Lizzie Marvelly. It’s such a brilliant name for a performer, and most Kiwis will have some recalled image of a confidently beautiful girl with a killer voice, and heels to match, immaculately presenting the national anthem ahead of one ‘vital’ rugby international or another. As a former schoolmate, Anna Schlotjes had a bit of an inside track on what makes the artist formerly known as Elizabeth Marvelly tick, and with her debut pop album dropping in July, NZM got the two together for a chat.
I’m lucky enough to have known Lizzie Marvelly as a girl in a Rotorua Girls High School uniform who was in love with music and spent every possible moment slinking away to the music block, and every waking minute humming a muted tune. More recently I have watched her morph from a super talented, slightly unsure classical crossover star into the confident, happy-in-her-self pop artist she’s become.
It can be easy to disregard much pop music as having no soul, and I’m often guilty of writing off pop artists, however Lizzie’s first strictly pop EP ‘Collisions’ is an exception to that world of mainstream pop. Knowing how much of her blood, sweat and tears went into the five tracks on the EP and I also know the veracity with which she means every word penned. It’s an incredibly personal collection of words and notes and comes out of a hard won battle with the age-old quest for self.
“The EP was two years in the making and it’s indicative of my own personal journey over those two years. Through making it I feel like I became more empowered, and felt much more comfortable in my own skin.
“Lyrically the title track deals with collisions between the past and the future. It reflects on the happy and not so happy collisions that are part of life and that led me to where I am now.”
Principal among these collisions of course was the screaming clash between Lizzie’s (then Elizabeth) successful early career as a pop-classical star and these new, socially conscious, empowering pure pop offerings. Retrospectively, she is well aware of her headfirst hurtle into popera.
“I didn’t know who I was back then, I was young. The transition between 18 [when she first signed to EMI as a classical crossover artist] and 24 is huge, and as I’ve grown up, my music has evolved. When I was singing classical crossover, I felt like I was exactly where I wanted to be at that time, but as I grew up, I fell out of love with it. I didn’t feel it, and why do it if you don’t feel it?”
Released for the Christmas market in 2007, her last year at school, her eponymous debut pop-classical album went gold in its first week, peaking at #8 in the charts. Produced by UK-born, NZ-based pianist and composer Carl Doy it was largely covers but included a couple of her own songs. It was while she was hitting the European tour trail hard with British contemporary Paul Potts in 2010 that Lizzie began to feel a yearning to write, and out of this, came her sophomore album ‘Home’.
Limited by the bounds of her classical crossover contract, she started to struggle with the idea of being constrained within the same genre-specific bounds forever.
“Making a record of songs that meant something to me was the best I could do,” she says.
It was not long after the release of ‘Home’ that EMI was bought by Universal, leaving the artist unsure of just where she stood.
“EMI had been my home. If they still existed, I hope I’d still be with them.”
A growing feeling of disconnection began to permeate her output. As she worked towards ‘Collisions’, she began to feel that her work was heading in such a different direction that the only option was to become an independent artist.
“‘Collisions’ was such a change and such a big statement, that I wanted it to be personal, and to retain that feeling of autonomy, it had to be independent.”
Fortunately no label didn’t equate to no support, and her well-connected Australian manager Vibica Auld blazed a new trail.
“She started managing me when I was a classical crossover artist and has been my manager for about four years now. I’m so grateful that she had enough faith in me to embark on this journey into pop and writing my own music.”
Producers Stuart Crichton, Lindsay Rimes and Nick Patrick, who worked with her on ‘Home’ have also been intrinsic to the success of her transition.
“We talked a lot (about the record) and listened to artists we loved as reference points, influences and inspirations; their advice and opinions were incredibly valuable.
NZ On Air have been supportive with three Making Tracks grants bringing us Generation Young, My Own Hero and Collisions. Aside from the obvious challenges faced by any independent pop act, Lizzie encountered a swathe of new difficulties as she faced the world with her own material.
“The change in the public’s perception of me was a hard one, especially how to communicate what I’m doing now, to change the past perceptions of me. I don’t try to be anything I’m not though, and it’s up to the public to make up their own minds on my new stuff.”
In moving from one of the few musical markets that still enjoy hard copy sales (not least at Christmas and Mothers Day) to mainstream pop, she is also facing the ongoing decline of the music industry.
“People just don’t buy music anymore, which is a problem. Music shouldn’t be free. It’s not getting any cheaper to produce, and the brilliant musicians and producers I work with shouldn’t be getting paid any less. They are brilliant and dedicated, and deserve every dollar.”
What it comes down to is doing what you love. And what Lizzie Marvelly loves is music.
“I’m much happier now, I feel like I’m in exactly the right place, doing exactly what I want and was meant to do.”