Though Marielle Kraft loved to play music from time to time, she ultimately hit a point in her life when she decided to make a life-changing call to pick up music full-time and leave behind her career as a school teacher. The decision has paid off so far, as she’s moved to Nashville, recorded a pair of EPs and is about to embark on a tour throughout February.
She’ll kick that tour off in Frederick at New Spire Arts as part of the Weinberg Center’s Discovery Series on Feb. 2.
72 Hours recently caught up with her to talk about her inspiration behind her song “Portland,” her decision to pursue music as her life, what’s it like living in Nashville, and how she’ll one-day open for Taylor Swift (after Swift reads this, of course).
Let’s just start from the beginning. I was looking on your website earlier, and it seems like you’ve been doing this for quite a while, but I want to get into how you got started playing music to begin with.
Yeah, I was just a hobbyist for much of high school and college. I just really loved to play guitar with friends and cover Taylor Swift songs. I became a full-time teacher out of college and taught sixth-grade English in Southern Maryland.
Then I made the pivot to do music full-time, and I just fell in love with it. I would play on the weekends outside of school and played small shows and bar gigs and really caught the bug and was like, ‘OK, what would happen if I made the leap?’ So a few years back, I made the leap, and I’ve been pretty much on the road ever since. It’s been really fun.
Do you miss teaching?
Some days, I do, yeah. It was a passion of mine for my whole life. I love working with kids. I love education. But for me right now, my main priority is music.
So you are coming to Frederick, and I wasn’t quite sure where you were located. You said you taught in Southern Maryland. Where are you based now?
I’m in Nashville now.
Coming up to Frederick, that’s quite the hall. Have you been here before?
I haven’t played in Frederick before, but I have been in the area. And it’s a part of a whole East Coast tour, so it won’t be too inconvenient to make the trip. I’m excited for my first time to play in Frederick itself.
When you lived in Maryland, did you play maybe in Baltimore? Did you get to D.C. a lot? Were you ingrained in any type of the music scene when you lived here?
I taught and lived about 30 minutes south of D.C. So I would say D.C. was my main hub when I was playing music and seeing live music. I have a lot of connections there. But specifically Frederick, no, I haven’t known anybody, so I’m excited.
Do you have a favorite D.C. venue?
That’s a good question. I’ve played many of them. I would say my favorite venue to play has been Songbyrd. But I’m playing D.C. Nine a few weeks after Frederick, and that’s a really cool spot. I just love how many kinds of small up-and-coming venues there are in D.C. for artists who are trying to grow. It’s a really cool scene.
What was it like to get ingrained in the music scene in Nashville? There are tons of great musicians there. Was that intimidating at first?
It definitely is. But I think more than that, it was really motivating for me to be surrounded by people who are so driven and following the same dream that I am and working so hard to achieve. It has been incredibly motivating to make me work even harder than I already was when I was living in the Northeast. They really helped me grow. I feel like I’m surrounded by people who are inspiring to me. I feel like I’ve just grown leaps and bounds in the two years that I’ve been here.
I was poking around on YouTube, and I think I saw that you did a cover of a Chainsmokers song. Is that correct?
Just going back to the Nashville thing, a lot of people kind of get their start by playing covers in Nashville. Is that something you did when you first got there? Do you still do covers now?
No, I never have in Nashville. I really wanted to be intentional about really growing my original music, and my artists project while in Nashville. But I started in the cover scene in Delaware. I went to the University of Delaware and I moved back to Delaware when I left teaching a few years ago, before moving to Nashville. During that time, when I was really trying to figure out how to make this career work, a lot of that was cover gigging. I feel like it really helped build a lot of my stamina and cut my teeth. I learned how to read a room and play for long periods of time, and I wouldn’t trade that time for the world, but right now, I’m just focused on my original music.
You touched on a really good point there about how you can pay the bills easily if you do a lot of covers. How did you come to that decision to take the leap to kind of say, ‘No, I’m just going to focus solely on my original stuff,’ because that’s got to be quite the leap.
It is. And it’s a pretty unpredictable life because when I was predominantly doing the cover gigs, I would pretty much know what I was taking home each month. And now, only dedicating my time to original music, it comes in waves. I’ll be on the road for two months and have a pretty good idea of what that’s gonna look like financially, and then I’ll be home for two months and not making money. It’s forced me to have a lot more organization and structure with my finances, but it’s been good. I’ve learned a lot.
How many shows do you estimate you play a year at this point?
I think last year, I did close to 100. I’m on the road about half of the year, and I love it. It’s my favorite thing.
How disruptive is it for your personal life? Or is traveling something you would do anyway?
Yeah, I love it all. My personal life is kind of built around me being on the road. I’ve been able to keep friends in all the cities that I’ve visited, some of which I knew from college, some of which I’ve made along the way. And then I have my community in Nashville for the times when I’m home. I feel like I’m able to upkeep a lot more relationships than I was able to when I was just staying in one place. I really enjoy that part.
Speaking of having relationships in cities, I came across your song “Portland,” and I was watching the video for that. It’s a really pretty song. I’ve been to Portland too, and I love, love, love Portland. This is kind of a specific, niche question, but I’m just wondering what drew you to that city and what made you fall in love with it enough to write a song about it?
Have you been to the Oregon or Maine Portland?
Yeah, I’m from Rhode Island originally, so that Portland is my Portland. But I know that the most popular Portland is in Oregon.
I think the one in Maine is just a place that I always heard about growing up. I heard it was its own really cool, thriving arts community. It was on the water. It had so many local businesses and an amazing coffee scene, and I’m a big coffee drinker. I think I’ve always just idealized the city of Portland, but I never made it there. So, when the world was shutting down in early 2020, I kind of had this idea in my mind that, well, maybe everything would be OK if we just went to Portland, this place that is supposed to be an idealized version of an American town. Like, what if we just escaped there, and then we could just hide from all of the sad loneliness that we’re about to face in this pandemic? I wrote that song pretty much the week that my tours were canceled, when we were forced into quarantine, in order to have a little bit of hope. And then I made it to Portland about a year later.
Oh, wow. That’s great. Speaking of the musical side of things, is there any project you’re working on now? Any batch of songs that you might be recording soon?
I just released my second EP in the fall called “Heartspace.” That was the really big project of the last year and a half. But I have some singles that will be coming out this year, the first of which will be on Feb. 10, so about a week after the Frederick show, and I will be debuting it at the Frederick show, so I’m very excited. It’s a really fun song called “Owe My Ex.” It’s a pretty anthemic song about how we have these people in our lives that are not here anymore, but I’m better for it, so thank you for the role that you played.
Is there a music video for that coming?
Not a full-blown music video, but there will be some different video visuals that are very fun. I’m excited for those to be seen.
You’ve talked a lot about playing out and traveling and being on tour. Do you have a specific artist you have played with or maybe even just shared a show with that people should know more about? Maybe who you’re listening to right now?
That’s a good question. I’ve shared the room with a lot of people, and I really respected the tour that I just went on. In November, I was supporting a band called Sub-Radio. They’re actually out of D.C. They just put on such a fun and inclusive show, and I think that was my favorite tour I’ve ever been a part of, because it felt like we were immediately brought into their touring family. Their crowds were so welcoming to me as the opener.
On the other side of that, is there an artist, popular or not, that is sort of part of your dream tour, who would you absolutely love to open up for someday?
Well, my shoot for the moon dream, of course, is Taylor Swift. That would be the greatest moment of my life. But I think on a smaller scale, there’s a singer-songwriter named JP Saxe, and I am so inspired by his songwriting. I’ve seen him play live a few times, and I love the way that he interacts with the audience. It would be a dream to open for him as well.
Hey, being in Nashville, have you had any maybe secondary interactions with Taylor Swift or know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody?
The Nashville community is pretty tight-knit. Yeah, there are always gonna be people who know someone who knows someone. I have not had a chance to grab coffee with Miss Swift quite yet, but perhaps in the future?
Yes. After she reads this, she’ll give you a call. The final question I have: You’re out in this first part of the year, but what does the rest of 2023 look like for you? Do you have plans beyond even the spring, maybe in the summer or the fall?
Yeah. I’m always planning ahead for touring. We have this really big February headline tour that I’m excited about. We’re kicking it off in Frederick, which is the first date of that February tour. That’ll be fun because it’s a full band tour. Then, we’re out to the Northeast in April for another run, and then we have some festivals and stuff that we started booking for the summer. The fall ... I’m sure there will be another tour. Hopefully, we’re going to make it out to the West Coast sometime this year. I have not made it out there yet, and I’d love to get to the other Portland, so hopefully by the end of 2023, we’ll be able to do that. It’s going to be exciting.
Colin McGuire has been in and out of bands for more than 20 years and also helps produce concerts in and around Frederick. His work has appeared in Alternative Press magazine, PopMatters and 72 Hours, among other outlets. He is convinced that the difference between being in a band and being in a romantic relationship is less than minimal. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.