THE stock of Italian-born, British-based artist Mari...
is rising considerably right now. She is, presently, working on her second album and has gathered fans from around the globe. I talk to her about her background and how, she feels, she has progressed as an artist. In a few weeks, she is in London performing as part of an ensemble group – a collection of musicians paying tribute to the great Jeff Buckley (and his only studio album, Grace). I ask about that night and what one might expect; collaborating with a long-time friend of Buckley, Gary Lucas, and how recording (for her new album) is going.
She discusses those artists instrumental forging her as an artist and how British music differs from that which she was raised on; advice to new artists coming through and how she came to discover music in the first place.
Hi, Mari. How are you? How has your week been?
I am very well, thanks!
For those new to your work, can you introduce yourself, please?
I'm Mari Conti and I am a singer-songwriter – working, at the moment, on my second album (which I hope to share with you soon).
Are you working on new music at the moment? Are there ideas forming in the form of an E.P./single?
Yes, I do.
I am currently finishing my second album with producer and singer-songwriter, Mozez Wright - for Numen Records (record label). Mozez and I collaborated already in the past: we co- wrote my debut album, Gentle Beauty (Numen Records).
For this next album, we are thinking to go out first with an E.P., and then, to release the album - but we don't know as yet...
Blue Is My Favourite Colour was (the single) released last year and got a huge reaction. Were you surprised by the big reaction that got? What was it like working with Mozez on that track?
To be honest with you; I was a bit surprised mostly, because, I think that the meaning - and the lyrics - of the track are quite strong. Most of the times an emergent artist, like myself, should go out, maybe, with songs a little bit more 'Pop'.
But, me and Mozez believe in the power of messages through the music – and, in this respect, we need to follow our desires. I’ll take this opportunity to thank the Italian songwriter Vincenzo Incenzo - with whom we co -wrote the track. He is amazing (check him out!).
Working with Mozez has been a great experience for my artistic growth. I was one of his huge fans (at the time, he was the frontman for the band, Zero 7) and still, I am! I consider myself very lucky for having met him - and for being produced by him for the second time.
Can you tell me how you got into music and the kind of songs you were playing in those early days?
I have always been immersed in music.
Since I was a teenager, I started to sing in several bands across Italy and Europe. I have studied a bit of piano and vocals for a long time.
I have always been curious in (knowing) different kinds of music. Initially, I used to sing other artists songs: putting together many different cover bands. It's been ten years-or-so that I have been writing my own tracks.
I came across to the Trip-Hop and Chillout music - discovering bands like Zero 7, Air; Goldfrapp, Massive Attack; Portishead... I literally fell in love with that sort of dreamy, spooky music and sound.
Did you grow up in a musical family? Who were the artists your parents were playing around the house?
My parents are not musicians but they love music.
When I was a little girl, my dad and mum used to play '1960s and '70s records on their jukebox; listening to all kind of artists and music (Rock, Blues; Soul...Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone; Ben E. King, The Beatles - just to name a few).
I used to listen to some Italian music as well - especially Lucio Battisti (I love him!) and Mina.
You were born in Italy but live in London. How does the music scene differ here and what compelled you to relocate?
When I decided to move in London, I originally had an invitation from Mozez to spend some time there; trying to write an album together. I (just) accepted straight away because I thought Mozez was the perfect person to understand my inner musical universe.
I also thought I would have had more chances in England rather than in Italy - for my music to be heard from a wider crowd. That's because I think the nature of my sound is still a bit far from what the Italian musical approach is.
But, my dream is, of course, to be appreciated a little bit, everywhere!
Tell me about your involvement with the Grace/Jeff Buckley tribute that will take place on 9th September? What is the night/event all about?
I’ve known Gary (since) more than ten years.
We had other occasions in the past to perform together, and every time, it is such a powerful experience for me!
The event is a tribute to Jeff Buckley and his incredible voice and talent. For this appointment, I have been invited by Gary Lucas to perform with him at Upstairs at the Ritzy in Brixton, London (on 9th September, 2017).
We will perform some of Lucas and Buckley’s songs that they wrote together during their collaboration (between 1991 and 1992). Some of the songs we will play are actually contained in Jeff Buckley album, Songs to No One (released in 2002).
I am honoured to give my tribute to Jeff Buckley and I am glad sharing the stage with a friend and incredible artist such as Gary Lucas. There will be also other artists and band playing on that night. I am sure it will be a great night!
IN THIS PHOTO: Jeff Buckley
You have collaborated with Gary Lucas – who wrote and performed with Buckley. What is he like and how involved has he been involved in the organisation of the tribute event?
Gary is a sensitive and good-hearted person; an amazing musician and composer – and, also, very generous. He gave me the chance to write together (with him) a song dedicated to Jeff Buckley - which was meant to be given to him before he left this world. It is an unreleased song that I wrote the lyrics and the melody for - and Gary Lucas composed the music.
I wish, one day, it could be heard out there. I am not aware of how involved Gary is in the creation of this particular event. However, Gary has been - and he is - a supporter of Jeff's music for years - being (also) a collaborator of his.
You share the bill, that night, with several other performers. Do you know what you’ll be playing and what the other acts are going to sing?
We are gonna play some songs that Gary and Jeff wrote together but I don't know what the other artists are going to sing and perform.
How did you come to hear/discover Buckley’s work? Have you always been a fan of his? What does his music mean to you?
Some time ago, a dear friend of mine, Francesca, suggested I listen to the album, Grace. At that time, the debut album of Jeff Buckley had just been released.
I never heard his music until that moment but I trusted her (she always had a great musical taste! Thank you forever, Francesca).
I remember, one day, I decided to listen to Grace for the first time. In that moment, I think I had one of the most mystical experiences ever of my life. It was a sort of blast. I remember at a point tears came out from my eyes - and I just couldn't stop them. I think that's when I couldn't be able to stop listening to his music.
I started to search everywhere for his C.D.s, bootlegs; D.V.D.s, books…Jeff's voice is such a blessing to me.
Are there any tour dates later in the year? Where can we see you perform?
I am currently working on my next album and I am a bit busy with different projects at the moment. I think I will start again to perform, hopefully, over the next few months - in winter, maybe.
Who are new acts you recommend we check out?
There are two artists, Mico and Michael Arkk, who are coming out with some good and new music. They are currently working with Mozez (as well) for Numen Records record label.
I have heard already some of their unreleased music - and I think they are very interesting artists to check out.
If you had to select the three albums that mean the most to you; which would it be and why?
It’s a bit difficult to reduce to three albums (my favourite ones) but I'll try.
I would say Grace (Jeff Buckley); Wings (Mozez) and Felt Mountain (Goldfrapp).
What advice would you give to artists coming through right now?
I would suggest one be courageous in discovering as much music as possible - of all kinds. I believe that is fundamental for an artist to be passionate about other artists' music.
It is important and it helps to discover your own musical vision and sound.
Finally, and for being a good sport, you can name a song and I'll play it here ( not one of yours as I'll do that).
Ok...just the first one (it came across) to my mind right now…
All I Need by Air!