Analogue Music | Mariel Buckley

Mariel Buckley

By Matt Conner

It took one album to establish her direction; a second to find her voice.

Mariel Buckley's 2018 debut, Driving in the Dark, was an impressive introduction on a national level from a seasoned Canadian songwriter who'd been honing her chops for years in and around Western Canada's bars and listening rooms. It was intimate and personal and yet, to hear Buckley tell the story, it was only a small step toward the journey of self-discovery that was to come.

Everywhere I Used to Be is Buckley's new album, a gift from a global pandemic that allowed her to pause and reflect. The songs were given room to breathe, and she took the proper time to sharpen and tighten along the way. The end result is a stunning Americana collection with smart pop flourishes brimming with the confidence of an artist more comfortable than ever with who she's supposed to be.

Analogue: You’ve written that this album has been all about a deep self-discovery. What was it about this one and not your debut, Driving in the Dark, that allowed that to happen?

Mariel Buckley: It was just such a different time in my life. I recorded that in 2017 and it came out in 2018 and then toured it non-stop for a couple of years. I was really proud of that record. At the time, I had never done a proper recording of that scale until we did Driving in the Dark. When I made that, I was freshly coming into what I felt like music as a career would look like for me. I think I was still working really hard to find my voice—to find what I wanted to say and what I wanted to sound.

So the discovery was still happening but I don’t think I was ready to go quite as deep as I did on this one. Five years later, the pandemic was like a horrible break-up. My whole artist team did a big 180 and it’s a lot to process. It’s a lot to take on. It’s a big learning curve but I’m happy with what came out of it.

Analogue: You should be. When you talk about this new level of discovery, was there a cornerstone track that paved the way?

Mariel: Yeah, I know what you mean. That often happens for me as I write songs at the start of a project. I had “Neon Blue”—an older tune of mine—and I couldn’t make it fit anywhere. I thought it was a song that I really wanted to work with a producer on to get a new perspective on, a new take. Bare bones, it’s yet another country I’d written, so I really wanted to bring it to this project and make it bigger than I could make it on my own.

“Driving Around” also came really earn on. That one was also very different from what I’d normally write. It’s soft and sweet with a lot of different kinds of vulnerability in there. So that was another early track. Then “Going Nowhere” was another really early one, and once I had those three, I started to see a bit of a picture coming together.

Analogue: You said those songs were different, so was that a result of working differently or were you just shocked by what the muse brought you those days?

Mariel: It was a bit of a combo. I had this strict writing regimen where I was focusing really hard on trying to be diligent about writing more concisely. I was trying to make sure I was careful with the words I was choosing. But on the other side, I had a couple of tunes do that thing, which I think a lot of songwriters talk about, where it smacked me in the face. [Laughs] When that happens, it’s so cool, because it’s like, ‘Oh, good, I can just run with this a bit.’ So I have to work harder for some and others make it feel easy.

"I don’t think I was ready to go quite as deep as I did on this one."

Analogue: Did those cornerstone tracks smack you in the face?

Mariel: No, they didn’t. I would say “Hate This Town” fell out of me very quickly. “Let You Down” was also really quick. “Whatever Helps You” was another one, just because I write so many songs in that traditional country vein. That one felt easier to me, for sure.

Analogue: How much wrestling with the reveal have you done given the personal nature of this album?

Mariel: I think I would have had a lot more wrestling to do, but the world has changed a lot in terms of what people are ready and willing to hear in terms of difficult content or content from folks who’ve been disenfranchised a bit. So I did wrestle with it a bit and I’m still wrestling. I think, “O, gosh, how many people am I going to piss off with that one?’

There’s also another element in that I don’t care. I don’t feel like I wouldn’t stand behind anything I’ve written, let’s put it that way. It doesn’t worry me as much as it used to, that’s for sure.

Analogue: What does all of this mean for the live setting?

Mariel: We haven’t dug in and started playing all of these night after night, but I would say it doesn’t matter. I’ve done my part in writing them out and letting them go a little bit. That includes the content in them. I’ve had to write and rewrite and listen and process, and I’ve had to share that with producers and team members and bandmates and stuff, so I certainly feel at this point that it’s already out and the band-aid is off.

Also the great thing about the live setting is that I might have a fear of not wanting to expose myself, or I might feel weird on a given night, but people really do relate to those hyper-specific stories. Everyone’s got something similar that’s happened to them. So it’s actually very empowering. The live show is my favorite part.

Analogue: I’m so glad to hear you say that because you’ve said before that you wrote these songs on the new album for the underdog, for the down and out.

Mariel: We know there are just so many people who are struggling, but I do have a gateway to folks like that and it feels really authentic and important to listen to those people. It feels important to me to hear from people like myself or who have been through similar circumstances. I know it’s extra-difficult for them as well to come forward with that stuff.

Analogue: What artists have been for you what you hope to be for your own listeners in this way?

Mariel: Oh, there’s so many. In Canada, obviously Gord Downie was a big one that I looked up to, just such a good strong human who did so many good things and such a beloved figure of music. Stateside, there’s so many. Jason Isbell is a great example of somebody who has done a good job at standing for what he does as a songwriter but also being such a wicked dude. I do feel this whole genre involves a lot of authentic people who are prepared to take that stance, which is great.

VISIT: Mariel Buckley