Richard Marais on “Nothing New”:
There are various exciting aspects to writing for Milled. We’re flooded with new music and sure, while most of it may be terrible, there are a couple of gems which make the entire exercise worth it. I now have greater empathy for radio station music managers.
One such gem is Richard Marais, a law student at UCT who devotes spare time to his music because he claims it’s a part of him. I got to speak to him about his music and specifically the new single he’s just self released. Maintaining the identity of his previous releases, it’s slow, soft and peaceful.
Richard Chemaly (RC): Hey Rich. So how does a UCT LLB student go about becoming an artist? #AskingForAFriend
Richard Marais (RC): To be honest, I don’t think it matters what degree you’re doing or what field of work you might be in. It can certainly affect how much spare time you have to work with but really you just need to pick up an instrument and start writing songs – and keep on doing that. Modern recording technology, online music platforms, all of this means that sharing music these days is very simple and easy. Personally I’m still trying to find my feet in that space but there are artists out there, like Car Seat Headrest, who have found a lot of success on the back of consistently self-releasing music.
RC: The last UCT student I interviewed also went by the name Richard (different surname though: Stirton). He picked music over using his degree (for now). Are you facing a similar dilemma or are you aiming to make law and music work harmoniously?
RM: At the moment music is in an odd space for me. It’s secondary to my studies and work but it’s an essential part of me and what I get up to in my spare time. I write songs for my own enjoyment and if I can continue doing that as well as law then I’ll be pretty happy. That being said, I’m not sure what the future holds and I wouldn’t rule out music becoming a more dominant part of my life.
RC: Your music sounds pretty well produced for an indie artist. It doesn’t seem as though you’re signed yet so how have you funded this recording?
RM: I have to thank Thor Rixon for all the work he does on the production. He’s able to get an amazing sound with the vision you give him and knows his way around completing a track. In terms of funding, as a student I’m lucky enough to have a family who know how important music is to me and who support me when I’m in need. I owe a lot to them for their help.
RC: So generally, your music is peaceful with soft spoken lyrics…the kind one relates to the background music of a dream scene in a romance film or the 2am smoke up. What is your wish for what should happen to your music?
RM: Those are some fitting suggestions! Just the idea that someone somewhere might listen my music during the dying embers of a party is an incredible thought to me. The fact that someone might listen to your song and draw some enjoyment from it is the ultimate reward for an artist’s endeavours. That alone is enough for me really.
RC: Given that you’re a new artist, I must ask what inspires your music but I hate those kinds of generic questions so I’d rather ask this; what inanimate objects inspire your music?
RM: This is tricky. I’m going to go with two things. Firstly (and I’m sort of cheating with this one), the massive Beatles poster I have on my wall at home. Discovering their music absolutely blew my mind growing up. Though I’m not looking to fill Shea Stadium any time soon it can help to have John, Paul, Ringo and George on the wall to get the creative juices flowing.
Secondly, my first electric guitar. I still use it, it’s a knock-off Stratocaster and I must have written the great majority of my songs on it. It’s odd since I played piano before then but I didn’t really write any original music until I got that guitar in Grade 9 or 10. There’s just something about it – I think Noel Gallagher said something similar about writing Slide Away for Oasis, he picked up a guitar he was lent and the song wrote itself.
RC: In your new track, Nothing New, you refer to “you” a couple of times. Who are you singing to?
RM: The song speaks of relationships and break-ups and the unknown in-between. I first wrote it in 2011 and have developed it at various stages between then and now. So in that way the ‘you’ character is an amalgam of people I’ve connected with during the course of this song’s development. The ‘you’ character is not constant but I am. My reactions and defaults in dealing with the outcomes of relationships lead to the repetition of the ‘nothing new’ idea in the song.
RC: Halfway through the song, the percussion comes in. I found this interesting so I thought about your other songs, Weigh Me Down and Help Me and you seem to be experimenting with percussion quite a bit. What influences you to use and how you use percussion?
RM: Percussion is a core part of my music but it’s the one thing, in terms of instrumentals, that I don’t actually play on the tracks. I have no experience whatsoever with drums so it’s an area where Thor has been especially helpful.
When we start recording a song, I’ll be prepared with a demo that basically includes me beat-boxing through a mic and he interprets that into the beats and we’ll find the right fit for the track. Influentially, I’d say The White Stripes were actually a reasonably big impact on me in this department. Their sound is quite distant from mine currently but they use emotive, easily understood beats to great effect.
RC: Is this track a standalone track or can we expect an album/EP in the near future?
RM: I have another song lined up for release shortly after this one. In my current situation, I don’t feel it’s that necessary to compile songs into an LP or EP since I can just record and release songs when I have the time to. So for now I’ll be taking it song by song but in the future I might look into putting out a full album.
RC: When writing, recording and mastering Nothing New, how did you know when it was complete?
RM: This is something I struggle with often. When you’re working on a song by yourself, until you assemble that song through recording, it’s really difficult to know when it’s complete because you’re not hearing everything together.
So I solve that by putting the song together, in whatever basic form I can to get a feel for when it’s complete musically. The lyrics are another thing entirely and I think, as with any poem or literary work, you know when it’s properly finished but it can be easy to get lazy and stop short of that so I push myself to revisit the words continually.
RC: Ideally, when listening to Nothing New, what song (not your own) should be queued after it to maintain the feels it instils?
RM: I think The National are a good fit emotionally, though I don’t claim to operate anywhere close to their level. The ‘silver city’ in my song Nothing New is a reference to one of their songs – Conversation 16. Though I’d say ‘About Today’ or their new song ‘Guilty Party’ are better fits for maintaining the feeling.