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Artist Spotlight: Marlo the Barbarian talks pandemic creativity, inspiring new artists and upcoming music

Los Angeles based singer Marlo the Barbarian has found her voice- and she’s ready for everyone to hear it. With the recent release of her Blue Roses EP, Marlo is on track to put out even more music in 2021 as the industry slowly starts to move forward again. Atlas sat down with Marlo to talk about the next phase of music, dream collaborations and getting really into puzzles during quarantine.

Atlas Artist Group: You have quite a bit of both music and experience under your belt now. How do you look at the evolution of your music from when you started to where you are now?

Marlo the Barbarian: The EP that I just put out is actually a pretty special EP to me because the B-side on that- the song “Holy Again”- was the first song I ever recorded or made when I moved to L.A. and it just, for whatever reason, never got put out throughout many years being here. And then the A-side- “Real Friends, Fake Friends”- I made during quarantine. So for me, that EP is like, ‘oh my gosh, I’ve come so full circle’. But the evolution being that when I moved here, I was in a place of feeling really defeated- optimistic about my future, but just overall feeling really defeated and lonely and not in my own power versus how I feel now, which is unstoppable. I’m not skydiving, but I just feel I just feel more in my own voice and more my own power and more able to stick up for myself than when I first moved here. So I think the EP itself is perhaps reflective of my evolution.

Atlas: How did you decide on these particular songs for the EP?

Marlo: When I signed with Prim8 Music, I came to them with a catalog of 40 or so unreleased songs. So it was like, ‘what would complement this A-side really well?’ I just picked something that was completely the opposite- it’s a very sexual relationship, which is what the song “Holy Again” is about versus me only needing me in a moment of only needing myself. I just picked it because I thought it complemented the other song pretty well.

Atlas: You mentioned that you’d signed with Prim8 Music and they have a great lineup of artists on their roster. Do you have any dream collaborations within the company and beyond? Who would be a dream to work with?

Marlo: I’d love to work with Grandson. I actually think that’s a session being set up in the weeks to come. When I first moved to L.A., we were both working with the same producer, and he was working with Prim8 and I was working with another manager. But I would always hear about Prim8 through the producer I was working with and it just seemed like a super great, supportive place to be. I’d also like to maybe work with some of their other female artists. I think Rotana is really cool and I’d really like to work with her. I love that she’s so visual in her storytelling.

Atlas: So are you! I was watching the music video for “Real Friends, Fake Friends” and all the comments were about the incredible visuals. 

Marlo: Thank you! A lot of the credit, though, has to go to Tarina [Doolittle] who helped me visualize the music video. She’s a super creative person. I wanted the music video to be like, ‘oh, I’m my own worst enemy’. She had this idea of using death masks, which, before there was photography, people were doing molds of their loved ones’ faces to remember them in the afterlife. We had all of these masks of me made, and she was so invested in making the product really cool. While I was definitely a part of the creative journey, I think most of the credit should go to her.

Atlas: Is there anything that you haven’t addressed in your songs that you’d love to do moving forward? Any topics that you’d like to explore?

Marlo: Something I’m working on in therapy and in life- they go hand in hand- I have never, ever expressed my anger and I didn’t grow up in a household that expressed any type of anger either. [It’s] almost to my detriment, because when I see someone get angry, my immediate reaction is to just cower and be super quiet. I think that there’s power in anger and power in just releasing that emotion and then allowing yourself to move on instead of holding everything in. So I think the next phase of my music definitely leans into expressing myself in moments of discomfort more than just this sadness, which I feel like is a theme in most of my music. I’m kind of moving into this more angry, “fuck you” phase.

Atlas: With the pandemic keeping us all inside for so long, did you pick up any new hobbies, skills or habits in your downtime?

Marlo: I think it was one of those things where everyone was like, ‘this is going to be great, I’m going to get so many more skills under my belt’. And it’s actually quite the opposite. I don’t know what happened. I play classical piano, and I was like, ‘I’m just going to learn so many pieces and do all this’. I actually didn’t practice probably for a year- that side of piano- now I’m struggling quite a bit. 

I’ve always been into puzzles, but I really got into puzzles. I just feel like each piece tells its own story, so I can just get sucked into a puzzle. Specifically, I think it’s called Liberty Puzzles and they’re outrageously expensive and all of the pieces are like hand cut wood and they’re so intricate and so complicated. That is my peaceful place.

Atlas: What do you hope that listeners will take away from your music?

Marlo: I hope that they’ll feel less alone in whatever they’re feeling, but I hope that they’ll also feel empowered. This has really been the year for me where I love listening to a good song that gets me riled up and that has momentum and movement. I hope that I would be able to bring that to some people, too, where they feel just fired up after listening to one of my songs. 

Atlas: You said before that you’re trying to listen to more women in your genre and beyond and have more women in music. Do you have any advice for artists trying to break into the music industry? 

Marlo: I think my advice is don’t stop because people tell you that you’re bad because eventually you won’t be bad. You may not even be bad, you just may not be their taste! I think that was a lesson I learned the hard way when I first started to pursue music- anyone who was in a position of power over me that didn’t like the music I was making, I took quite personally. I think what it really was is that I wasn’t with my right people and that I’ve gotten better over time consistently. My dream as an artist is if one day I were to be [at] a super respected level, I would love to put out almost like an informational album that has music I made from high school up until the moment that I reached pinnacle success. I’m not really sure what pinnacle success is yet for me, but I would love to just put out an album that’s like, ‘look at how bad this was and look at how far I’ve come’. But also- look at how I found my voice, too. 

I just think my advice is….don’t stop. No one’s 100 percent right, so just don’t don’t get yourself caught up in believing someone that’s maybe trying to be a gatekeeper to you. There’s a way to make it happen no matter what and no matter what age.

Atlas: Is there anything about being in the music industry that so far has surprised you, whether it’s good or bad?

Marlo: I think that the music industry is a less intimidating place than it was maybe five years ago. I haven’t really had a slimeball bad experience in the music industry. I think, if anything, the thing that surprised me is how many talented people are out there and how many super, super smart people that are out there that made me look at songwriting in a completely different way.

Atlas: What’s coming up for you now that the EP is out and now that things are starting to go back to normal?

Marlo: I just did a feature on a song for this artist called Reece Young. That’s coming out sometime in June, I think the 18th. Then I have a song coming out in July that I’m really excited about. I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. And I wrote it with Ian Scott and I can’t really say much more than that, but I’m very excited about it.

Atlas: Are you hoping to take your music on the road when it’s safe to do so?

Marlo: Oh my god, yes, I would love to! I’ve never toured before- it is a life-long dream to just get that experience. In this artist project I haven’t even played live yet, so I just would love to see how a crowd would react in person to my music and be able to just get the travel experience and get to know people who resonate with my stuff. It’s a dream. 

Atlas: Is there anything else that you want people to know about you or your music, or is there anything that you wish you got to talk about more that you may not get asked?

Marlo: I think the only thing I would say is that you really don’t have to compromise any of your personal values to do this right. And I think that people may ask you to compromise your values. You don’t have to do that. It might take a little longer, but you don’t have to do that.

“You” by Reece Young featuring Marlo the Barbarian is out now! 

Story by Olivia Khiel
Photo courtesy of Marlo the Barbarian