Gothy, classic-sounding psych-folk siren Marissa Nadler possesses a dark, crystalline voice that’s continued to grow gorgeously ethereal and especially dusky with each release. On her third full-length Songs III: Bird On The Water she’s at the top of her game, downright brilliant as she covers Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” and plops any number of dead birds on her loved ones’ graves. Greg Weeks’s expanded production, plus an acid-tinged arsenal of strings, smoke, and synths — and finger-picking multi-instrumentalist Jesse Sparhawk — cements the outing as her strongest effort to date.
Last year a friend and I recorded Nadler singing her 2004 track “Box of Cedar” in my bathtub. (Somehow, she made the tiny tiny room sound like a cathedral.) We’ve periodically kept in touch, and since she’s mentioned writing from work, I decided to ask her about that until-now mysterious day job.
STEREOGUM: So, you’re a temp?
MARISSA NADLER: Yes, I work for a temp agency in between touring — partially because it can be maddening to sit in your house all of the time. You can’t make a schedule out of creativity; or at least i can’t will myself to write songs and practice on a schedule. Nobody’s going to hire you for a real job when you leave for tour all the time, so I take these odd jobs from the temp agency.
STEREOGUM: How’d you first get involved in this line of work?
MARISSA NADLER: After I came back from my last tour and realized I had a long span of time before my record came out — like at least 7 months. I’d tried being an art teacher in Harlem for a while after Grad School but the principal didn’t like that I was always leaving. (Before touring, after college) I was a really bad art teacher — way way too shy. I would basically get the same stage fright I get performing in front of the kids. Kids can sense fear like dogs. It was a trip. I was all torn up over a break-up and spent the entire year washing paintbrushes and crying into the sink, and all the kids were asking what was wrong with me to the principal. Looking back on it, it is pretty humorous. So, after that, sitting at a desk job seemed better because with temp jobs there is always an end in sight. Temping seemed the natural choice. The first job was as a swim team secretary. Here, I learned what waxed chests look like and how to input data…
STEREOGUM: Tell me more about this swim team stint.
MARISSA NADLER: I was the Brown University Swim Team’s official Secretary. It couldn’t be further from what I was trained in. All these college kids would come into the office in Speedos and waxed chests and it was really hard not to laugh, you know? Going to art school, I really never was exposed to a lot of athletes in general. I don’t even think I have ever seen a body in real life like those. So healthy and untainted by ink and metal and disease. I learned a lot about recruiting athletes for division one schools.
STEREOGUM: Just as I suspected — folk dudes wax their chests, right?
MARISSA NADLER: No. Never. Folk dudes and musicians in general are generally more hairy than the average man. It’s the aesthetic. I think the less beats, the more hair, and reverse.
STEREOGUM: What’s your current temp gig?
MARISSA NADLER: For the last four months I’ve been the IACUC coordinator…that’s the Institute for Animal Care and Use Committee at Brown.
STEREOGUM: What’s that mean exactly?
MARISSA NADLER: I make lots of copies. I shred lots of papers. I answer the phone, “Animal Care, may I help you, ” about 500 times a day. Make spread sheets on Excel. Input data about scientists and researchers into the File Maker Pro database. Take notes at meetings. Wear seamed stockings and high heels and try to get really secretarial, you know.
STEREOGUM: Ever see that movie Secretary?
MARISSA NADLER: Yes. I think she was really hot in that movie. I am not a cutter, though. I find other ways to get rid of the tension.
STEREOGUM: Do your co-workers know about your music?
MARISSA NADLER: Yes, they knew something was weird about me from the start, I suppose. Coming in all hung over with mascara raccoon eyes, falling asleep on the desk. Listening to Earth really soft while doing my Excel spread sheets, taking weeks off for trips to Belgium and Spain. But they are all really nice and supportive, though. I really dig some of my co-workers. I just have a hard time waking up, getting to work by 8 every morning. Day jobs suck – the dreadful routine of them. There is no way around it. My real goal in life is to at all costs never work one. You end up with secretarial spread, and computer eyes. It will be the death of me.
STEREOGUM: Have you gotten together with co-workers outside the office?
MARISSA NADLER: Actually, yes. Its funny, but being a touring, full-time musician can be a really lonely life. My friends are scattered all over the world. I actually went out for drinks with one of the guys and have gone on a couple dates with one of the animal care workers.
STEREOGUM: Do they go to your shows?
MARISSA NADLER: Its weird, no. I don’t want the worlds to collide.
STEREOGUM: Can you foresee a period in the future without a day job?
MARISSA NADLER: Yes, very soon.
STEREOGUM: I think I already know the answer to this, but– Are you
replying to these at work?
MARISSA NADLER: Yes, I spend most of the day on my personal email
STEREOGUM: Ever get caught?
MARISSA NADLER: I think they’ve just accepted it–so, the answer’s yes. But I type really fast, so I rationalize that I am getting done what I need to do. Why not double task?
Songs III: Bird On The Water is out out 3/7 on Peacefrog.
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