Baltimore Artist Marian McLaughlin Talks About Her Latest Album, Lake Accotink

Nina Goodman
By Nina Goodman / September 5, 2018
Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

I first met Marian McLaughlin at the Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden where we both were auditioning to participate in a performance piece by renown artist Tino Sehgal. The audition called for female singers who, "enjoy singing, have a broad repertoire, have a talent for improvisation and who are able to sing a capella." (Professional experience was not a prerequisite, which is why I showed up.) 

I didn't know what Marian's story was, but when she stood up to perform one of her original songs, I was mesmerized. She felt resolute in her performance, like she was turning inward, cupping her hand to dig into her soul so she could pour out something intentional and intimate.

It felt risky, what Marian was doing in front of a group of strangers using only her voice. She was vulnerable, she was authentic, she was grounded, and what she was putting forth felt important and ephemeral. I didn't want to blink, I didn't want to miss a beat of her magnificence.

The next time I saw Marian perform was also by chance. She was invited to participate in a Radiohead Tribute Show to Benefit Planned Parenthoodfeaturing a line-up of all female singers. Watching her perform this time was mesmerizing in a totally different way, as she was backed by the band Staycation and a sizable horn section to perform the iconic song, "The National Anthem."  

Marian simply owned it, letting her body take over her mind, with a vocal interpretation and presence that made ears and eyes perk up, with dance moves that were primal and raw like she was willingly possessed by the music.

And yet, she was in total control of the song.  As her vocals faded and the horns dissolved into cacophony, she crawled on the stage toward the brass section, as if to pay homage to the chaos.  (You can watch the 8 minutes of this brilliance here or in the video below.)

Marian, who was also a Strathmore Artist-In-Residence in 2014-15,  has received a ton of accolades, including applause from NPR's Bob Boilen, host of All Songs Considered on NPR

The video for her song "Before You Leave" was featured on NPR Music's blog All Songs Considered and she performed a NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert, featuring additional string instruments with arrangements written by double bassist Ethan Foote.

DC Music Review was grateful to connect with Marian, an artist who is pushing the boundaries of folk music, just prior to the release of her third album, Lake Accotink, coming this fall.

Nina Goodman: Marian, I'm so grateful to get to know you a little bit better. Since I met you, you have fascinated me. Now that I've seen you perform and have listened to your work, I want to know more.  Tell me a little about your background, where are you from?

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin: Thanks so much for taking the time to connect!

I grew up in Northern Virginia, on the other side of the Potomac, lived in DC for a few years after college. The first spot I lived in was the Paper Sun, an artist warehouse space in Columbia Heights. I lived with some other musicians from bands I admired, Hume and Buildings.

I moved into other group houses, and my final spot in DC was the Beehive. I'm happy to see they are still hosting shows. I now have lived in Baltimore for almost five years and help run events through a community space called Holy Underground. DC still feels like home to me though. I'm glad it's super close and accessible, thanks to the MARC!

NG: You exemplify the DMV, living in the D and the M and the V.  How long you’ve been playing music in the scene?

MM:  I've been going to shows since I was a freshman in high school. I remember going to Local Palooza's at JAXX Nightclub in Springfield and to see bands at Providence Rec(reaction) Center. I went to lots of shows during high school in DC and once I moved to the city in 2011, I started playing around and then started hosting shows. 

NG: And what about your family, are they musical like you? 

MM: My sister enjoys singing, she was involved in a lot of singing groups during college. I've always admired her voice. I think everyone is musical, even if they aren't practicing musicians. I was showing my mom and some other family members how to play the harpsicle the other day and they really enjoyed it.

NG: The harpsicle is so lovely, not one you see around often enough. What other instruments do you play and what is your main one (if any)?
MM: Classical guitar is my main instrument, but I enjoy playing any kind of guitar. I'm also playing piano, synth, and harp these days.

NG: I also know you are an incredibly engaging singer from the times I've seen you perform. So tell me more about the music you create and what band/s you play in?

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Lang Kanai)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Lang Kanai)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Lang Kanai)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Lang Kanai)

MM: Just my own project, Marian McLaughlin, which is lyrically driven experimental folk music. I daydream of playing in all kinds of bands though, from like a metal band to a cabaret jazz group. If only I had enough time to do it all! My own project is pretty time consuming, I'm happy it keeps me busy.

NG: And after some incredible accolades for your first two albums, you have your third album coming out, Lake Accotink. I heard the first song off the album "Zoysia Grass" and so enjoyed it. It felt like you were holding my hand and taking me on a journey through a mossy, jazzy, green, unpredictable land.  Tell me more about the album. 

MM: Lake Accotink is an environmental song cycle about our multifaceted relationship with nature. It's a very important album to me because I believe artists need to be expressing their concerns about environmental issues. I'm curious to see how it will resonate with listeners. I think about climate change often and how it will play out in the next few decades. I wonder how my loved ones will be able to handle it. It plays out as a factor in my personal debate if I should have my own kids. I'm worried about future generations because of the state of the world, environmentally, socially, politically. I'm also making time to enjoy the outdoors, because it's so therapeutic. I've been enjoying hiking and camping in my free time. 

NG: Tell me more about how you pulled the album together.

MM: The album leans heavily toward a chamber folk genre and features a rotating case of ensemble member, such as a wind trio made up of Yana Nikol on flute, Seth Kibel on clarinet, and Robin Gelman on bassoon and a string quartet called invoke made up of Nick Montopoli on violin, Zach Matteson on violin, Geoffrey Manyin on cello, and Karl Mitze on viola. It also explored other musical directions, from experimental rock to sampling field recordings. For me, I pushed myself on this album and played everything from piano, harp, drums, synth, guitar, on top of singing.  And I was fortunate to work closely again with Ethan Foote who did the arrangements for half a dozen songs on the album. 

NG: The album is definitely a statement that resonates with where we are today. Where are you looking to go, musically?

MM: I want to go too many places musically. I hear a jazz album and I want to get a jazz ensemble together. I listen to Radiohead and Fever Ray and I want to mess around with synths and drum sequencers and what have you. I have a whole new album to record and I'm not sure how I'll go about making that happen. Part of me is intimated to record in a studio again because of the expenses. Then I listen to classics like Pink Floyd albums or contemporaries like St. Vincent and I just want to make a solid, produced album again.

NG: Are you already thinking about your next album?

MM: My fourth album is going to be very raw and personal. The songs are mostly about my experience as a woman. There's a lot that I'm exploring with this new body of work that might be hard to actually share with other people. It's not that I'm afraid to share it with others, because a lot of the subject matter is actually pretty universal. I'm just afraid some people will take it the wrong way. I want to put it out there to highlight the wide array of absurd standards and scenarios that women have to experience.

NG: That sounds like such an important album for right now (for all times, really) that will resonate deeply. To tell a story that's so personal, but also so relatable, I think people want to feel like they are not so alone. I am excited to see where you go with this concept.

You seem to be living and breathing music and art. Tell me more about how you balance your music with other life obligations?

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

Marian McLaughlin (Photo Credit: Philip Edward Laubner)

MM: I am a full-time musician and I'm glad that there lots of gigs that I can plug into to get by, music-related and non-music related. I spent my summer teaching music and art to students through an art-integration program. It was awesome. I got to introduce two different groups of students to electric guitar! It brought me a lot of joy. That's only a summer job though, so I am looking for more opportunities like that.

In the meantime, I do lots of other things for that money. Sometimes I model for drawing groups while playing instruments, sometimes I vend fruit at markets. I do freelance admin work for various places. I feel like I'm always on the clock. There are always projects to work on and never enough time. I just do what I can. I spend a lot of time frowning about capitalism and trying to find ways to pursue non-monetary pleasures, like hosting community events or spending time outdoors.

NG: I'm so curious to know: who are your biggest musical influences?

MM: (Laughs) Too tough of a question. I like too much music. Can I just say that this year I've been really enjoying listening to: Janelle Monae's Dirty ComputerBjork's Utopia (look at these album covers side by side, by the way! Yes please, both are so good!), LomaSteve HauschildtHalf WaifFour TetThe Knife, Perfume GeniusThom YorkeTinariwenKate BushMitskiFather John MistyAdam TorresHundred WatersBonobo...I could go on and on. 

NG: I just caught Janelle Monae when she was in DC, such a powerful artist and jaw-dropping show. Tell me, who are some powerful local artists that excite you? 

MM: Ted Zook has been a long-time friend of mine that is always plugging away. He has so much energy and is very dedicated to creating music. One of his main projects is Heterodyne, an experimental improv duo with Maria Shesiuk.

Anyone that played at the Radiohead Tribute Show - mad props to StaycationNikhel Sus and Stephanie Sasarak for organizing that show. Drop Electric, always.

I admire everything Luke Stewart does. I collaborate every now and then with Ian McColm and Jarrett Gilgore, they are in a trio with Luke called Heart of the Ghost. Jarrett and Ian are also in an improv duo called Xenga.

Redline Graffiti are really, really exciting to listen to. Trae is a fascinating drummer. I really want to catch Mock Identity live sometime. Adriana-Lucia Cotes is mega active, we were just talking shop the other night about recording/releasing music. It must of been a lot for her to release two separate albums in one week earlier this summer!

BLIGHT. Records is holding down the Beehive fort. I went to a show there the other night, Brandon Moses and Mattson Ogg just played an awesome set at the Beehive, Brandon was playing these crystal bowls. Amazing vibrations. There was a whole column of polaroids from recently documented music events and there were fliers from over the years on the wall and that made me truly happy. I could talk for a really long time about DC music.

NG: I could too! And that's a perfect note to end on, our vibrant scene that we are both so grateful for. (Smile)

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story, it is so appreciated!   You are one of a kind and I can't wait for your performance at the Kennedy Center on Monday and to see what creativity and passion pours out from you next.

MM: Thank you so much for this opportunity. This has been fun! 

Marian's upcoming shows:

And right now, you can check out the single  "Zoysia Grass" from Marian's new album.

Performance Details

Performance Details



Monday, September 10, 2018

Show: 6:00PM

Kennedy Center

2700 F Street NW

Washington, DC 20566

(Google Maps Link)

Free Performance

No Tickets Required

About the author
Nina Goodman

Nina Goodman

Nina Goodman is a music lover, dancer, artist, keyboardist, and an avid ukulele player. You may even see her up on stage performing with local DC bands. Above all, Nina is a fierce supporter of the Washington DC local music scene. Nina's talents are mostly behind the scenes where she maintains and curates our event calendar and conducts interviews with local artists. If there is music playing in the DMV, you can expect to see her attending or at least making sure that our audience knows about it.