The clichéd image of the harp and harpists will be so familiar to most of Harpblog's readers that I won't describe it again. It's such a cliché that even "I want to dispell the cliché of the beautiful girl playing the harp etc. etc." has become clichéd.
Clichés are a funny mixture. Dulled by over-use, nonetheless they wouldn't exist without some basis in truth. And those who find themselves, like harpists, in particularly cliché-strewn fields, can't just throw them aside either. Whether you want to make use of them - to boost your wedding business, for example - or get away from them, they're hard to ignore.
The German pop harpist and singer (all her songs are in English), MarieMarie, knows about cliché. Her own music is “folctronic”, fusing elements of electronic music, like techno and dubstep, with folk, acoustic instruments and original, thoughtful lyrics. It’s music which is very much her own, for all that isn't as self-evident as it sounds. "The whole reason I started to write songs with the harp was to get away from cliché", she explains. "I started with a standard rock band combination. There's nothing wrong with rock if that's where you find yourself as an artist. But when you're desparate to escape a cliché, simply taking the most opposite direction you can think of isn't, in itself, any better. After a while I thought, this is no good - I don't like harp clichés, but equally I feel like I'm forcing the harp to sound not like a harp for artificial reasons. I might not be acting like a harpist, but I still feel like I'm pretending to be someone else."
Marie is a graduate of Felice Pomeranz's fantastic class at Berklee College of Music in Boston. This is the world's leading harp class for all those interested in working at the heart of today's music industry. You can study the Fauré Impromptu there as well, but as you'll see from the college's course list, Berklee offers a very broad range of training, from pop and jazz to music management and production. At Berklee, Marie majored in harp and voice, with the emphasis on jazz. She founded her own band on returning from the States to her hometown of Munich, and soon she will release her debut album on EMI Electrola.
"I think the harp's more natural in my songs now. Sometimes it's very present, sometimes not so much - it depends on the song. They're songs, and I'm a singer first of all - I use the harp because that happens to be the instrument I can play. Then I find other sounds to go with its sound and the sound of my voice. I've got very into blending acoustic and electric sound, so I'm using cello, dulcimer, electronic percussion and even instruments like recorder with a much more electric, poppier, synthetic sound than I've used before.
It doesn't have to be complicated. I want to write songs with beautiful melodies you can dance to - not that it's easy to write simple music; the challenge, what I find exciting, is how to write songs that are direct and honest without sounding banal.
I think a lot in pictures, I like to portray a series of worlds in pictures in my songs. Everyone's genuine experience is a mixture of dreams and reality, not something you can describe in a linear way. I think we're all looking for those moments where parts of the two worlds collide, where dreams become reality, or "burst into certainty" as I say in one of my songs. Even when you're in the middle of writing a song, I love how working on a text about a theme reveals new sides to that theme, things I'd never thought of before I began. I'm fascinated by fairy tales as well, by their magic realism. My song Wild Bees Honey is a fairy tale. It’s about a young woman, hidden on an island, who falls in love with death because it’s “more beautiful than life”.
Maybe it's this idea of living among different landscapes that lies behind the electric/acoustic sound that's increasingly a feature of my music. Electric sound is part of us now, it's part of our Zeitgeist, our world today is a mixture of nature and technology. My song Dream Machine is about windmills, and in it I'm singing about how they're like giant new plants, new structures, growing out of the earth."
Over the last few weeks, Marie has been in Hamburg working on her album. It will consist entirely of original new songs, and we're all watching this space for its release. Meanwhile, if you're anywhere nearby, Marie has one of her first concerts with songs from the album in Munich on May 11th, as part of the Lange Nacht der Musik in the BMW pavilion, which will be a chance for a sneak preview.