Exploring the darkness & fear that bubbles under the surface isn’t something that scares singer/songwriter Marina Kaye—it invigorates her.
When speaking with Marina, you wouldn’t think her music would be so dark; she’s equal parts eloquent and relaxed, nestled in her home of Switzerland preparing for the release of her third studio album — the hauntingly stunning ‘Twisted’. People might want to group her in with some of her dark-pop comrades but to compare Marina Kaye would be a crime as she truly is a deeply unique, uncompromising artist. With her sky-soaring vocals, evocative lyrics, and invigorating melodies, if this is your first introduction to the French powerhouse, you’re in for a treat.
Following her 2017 album ‘Explicit’, Kaye’s latest release serves as a cathartic release for her; it’s an analysis of emotions she’s felt, experiences she’s found herself in, and the journey through her mind that has led her to ‘Twisted’. Kaye perfectly blends all of the music influences she’s discovered while growing up in France, living in Switzerland, and working tirelessly on her album in America and London.
We sat down with Marina for a chat about her third studio album ‘Twisted’, why she felt free after leaving her major record label, and the importance of tapping into every emotion (even the dark ones) when she’s writing her songs.
It’s been a few years since your sophomore album ‘Explicit’ and now ‘Twisted’ is out. I notice a major step up for you in regards to your songwriting — your genre has always been defined as dark-pop, but this feels like a new level of you tapping into all of these dark emotions. What’s changed for you as an artist between then and now?
I don’t know actually… because it’s something that happened very naturally to me. Over time, it just became easier for me to write and produce. I started becoming more involved in everything and it got easier, which meant I got better. I needed to evolve as an artist and a songwriter to become better. I see the way I used to write songs and the way I write and make albums now is so different; it feels much more mature. I feel like that can only happen with time as you grow up.
Yeah, which must be something you don’t notice until you’re standing back and noticing that growth. The songs you wrote as a teen must be different than the way you write now.
Yes, definitely. My first songs were from when I was 14 and they were in French and my producer used to translate them because I couldn’t speak English. Writing songs in English eventually became easier for me! I just randomly switched one day and started writing everything in English, from my texts to notes to songs. I guess it’s because I spend so much time with British and American songwriters and they’ve taught me so many things I didn’t even realize they were teaching me at the time.
Do you ever struggle with those moments where there is a perfect word in French but it doesn’t have a perfect English translation?
Oh gosh, YES! It happens to me all of the time, even in my everyday life. I’ll be in the UK, France, the US, or in Switzerland, where I live, and it’ll be so bizarre when you have the exact word in your mind but you can’t say it because people won’t get it and you can’t describe it yourself. It happens a lot in French because there are so many clear and easy words in English that we don’t use in French! I wish we had easy words like you guys do.
In Canada, we’re taught both English and French and I always found the masculine/feminine differentiation so hard sometimes! I couldn’t imagine writing songs in another language like you have.
It’s so difficult and confusing.
‘Twisted’ is both the title track and the opening track for the album, and it was the first song you released for the album at the end of last year. What is it about this song that made you want to craft the album around it?
I honestly have no idea. It was the first writing session I had where I felt I was in a place where I could create something better than my previous album. I started writing for the third album in January 2018 and it wasn’t working with anyone; I had six or seven sessions and I couldn’t find the right words with the right people. I met these two guys Ahsheen and Josh Cumbee and we wrote ‘Twisted.’ It was instant chemistry; it felt right. We started to talk about our lives, very deep and personal stuff, and we started to write the song. It was a dreamy session. I realized that day the album was going to be called ‘Twisted’ and the entire album would be shaped around my twisted thoughts and dreams and everything else happening in my mind.
It must be difficult because you’re going into these sessions and not knowing if you’ll jive with the person and it can be either really empowering or slightly disappointing.
I always say I hate doing that because, you know, on every album we try to meet new people and do new things because as an artist you never want to get stuck. It’s just so hard to build that trust and be comfortable around people you don’t know. Sometimes you just have to walk into that room and you instantly know if you’re in the right room or not. It’s something that you do with passion, but I’m also aware that it’s a job so I can’t just get up and leave the room and tell people I don’t want to work with them. You have to just work and get a song out of the session. It doesn’t always work well but if you’re the one leaving the session without a song, everything is going to be your fault. I don’t think of music being a business when I’m writing a song; I’m not trying to make a hit, I’m just trying to follow my passion. Having the whole business thing lingering in the background is hard to deal with when you’re trying to be comfortable.
It must be awful — it feels like you have to churn out a hit just to meet a quota.
Yeah, you kind of always have to unload all of these thoughts that you want to write about and you’re in a room of strangers you don’t automatically feel comfortable with…. It can be hard. But, sometimes it’s something you learn to deal with. I remember when I was 16 and I had this session and I was crying and saying I’d never do another one. Now, I get in the session, talk with the people, and we sometimes make a song. I’m not always going to keep the song but at least we made something.
One of those songs ended up being ‘Blind Heart’ which, in particular, is a huge standout for me. I love the guitar picking at the start. it reminded me of music from a few decades ago and listening to it made me think of a film where someone is professing a big speech. Can you tell me a bit about that song?
I was working with David Stewart and Jessica Agombar, who I wrote the entire album with him. We decided to set up this writing camp around my album, so for 10 days, we would include someone new every day in our session. On that day was Arrow Benjamin, who is this insanely talented songwriter, he’s so good. I remember saying to David I want something that would sound like ‘Dark Times’ by The Weeknd and Ed Sheeran that would have this dry electric guitar against really dark lyrics. That’s where it all started and it ended up sounding nothing like that [laughs] but I like that. I always think I know what I want the sound to be and then it ends up being so different, which is cool. I don’t even know how we made the song, it felt so natural. I do remember one thing — it was very, very different from what I had done in the past and it scared me at first. I left the studio telling everyone what I always say — that I’m not going to use the song, it’s not Marina, I can’t use it — and then the next day I’m like Hi David! Yeah, no, we are going to keep the song. It’s a good one. [laughs]
All of the songs are very different and unique, but that one, in particular, gave me chills. It feels like a song you don’t hear that often anymore. Songs are overproduced now and it’s so nice to hear something different.
I needed to hear that. I’m aware of the generation I live in and I know I have to overproduce my music but… sometimes it just feels good to make that type of song.
That song is gorgeous, so you don’t need to worry about that one. Something I wanted to talk to you about is the word blind, which you use in a few songs — Blind Heart and The Whole 9 to name two. What is it about that word in particular and the feeling of not exactly seeing something that made you want to have it used throughout the album?
I honestly don’t know! I feel like I was raised by people who never saw what was right in front of them. It’s something they didn’t want to see. They could see it but chose not to. I promised myself I would never be that way and that’s important to me. I want to be aware of what’s going on around me, what I’m doing, and whether it’s right or wrong. I don’t know why I used that word so much, but it comes from not wanting to turn away from things. I’ve seen this in so many people around me; they choose to stay where they are and refuse to evolve because it’s easier.
It’s like opening your eyes, even to the bad things.
Yeah, like the things you’ve done yourself or to other people. We all do it, it’s just hard to admit it.
In ‘Anywhere But Home’ you sing about wanting an escape, a desire to get someone else to fix you. It’s quite a dark & vulnerable track. ‘You remind me of a better me/and I need to leave so desperately’ are lyrics I feel like a lot of women especially can relate to. Writing songs with such dark themes can be difficult, but does it feel therapeutic to work through things through songs?
It feels better because when you leave the studio, you created something. The most therapeutic thing about writing the song is just going home and knowing you created something out of your mind and out of your pain. Not many people get to do that. So many people have to live with their pain and have it inside of them and they don’t have any way of expressing themselves. I’ve always thought I’m lucky because I get to do what I do and be heard and it’s something I’m very grateful for. That’s the therapeutic thing for me — not literally writing the song, but knowing you’ve done something great that could help other people.
I read that if you didn’t pursue music, you were going to study to be an oncologist. Music and medicine sound very different, but I guess this is your way of healing.
That’s what I tell myself. These two jobs sound very different, but they aren’t because both are trying to help people. I’m not at all saying I’m saving lives, but I had this guy message me when I first started playing when I was 15 and uploading music onto my Facebook page. He was around 65, from New York, and flew out to my showcase in London. He came up to me and told me your music saved my life. He was listening to me on France Got Talent and he said he’s sure that listening to me cured his cancer.
Wow, I just got chills.
Yeah, it was insane. He’s been following me ever since. He was at my first opening in Paris for another artist when I was 16 and he still sends me messages. It’s nice to know the impact your music has on people. I realized I won’t be an oncologist, but I’m helping people make their lives better.
It’s hard for people to come up to artists and tell them about how you’ve saved their lives, but it’s a lot on the artist, too. That’s a lot of pressure.
It is sometimes, but it’s worth it.
On the track ‘Alone’ you sing “cause pain is the only thing that’s on my mind/And I’m scared if you see the truth you’ll go blind”. Lyrics like those are incredibly confessional — are you ever hesitant to release music that is so vulnerable like that?
Honestly, not in my songs. What’s hard for me is talking about them. I’m so bad at talking about personal things. Even when I was a kid, I used to be in the corner of the room, not speaking to anyone but myself. It’s just not something I know how to do. Writing and singing my feelings has always felt natural and right; it’s never been something weird or scary. I honestly don’t care what I put in my songs — I can use really bad words and I can talk about the most difficult moments in my life and I’m not ashamed of them at all. But… if you’re asking me about them, it’s going to be a different story because it’s hard for me to talk about.
I don’t write songs but I can only imagine going from this really small, intimate space like a songwriting session where you’re figuring out your feelings through songs and then having people ask you about it.
Being in the studio is like being in a bubble. You’re out of the world, you’re safe. I can talk about the craziest things when I’m at the studio and it’ll never leave the room. Parts of the story will come through in the song, but the actual story stays in that room. No one is going to hear about the story but me and the songwriters, and that’s something I love about songwriting. We won’t betray one another.
You left your previous label after you finished the record — was that experience more freeing or terrifying?
Oh, definitely freeing. When I got signed I had this amazing team and then slowly everyone was replaced with someone new. The label was focused more on urban/hip-hop artists and I was stuck there for my second album, which was hard. I just put it out and decided I would make my third album the way I made my first — no label at all. I took a year to do it, I spent it in LA and London, met new people and did things my way. I didn’t have to send my songs to A&Rs, I could just keep them to myself. When I felt ready, and when I felt the record was ready, that’s when I started looking into new labels for it, and I found a new home in PIAS. I needed to be free again before getting into a new contract.
And that’s amazing because you’re so young and you know what you want. We’ve seen in artists like Taylor Swift who get stuck in these crazy contracts that are ridiculous.
It’s something that I feel strongly about. You have to allow the artists to be free to leave if they don’t want to be there anymore. What’s the point in holding someone hostage? Who wants to be in a place where you don’t feel like you can grow?
Yeah, who is going to create work they are proud of when they are being held against their will.
Honestly, I’ve never felt like I was in prison or anything. I’ve always worked with decent people and my producer has always been very protective of me. I’m one of the lucky ones. That’s why I allow myself to make albums and meet labels, it’s not something a lot of artists can afford to do.
If you were to talk about the album as a whole story, how would you describe it?
I want to say that it is a journey inside my head. Each song is going to teach you something about me and if you can read between the lines, you’re going to know everything that’s happening inside my mind, which is a lot! [Laughs]
To end: what do you hope people take away from this new album?
I hope they realize that… being themselves is the best thing that could ever happen to them. If I had listened to what everyone told me, I wouldn’t be here talking to you today. I wouldn’t be a singer today, I wouldn’t be writing songs, and I would definitely not be putting this album out. It sounds so phony but being yourself is going to get you to where you want to be, eventually. I’m sure of it.
Marina Kaye’s new album ‘Twisted’ is out now!
Interview by Kesley Barnes
interview by Kelsey Barnes