Five questions with: Marlaena Moore

It might be because she’s been performing since she was 15. It might be because she had the kind of parents that sent her to an alternative school and “have really shown my brother and I to question everything, to investigate for yourself and not just believe that because everyone else is doing something a certain way that you should be doing (it) that way as well.” It might be because she seems to thrive on a mix of fearlessness and vulnerability which translates into her songs, but Edmonton’s Marlaena Moore is an extraordinary talent.

Her 2016 album, Gaze, honours the trail first trampled by artists such as Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair, artists who lived it and said it no matter who was shocked or who was amazed. For instance, a song like 24 Hour Drug Store walks the listener through a maze of aisles, checking out products in a daze of consumerism before the maze twists at the end with a stunning revelation as to why the shopper is there.

Many of Moore’s songs are like that, moving from the mundane to the uncomfortable or the daring in one line. It is a bold kind of songwriting that means letting it all hang out like dirty laundry on a laundry line — a laundry line serenaded by a powerful, gorgeous voice. Next month, she’ll be leaving her job at a Mexican restaurant to take that voice and her songs global, including Europe and the United States, on a full-time basis.

Theyyscene caught up with Moore for a few questions before her performances at Block Heater this weekend.

Q: What first drove you to play music?

A: I was very privileged in a sense, I went to an alternative, self-directed school where I was virtually allowed to work on music all day if I wanted to. I had always been interested in singing and making up songs as long as I could remember.

When I was about 13 I was writing this one song on piano and I felt it would sound better on guitar, so I asked one of my good friends who knew guitar to show me two chords, which I was lucky enough that the chords I needed were  D major and A minor, which are very easy.

It just kind of went from there. I remember hearing Strangers by the Kinks and really loving that song, so I thought, “I need to learn that,” and then it felt like the whole world opened up. I kept getting a little more curious and trying new things. I didn’t even know how to play a bar chord until I was probably 19 or something like that.

Q: How has the way you make music changed over time?

A:I’m very stubborn and don’t like to take a lot of direction and that is actually something I’ve been learning quite recently in my adult life. I’ve been learning to fully trust and collaborate with people (including co-producers, Calgarians Chad Vangaalen and Chris Dadge) and not necessarily be lenient on my vision, but to be really open to suggestions. I definitely was not that way when I first started playing. I was pretty stubborn.

(Being open to working collaboratively is) really the only way to move forward as an artist. You really don’t get anywhere alone. It’s always you who is the driving force, you are always going to be the jet engine of your dreams, but everyone needs help along the way. If you’re closed to that you miss a lot of beautiful opportunities on the way.

Q: How do you manage to dig in so deep to come up with songs like 24 Hour Drug Store?

A: I try to dig as deep as I possibly can. 24 Hour Drug Store is kind of special because it really fell into my lap. I very much enjoy retail therapy. Lately I’ve been noticing I’m not even buying anything, but there’s this weird satisfaction I get from just being able to cruise aisles and everything is kind of shiny and new and the same. It’s about making the rounds and doing the chores even when everything is falling apart a little bit.

If you have a rough day at work you can still go somewhere reliable to get maybe a candy bar or nail polish or maybe dye your hair a crazy colour.

Q: Who did you listen to that influenced you?

A: I don’t really know. I was a huge fan of the Beatles when I was a teen, and that kind of influenced me a bit, but I felt like the only way to express all of the feelings I was dealing with in my nervous system was to just write them down and work it out because I really felt like I couldn’t articulate them any other way.

I always feel pretty unoriginal when people ask “What’s your favourite band?” It’s just the Beatles — no cool new band that’s my favourite, it’s just the Beatles all the time.

Q: How do you feel when you’re onstage and you’re being so raw and open? It’s very powerful.

A: As long as I can hear my vocals in the monitor everything’s OK. I try not to be too particular but I find that when I have that nice moment when I can hear everything crystal clear onstage, I really feel like I can be, or what am I trying to say. It’s honestly, really thrilling to just be exposed. I love it.

It can get a little scary sometimes, but I think it’s purely circumstantial. Because honestly at the end of the day I love performing. At the end of the day I strongly identify more as a performer. I love writing songs, but I feel like I’m doing this as a way to perform for people. That’s my main digs. I love performing for people.

Marlaena Moore performs as part of the Calgary Folk Music Festival’s Block Heater on Thursday, Feb. 20 at Festival Hall and Friday, Feb. 21 at The King Eddy. For information, go to https://www.calgaryfolkfest.com/.

Mary-Lynn Wardle is a Bragg Creek writer who’s had just about enough of this writing bullshit.