Few artists do melancholy as well as Marissa Nadler. The Boston-based singer-songwriter swathes American gothic themes in gossamer melodies and dreamy soprano vocals, emerging with something that falls between the folky meanderings of Joanna Newsom and the classic tearjerkers of Leonard Cohen.
Nadler's new, self-titled album is the first release on her new label, Box of Cedar Records. I spoke with her about her new tunes, the pains of performing and an intriguing side project with black-metal purveyors Xasthur. Nadler plays the Frequency on July 23.
Did you refine your songwriting process between your previous album, Little Hells, and your new release?
Between the two records, I did a lot of touring. I don't think my approach changed much, but I had a strong work ethic. There are songs on the new record that I'd been working on for two or three years, so I saw them come to fruition.
Many of your songs have a wonderful narrative quality. Do you think about songwriting in terms of characters or back stories?
There are definitely narrative stories. A character will emerge from my imagination, and later I realize that the story is a parable for something going on in my life or the world around me.
What's one of your biggest challenges as a performer?
I've always had stage fright, and it's made touring a bit rough. This time, I'm trying to make the process more fun. I'm bringing along the cellist who played on the new record, and I'm trying to capture the power of positive thinking.
I know you contributed vocals to a black-metal album, Portal of Sorrow. How did this project come about?
My bass player from a while back, he knew Scott [Conner] from Xasthur, so he asked him to ask me if I'd do the record. I like to collaborate, since it exposes me to new ideas and takes me away from the familiarity of the things I normally do each day. It was wonderful to work on something that's totally outside of my usual realm.