Melbourne music maker Marlee takes us through his hibernation highs, lows and how to cope in quarantine

By Ansam Farag on September 22, 2020

Marlee is an eclectic musician based in Naarm. Though his sound is fluid and drifts among soul, funk, hip hop and more, he remains distinct as an artist. As Nasty Mars from Nasty Mars and the Martians, Marlee uses his music to communicate some of the inner workings of his heart and mind. His lyricism is bound to resonate as listening to it becomes cathartic.

I had a sunny midday catch up with Marlee to talk about all things inspiration, motivation and diffusing some of the pent up pressures that can occur in our day-to-day.

Yo! What’s going on? How are you?

Chilling, it’s a beautiful day. Just got home from a bike ride and I’m excited to speak with you!

Likewise. What first inspired you to start making music?

I was in year eight, and this new guy at my school would always sit by himself. One day we were all just being a bit wild, and the teacher moved me next to him, I learned his name is Victor. We started talking about music we liked, and he asked me if I rapped. This was in 2009, back then, not many people were rapping like we do today. I asked him if he rapped and when he said he did, I asked for an example. We started beatboxing, and he laid down the second verse of Lupe Fiascos ‘Hip-Hop Saved My Life’. Hearing it, I was kind of like; this is sick. If he can do it, so can I.

I guess I wanted to know what’s going through your mind when you’re writing and recording new music?

When I think about what inspires me, generally speaking, I’m inspired by people. Interactions, going out, seeing friends, having conversations about things like we do. I’ll think them over like two days later for example and feel inspired to make music or to say something in the form of a song.

Marlee by Michael Danischewski
I realise I tend to write songs that are about love or romance. Usually, it comes from more of a sad place than a happy place. Maybe I’ve been in situations where things haven’t gone where I wanted them to go, or you know, things happen, I guess that’s life. Not only is writing a way for me to heal myself, but I’m also inspired by the possibility of making other people feel better. If I can communicate that feeling effectively in a song and have someone relate, that is something I’m always really inspired by.

I like your use of the word ‘healing’… I think that’s exactly what it is.

That sentiment is reflected in your work. You manage to encapsulate so much in a holistic way. Do you want to speak about what your process is like?

The process is something that happens naturally, it’s not so much something I develop intending to ‘get things done’. I think the reason this happens is that I’m just thinking all the time about everything. Sometimes it’s a good thing, and sometimes it’s not. I’m thinking about a thousand things at any given moment. It looks like I’m chillin’, but I’m just breaking everything down from several different perspectives and angles. This is an attribute of my process, along with some form of emotional catalyst. Something could happen to me in life, positive or negative, can get me to open my phone or my laptop and write something. It almost becomes a ‘need’. It all starts spilling onto paper. Sometimes I feel like I’m doing too much, but again, it becomes a necessity.

For sure, it sounds like you can’t control it.

I feel like that’s true; being creative for me is something that comes and goes. When I’m creatively productive, it’s never a planned thing. It just happens that way. I wait for things to happen; you can’t force things.

Marlee by Adam Rajab
What happens when you don’t have access to those environments, or you’re unable to create these moments?
It makes me feel down, especially because I’m at a point where I’m still trying to get to where I want to be. So, when it’s not working, it’s like that whole idea of ‘running out of time’, and those insecurities can grow into self antagonism. I’ve been there so many times, and now I just know that when it’s not working or nothing is going on, to remain content with not making music and just go about life. Also, remembering you can still use your time to practice singing or an instrument or whatever. This mindset has helped a lot, but you can still get frustrated. When you aren’t in a place to do the thing you base your existence on it can feel like you’re reduced to nothing.

That’s a super valuable piece of advice. Do you feel as though some of this pressure comes from the industry?
The industry does put pressure on us to create music to commodify. Especially with where it’s at now, everything is so quick. I feel like music has reached its fast-food state. When this happens, from an artistic perspective, it becomes less about making something that stands the test of time and more about something that appeals to the current trends. I guess it stems from capitalism and the desire to make lots of money as quickly as possible. Subscribing to this can generate a toxic relationship with creativity. You can begin comparing yourself to others and wondering if you’re going at the right pace. It can be paralysing and eventually ruins the whole value of your creative flow. I think it’s important to alleviate yourself of those pressures, especially these days.

We have spoken a bit about getting lost in your head and being overwhelmed by the future… how do you maintain a positive outlook, especially during times like these where it’s hard to find the energy to create?

When this whole lockdown started, and we knew we were going to have a lot more time to ourselves, I guess the idea of maximising productivity and learning was thrown around a lot. I initially agreed with it. Eventually, I began to notice how this rhetoric could be detrimental to me personally. Setting up expectations for my output that was unrealistic, especially during a pandemic took me to the point of frustration. I suppose I had to change how I frame all of this free time. I know what gives me the juice to create, and a lot of it comes from interacting with different energies. We can’t do that. I realise I just have to be okay with what’s happening now in general and be gentle with myself, even if it means not making as much music. I can’t be creative in the ways that I want to be right now, and that’s fine.

This is a very valuable perspective, Marlee. Anything else before we part?

There have been times where I’ve been in dark places, and there’s a lot of reflection going on. We are all trying to absorb so much so quickly, and it can take a toll. I guess a piece of advice and something that’s helped me is to just be as gentle as you can with yourself. It’s okay just to exist, you know what I mean?

Absolutely, noted. Thank you so much.

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