Through a mélange of styles and sounds, Marie Naffah creates absolute splendor with latest EP ‘Golden State,’ and we caught up with the artist on how it came to be.
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It all started with a road trip.
One of the most incredible abilities Marie Naffah possesses is her lyrical wit. Her penchant for richly detailed stories allows for visceral scenes played out in perfect harmony with the melodies she creates – a combination for which she has a true knack of. Golden State doesn’t fail at keeping the status quo, rather, it surpasses it, this EP a mark of growth that showcases Naffah as an artist to be lauded.
The premise of Golden State is a road trip, a seemingly innocent enough tale that Naffah takes hold of to create an exploration into self, desire, and the human experience. The “to and from” of the trip, along with all the in-between journeys, culminate into an EP of personality and heart. It’s not just a recap of the trip – it is its own auditory adventure, and listeners are lucky enough to be riding front-seat as the moments pass by.
“The Cage” is an immediate groove-inducing tune. Naffah has crafted harmonies that blend to perfection, and the result is an enrapturing listen with a constant stream of warmth attached to it. “California” takes a bit slower, Naffah’s sultry vocals taking a bigger place on the stage and gaining a much-deserved spotlight. Her incantations near the song’s end are intoxicating and will easily be on repeat in listeners’ heads.
With a slick opening on “Wasteland,” the song stands itself out from the others through its relaxed yet fervent display of instrumentation that creates an aura of cool. Things are then taken to their slowest with “Cold Water,” a deft exploration of soul and synth that sees Naffah at her most grand. It’s an immensely beautiful close, and it wraps up this journey in a sincere and warming manner, despite the chilling effect the melody and vocals provide.
Watch: “California” – Marie Naffah
Naffah creates music to smile to, and even though she’ll explore personal topics, her path in doing so is a liberating one, and for listeners joining in, it makes the entire expedition all the more fantastical. Even with only four songs, Naffah has made Golden State an EP worthy of praise, and 2021 is all the brighter for having it.
The road trip itself and the process of creating the EP, however, are quite different journeys, and Atwood Magazine spoke with Naffah about crafting the EP, the challenges she conquered, and more.
Listen: ‘Golden State’ – Marie Naffah
A CONVERSATION WITH MARIE NAFFAH
Atwood Magazine: For starters, I’m absolutely stunned by the EP, and it has quickly become one of my favorite collection of songs. How does it feel having it officially out?
Naffah: Wow, thank you so much! I’m so grateful to you guys at Atwood for your consistent support since the first single came out. As for how I’m feeling – to be honest, I’m pretty elated. This EP may be my debut, but it marks a real turning point for me as an artist – I feel like I am releasing a product of such intense work and commitment and making something that is completely my own. I’m really proud of that.
Something that makes your music so enrapturing is your penchant for visceral wordplay and storytelling, something that has been apparent from your start, early songs like ‘’Blindfold’’ still standing out, and now all the songs on this EP only further showcasing this talent. When approaching songwriting, what does your headspace look like, and what typically comes first – lyrics or the melodies?
Naffah: I am fascinated by words and how they can shift in meaning with the slightest change of utterance. When I’m in my studio, my head starts off as a jumble of phrases… idioms… then it’s a case of pulling them all together. It’s neither lyrics nor melodies that come first for me – both must be threaded together delicately. If they come together quickly and seamlessly, it’s a sign that something’s working.
On the subject of lyrical wit, you also don’t seem to shy away from adding your own person to these stories and songs, many of them having a personal element to them. Do you find it easy to have a level of vulnerability to your music? Are there ever moments where you think to yourself ‘I’m not comfortable sharing that’’?
Naffah: I think what I’ve learned as an artist is that vulnerability makes f*ing powerful writing. I have to let my guard down to access my true feelings because it makes my music better. You can muddy a song with too many metaphors – sometimes you gotta just say it how it is.
Watch: “Wasteland” – Marie Naffah
Moving onto the EP, ‘’The Cage,’’ without fail, fills me with an incomparable warmth with each listen. When creating this song, what did the process look like?
Naffah: I’m so pleased to hear that! I also felt that giddy joy while writing it. I remember I’d written a lot of slow ballads before then, and I thought “I want something my pals can dance to when they’re front row at a show.” In terms of process, the song really grew around the guzheng instrument – it’s the spine to the song. I included it first thinking I’d take it out. I wanted to challenge the belief that having a weird intro to a song would “kill your Spotify chances” because people would lose interest and skip it (which is what I was told). “The Cage” is sitting pretty with 150,000 streams, though I’m sure this logic will bite me in the arse one day.
That warmth, I feel, also exists throughout the EP, but beyond that, your music videos also channel such a pleasant energy, complementing the listening experience and elevating it. Do you have an idea that you lead of what you’d like the visual element to look like for your music before these videos are created or is it more of a team collaboration effort?
Naffah: The visuals were very much in my mind after each song was finished and it was really important to me that everything worked together. Music videos often risk being a bit of a vanity project but it was a privilege to work with both Holly Morrison and Chris Driver on this set because we focussed on creating an escapist experience for each song (and maintaining my authentic character in the process). I’m really lucky to be working with such talented people that know me so well.
Another track that stands out to me is ‘’Cold Water’’ with its unique groove sound that feels classic in a way. Your vocals on it are also some of the grandest on the EP, and it quickly became a favorite. Where in your West Coast journey did the inspiration for this song come from?
Naffah: That makes me really happy to hear it’s a favourite of yours – it felt so good to straddle that line between soul and synth music. To me, it marked the perfect conclusion to an EP filled with different sonic influences. The idea for “Cold Water” started on the plane home from San Francisco to London. It was inspired by cold water swims at Muir Beach in California and the Big Sur creek (where we actually filmed some of ‘The Cage’ music video) in February 2019. Jumping into cold water became synonymous with craving new experiences and just going for it. I decided to make it a big love song, where instead of settling down, it celebrates pressing forward and finding new adventures together. It’s my favourite I think.
Speaking on that West Coast journey, I love how that is the backdrop in a sense to this EP, and I think it adds a nice layer to the listening experience knowing that. When setting off on the trip, did you have a goal of music-making in mind or was that more of a pleasant surprise being so inspired by it?
Naffah: I had never imagined that this trip would create an entire EP but I wasn’t surprised that it reignited my writing process. I had never been so creatively liberated being so far from normality. Every day felt like magic.
Each of the songs on the EP feels very purposeful - like each one has a specific place and intent which allows for a well-rounded experience. Was that a goal you had in mind when deciding to make this EP?
Naffah: It was a new challenge and complete joy making a collection that revolved around a place or theme. It anchored the work. On the one hand, it’s about a trip to America, but on the other it was a space where I could air relatable feelings – euphoria, nostalgia, apathy, and passion…. I hope it means that listeners can connect to its familiarity or in fact use it to happily escape.
You’ve been making music for quite some time, so when you look back to your beginnings to where you are now, how do you feel you have developed not only as an artist but also as a person?
Naffah: Harder, better, stronger.
When the EP releases, what’s next for you? Are there any immediate plans that excite you or some insider insight you might be able to share?
Naffah: I’m currently buried away in my studio writing a tonne of new material. This EP taught me a lot and let’s just say there’s so much more music coming.
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