With a background in choir and violin coupled with a passion for contemporary music, NYC musician Jackie Marchal crafts her music in a modern slant that is both earnest and textured. Her new single Open Wide, off her forthcoming debut EP, Juniper (out this Fall), exemplifies the spirit of a young musician on the move. Of course, at the heart of Marchal’s single Open Wide is her undeniable vocals, filled with heart and emotion. With that in mind, I recently caught up with Jackie Marchal to find out more about the amazing and talented young woman behind the music. Here is some of what we talked about.
Looking back to your early years, what do you remember being the inspiration behind why you wanted to play music?
When I was in preschool, I grew envious of my sister’s violin lessons and started begging for a violin of my own. My mom told me that I could start when I was in kindergarten, because preschoolers weren’t allowed to have lessons yet. I can’t begin to imagine what pulled me toward music when I was just three or four years old, but the obsession was already there. I ended up starting violin when I was in kindergarten after all, and I played seriously up until I was 20. Around that time I picked up electric guitar and since then that has become my main instrument.
In those years I discovered my love for singing from a USB microphone that came with a Wii game. I plugged it into my computer and made about 100 GarageBand recordings between the ages of 7-12. There’s a lot in there: original music, karaoke, covers. I actually burned CDs of my songs, and presented them to my parents as “albums.” I gravitated to music as a way to express myself, and singing always allowed me to do so.
Which era, genre or decade of music influenced you the most and why?
My dad played a lot of music in the house when I was a kid. He played tons of opera and classical, but also reggae, rock, and some modern music, too. Two bands my dad played often that defined my childhood and still influence me are Grizzly Bear and Beach House. Grizzly Bear especially is so orchestral and choral, so it was important for me to hear how those styles could transfer to contemporary music.
I understand you began choir (and playing violin) at an early age. How did these disciplines extend across to eventually you becoming a singer, songwriter and guitarist?
I primarily attribute my musical involvement in choir and orchestra to circumstances. The only musical offerings at my school for playing instruments were classical lessons, and for singing choir. So I think I latched onto them because I was just transfixed by music in general: harmony, melody, and rhythm. Singing in groups you learn so much about intonation, tuning, and blending. There were some things I had to unlearn when I moved into writing my own music, and some other things that were advantages (nobody will ever ask me to enunciate more). Following that, the move from violin to guitar was interesting because the instruments are related but completely different. While the tuning is similar but in reverse, I really only played melody on violin, and accompanying myself on guitar is all about harmony. I’ve had to fill in a lot of blanks there.
What do you believe your music says about you?
My music speaks to both who I am as well as how I see the world. I approach songwriting as memorialization of a moment or memory — this humble attempt to shift a lived experience into an artifact. I’ve always been a highly sensitive person, which causes some experiences to live in my head longer and louder than for other people. Music is what helps me move those sensations into something tangible and outside myself. The songs I’ve been writing speak to the parts of my life that have impacted me profoundly over the last couple years — among those are my relationship to my family, and the earth. So much of growing up for me has just been gaining perspective, so my music speaks from that newfound and constantly shifting point of view.
What has your journey been like studying, playing music and living in New York City?
I grew up in NYC and now study Computer Science at Columbia University, so all of my time in school has taken place in New York. My time at Columbia has transformed my relationship to NYC. I had been living alone in California the year before starting college and while I was extremely independent, I grew quite lonely there. When I got back to NYC I was so thrilled to be around people my age who were excited to meet each other, that I let that campus become my little universe. I needed a break from the city, and the campus gave me that. Now I am such a different person, and exploring the city feels new again.
Your new single Open Wide is a track that highlights the complexities of young love with a bold and soulfully charged atmosphere. Can you tell us how this track creatively came together?
The journey of this song is one of my favorites. I wrote the chorus a month after lockdown started. I was playing the piano in my parent’s house and that major to diminished chord change started the whole song. I remember the opening lyrics “you still think my songs are beautiful / even when I play them wrong” growing directly from those chords. A month prior to that moment, I had started my current relationship. My boyfriend is also a musician, and I facetimed him to help me identify the chords I was spelling out in the rest of the chorus. The song was loosely about him, but I was also singing those words to myself. That night I recorded it with some violin harmonies in my bedroom, and he sent over an upright bass track to add into the demo. Fast forward eight months and I sent that original demo of the chorus to John Velasquez, the producer I connected with to make the EP. He and I finished writing the song together, and thus, Open Wide was born!
The music video for Open Wide is quite cinematic and takes you on a journey around New York. What was one of the most surprising or funniest things that happened on that shoot?
Oh my, I think the funniest part about that whole thing was how little Will and I had planned leading up to it. I was coming back from a trip, and I called him from an airport while I had a layover to talk it through the day before. I told him what the song was about, but I didn’t have any visual references. I was a bit worried, but I knew how talented Will is so I had faith that we were going to pull it together. But when I told John and my family about it, they justifiably thought it was going to be an absolute trainwreck. It was the night before and I didn’t have a concept, outfit, or locations. That being said, Will and I had so much fun filming it, and I am so pleased with how it turned out!
What is the most surprising thing that people are going to hear or get to discover about you with your forthcoming EP Juniper?
In Juniper people will hear my voice in a handful of new sonic environments, which speaks to the true collaborative nature of making the EP. I had an incredible time working with John on this music, and I am greatly appreciative of how much he pushed me sonically. Aside from working with friends, the experience of making these songs with John was the first time I felt my artistic vision and creativity wholly respected. The musicians on the records helped me realize so many of my sonic influences, so there is a lot you can learn about my taste and what music inspires me from the EP.
How has the pandemic affected your career or creativity and how are you working on overcoming these challenges?
This is a bit of a sore topic, because the pandemic certainly halted some significant plans I had for my music. I had started playing with a seven-piece band on campus, and we had just won the Battle of the Bands for Columbia. I was about to open for 100 Gecs and Gucci Mane at Terminal 5, which is such an iconic venue from my childhood and teenage years. When that got cancelled, I didn’t fully appreciate the effect it had on me. The world was so confusing and terrifying that I didn’t have the capacity to care about one show. Looking back, I can see that abruptly stopping playing live signified a loss of momentum for me with music. On the other hand, I took a semester off to code for my friend’s company due to covid, and it was in that unstructured time that I was able to write and record Juniper. It was definitely a double edged sword for my music.
In a letter to your future self. What would you write?
Keep taking deep breaths and being grateful for all that you have.
Finally, and it’s just a get to know you question. What song do you always keep on your playlist and why?
Night Shift by Lucy Dacus. It is such a dynamic and empowering song.