Rising singer-songwriter Etta Marcus chats about an upcoming EP, being pigeonholed as a ‘sad-girl’, and why SoundCloud is the perfect antidote to a TikTok takeover.

Talking from her Brixton home, I’m expecting a chat with Etta Marcus to reflect the energy of her music: intense, gentle and, dare I say, angsty. Over Zoom however, Etta is open and outgoing, soft in her expression but clearly very excited about her upcoming projects. Her newly announced EP, ‘Heart Shaped Bruise’ is coming early next year, and she has a Courtyard Theatre London show later this month.

 

The last few years have been rocky for Etta, kicked out of jazz school for being more invested in developing her voice as a songwriter that being boxed-in by one genre, she had to change tacks. Inspired by her love of artists like David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Jeff Buckley, her path as a singer-songwriter was moulded by being stuck at home and struggling to find a job because of lockdown. Encouraged by her parents, SoundCloud became Etta’s platform of choice – a platform the love of which we spoke about at length.

 

A few years later, Etta’s now signed to Polydor; her previous creative freedom paid off and clearly caught the attention of the right people. We sat down to talk about her upcoming EP, why she doesn’t want to be pigeonholed as a ‘sad-girl’, and why SoundCloud is the perfect antidote to the TikTok takeover.

The EP is coming early next year, how are you feeling about the release?

I’m feeling better about it coming out now that two singles have come out beforehand. I get really anxious about songs coming out, especially this time around, because it’s taken a different direction sonically. On the night of the release, I’m gonna be super nervous, and probably won’t sleep. I was like that with the other two singles.

Could you talk me through the themes and intentions behind the project? Where does the name come from?

The main one is probably loss, and also a lot of acceptance. I think there is an arc throughout the EP, it starts off at this angrier place, and then you hit the midway point of personal growth. It’s about a relationship, but I think the relationship is actually secondary in the EP. Towards the tail-end, it’s about accepting the loss and becoming okay with it. ‘Heart-Shaped Bruise’ started out as a song then just came to encapsulate everything the song is.

You’ve already released an EP this year, how do you feel like ‘Heart-Shaped Bruise’ relates to that release? Does it explore the same themes or develop any ideas? It’s been described as ‘angstier’ and wanting to show you’re more than a ‘sad girl…’?

It naturally went to a different sonic place, rather than it being an intention in that way. I think I intentionally wanted to feel like I wasn’t boxed in. As soon as I put out the first EP, I was getting lovely comparisons, to Fiona Apple, Mazzy Star Lana Del Rey, which I was loving, but I’m also more comfortable not being pigeonholed into ‘sad-girl-music’, or that kind of thing. I think you write music for yourself, and that’s the way it should be. I never think you should write for other people, or your audience.

What’s your usual writing process?

I write a lot at home, and I write when we’re at the studio. It was very similar to the first EP, I didn’t want to change anything because it worked so well the first time around. I was working with all the same people, like Josh [Scarbrow], and we were closer than ever, because we knew each other and how it worked.

And this is your first EP released since being signed, that must be nice to have more freedom?

The first EP was fun, but I’ve had a bit more budget to be able to, like record strings, and actual live drums. It was fun fleshing songs out, especially with strings. We had an eight-piece strings. The first EP I also had as much time as I wanted, but with this project so far, I’ve had such a positive experience feeling supported.

Let’s talk about your journey in the last few years, I know you went to Jazz school briefly – what happened there?

I spent a year studying jazz, it felt like forever! I knew where I wanted to be, and I think I thought that taking a particular path would help me get there, and getting a degree would be a good plan B. It was an unknown world. I definitely learnt about discipline, but the music I was writing just wasn’t jazz. When I did get kicked out, I realised it was a blessing in disguise because I was forced to put stuff out myself on SoundCloud.

 

I was mostly scared to tell my parents, but they were super supportive. They were the ones who forced me to post stuff on SoundCloud, because I’m such a perfectionist I would never put myself out there.

More artists are posting demo versions of songs now, especially on SoundCloud people still like the idea of something simple and stripped back, even in the way the platform exists in itself…

I agree. I think it’s important in that it shows you don’t need glitzy production behind your music, as long as it’s good, it’s good. I think it’s an interesting conversation, acknowledging that TikTok is dominating the music industry, not putting other people down like other artists who’ve come up from TikTok who are amazing, it’s trying to retaliate from that a bit. I always love having that bit more mystery, so SoundCloud for me is perfect.

Are you thinking about a debut album? Is it in the works?

At the moment, I’ve got an idea as to what we’re working towards album-wise. I am a big album listener, I love albums. If I could, I would have actually just released an album first. But I know that for some people, they just need to grow, grow themselves as an artist and like their writing. Album-wise, I’m thinking 2024 is my goal, but I’ll be writing for that before then.

In the short term, have you got anything that you’re excited for? I know you’ve got the EP coming out…

Obviously, the EP is coming out, then I’ve got my first headline UK tour next year, which is going to be really fun in March.

Is there any way you’re excited to play?

I think some of the first EP stuff that I’ve never been able to play with a band, because it’s always just been me and a guitar. Also to have other people involved in the band,  I’m actually starting rehearsals today, so I’ll be finding and putting the band together. I feel like a bit like Jack Black. I’m also excited to write new stuff, this time around, I’m wanting to take a bit more control and be more purposeful with my writing time.