Ryan sits down with Marla Mase. We learn about the amazing journey this musician, writer, and performer has been on around the world, the array of musicians she has toured with, and we get an in-depth look at her performance piece based on her album, Speak.
When did you first begin your musical career?
When I was 4, I entered a talent show at the beach club I went to. I sang. 'Where is Love?' from the musical Oliver. I lost. I did take piano lessons for 6 years between the ages of 6 and 12 and I loved it. I only played classical, and I turned out to be pretty good. I remember my friend Sharon used to come over and listen to me practice. Even back then, I loved the drama that I could create with music.
Your career takes on many forms when it comes to your artistic expression and performing. Do you have a favorite form or does it change from project to project?
It all stems from the word for me. Meaning, first comes the word then the rest follows. That' s the form that my inspiration comes through. The rhythm of the words. However, I do love performing live. It's very exciting just diving in, not knowing really what is going to happen no matter how planned one may be. Because performance is about the relationship with the audience and each audience has its own vibe, mood, and one can never predict or know in advance what that will be. I love that! And I love the NOT KNOWING of what I may say or do at a particular performance and the NOT KNOWING of how the audience is going to react. It truly is thrilling and keeps it fresh night after night.
How and when did you get hooked up with Tomás Doncker and his band?
I put up my first version of a show I wrote called, A Brief Night Out. A good friend of mine said to me, "Marla this is it for you. I can just feel it. There's something about you and the way you sing and your words that somehow all makes perfect sense." I continued to write songs and I knew this was the track I wanted to be on and so I knew I needed to find a musician to work with. Another friend of mine said, "I know this guy Tommy. He might be good for you." And the rest is history. (actually at our first meeting I knew Tomás was special, not so much for music because I didn't know much about him yet (now I know how brilliant he is) but for his genuine interest in what I was doing. He has a lot of integrity. As far as his band, well they come with the package. And they all have the same work ethic and integrity. He has an incredible team. Not to mention the talent that goes without saying. World class all the way.
If you had to describe the type of music you create, what would it be? It's Mase. Very Mase.
You were recently invited to perform during UN Global Peace Day in Lizhou City to perform. You were also given a special award. Care to explain this experience and how it came to be?
This is one of those magical stories or so it seems. About a year and a half before I was invited to China, I was playing at a small club in downtown NYC. We had an early soundcheck where no one else was there except for me, the band, the sound guy and this one lady (apparently she was there for another performer). I could see that she liked what we were doing because she was dancing and grooving to the song during the check. Afterwards, she came up to me and said, "I like what you do. There?s something to it, to you, that's different." I said, "thanks", and we continued to have a bit of a conversation. Turns out, she recently did an exchange concert where she brought 80 American musical prodigies to China to perform and then brought 80 Chinese students to NYC to perform. She said she was looking to do further concerts. However, her area of interest was classical music. Still, we met a few days later and that was that. Nothing came of it. A year and half later, I get a call out of the blue. "Hi Marla, I don't know if you remember me but I never forgot you and I think I have something for you." We met the next day, she brought her friend with her who is the head of the Friends of the UN in NYC and the next thing I knew, I was going to China to perform for UN GLOBAL PEACE DAY. And not just me, but the entire band. They asked me to write a song about Peace. I got together with Tomás and we wrote Piece of Peace. The China trip itself was very interesting. A lot of politics and agenda. Let's leave it at that. Rock-n-roll intimidated them (because the people there so desperately want it) At the end of that week I was given The Messenger of Peace Award. What can I say, Life is strange, miraculous and unexpected.
What project are you currently working on?
I just did two performances of my multi-media performance concert, Speak, for NYC Summerstage. It is a big show with a troupe of 7 dancers, 4 actresses, 8 piece band, video projections, and a live feed. It was quite a spectacle, which I didn't even realize until I saw the pictures. The show is based on the music of my album, Speak Deluxe, and explores the themes of freedom/confinement, oppression/joy, body image and sexuality, as expressed through the bodies and voices of women. Moving forward with the project, I will be teaming up with choreographers, painters, visual artists, and actresses from different countries so that each can have their expression and chance to speak on what it means to be a woman living in the world. It will be a theatrical quilt of sorts, where each artist will add yet another layer, another view to what already exists. I am very exited about the Speak Project. Having said that, I am also very excited to announce that I will be going back into the studio at the end of the month to start recording my next EP! I am shooting for an end of October release just before I head off to Austin, Texas to perform at the MEOW Conference. Speak, in its powerful incarnations, stretches all mediums of art.
How would you sum up Speak ?
Speak is a multi-media theatrical Rock concert, exploring the many ways in which we can tell the story of the experience of being a woman. And not just a modern woman, but a woman throughout the ages. It's our Global soul, archetypes, history, and a reminder that what happens across the world does indeed impact us emotionally and spiritually. What has been the most rewarding experience about creating this piece? Working with an incredibly talented crew of people who all believed in this project from the get-go.
Who have you gotten involved with Speak?
Well of course Tomás Doncker, The Tomás Doncker Band, and in this incarnation of it, four fabulous actresses by the names of Christine Campbell, Kim Chinh, Denise Hurd and Clea Rivera, and the incomparable Heather Powell (she's part of the band). Sara Berg directed, Adrienne Hurd did the choreography and brought her wonderful dance troupe along with her. Michael Luciano, Mojo, and James Jankiewicz worked on the projections. There are so many people who invested their time, their talent, and now there are other artists in other countries waiting to take a stab at it.
Aside from music, you are also a writer with a few plays under your belt. What are your favorite plays you've written and have they seen production?
My play, The Canarsie Line was put up in the beginning of 2002. It's a dark comedy about a Brooklyn Jewish Family living in Canarsie, Brooklyn in the 70?s. Funny, I used to always say I'd love to turn The Canarsie Line into a musical but at the time, I was not doing music at all so... who knows. I also put up A Brief Night Out. That's the show that brought me into music and into recording my first album. It's a rock opera about a woman having a mid-life rock-n-roll crisis. I workshopped my play, Man/Woman which is a massive play about a woman having an affair amidst a paranoid dark political backdrop. I'd like to continue developing this play, and even more so, turn it into a screenplay. It's very visual. I have many solo shows, some which I have performed, others which I have not. I also have hundreds of monologues and another play brewing about a family getting together for a few days to attend the memorial service of the patriarch of the family. It explores the relationships between these people and all the life happenings that are going on with each member.
What's next, Marla?
As I said, a new EP. A performance at MEOW Con in Austin in October. I will also be performing at The Blue Note in NYC on September 9th as part of the True Groove Label Launch. I am their flagship artist along with Tomás Doncker Band, Lael Summer and Kevin Jenkins. That' s going to be a night to remember. Another European Tour in the Fall. And whatever else might come my way!
You can learn more about Marla Mase at the following links: