internet where there’s not that physical interaction with your audience. But nevertheless, I’m enjoying it. Obviously I’d prefer to do in-person shows since the vibe is so much better for both sides, that live atmosphere and that live human interaction, but this is the next best thing. I’m down to try and make the best of a bad situation.
And what is the situation looking like in the UK where you are at the minute? I know here in Brooklyn we’re very concerned about losing a lot of indie venues since they’re just not able to feasibly open back up for the foreseeable future. Is it pretty strict there as well?
Yeah, with the live industry in general, all the venues and festivals included, it’s really had a devastating impact. So many of these beloved venues are closing down and won’t be reopened, because they just can’t afford to stay open. It’s so tragic and so devastating. The government, I don’t think, have quite supported the live industry the way they have with corporate jobs, and the whole furlough thing, I think it’s a lot harder with sound engineers and tour managers and everyone involved. I don’t know, I hope it will get back to normal, but to be honest, I’m really sad about it all. You’re hearing things like Glastonbury may not be able to open again, so many of my favorite venues are shutting down…it’s just…ugh. I’m trying to be positive, but it just feels a bit overwhelming. There obviously will come a time where people do get back to normal and those venues are hopefully patched up. I can only pray.
Absolutely. It’s been such a disheartening time, and just a roller coaster of emotions in general. You mentioned trying to stay positive, and I think everyone has struggled with that to some degree the past few months, not just with the pandemic, but with everything. How has all of this translated into the things you’re working on or thinking about in your creative process?
It’s definitely been a lot. I think 2020 has been the year of craziness, change, important conversations, but weirdly enough, it’s really inspired me. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and assess what I want to do in the future, why I’m doing what I’m doing, what I want my music to say. I think it’s been challenging at times, for sure, very up and down, especially with mental health; my anxiety has been through the roof at times, to be honest with you, just being at one with my thoughts 24/7 with no escape, that constant overthinking. I’m the queen over overthinking. It’s been hard, but that’s fed into my music; I wrote a song the other day called “Sick of Me” (I’ve just named it that right now), and it’s all about how it’s hard being with those emotions constantly when you’re alone and isolating, you know? It’s kept me inspired, to be honest; I feel like I’ve weirdly been writing now more than ever. There’s so much going on in my mind that it then kind of translates when I’m in my shed and just trying to get it out.
Right. And what is that sort of work-life balance like for you during a time like this, then? I know it can be difficult when you’re a creative to create a level of boundaries, but is there anything you do to just totally switch off from music, from thinking, that you’ve found helpful this summer?
To be honest with you, not many things; music is literally…it’s a 24/7 thing, whether it’s me thinking about lyrics or…it’s such an all-encompassing job. It’s not a 9-5. Doing live streams, writing, doing social media…I probably do need to find some things that distract me a bit more, but I guess reading has been one thing I’ve done a lot since I’ve had time to do it. I find that to be a good zone out thing. I’ve also been cooking, actually. I love cooking and gardening, so I’ve been growing some tomatoes in my garden, some fruit and veg, and it’s been really fun to watch them fruit and flower. But yeah cooking is a nice thing to get your mind off everything and all the worries I may have, or not have, or whatever.
I’m the same way; I’ve really enjoyed cooking this whole time since it feels really meditative. Alright, and so back to talking about work, tell me about collaborating with Russ on “Young Heart”. What was that conversation like? And did you work together in person, or was it all back and forth online?
No, we’ve actually never met, which is pretty crazy, to be honest! I still geek out that you can write a song with someone and never have met them. But he basically just DM’d me on Instagram the night before my first headline tour, and me being me, he was like, “I love your music! I’m binging on all your stuff,” and I’m like, “Thanks so much! So, I wrote this song this past week, what do you think? I’d love a feature on it…” And within an hour he’d sent me the song back, which is pretty crazy.
That’s amazing! And I feel like he doesn’t do a ton of collabs, either…
No, he’s very specific and choosy about what he does. Everything he does is so well thought out, so it was just a huge honor to have someone like him, on his level, believe in me, believe in the song and support me. He’s the best. I can’t wait to eventually meet him!
Have there been any other interesting DM situations, not even necessarily a collab, but just someone you admire swinging by to say they dig your music?
Most of my music friends have reached out. Like Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix is one of my friends, and she liked the song, but she’s a friend, you know? It’s mainly just my fans and stuff.
That’s cool! And it’s really nice during a time like this to be able to stay connected with them through social media. I’ve talked with some people before about how it can get a bit overwhelming to keep up with it all, though, especially if fans are telling you really personal stuff (sometimes heavy stuff) about how they’ve connected to your music; do you have a balance at all there in terms of interaction?
I hear what you’re saying, but honestly, I feel like they’ve helped me through this pandemic. It’s so nice to have people there that you can speak to and that support you no matter what. I’m happy to take time out of my day to speak to them, because they have supported me through everything, in my music and even just personal stuff. They’re so sweet. It’s a pleasure to speak to them, and I actually love responding to fans. I spend quite a lot of time in my DMs replying to the people that support me, because at the end of the day, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do without them.
Absolutely. Alright, looking ahead to the very nebulous future, when restrictions are theoretically lifted and things can return to semi-normal, what does your ideal first day out (in like, a safe, vaccinated world) look like?
Ideal first day out…it’ll be nice go back to a proper studio, rather than just my shed. I think that’ll be really fun, with actual humans apart from myself. But also, I know my grandma, my yiayia, I miss her so much, and I’ve not been able to do luncheons with her or anything. She’s just one of my best friends, and I miss her so much. We usually go to the park together, pick blackberries (although I think it’s past their season now)…just simple things like that, seeing my family and and friends properly, being able to hug them and spend time with them is definitely something I’m looking forward to, because I’ve not been able to do that. It’s been a bit rubbish. We speak on the phone a lot, but I just can’t wait for that.