“I’m a coffee snob, it’s terrible!”
This was the first time Marissa Lamar’s personality seeped out with me, besides where I was more accustomed to, coming from a song from a Highland Kites album. Lamar’s extensive coffee knowledge led us to a busy and somewhat dignified coffee shop in Downtown Pasadena which trampled on my philosophy of pouring creamer until the coffee is non-existent. I know stating this, a part of her died on the inside, but her carefree and relaxed demeanor laughed off my selection of picking the first thing I could pronounce, to her polished drink which looked more enjoyable in every way possible.
As we began to settle into the morning, the focus was on the trio’s latest EP, I’m Not Weak. The 5 track compilation of songs not only showcased the personal growth of Lamar, but the overall growth for Highland Kites; presenting stronger musical components by Neil Briggs (drums) and Alex Edwards (lead guitar). With a release party approaching on July 29th at the Complete Actors Space in Sherman Oaks, Lamar’s heart and past became a prominent muse and beautiful healing process through the ironic bliss of I’m Not Weak. Coming with terms of who the band is, letting go, and everything in between, admitting times of weakness is the strongest trait for Lamar.
Dealing with an illness for years, and battling the unknown, Lamar’s savior of music created the soundscape of honesty this time around. Disclosing that the trio had 50 songs for this upcoming EP and carefully sliced the roster to 5, gave time for Lamar to truly explore “what she wanted to say” and a larger scale of importance to those selected.
“This album was really about honesty, moving on, and hope. For me it was written through a rough period of my life, all those relationships, including within myself, the way I felt towards me, just really vocalizing and putting into music to let it go. Like, OK, it’s going to be OK now.”
Lamar’s attention to detail became an obvious characteristic of the songwriter, from the placement of the songs, to the correct coffee bean chosen, the beauty in patience seemed to echo when she spoke.
As I gushed about the subtle differences heard from the title track, to earlier songs such as “Small Frame” from All We Left Behind (2015), another obvious was felt. Where does Highland Kites’ sound really fit in? All We Left Behind became a haunting reminisce of early days to that of Rilo Kiley, and from the span of two years the growth of the band is admirable, but without a true ‘home’ to anyone labeling under the indie umbrella.
“I don’t even know what to think. I sorta just don’t care and I realized a while back when we were releasing this. I thought, ‘who do we sound like?’ because people ask us that all that time, like ‘who do you sound like, who do you fit in with,’ and like ‘where are you guys are gonna fit in with the whole genre of indie music?’ I’m just like we’re gonna attract a certain type of fan that really likes this type of emotive music, detailed within the lyrics, and we’re gonna have a really close fan base and that’s what is going to happen; we’re gonna grow.
“We’re not gonna be like ‘the thing’ that is happening right now, or the trendy thing, and it’s weird. I used to beat myself up about this like ‘I need to sound like what is popular’ but anytime that my mind starts drifting in that direction I stop being able to create anything, I can’t write songs anymore. I can’t think with anything anymore because it’s not who I am, and some people can, and for some people that’s right for them, but for me, I can’t. Because [when] I listen to some of my favorite bands growing up like Radiohead or The Smashing Pumpkins, these bands didn’t fit in and they still fit in now, but they still don’t fit in now. They have an odd kinda thing where they are just who they are, and that’s what I feel we’re gonna end up being — just who we are,” explained Lamar.
“Do you think this album, compared to the other ones, will be one of those albums that is a little bit ahead of it’s time. Since you mentioned Radiohead and The Smashing Pumpkins; The Bends, Siamese Dreams, those were albums that were shelved at that time, but ahead of ‘it’s’ time. Do you feel that way for I’m Not Weak?”
“No, I really don’t know what to think. I feel like when I was making this, the one thing I have to do when making an album is not pay attention to whether anyone is going to like it. For some reason it makes me feel boxed in if I think ‘is this going to be popular? Is someone gonna think this is good? Are fans gonna like this?’- No. My only responsibility when I’m making the art is how honest it is. Does it sound completely honest to what we’re trying to make, what I feel like, what the band wants to add to it, and once that’s done, now I feel like I can give it away. You can take this the way you want, it means something to you or not. I feel like my whole point, I’m going in circles [laughs], is I didn’t have any thought of it.”
“Are you ever ready to give it away? You mentioned earlier some artists sit on it. I’ve heard that from a couple of artists that they just need to put it out sometimes, or it’s the complete opposite –‘I can’t it’s not perfect yet.’ So, when do you know it is ready?”
“When… I have this weird thing where my own song gives me chills, when the band plays it; it’s done. If that doesn’t happen, there isn’t a click or a connection, I either scratch it, or we keep working on it. There has to be an emotional connection or truth that happens with it that’s so much like my mind in what I was trying to say, that it makes me feel that, OK *sigh of relief* this is what I wanted it to feel. Sometimes this takes 10 minutes, sometimes it takes a year with certain songs. Like “Monster” for example, I wrote that song 3 years ago and I’ve been sitting on it, and sitting on it for two reasons. One: feeling like it’s too personal for me and too dark for me to release it, how I felt earlier, and then feeling this song is so honest and emotional for me I want to work on it and make sure the music, musically it feels right. It’s different for every song.”
Falling back on the point of not fitting in, Lamar’s vocals are unique and in its own class. Admitting to having a love/hate relationship with her own voice, which is surprising to hear noting the confidence that radiates on her tracks, I’m Not Weak continued to showcase the healing process of coming to terms with yourself. For Lamar, it was being comfortable in her own skin and not sounding like every other indie female artist despite previous comments instructing Lamar to not sing, or to become auto-tuned.
“I identify more with male singers. I love female singers that influence me like Tray Chapman and certain singers like that, but for some reason emotionally I identify more with male singers because I feel like a lot of the times they put more attention into the emotion then on the quality of the vocals; like how long can I belt it out, that’s not the focus. Not how do I show off my voice but how do I use this instrument to make people feel an emotion. That’s what really is important as a singer. I want people to feel an emotion. I put more focus on that. Since we mentioned Smashing Pumpkins, Billy Corgan’s voice standardly would be considered terrible, but his voice is perfect for what he is doing and the emotion he was trying to portray. Finally with this EP, I have a love for my voice I never had and it works for what we’re doing, ” explained Lamar.
“When was that moment, or a particular track, that you fell in love with your voice?”
“It was with ‘Monster‘ because we did the recording in the studio and we got the recording back from our producer and I felt like my voice didn’t sound perfect, and I had a complete mental breakdown. I was crying that I couldn’t get this right, saying maybe we shouldn’t release this song and my producer was like ‘oh my god you need to take a step back don’t listen to it and come back to it tomorrow.’ So I went away, came back, and realized this vocal is full of emotion. Is it utterly perfect? No, could it be pitch perfected and made absolutely on pitch? Yeah, but no. It was a decision, this is it, this is what I sound like it. Once I was able to let go of that then I was able to go, ‘OK this is who I am.'”
I’m Not Weak simply is a collection of what being a human sounds like, and what beauty in this acceptance feels like. From a vast amount of transitions and ethereal chords being strummed and constructed, the trio make their presence known through their polished quirks. The subjectivity of music became a continuous push as Lamar mentioned during those times of ‘is this going anywhere?’ put her back on track. Recalling a woman at a show in Los Angeles who approached her to let her know that she was in fact having a bad day but suddenly wasn’t any more, stuck with Lamar in terms of why she continues.
“Some people don’t have a voice or can’t vocalize, and want to feel relief. Music does that, it did that for me. I have a story and my story can help other people. Music is the universal language. Instead of saying I lost all this time, I missed most of my 20’s being sick, I can use this to help others. It’s ok to feel darkness. I don’t know when I’m gonna be done talking about this in all honesty.”
Being led by Lamar’s stripped exterior allows for Highland Kites’ relatability to transmute to each listener. From the ironic and contradictory album art, to simplicity at it’s finest, Lamar easily becomes part of each track, simultaneously, receiving each part from us.
As the ice in my cold brew melted and we went off topic for two hours, patience once again echoed from Lamar until she slyly asked, “I feel that I talk too much?”
I laughed at my own rambles, “Not at all, it’s OK.”
Catch Highland Kites, Saturday July 29th, for their FREE release party at Complete Actors Space in Sherman Oaks