by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Marmalade

by Silke Hartung

NewTracks New Artist: Marmalade

Tāmaki Makaurau quintet Marmalade remarkably went from small shows straight into supporting international acts without having released a single song – just based on a reputation as a great live band. In June they finally did release their debut single Bright, which quickly reached #2 on the Hot NZ Singles chart. NZ On Air Music also featured the relatable, reflective tune on their NewTracks compilation that month.

What are your full names, where are you from and what instruments do you each play?

Jem: My full name is Jemilah Ross-Hayes and I grew up on Waiheke Island. I sing lead vocals and play acoustic guitar.

Dean: My name is Dean-Kirk Savio Rodrigues but Deano/Dean is sweet. I hail from the slums of Mumbai (not quite the slums). I play drums, bass, guitar, percussion and keyboards.

Chelsea: Chelsea Naepi – bassist and occasional vocalist, born and raised on the North Shore.

Liam: My name is Liam Nuttall and I’m from Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland and I play lead guitar.

Koen: Kia ora, my name is Koen Aldershof. I play rhythm guitar and sing in Marmalade and I do most of the producing for our recorded music. I grew up in Elburg, an adorable old fisher’s town in The Netherlands and moved to Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland, in 2012. It’s so incredibly lovely over here I can’t seem to leave.

Was any high school or other music training especially important to you?

Jem: Studying pop music at Auckland Uni taught me a lot about how to work collaboratively with people, as well as how to refine my songwriting skills in general. It’s how Liam and I met as well, so without that Marmalade might not even exist!

Dean: I’ve had formal training, starting with piano when I was 5 years old. It’s been crucial to my development as have been the amazing music teachers I’ve had along the way. (Emma Hunt in high school and my uncle Mark who taught me drums.)

Liam: I studied Music at Auckland Uni, which allowed me to meet these rad people in this band so really the only reason where I am today is because of these beautiful people in Marmalade

Koen: Studying music and afterwards working as the resident sound technician at the University of Auckland was pretty special. It enabled me to dip my toes in many different musical ponds, and eventually led me to run into Jemilah and Liam.

Any other projects that people might know you from?

Jem: I’ve played music under my own name for a while and have done some writing for NZ Musician, so you might recognise my name or face from around the scene, but Marmalade is the first project I’ve released under.

Dean: Currently I session for L.A.B as their touring percussionist and play drums and bass for various other artists such as Geoff Ong and Niko Walters to name a few.

Liam: Marmalade has been my first official project outside of university, but there are a few other things I’m working on so keep an eye out!

Koen: NZ Musician readers might recognise my name from my previous band, Odds & Ends. It’s been an amazing five years with Odds & Ends but the band has recently split to make room for our other projects. Marmalade is now my main musical focus.

What’s the background story of how Marmalade came to be? 

Jem: Liam and I met at uni and had been chatting about starting a band after writing Find Worth together as part of a uni assignment. Koen and I had simultaneously been talking about starting a band, so we thought, ‘Why not start one with all three of us!’
One of Liam’s friends Sam Murphy then joined us as our drummer for our debut gig before heading off to Wellington to pursue law. I had a bit of a panic moment thinking Marmalade might be over just before it began, but luckily Dean came along, happened to be a perfect fit for the band and saved the day. And then Chelsea jumped on board in early 2023. That makes up the Marmalade formation of today and we are stoked with it!

How has your writing evolved from the band beginnings to now?

Jem: Naturally, it has mainly just solidified and become easier over time. When we first got together we had only written a little bit collaboratively with each other, so it took a bit of time to figure out our strengths and how we all slot in with each other in the best way. The process has also become more collaborative over time. Liam and Koen and I now write a lot in the same room and then bring the ideas to a full band practice, rather than finishing ideas on our own and then bringing them to the group. I’d say rather than evolving, we’ve more just found our sound and can now identify what makes a song a Marmalade song rather than something more fitting to a personal project.

How and when did you come up with the name for the new jam?

Jem: I was walking along Princess St to uni one day just as we had formed the band, and was mulling over things that were yellow that gave warm, cosy, friendly vibes, and marmalade came to mind. I had a few different ideas but Marmalade stuck out by a long shot. I suggested it to Liam and Koen and it stuck immediately. At the time we didn’t know any other bands with that name although we now have a bit of a laugh with Marmalade Skies over our unintentional similarities. It really just sums up the energy and sound of the group and we hope to bring sweet warm feelings to people when they listen to our music.

Aside from this debut release, what’s been the big highlight to date?

Jem: For me opening for Beach Bunny in Wellington and Auckland were really special. Their crowd was so epic and everyone had come early to get right up front so the interaction and connection with the audience was insanely fun. Also supporting Hot Potato Band on a couple of spots on their tour. That was our first bigger opening slot, and they are the kindest people and really lifted us up.

Dean: playing to 35000 people at Electric Avenue was a teary-eye moment for sure. Also, the latest Australian tour with L.A.B has been a career highlight. Opening for Beach Bunny was really special but Marmalade highlights for me are bringing Chelsea on board and winning the Kick NZ competition

Liam: Probably opening for Beach Bunny at the Tuning Fork. It was an incredible experience to play for an international act, even though my guitar string broke mid-set and we didn’t have a backup (eek), we still played a killer show and I’m excited to keep up the momentum

Koen: Aside from the incredible support we’ve had for this release, which is a massive highlight, we landed some absolutely epic opportunities to support Beach Bunny (US) and Hot Potato Band (AUS) on tour earlier this year. Both bands were incredibly kind off-stage and made us feel very at home as a younger up-and-coming band.

What makes Bright stand out for you as a debut single choice?

Jem: Dean and Koen always say “It plays itself,” and I think that’s really true. It tells a relatable story but in a catchy and energetically pleasing way. I think it fits well in lots of places and encapsulates our sound well, which makes it a good debut I think.

Dean: It’s mega catchy, and the message is something everyone can relate to.

Chelsea: It’s a super lush and a super wholesome number, I think it reflects the collective landscape we paint together as a band. There are lots of little moments and details that you pick up with each listen and reflect our own little colours within the song as a whole.

Liam: Bright stands out to me as I believe it summarises Marmalade’s style which is exactly what we want to establish in the first release.

Koen: Honestly, I’m not sure. We all just really liked Bright as we were recording the EP. That’s not to say we don’t like the other songs, they’re going to be great as well, but I think Bright just naturally came together the easiest and fastest. It’s a good taste of the EP because there are similarities to the next few songs.

What is the story behind Bright?

Jem: Bright is about not feeling good enough. It starts off being focused around wanting to achieve a goal (like being a rockstar!) and feeling like absolutely everything is against you getting there, and wondering if you will ever make it. It then progresses to a larger feeling of insecurity, as the character questions whether they even are liked by their peers, and wonders whether people would like them more if they were different.
The chorus is the character questioning these things and pondering what they feel they might have to do in order to achieve their dreams and become ‘bright’. These wonders are left unanswered as that is what life is like to me, it is a constant journey of becoming okay with oneself, and I don’t know if anyone ever really gets to a point where they feel wholly good enough and like they have “made it”.

It’s one of the first Marmalade songs we’d ever written. I’d been feeling stuck in writer’s block as I hadn’t written songs for a band before and had a bit of imposter syndrome about writing in a style that wasn’t acoustic-folk-pop. I was sitting on my bed in my bed socks, hence the opening lines of the song. Once I’d hashed out the idea I brought it to Liam and Koen who I was living with at the time. Koen helped me flesh out the chorus and Liam brought the guitar parts to life.

What’s your favourite moment, musical or lyrical, of the single?

Jem: I love the build-out of the guitar solo into the final chorus with the bass drop, then everything comes back in again in full force. It just makes me want to start running down a hill. Otherwise, I really like the lyrics, “I’ve got no time, in my mind” because it feels relevant to life right now, feeling like there’s no time to do anything, but that perspective comes from a place of overstimulation where everything feels like it takes heaps of effort.

Dean: The guitar solo is really great. I love how huge the drums sound (I’m biased) and Jem’s adlibs at the end are really special and add an awesome layer to the song

Chelsea: That intro! The layers in this opening are like a ray of sun peeking through! The intro really reflects the hopeful message that Bright tells through the lyrics.

Liam: My favourite moment is coming out of the guitar solo into the last chorus when everything cuts out and bam, my musical senses overload with beautiful walls of harmony creating an intense euphoric feeling, even after listening to it 192639392 times.

Koen: Over the last year I’ve gotten more and more into playing slide guitar, it’s the most human sound you can get out of a stringed instrument and it’s simply freeing to sing a melody in your mind and translate it onto the guitar without limitations.

Who did you record/produce the single with and where?

Jem: We recorded the drums at K Drums with Tom Broome and the rest we recorded ourselves at the Kenneth Myers Centre and Koen’s home studio. Koen produced the single, Scott Seabright mixed it and Chris Chetland mastered it.

What would you like listeners to take away from this song?

Jem: I hope people feel understood and less alone. Be yourself, try not to compare yourself to those around you and keep doing what you love. 🙂

How do you generally work out what song would make a good single?

Jem: Something catchy and relatable that gives a nod to the general sound of the artist or project that it is a part of

Dean: It’s just gotta be catchy and appeal to a large group of people.

Liam: It’s kind of strange but, everyone just knows! We kind’a knew Bright was going to be the single even before we all agreed on it, so it’s quite a cool thing when you know you have a song that affects us all in almost the same but different ways.

Koen: When you’ve got a body of work like an EP or album that you’re aiming to release and you want to release some singles off the body of work before it comes out, there are a few things to consider. Usually, it’s smart to release the catchiest song with the widest audience appeal first to draw folks in, and once the body of work is released the single will be the most recognisable. Simultaneously, the single will be most applicable for radio play, streaming platform playlisting, and television syncing. There are so many other things to think of aside from this but that would be a whole essay to write out.

Who else is in your team?

Jem: Our music is distributed by DRM but other than that, just us at the moment. It is a lot of mahi so we are looking at outsourcing some of the work in the future, so we can focus more on making music whilst looking after our wellbeing 🙂

Are there any other musical endeavours you’re working on that we should keep an eye out for? 

Jem: I’ll hopefully be releasing some music under Jemilah in the future, more singer-songwriter, folk, all the down-tempo songs that aren’t Marmalade enough, haha!

Dean: Hopefully another single and an EP out in a few months with Marmalade and a few more stamps in the passport with L.A.B

Liam: I do have another band called Kipper Reid that is just starting up so hopefully in the next few months we’ll be out there doing some shows.

Koen: I work independently as a booking agent, music producer, event manager, and audio engineer in Aotearoa. So far I’ve represented and worked with a number of amazing artists and venues such as Halfway Down Studios, Sofar Sounds, the 13th Floor, Cross Street Music Festival, Caravãna Sun, Splendid, and so much more. In short, I wear many musical hats.

Can you please name three other local tunes that would fit well on a playlist alongside your song. 

  • There’s a Tuesday: Familiar
  • Park Road: Ride
  • The Beths: Expert in a Dying Field

Have any previous NZOA applications not been included on NewTracks? Got any advice for others?

Jem: This is our debut single so not yet! I’d say just keep at it though, you never know what might cut through so it’s always worth the application. I love the saying “If you don’t ask, the answer is no,” and I think that applies to applications too. If you don’t submit, you definitely won’t get it, so why not! Other than that, I think it’s important to know what you want going into the application and to then find a way to concisely articulate that so that the board can best understand your vision. Give them all the W’s! When, where, why, what, who and how.

Are there any musical blogs, Youtube channels or podcasts you’re super into?

Jem: Oh gosh, I spend too much time on Youtube. I love Tiny Desk, Mahogany, Sofar Sounds for Youtube channels. Georgia Lines’ Intros is awesome. Building a Second Brain and Awkward Talks are great podcasts, and Koen and I are actually launching a podcast soon called Ins & Outs! Bit biased perhaps but NZ Musician is honestly a fave, timeless, interesting and high-quality content that showcases emerging Kiwi artists, what’s not to love!

Liam: On the side, I do a bit of production so I follow a fair few of those channels on Youtube, the biggest one for me would be MakePopMusic. They have incredible production content with easy-to-follow and creative videos that honestly have changed my music and allowed me to take my productions to the next level, so check them out!

Any last words?

Jem: Come hang at our next gig!! 😀 <3

Dean: Ayyyyy Macarena

Liam: Stream Our Songgggg (pls)

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