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Singer-Songwriter Marian Mereba Talks Single 'September' And Upcoming Debut Album

Gabi Duncan |
June 30, 2014 | 10:11 p.m. PDT

Style Editor

Marian Mereba (@ThatFreeWrite/Twitter)
Marian Mereba (@ThatFreeWrite/Twitter)
You're going to remember the loyal, royal Queen—Marian Mereba.

The multitalented singer-songwriter has a smooth, seductive voice that is captivating, haunting, emotional, sincere and pure. 

Her sound is a refreshing blend of soul, folk, rock, hip-hop and rhythm and blues, as Mereba refuses to contain her music into one neat and perfectly wrapped box. Instead, she flows gracefully between each genre, organically exposing every aspect of herself to her audience and penning songs that are honest and relatable.

Her first single “September” off her upcoming debut album is a prime example. The track showcases both her distinctive musicality and her lyrical prowess as she effortlessly croons about a toxic relationship. This is simply a must on any summer playlist.

Mereba continues to shine in the cinematic music video, exuding a quiet confidence and fierceness that exceeds her young—but, extremely promising—career. 

Neon Tommy had the opportunity to chat with the stunning Ethiopian-born songstress about her new music, her forthcoming album “Radio Flyer,” her musical inspirations, her diverse background and her plans for the future. 

Your first single “September” has a very sultry, sassy vibe. What was the inspiration behind the song?

Well, it’s definitely a breakup song. It was the beginning stages of a relationship and that other person was also pursuing other people and doing those things. But, when I found out, I wasn’t really too pressed about it. I just started writing the baseline of the song, and eventually it turned out to be a song about empowering yourself and an ode to moving on from somebody. It’s this feeling like, “You’re going to regret it and I’m going to be awesome, and you’re going to think twice about what you did.” So, it turned into more than just the typical breakup song.

Totally. I really love the lyric, "You must have forgot I'm a queen." It's really inspiring for women to hear that. Was that something you wanted your female listeners to relate to?
I’m open to any interpretation that people have of my music, but that’s definitely how I felt, so to hear other people’s responses and to hear that they feel empowered by it is an awesome plus. I find it’s important in my music to be honest with myself and also give other people things that they can relate to.
The music video is really visually-appealing and unique. Why did you decide to tell the story in reverse?
I really love the movie “Memento.” Since I saw it, it’s just stuck with me. There’s just something really cool about it. So, in the music video, I reluctantly go on these missions with my boyfriend to rob convenient stores, and I make him promise me that no one’s going to get killed and we won’t get in serious trouble, and then of course he shoots and kills somebody, and I’m forced to live as a fugitive in the woods. So, I came up with that idea and I thought it would be cool, just to mix it up a little bit, if it was told backwards instead of forwards. The director really vibed with that idea and we just took if from there. 
I didn’t want to give a direct translation of exactly what happened in writing the song. I just didn’t think that was creative or interesting enough. A man talking to other girls isn’t as exciting, so I wanted it to be cinematic and something memorable. 
So, your new album "Radio Flyer" drops in about a month, on July 29. How thrilled are you?
I’m really looking forward to it. It’s something new; it’s a new chapter for me as an artist. I’m just excited for people to hear what I’ve been working on in my little dungeon recording. 
I can’t wait to hear it! Why did you choose the name “Radio Flyer”?
Basically, it’s very symbolic for me because I used to have a Radio Flyer wagon, the little red wagon, and growing up with an older brother, I was always the nuisance and he just wanted me to go away, so I ended up going on a lot of adventures by myself, and I still to this day do that really often. I enjoy being by myself and being an observer. I’m just a more solitary type of individual, for the most part, so the Radio Flyer wagon symbolizes that vehicle I used as a kid to go and explore the world. 
I just wanted the title to be something that really meant something to me and people could relate to. Maybe it wasn’t a Radio Flyer, but everyone had something that they used to transport themselves somewhere else, whether physically or mentally. 
What message are you hoping your fans will take away from the album?
It’s really a growth from the first project that I released last year, which was my EP. That was an acoustic project that I recorded myself in my living room. Now, working with other musicians and a few producers, my sound has definitely developed more, and I think that the genre is even harder to define. There’s just more layers to the music.
I just want people to take away a fraction of who I am and who I have the potential to be. It’s a start for me, and it’s something that blends together people who are my heroes from music. I also tell my story a lot more on this project because I branch out from love and heartbreak stories and I go into my childhood and my life here as a young adult in Atlanta and some of the thoughts that I have. I also go into escapism and just not fitting easily into certain boxes. I just want people to get a well-rounded picture of who I am as an artist and a person. I’ll be happy with that. 
Can you talk about your personal process for writing songs?
For the most part, usually a melody will just come to my head. My favorite place to get melodies is in the car while I’m driving. I think in chord progressions, so I'll hear them in my head and just start mentally constructing the song. When it comes to lyrics, it’s usually very stream of conscious, just what comes to my mind first. I’ve been writing since I was little, and that was always my outlet for getting out my emotions and feelings as a shy young girl. So, the writing part seems to come very smoothly once the other stuff is in my head. It’s a pretty organic process.
Would you say that you write a lot of relationship and love songs?
I do, but I really just write based off of my life. It’s not only about relationships, but that’s a part of my life. I definitely feel like I write better about sadness and sorrow and heartbreak and stuff like that, and I’m trying to become happier as a writer.
I also talk a lot about just being young and being indecisive and living in a city with a really ripe music scene, pursuing my dreams and kind of going against the grain in my life. I try to not make stuff too specific when I write because I always want to relate to my audience and be a voice for people. But, everything I write is a reflection of my life, one way or another.
Why do you think heartbreak and sorrow is easier for you write about?
I guess it’s because I was super emo growing up. I just got used to writing sad stuff. There’s something very alluring about heartbreak and darkness to me. In my day-to-day life, I’m a really positive person or I try to be, but there’s something about the melodies, and the chords, and the feelings and the visuals that I get in my mind when I’m singing about something on the darker side. But, I also try to be well rounded. I don’t just dwell in that dark space.
Also, a lot of my influences come from that darker vibe, from Nirvana and Kurt Cobain to Amy Winehouse to Elliott Smith. All of those people live in that sort of space and I was really inspired by them and just adopted some of those qualities.
Do you ever get writer's block, and how do you work through that?
Yes! Writer’s block is the stain of my existence, and I’m in it right now. I had this mini epiphany that the only cure to writer’s block is to just write anyway. Even if the stuff that you’re writing at the time sucks and you’re not inspired, if you can get out the stuff that’s not so good, it will help you dig deeper to find the stuff that’s really good. I’ve found that when I’ve had writer’s block it’s usually when I’m going through something new or experiencing something for the first time and maybe my brain hasn’t wrapped around it enough to know how to write about it yet. 
Your music is comprised of so many different influences. How would you describe your musical style?
I definitely feel like in 2014 we’re in this space where genres are disappearing, and I think I’m a child of the era that I’m coming up in. I don’t think that I have a distinct genre, but I do feel like it has strong undertones of soul, folk and world music.
There’s also a new wave of R&B coming up that’s really dope, and I can’t say that I’m fully a part of it, but I can say that there’s influences of that as well. I kind of live in all of those worlds. It’s a gift and a curse because people really like to classify things, but that’s not really how my music has ever been. 
You already mentioned that Amy Winehouse and Nirvana heavily influenced you. Who were some of your other musical inspirations growing up?
Kanye West is a huge inspiration for me. Stevie Wonder, Coldplay, The Roots… Yeah, Amy is my favorite female artist, if not one of my top three. I listened to a lot of Bob Marley growing up, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, that’s a good start.
If you could pick your dream collaboration, who would love to work with in the future?
That’s a good question. I really would love to work with Chance the Rapper. He’s one of my favorite up-and-comers. I would love to work with Kanye and see what came of that. I would also love to work with Jack White. I feel like he’s just a genius. He inspires me because he’s just a super-pure artist. And Coldplay, Chris Martin. I would love to just write a song on guitar with him. That would be amazing.
You've lived all over the place—Ethiopia, Philadelphia, North Carolina, Alabama, Atlanta. How have your travels affected your music?
I think the whole idea of me being genre-less came from that the fact that I was raised around so many different kinds of people and so many different situations. I never really knew what I was supposed to be like or what box I was supposed to fit into as a writer. I was inspired by folk, or country, or even bluegrass music just as much as I was by rap, hip-hop and R&B. 
Growing up around all different races and ethnicities and every type of mix of people, just made me very unaware of the stereotypes I was supposed to fit. I just absorbed everything. As I said, I was quiet growing up and we moved quite a bit, so I was the new kid a few times and I didn’t speak that much, I just watched. So, I always had a lot to write about.
Is there one place that influenced you a little bit more musically?
Interestingly, even though it was the least eventful place, North Carolina influenced me the absolute most because it exposed me to folk, country and bluegrass music for the first time. Those were the styles that led me to pick up the guitar, and now that I play guitar, it’s helped to define my style. It plays a huge role in how my music sounds.
What can we expect after the album drops—are you planning any tour dates or performances?
I’m working on the tour dates now, and I'm really hoping that by end of the year or early next year I'll be touring. But, I’m definitely going to be traveling to New York and Los Angeles, and I was recently in London and touring in France, so I’ll be going back over there just to spread the word and to get people behind the movement, so stay tuned and we’ll see what happens.
Reach Style Editor Gabi Duncan here. Follow her on Twitter.



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