Poetry in motion: A gaze into the creative world of Marlaena Moore

By Jenna Lee Williams
Photo: Levi Manchak

Photo: Levi Manchak

EDMONTON — Meet indie singer-songwriter Marlaena Moore, who defies the tired archetype of singer-songwriter. She’s a delightful mosaic made up of a variety of pieces and materials not normally combined.

An evolving mosaic with pieces that are being constantly rearranged with additions and alterations, but underneath the collection of moving bits, the foundation remains the same. BeatRoute spoke to Marlaena, Edmonton promoter Craig Martell and even her mother Denise and stitched together the mosaic that is Marlaena from her childhood to her latest album GAZE, which releases Friday, May 6.

The Making Of Marlaena

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Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

For Marlaena, creativity is in her DNA. With an Annie Lennox song as the soundtrack, Marlaena was born in Vancouver in 1993 to Denise and Tim Moore. Even from a very young age Marlaena began absorbing tunes. Denise explains, “Almost before she started talking she was making musical sounds. She would memorize every song from every Disney musical, all that kind of jazz.”

Her parents are also creative types. Her father Tim worked in the film industry; Denise did a bit of work in film also, in addition to being a window display artist/merchandiser. “We were always doing projects, our poor children had to live among the latest project, some weird prop being built on the living room table,” says Denise.

The Moores moved to Edmonton when Marlaena was seven and she began piano lessons, but that didn’t last for too long. “I hated anyone teaching me anything,” says Marlaena. “I didn’t want to learn sheet music or anything like that, I just wanted to learn how to find chords and play with basic structures to further my song writing.” Although she doesn’t identify as a pianist, it was on the piano that she began writing little ditties.

Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

Initially, Marlaena didn’t take to the guitar. Her father, however, played a bit on the acoustic, and Denise explains how the two of them planted the seed: “She just didn’t have the linear way of learning things, so part of our little plan was to just leave this guitar sitting there thinking at some point she is going to pick that up.” When she finally did, Denise recalls that “the first song she ever taught herself to play on the guitar was from The Simpsons, the sort of folk song that Lisa sings.”

After completing Grade 6, Marlaena was enrolled at Indigo Sudbury Campus, a school that practices a form of democratic education. Students decide how they want to spend their time, and learn from experiences, rather than in a traditional classroom setting.

“My mom remembers when I was very, very little, before public school, I was making cool visual art and painting and doing kid projects. She remembers taking me to public school and seeing what our art projects were, and she thought it was so heartbreaking that I wasn’t allowed to express who I was.” At Indigo, Marlaena was able to interact with people of all ages, learn at the pace she wanted, and focus on experimenting with and making music. She studied there until the school closed due to lack of funding when she was in her late teens.

Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

“She always surprises me,” says her mother. “I can remember her first song, ‘Planet Mars,’ a very sweet, little song about herself. It was the first time she really put her heart out there out and delved into exposing an inner life through music. She sat down and played this song for Tim and I and our jaws were just hanging open, ‘Where did this come from!? How did she do that!?’ She was 14 or 15 years old.”

Soon after Marlaena recorded her first CD but then took a break from writing songs and got involved with swing dancing. “I was really bad. 
It is actually really hard. I was knocking people’s glasses off.” A testament to her tenacity, Marlaena persevered. “Eventually I became part of the Lindy hop scene and went on to teach dance. I was very happy I was able to take that time and take a break from writing songs… I couldn’t do it there for a while.”

The Wunderfluence

At age 18, Marlaena ventured into Wunderbar; Edmonton’s premier punk rock watering hole. “She would come in alone,” recalls former owner of Wunderbar and promoter Craig Martell. “Sit and drink ciders and watch any band and was excited about every show. Just soaking it in. Her interest and enthusiasm was the first thing I remember about her.”

Marlaena Moore - Live At Wunderbar tape cover

Marlaena Moore – Live At Wunderbar tape cover

“Craig and the Wunderbar shaped me so much. I feel like tearing up talking about it. Playing that last show there and looking out into the crowd and seeing all these people that I know because of that bar. I fell in love at Wunderbar, I had my heart broken there and got the most wasted I have ever been. I played to zero people and have played to 120 people. That room has had to be one of the biggest influences on me for sure. Ahh… Wunderbar,” sighs Marlaena.

Inspired to be in her own band, Marlaena started a three-piece group, the Sweathearts. “I remember having a vision of having all-girl punk band called the Sweathearts and our first hit would be a song called ‘Holy Fuck’ about wanting to have sex with a Christian guy.” The Sweathearts had a short run before the two other members moved to different cities.

When she was 20, Marlaena released Beginner, a collection of songs she wrote during her teenage years. Recorded with a full band and it has a folky feel. “Even after that album came out I was already starting to make weird plans in my head, wanting it to sound a bit different. Trying to move away from the folk thing as we all do. Not totally abandon it but just try new things.”

Following Beginner, she joined the garage punk outfit Switches and added to the music she had previously been attached to, along with her personal style. “I joined Switches and I took a break from the solo stuff for a while. I wasn’t producing my own material that I liked at that time. It was great to be in a band and play with [other] bands that I really liked. I met people I wouldn’t have met by touring and meeting people in other cities. That experience helped me so much,” emphasizes Marlaena.

When Switches took a hiatus, Marlaena got an opening solo
 slot for Chad VanGaalen and decided to take her own music more seriously. She planned to go to Los Angeles to see Kathleen Hanna and other women she admires playing at a Burger-A-Go-Go Festival, but changed her mind at the last minute. “I had a week off work
so I decided to stay home and write and the album. “And that was exactly what I did,” says Marlaena recounting the creative burst that became GAZE.

Don’t Gimme That Look

Marlaena Moore - GAZE album cover

Marlaena Moore – GAZE album cover

“It is a very simplistic sounding record. It is very clean in a lot of ways because it was quite rushed. I am very impulsive. It can serve me but also be my downfall.” Despite the time limitations and her tendency to dive in headlong, Marlaena claims, “Everyone who played on it pulled through and we made it work.” GAZE was recorded by Rene Wilson (Renny Wilson), who also plays bass, guitars and keyboards on the album, along with Andy Mulcair (drums), Jenni Roberts (bass) and Ross Nicoll (piano, organ). Jesse Northey recorded the last track on the album.

Before she wrote GAZE Marlaena was listening to “a mix of garage rock and Rae Spoon and Jennifer Castle. A juxtaposition of weird chord changes, grungy guitar, and quirky lyrics mixed with raw emotion.” The Beatles also comes up – Marlaena’s favourite band as a kid; a band, 
she notes, that taught her how to write music and lyrics. “I still am
 in so many ways the exact same person I was when I was a teenager, and when I was five years old. I just like to absorb new interesting new things,” she adds.

“Marlaena is very poetic,” says mom Denise, smiling. “A poet who puts her poems to music.” Although there are feminist lyrics on Beginner, they came out somewhat intentionally. With GAZE, the poetry was more focused, along with a feminist focus that was intentional.

“The reason the album is called GAZE was because of a lot of things that I was going through personally. I was kind of realizing that a shocking percentage of the way I was behaving or putting myself out there was directed by validation from men and their approval. The whole male gaze thing, seeing myself from their eyes… really wanting to break free from that but feeling very trapped by it. All of the songs play into that quite a bit,” summates Marlaena.

Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

Photo: Courtesy of the Moore Family

Marlaena elaborates on her Sled Island bio (“Cheerily titled tracks like ‘You’ll Absolutely Die,’ propose solutions rather than simply highlighting problems”): “Lyrics are the most important part for me,” states Marlaena. “I think a lot of artists have the belief that they can only write when they have a lot of problems and are very sad. Over the years I have held that belief… But actually taking a really clear look, I can’t write shit when I’m sad, I don’t want to do anything when I’m sad. I realized the times that I can actually really write are when I’m actually in my heart and getting a really clear perspective on things. Generally, not all the time but a lot of the time, I mean it is the reason why I started writing songs in the first place. I want to be heard by someone, it might be a specific person, it might be a group of people. I think that is sweet. I like to be a solution for sure. Sometimes for me I will write a song that is almost an affirmation to myself. I have a song called ‘Future Love’ on the album it is all about not settling at 
all. And that is something I have to remind myself a land have lot over the years. I guess within that is kind of my brain on a skillet. Trying to dig through and find solutions for my own problems, that is for sure.”

Putting her poetry in motion, Marlaena comes alive onstage. “Her songs are great, she’s never written a bad one,” explains Martell. “Her voice is perfect but I think what mostly [stands out] is that it was authentic. You could tell she was feeling every emotion she was singing about. It was haunting and wild.”

Watch her live, listen to her album or talk to her outside a bar, Marlaena is unforgettable.

Photo: Levi Manchak

Photo: Levi Manchak

Marlaena Moore is currently on a cross-country tour promoting GAZE performing with Andy Mulcair on drums. She’ll pour her heart out on May 18th at the Almanac in Edmonton and on May 19th in Calgary at the Bamboo. She is also playing Electric Eye Fest in Lethbridge, which runs from May 11th to 15th. In B.C., she’ll play two Vancouver dates on May 21st at Black Lab, and on May 24th at Red Gate. Between her Vancouver dates, catch her in Victoria at the Lucky Bar on May 22nd. In Saskatchewan, she’ll be at The Mercury in Regina on May 27th and Vangelis in Regina on May 29th. In Winnipeg, she’ll play the Sad Boys Club on May 29th. Finally, Calgarians can catch her again in late June for two shows during the Sled Island Music & Arts Festival (June 22 at Central United Church and June 23 at the Palomino – Upstairs).

BeatRoute Magazine May 2016 Alberta print edition cover. Photo: Levi Manchak

BeatRoute Magazine May 2016 Alberta print edition cover.
Photo: Levi Manchak

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