Marcella Simien - SWAMP SOUL SONGSTRESS
Are you as obsessed with Marcella as we are? Learn more about this Memphis-based musician! If you haven't heard her music yet, be sure to check out the links below...you won't regret it!
How did you get your start in music?
I grew up immersed in music and the arts. My dad is a two time Grammy winning touring and recording artist. And has been making a living in the industry for almost 40 years now. He showed me that even in roots music you can make a sustainable career in the music business possible.
I had a very open mind since as early as I can remember because my folks exposed me to so much great art and music, so it was the ideal environment for a young artist to thrive.
My mom, before becoming my dad’s full time manager and agent, previously worked in the apparel industry as a senior account manager for companies like Calvin Klein and Marithe & Francois Girbaud; so although she wasn’t musically inclined she had an eye for aesthetics and an understanding of sales and business.
My parents are a beautiful blend of two different worlds. They exposed me to so many different styles of music and art and allowed me to miss school (as often as we could get away with ;) ) to travel and see the world, this broadened my perspective.
I started on piano at age 7, started writing my own lyrics at 10, picked up guitar at 12, played drums in an all girl punk band in high school, picked up the Louisiana Creole style, single row, diatonic accordion at 18 years old and the rest is history. I had my dad teach me a couple songs on accordion as a parting gift when he and my mom dropped me off in Memphis August of 2009 to attend Memphis College of Art.
How many different instruments can you play? Do you have a favorite?
8 different instruments, some better than others. ;) I’m constantly writing. All the time. Free-writing, lyric writing, melody mapping...
I don’t have a favorite because they each offer me a different gift when I play them. I’m definitely drawn to the accordion and the piano, but my Roland SP-404A sampler is providing me with a wealth of inspiration these days when it comes to writing and creating.
Are there specific challenges that focused your career?
There were several opportunities that definitely inspired me to keep going. I had to do A LOT of growing to understand my place in the music industry and still am. But some major steps happened over the last couple of years really that created a serious focus. Logical things like signing with a management team and having booking agents…. (more on that later on).
As much as I have tried to generate positivity and celebrating our differences and letting loose on stage to inspire people to not feel so inhibited….you still can’t please all the people all the time.
The older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that there’s nothin can you can do about folks simply not liking you or what you do. I do everything I possibly can to be a conductor of positive vibrations and my aim is true.
I’ve made a point to turn the challenges that come up in life into opportunities. I think artists can so easily be misunderstood and harshly judged. But you consciously take that chance as a performer (and any artist who puts themselves out there)... but as a performer it’s live in real time... all eyes on you. Being someone who was very insecure for a lot of my life - performing on a stage has been my way of facing fears and insecurities head on. And I allow the audience in, I don’t hide a damn thing, I couldn’t even if I tried.. haha. And I’ve actively chosen to turn that into something I celebrate.
Who do you consider to be your most influential mentor?
When it comes to spiritual guidance, I have a friend based in Israel named Beth Eppstein-Brayer who has really helped open new doors for me over the past 3 years.
I had several incredible mentors in college, when it came to visual art Fred Burton, Tad Lauritzen-Wright, Adrian Duran, Nona Bolin, Maritza Davila…. the list goes on and on. The experience I had attending and graduating from MCA, fundamentally made me a better human being.
When it comes to music this mentor list is long… we might have to do a second interview one day so I can cover this area in depth ;)
What artist inspires you most?
Visual art: Kara Walker, Wangechi Mutu, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer
Music: Sade, Betty Davis, The Slits, Anderson.Paak, Roxy Music, Dion…. I oughta make y’all a playlist.
What inspires you most?
This list is long.... There are so many layers to what can inspire creation. Just about any little thing can erupt a flood of inspiration for me these days and I’m really grateful for that. Because I know how large the gulf of emptiness can feel when there’s a void of inspiration. I’ve been there plenty of times and it can be difficult to pull yourself out of. But thankfully the possibilities for inspiration are neverending when it comes to art making in any medium so I find myself moving from music to visual art to cooking & baking to making gifts for people…. If one artistic avenue feels stagnant to me, I just explore another one so I don’t get stuck.
Being a bi-racial female, I feel like my perspective is unique and I’m proud of what I bring to the table.
What told you 'this is the life for me'?
I really feel like this life chose me. There have been a series of moments that happened throughout my life that have made me feel like I can really do this (maintain a career in music):
Meeting luminaries in music, like meeting and having dinner with a personal hero of mine Bob Dylan.
Starting a band in 2019 with Guy Davis, the son of legendary African American actors/activists: Ossie Davis & Ruby Dee.
Having agents and managers join in, who are interested in helping support my career and who have a desire to get my music out there.
All of those moments obviously encourage me to continue and place value on the art I create.
Yet even with all of that encouragement and people closest to me cheering me on; I’m still human and still doubt myself occasionally.
Up until a few years ago, I exhibited a really unhealthy amount of self-doubt. I realized that much of my time was spent feeling unsure of myself. So in recent years, I’ve done a lot of work to let go of doubting my destiny. And as soon as I started to consciously do that, everything in my life began to flow with so much more ease.
I really feel like I don’t have to force and push for so much to happen anymore.
I’ve established a healthier balance of challenging myself, but in a non-judgemental way, creating more room for growth.
I’m naturally a really driven, ambitious person so the work always gets done, but now what feels different today is that I consciously worry much less than I used to. The pandemic being such a hectic, universally worrisome situation has actually taught me to free myself from worry.
How have you pivoted while venues are closed?
Trust, I miss venues every single day and I feel the absence. It was my way of life prior to COVID --playing multiple shows a week, enjoying the company of all my friends and contemporaries in and outside of Memphis, traveling/playing outside of Memphis monthly… that emptiness felt HUGE.
But in this time, I’ve been able to really develop my team, which is something every artist needs. I signed with Yonas Media management company this year. We had our first meeting a few weeks before COVID hit and I’m so grateful that Ben and his team still stuck with me regardless of touring being on hold.
On a personal level, it caused me to slow down in areas where I really needed to; to reevaluate and regroup across the board in my personal and professional life, and I’m sure much of humanity benefitted from this opportunity as well.
Do you have a creative time/hour/place that inspires your creativity?
Place: I swear this isn’t a shameless plug for Arrow, but I really love being able to use my studio space at Arrow.... Because I can really shut out the rest of the world in the best way. Our home in Midtown has become a real safe haven too though. I have my “spaceship” which is my area in our home studio, where I have all my instruments at arms reach that surround one stool for me to beam up and dream!
Time: Anytime! I’ll drop everything and go after an idea that needs to be explored.
I’ve really been enjoying yoga. So the yoga studio is an inspiring place. I have Hashimoto’s disease so it really helps with my inflammation, joint pain and energizes me when I’m fatigued. It helps to keep my body and spirit aligned and my overall workflow is enhanced because of it. Highly recommended!
What compromises have you had to make to succeed?
There have been plenty of compromises I’ve had to make, but they were all necessary steps on this path. I try not to give any more of my energy to the compromises or mistakes I’ve made. None of it was anything I couldn’t come back from.
What do you love about being a creative in Memphis?
There is SO MUCH to love.
The opportunities to interface with some of the greatest musicians in the world is a good place to start.
This city is full of so much beauty, the people are undeniably what make it what it is, the spirit is strong and true. And the sense of community is incredible. People here truly want to celebrate each other and see one another do well. I really feel that. I feel incredibly honored to have been welcomed in this legendary, magical city over the last 12 years, I don’t take it for granted for one second.
How have you pivoted while venues are closed?
Creating my Patreon page has been a huge step in a positive, productive direction, it’s encouraged me to diversify in new ways that I wouldn’t have had time for while touring. I was already diversifying by playing in different groups and genres of music prior to COVID, so that spirit is something I thrive in. So creating a web series, a podcast, making DIY music videos… all of this has been such an incredibly enriching experience.
What new projects do you have on the horizon?
So many! My co-pilot Dustin and I wrote and recorded a new single with the maestro, uber talented Landon Moore. I’m so excited to release it, it’s hard not to just drop it, but it’ll be out soon! Gotta get the music video made and all that good stuff that we have to do leading up to a release. And the 3 of us have really caught a spark of inspiration, we work really well together, and we have several songs in the works.
I’ve been offering music lessons, I have a few students already that I see weekly, which has been super rewarding.
Management and I have launched a new Shopify website with a new merch store that will be available to order from by Jan. 18 (my bday). I’m offering my music lessons for purchase through the new website as well.
Where can we get your CD (or stream)?
Physical CDs are available at www.marcellasimien.com
All of the projects I’m associated with and performing on are streaming on all digital streaming platforms:
What are you looking forward to in 2021?
First off, I look forward to seeing a female of color as Vice President. I hope to see humanity generate more love and acceptance for one another; And for justice to be served for people of color.
I feel really grateful to be alive and to share the stage with so many incredible artists. I look forward to continuing to be a conduit or a conductor of expression of ideas, expressions of love… alongside so many incredible female artists in Memphis and around the world. It feels like the greatest gift to be able to do what I do.
I’m so excited to continue to build my audience on Patreon and reveal more new content to my audience.
I’m praying for some touring to come back by the end of the year. We had so many dates postponed indefinitely because of the pandemic. I was slated to tour 6 different countries in 2020 that I’d never been to and record an EP in Portugal with a well-known producer. I’m remaining optimistic for the future though for everyone!
My Patreon web series Bayou Guru I’ve started with my dad has been a lot of fun to dig into, and having some incredibly memorable conversations on my Got You Found podcast, creating more Cover Hog videos, and there are many more surprises in store for my audience for sure.
You can access exclusive content from Marcella by supporting her through Patreon:
Marcella made us a custom Spotify playlist! Check it out here: