Nicole Marxen is a Dallas-based musician and visual artist known as one of the members of the band Midnight Opera. She has now ventured solo and makes her first release with the mesmerizing EP Tether. We talked with Nicole about her roots and why her debut EP is a meditation on the grieving process.
How are you and how are you dealing with all that’s happening in our world right now?
I’m hanging in there. It hasn’t been easy, but I try to be kind to myself. I recently adopted two kittens. They’ve been great little buddies to have during this time.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what first got you into music.
I’m 32. I live in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas, TX. I didn’t grow up playing music, but I was always very drawn to it. My mom had great taste and introduced me to a lot from an early age. Artists such as The Clash, Bowie, Alice Cooper, Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush, & Roxy Music had a big effect on me. When I was 19, a band that I loved from my hometown had some members drop out a week before their first tour. For some reason, they asked if I could fill in, singing and playing auxiliary percussion. I had no concept for how music worked at the time, but I learned all of their songs, and went on tour. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I stayed in that band for four years.
You are known for being one of the members of the band Midnight Opera. What did you take from being in a band as a musician and as an artist?
With Midnight Opera, the visuals were just as important to us as the music. Working with such a big picture in mind helped me become a better dreamer, organizer, communicator, and friend. I also learned how to move past a lot of my insecurities. It’s harder to sabotage yourself when you have other people counting on you to show up and do the work.
Tether EP is your first release as a solo artist, what led you to go on your own?
When I started writing this EP, the songs were so personal that I knew there was a possibility I’d be too precious with it. Midnight Opera is such an open exchange of ideas, I didn’t want to be a potentially bad collaborator. I was curious to figure out what I was capable of on my own and it felt like the right time and material to give it a go.
You said that, “Tether is a meditation on the grieving process.” Can you elaborate more on that?
I wasn’t able to process the death of my mom for years. I was a young adult when she passed, my life was just starting, and the pain was easy to bury for the time being. At a certain point though, I knew I couldn’t move further without trying to process my grief. Writing these songs was a turning point, where I learned what it meant to carry my grief with me instead of trying to move through it.
How was it like the creative process for this EP knowing it was your first solo work to be released?
I knew I had to trust my intuition and make the music for no one other than myself. It was a lot less pressure that way. I had gotten to a place of acceptance around the time we started recording, which let everything come together very naturally. I also wholeheartedly trust my producer, Alex. I knew he wouldn’t let us make something that wasn’t authentic to me and my experience.
You released a video for the song “Tether”, which was directed by Judd Myers and it’s just astonishing and a beautiful tribute to your relationship with your mother. Can you tell us more about this collaboration and the song itself?
Thank you so much, that means a lot. We filmed during the summer months in lockdown. It was just Judd, his cinematographer Kyle, and I. We shot an insane amount of footage, I think we did 10 shoots total. There was lots of going out to country roads and our local nature preserves. It was a highly experimental process, we had a lot of fun making it. A key element of the video is my family home video footage. My mom was a photographer, and one of the projects I’ve had going during the pandemic is to organize her archives. The original idea was to integrate her photography and family photos, but it felt too stale. We needed for her presence to be unmistakable, to feel alive. Judd came up with the idea to use the home videos instead and it worked beautifully. As far as the song goes, I wrote the melody and most of the lyrics driving back from a camping trip. Something about being in the car alone will make songs come to me like that. As I drove through desolate parts of Texas, I felt like I was being pulled, forever bound to a spirit as it freely roams. I started asking myself lots of questions. How long had I been a byproduct existing in this limbo? Would I let my life pass me by because I became comfortable in the abyss? I had the realization that what happened made me into exactly who I need to be, and it was time to turn my pain into something else.
This EP was recorded at John Congleton’s studio, Elmwood, with Alex Bhore and mastered by Greg Calbi. How was it like to work with them for this first solo release?
Alex is one of my very dear friends. He is absolutely brilliant and such a joy to be around. I don’t think I would have pursued recording this material without his encouragement. It was a wonderful experience. And Greg is a living legend! It was a dream come true to have him master the EP.
What do you look forward for this year, despite the uncertainty we’re living nowadays?
Alex and I have started working on new material, which is exciting. Hopefully I can start touring by the end of the year, but we’ll just have to wait and see. I’m looking forward to getting the COVID vaccine, hugging my friends and family, and leash training at least one of my kittens.
If you could go now and play a live show, where would it be?
I desperately miss playing and hanging out at my local haunt, Texas Theatre. Famously where Lee Harvey Oswald was apprehended, it’s now an art house theatre. They do all kinds of cool events, but in pre-pandemic days, they’d show a film and have a concert afterwards behind the screen.
What record or band have you been listening to lately non-stop?
My friends, Tele Novella, just put out a fantastic record called Merlynn Belle. On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I’ve also been enjoying The Body’s new record. And then my creature comforts during the pandemic have been Type O Negative and The Witch Wave podcast.