Marlene made her name three years ago with the Indian Summer EP, a smash pop success that included two songs that cracked a million plays on Spotify (the title track and the single Bon Voyage). After that things went a little quiet, but she popped back up in the the popular consciousness again last summer with a new single, All I Want, a piece of shimmering liquid pop that seemed to dominate every single summer playlist in 2016. After a few more singles, she’s just released Sweet, an eight-track EP, and we met her to learn more.
So before you returned with All I Want last year, we hadn’t heard from you since the Indian Summer EP in 2014. What was behind the pause and how did you start on the songs that would become the Sweet EP?
I just needed some more time to find producers and work on a sound that felt close to me. I felt like I hadn’t spent enough time doing that as everything kind of boomed when I released my first single, and I wasn’t expecting that to be honest, haha. So I just worked with different producers and wrote a lot of new songs. It’s been great! When I finally found Humble & Blisse [who have also worked with the likes of Skott and Astrid S], everything fell into place and the first song we did together was Don’t You Worry, my latest single. Then we did Sweet, All I Want and many more, and I knew I had found something to build on.
Sweet is a significant swing stylistically from Indian Summer, kind of a turn towards a more-sun soaked, soul-pop sound. What was behind that switch?
I guess that is the result of the time that I spent writing new songs since the last EP, hehe. I wanted that sunny, positive energy in my music and I’ve always been inspired by R’N’B/soul/gospel so I just brought that into my music even more.
Obviously a lot of the attention will fall on the big pop songs on the record like All I Want, Sweet and Next To Me, but I think those softer moments like Aurora, No Other Place and New Love are really important to the flow and structure of the record. Do you think there’s a special part of the EP’s soul in those songs?
Yes, for sure. They represent the core of the EP, I’d say, and what it all comes down to – new love basically. One of my favourite tracks on the EP is actually No Other Place, which I wrote and produced myself. All the time I had this picture in my head of me dancing very slowly with someone in this red-lit, dark room. The song is so so simple, and yet holds so many emotions that I hope shine through. I didn’t want to over-do the production on these songs. They just needed something to support the vocals so that focus would be on the lyrics.
You worked with your long-time collaborator Ji Nilsson on this, as well as a number of other people. How was the writing and recording process for the EP?
As I said, I focused on working with new producers trying to find people I really clicked with. And to do that you write songs, so some of the songs are just the results of a great collaboration. Me and Ji have been writing together for years now though and I feel so blessed having her by my side during this musical journey. We’re a great team so she’s been involved with many of the songs I’ve written these past years. I always record my own vocals, but everything else is pure collaboration between me, other songwriters and producers.
Love pretty much shines out of nearly all the songs on the EP. Did you really want to make it a monument to that feeling?
I guess I didn’t plan to do a ‘love-themed’ EP specifically, but I tend to write a lot about love. But I’ve also just written about stuff that has happened to me these past years and about true feelings so it’s not more complicated than that actually.
You also snuck a little snippet of Aretha Franklin lyrics into Aurora. Was that a little tribute?
Hehe, yes I did! While me and Ji wrote it I naturally started singing “you make me feel like a natural woman” and it fit so well with the rest, that we had already written, so we decided to use it. Aretha would probably faint if she heard my weak interpretation though… but yeah, it’s a little tribute to one of the greatest voices and artists in history.
Okay, so with the EP out, what’s next? Are you working towards an album?
I’m working on new singles and hoping to release my debut album next year. But I also wanna tour, write even more songs and dive in to the production side of songwriting even more.
Words: Austin Maloney