Happiest of Wednesdays, wee Gazers! What better way to get us through hump-day than by absorbing the soul-nourishing energy of these two deliciously talented and creative musicians – Zelda Marshall and Emily Teague.
Whether you’re an inspiring musician working out how to work your passion outside your 9-5, a creative soul unsure how to make your way in a competitive industry, a music lover keen to spread your wings into pastures new or just a normal human being, navigating life’s emotions – one musical note at a time – my interview with these two beauties will sensitise your spirit and awaken your soul.
And if you’ve ever wondered what good can come out of bad, what inspiration can come from pain or how you can better manage your emotions, these two lovely ladies harbour some surprising secrets for you.
So without further ado, over to you Zelda and Emily.
Can You Tell Me A Bit About What You Do?
Zelda: First and foremost, I am a musician. More specifically, a classically trained but ear-driven pianist, singer and composer. I also work with producers of various different types of electronic music and write melodies for their tracks. Day to day, I am a secondary school music teacher in inner-city London. I specialize in teaching sixth form and relish the higher end teaching – it’s an exhausting job but it truly is a fulfilling way to spend your days.
Emily: I write, play, record and perform music – for myself, my friends/family and for anybody out there in the world who likes what I’m about. I play mostly in Bristol where I’m from but also in the surrounding area and London. I have also played open mics in various states across America and played gigs in Norway and Sweden.
What Drew You To Music?
Zelda: I am indebted to my parents in a big way, as they took me for piano lessons aged 8. I met a superb teacher who became a life-long mentor to me, both musically and in terms of my career. My dad was a virtuosic piano player as a teenager but sadly he came from the generation whereby ‘following your dreams’ just wasn’t acceptable. Those were the direct influences, but I think you find music if you want to and that was certainly the case for me – it’s always been my lifeblood.
Emily: I don’t know if I was drawn to music or music was drawn to me. I remember going through my parents’ entire music collection one CD at a time willing myself to like everything but I was inevitably more drawn to some albums than others. That hasn’t changed actually. I am constantly searching for new music to listen to and I never want to be disappointed by it – I always hope there’s going to be something I can take from what I hear.
Beyond that, when I was nine I got my first guitar and began learning to play which totally hooked me in. I began writing songs at that time, too. Nobody really encouraged that, it was just something I really wanted to do. I guess you could say I had a deep need to learn more and be able to express myself musically because I loved how that felt. The satisfaction of writing music is addictive for me and it must have all begun back then. As time went on I became more obsessed with discovering new music and writing more songs. I went on to learn electric guitar and have settled mostly in the world of playing semi-acoustic guitars.
How Does Music Fit Around Your 9-5 Job?
Zelda: Sometimes it really doesn’t and it has to take a backseat. Sometimes, after teaching all day and giving away your creative energy to your students, you really don’t have anything left in the tank. I struggle with this side of it. You need time, headspace and facilities to compose and it simply doesn’t always happen. Dry spells are part of the process. Luckily, I run a choir and some small chamber music groups at my school, so I have the opportunity to arrange pieces for these contexts – my most recent being a four-part harmony choral version of Radiohead’s ‘Creep’. I can’t wait to hear it when it’s performed!
Emily: Haha. The question really should be how does my 9-5 fit around music! My day job grounds me, it gives me routine and financial security which enables me to live the life I want to. That’s earning a living. What’s important for me is that I don’t take my work home with me, so when I’m out the door at the end of the day I’m another version of myself. Music on the other hand is always with me. It’s not how I earn a living but it’s an enormous part of who I am and I could never put a price on that. I have to schedule my time pretty fervently to organise writing sessions and practicing and gigs but that’s not unlike musicians who earn a living from music. It’s a busy life but very rewarding and also… who isn’t busy these days when they’re pursuing a life they’re passionate about? Whether that be art or sport or family life or whatever drives you.
If You Were On A Desert Island, What Would Be Your Three Discs Of Choice And Why?
Zelda: This seems the perfect question for a musician and yet it often seems to induce looks of incomprehension and a heavily pregnant pause. In short, I honestly can’t answer that and if I did I’d forever be editing my answer. When albums spring to mind, I feel like a cheating partner when I think of all the others I’m excluding! Music is too vast, too overwhelming, and too ebullient to ever have to choose. Particularly as you grow up, I think you’re drawn towards music, perhaps subconsciously, to fit your mood and as feelings are so transient, you’d need a never-ending record collection for every emotion!
Emily: The thought that I could be stranded on a desert island and only have 3 albums to listen to upsets me so much that I don’t know how to answer this question. I’m also obsessed with making mixes. So I’d make an Emily Teague mix. A mix of music to dance to that would include songs such as Tequila by The Champs. And a mix of music to stare at the sea to which would include songs such as Animal Life by Shearwater. I’m conscious that I haven’t really divulged any actual music that I like listening to in this interview yet. I’m sorry – there’s so much that I listen to it would just be a giant list of artists/bands.
What / Who Inspires You Musically?
Zelda: I think the answer is two-fold. In the literal sense, classical composers like Debussy, Chopin and Bach come through in my music. Equally, so does a lot of soul music, like the chords in Stevie Wonder’s songs, Lauryn Hill’s melodies and James Blake’s space and ambience. I love harmony, so thick layered vocal harmonies are the foundation for much of my music. On the other side of the coin, I’m inspired daily by all the things that play a part in my quotidian experience of life. It’s inevitable that everything melts together to become a creative force.
Emily: Off the bat I’m going to say, artist wise, I love Ryan Adams, Bon Iver and Feist because of the way their music makes me feel and how their craft makes me want to get better at what I create. And I just adore what and how they create and also perform – their performances are incredibly engaging and inspiring.
Outside of music there’s falling in and out of love, getting hurt, having amazing conversations, actually jamming with other musicians who inspire me in the moment by coming up with amazing riffs that speak to me lyrically. There’s films and TV show. There’s friendship circles. There’s nature. There’s the news. It’s all out there to interpret anyway you like!
How Have Personal Struggles Inspired Your Music?
Zelda: As hackneyed as this is, of course love – the many splendored thing that it is – permeates my music – how could it not? After the most important relationship I’ve had to date, I went through an extremely creative period, where the songs just poured out of me like a freight train. I felt there was no stopping them – it simply had to come out. I suppose therein lies the cathartic nature of composing any art. I’m yet to like any of the songs I’ve written when I’ve been ‘content’, so maybe that’s why I seek out challenges in life! Look what happened to Chris Martin when he married Gwyneth – it all took a rather saccharine turn for the worse! Thankfully they’re ‘consciously uncoupled’ and he’s back to his songwriting genius of ‘Parachutes’!
Emily: I really love sad songs or songs that are very melancholy. It’s probably my favourite kind of music because I appreciate confidence in vulnerability and that’s how I hear it. So any time I’ve personally struggled in life I’ve been uber creative. Especially in relationship stuff, rejection and love. Just listen to one of my albums and you’ll hear it all in there. I think for me, to stay healthy in dark times, I write music and then you have an amazing piece of history, like a musical polaroid documenting the experience. When you move past it you’ll always have that song to remember and I think that’s kind of amazing. So in a weird way when things aren’t great, it’s not the worst if I’m in a creative space! I think a lot of music comes from sad experiences but that being said, it’s much harder to write upbeat happy go lucky tunes without being cheesy than it is to write sad songs.
What Song Has Had The Biggest Impact On Your Life And Why?
Zelda: I couldn’t choose a song per se, but I could choose a piece of classical music and I’d have to say a piece by the Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Part, called ‘Fratres’. When I first heard this, I felt like it summed up all the darkness one could ever feel and yet it was remarkably beautiful and rousing. An awe-inspiring piece of work if ever there was one and I’d encourage everyone to listen to it.
Emily: I’m going to break the rules here and give you an example of a kind of song I’ve written more than once to attract the attention of a certain someone who I’d developed feelings for. Because I’m a romantic and I never learn, when I fancy someone I normally write them a song and because I can’t help myself, I always end up sending them the song in some ridiculous declaration – and that’s a song it’s not just telling someone you fancy them, but setting the whole thing to music! But I have to say anytime I’ve ever done this it’s always had a fairly life changing impact on life. Not because I’m that good but because it’s just opened a doorway or brought me on to a new path that has inevitably impacted on me. Does that count as an answer?
What Kind Of Music Lifts Your Mood When You Feel Low And What Artists Would You Recommend At These Times?
Zelda: I’m a bit weird in that I tend to feel the need to really immerse myself in a blue mood when it comes, which ironically in turn helps me process the emotion, rather than papering it over. I have always found early choral music from around the 17th Century to be purifying and life-affirming, so I tend to turn to that. I think the absence of any specific emotion in the lyrics of these types of religious works also helps you not to wallow too much. I’m not religious as such but I think sacred music helps broaden your mind when you’re feeling bogged down by heavy human emotion and helps one see beyond a sometime rather narrow viewpoint.
Emily: Anything epic or dancey always gives me a boost. I’m listening to Typhoon and Years & Years at the moment who are energising me a lot. Death Cab For Cutie and The National always help me exercise my lowness when I’m feeling down. But any music that can make you cry when you are upset is probably helping you to face what’s upsetting you and helping you to get it out of your system. Ryan Adams is good for this.
What Have Been The Musical Highs?
Zelda: Having my composition about Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes performed at The Royal College of Music was a very moving moment. Releasing my EP was a real milestone. But there have been many small gems along the way that have kept me committed to music making, both for personal fulfilment but also committed to the life changing benefits it has for those who are given a musical education. This was the reason I became a teacher – to give others the opportunities that I had.
Emily: Kitchen gigs. House gigs. Those personal times. I like it when people cry at my gigs or feel inspired by me. Having people know the words to my songs is also pretty great.
What’s Been The Biggest Challenge?
Zelda: The biggest challenge continues to be my stage fright. I developed stage fright during my first degree, when I noticed myself becoming absolutely stricken with terror at the idea of performing. Since then, I’ve come to realise I am a perfectionist and errors seem almost fatal. I’m working on this as, frustratingly, I feel like not performing live is really denying myself a huge sense of satisfaction.
I think one of the down sides to having quite a strict classical training is the focus on absolute perfection and this is all too often engrained in musicians from a young age. Hopefully I will master it soon enough…it’s a real goal of mine.
Emily: Learning not to compare myself with those around me in a negative way, which is a relatable experience for anyone, I think. There are a lot of people in the world performing and making music and trying to get somewhere with it. Sometimes it can create an ugly, competitive element. So I try to steer away from that because it really gets me down. I do the same with playing noisy gigs, where a musician like me has been forced into a space with a rowdy crowd and a promoter or a venue owner has thought that would be okay! You do develop a thick skin when having to sing to a bunch of people who don’t want to listen but it is truly horrible and the complete opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.
What’s The Best Compliment You’ve Received?
Zelda: One of my biggest inspirations and idols musically (and maybe also an old flame…) once said to a friend of mine, while listening to my music, that I wrote ‘magnetic music because I’m a magnetic person’. He may’ve just been skewed by love at the time, but I shan’t forget that. He is finally making a career from his musical genius (and I say that with the utmost sincerity) and continues to inspire me never to give up with my own musical exploits.
Emily: Any quiet listening audience.
What Would You Do Differently Given Your Time Again?
Zelda: I think kids these days are given much more advice with regard to where they should train given their skill set. I went to a highly academic university but I always feel that I should have been training vocationally at a more vibrant, creative college where I would’ve been around like-minded musicians.
I’m really fortunate that since being in London I’ve made contacts who are on my musical wave-length, which has led to some really fruitful collaborations. Hopefully this will continue to flourish.
In terms of what else I’d change, I would have also listened to my parents and learnt the guitar! It’s much easier to learn an instrument when you’re younger….
Emily: I would have been myself sooner.
What Advice Would You Give Someone Thinking About Becoming A Musician?
Zelda: It’s ironic that musicians are often highly dreamy, quixotic creatures and yet they need a ton of grit in order to make a living in the market, which is extremely competitive. Musicians have got to demonstrate an exceptionally high level of discipline and focus and I would encourage all musicians to learn to read music as this increases your employability ten-fold. But most important is integrity and passion. You have to believe utterly in your music and adore it. Even if nothing comes of it, never give up on your passion because music in some shape or form is a massive part of all of our lives. There’s no escaping it.
Emily: Be whatever you are.
What Have Been Recent Musical Highlights / What’s Next For You?
Zelda: I’m looking forward to recording a new EP of solo piano works at my parent’s house in the middle of the Devon countryside this summer. Sometimes I prefer composing piano music without vocals as I can find the singing too emotionally cloying.
I’m also working with a producer called Fybe:One on some more electronic tracks and hoping to start writing some original choral music, too.
Emily: I’m writing new material all the time so I’ve decided to upload my stuff faster so audiences can be right there with me and my music. Gigs wise, in May I played at Midsomer Norton Town Hall with Phil King and at The Bristol Folk House with Harry Keyworth and with The Andy Davis Trio as part of the Bath Music Festival.
How Can We Contact You / Listen to Your Music?
Zelda: You can check out my music on Soundcloud here and my EP is available to purchase on Band Camp here. You can follow me on Twitter at @hereiszed or on my Facebook page here.
Emily: On My Facebook Page here or on Soundcloud here.
What’s Your Favourite Quote?
Zelda: The above isn’t music-related, but I’m a logophile and love words generally, always reading poetry and philosophy and getting ensconced in one book or another… But on this occasion, it’s back to Shakespeare, a timeless master who wrote so beautifully about Romeo and Juliet, the ultimate lovers. And I’m all about love, after all.
Emily: See above!
Tell Us Something We Didn’t Know About You….
Zelda: I’m a proficient surfer….
Emily: I used to be in a Badminton Club?
What is Your Favourite Track From Your Music ?
Zelda: It’s called ‘Pour’ and you can listen to it here. I wrote it about six years ago, and it was finally brought to fruition by a fantastic producer based in Berlin called Kyson. I was lucky enough to have him produce my whole EP. The song is named after that same experience I mentioned earlier whereby I’d lost someone extremely special from my life and subsequently the songs seemed to course through my veins and come pouring out through necessity. It seemed to strike a chord with lots of listeners, which was a wonderful feeling. I think people can’t help but be drawn in by music which is, essentially, someone laying bare their soul and saying ‘here, this is how it feels and you’ve probably felt it too’.
Emily: A song called ‘Boundaries’ which you can check out here.