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Etta Marcus January 2024 Brennan Bucannan 06

On the Rise
Etta Marcus

15 February 2024, 08:00
Words by Steven Loftin
Original Photography by Brennan Bucannan

South London singer and songwriter Etta Marcus is creating tender moments to embody a generational feeling.

On the eve of her recent sold-out headline London show, Etta Marcus stared out into the empty venue. Gripped with the fear of no one showing, thoughts of scammers buying up all the tickets played through her head.

"And then when I got on for the first song, I couldn't see to the back of the room," she recalls joyously now with the debut tour for her new mini-album finally under her belt. "I'm bad at enjoying things in the moment, but that was the first time where I was like, 'I'm taking this in and enjoying it'."

Marcus gets her strength from facing her fears. Her journey up until this point has involved pulling herself out of her comfort zone. She recalls a David Bowie quote: "Where he says, the sweet spot is if you're in the deep end of a pool, and your toes are just touching the bottom - that's where I always want to be. I don't want to feel like I'm writing the same song twice, doing the same thing over and over."


The born and raised South London singer-songwriter has had such ambitions since she pondered this as a job back in school. "It's such an enigma, the whole being an artist and how you get into it, there's no like rulebook you just kind it," she grimaces. "So, beginning to write music was obviously a big turning point for me, because that's when I realised, ‘Oh, this is what I want to do’."

Abandoning her first year at London's Trinity Conservatoire after finding the jazz school's more stringent, technicality-focused delivery not offering the creative outlet Marcus required, it was one of the first big fears she'd properly face. The next came in a simple moment that's shaped her career to this point: "It was probably having the balls to put something out on SoundCloud. That was the big moment for me because I'm such a perfectionist – like most artists are – and it's hard to press the ‘Done’ button,” she laughs now.

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Fortunately, she had the support of her parents, who were the ones eventually nudging her to upload, clicking her fate into place. "It doesn't matter if it's not done, just do it, nothing's gonna happen. If you do nothing, something might happen if you do something," she recalls them saying. On the back of this upload, Marcus was approached by her first industry contact. "That's how everything started for me," she recalls. "The first person that contacted me actually was my now-lawyer, which I was like, there are music what is that? I also didn't trust them at all! Everything was a scam to me. So it took me a while to actually respond. But from there, it was this domino effect of manager and collaborators and all that kind of stuff – having the guts to do that really helped."

It's this tentative certainty that embodies Marcus' career. It's the all-in thematic nature of her concepts, and even physically removing herself from the usual retinue of writing and collaborating to reach a new level. "With this mini-album, I spent a lot more time by myself on purpose," she explains. "Not for the whole tortured artist thing but I just felt that I wanted to write more stuff completely by myself, like I did before."


Having written her past music – including 2022’s View From The Bridge EP – with suave songster Matt Maltese, for The Death of Summer... Marcus uprooted herself to her childhood escape of Whitstable. Visiting the North Coastal town since the age of 12, it's become a beacon for Marcus, and her flourishing creativity. She imbues her surroundings in these visits. "When I go in the winter, and it's not half term, it's just completely empty. It's really spooky," her face glows with the memories. "No one's there. And you're right by the ocean [so] I think my environment impacts [the songwriting] a lot."

Nodding to her childhood in South London, she recognises that the city environment made its mark on her earlier, more dissonant music. The Death of Summer's... blending of harsher and softer moments – akin to a wintery sea chewing at the stoic coast – could only have happened from her sojourn. "It was the harsh conditions of being by yourself, no one is there, it's cold, shops are closed at like two o'clock. You're not eating nice because I can't cook for shit...but then at the same time, I went in the summer of last year, and it was a completely new sound like I did ‘Little Wing’ and I did ‘Girls That Play’ and it's just so much more bright, and so much softer."

Marcus' music indeed lends itself to this isolation. But it's within this she reaches in and finds a companionship that echoes and radiates warmly to all who listen. Part of this comes from her style of writing herself "into the songs", as she puts it, to find a place of confidence and buy-in that listeners can also hang onto. "When I was writing early on I was bad at even writing lyrics down on a piece of paper because they had to be so fully formed in my head. Nothing could be bad out loud, and it was really crippling. It inhibited me from actually just getting to a place of finding the thing that I want to release, it would stop me. So over the course of the last two years I've managed to dial that back and be a bit more free in my writing and allowing things to not be so good. So, when I say writing into, it's more being able to be okay with writing more instead of perfectionism getting in the way."

Marcus' music is constructed around an understanding – tender moments written to embody a generational feeling – that's especially coming to fruition in her live shows. With the release of her debut mini-album in January, Marcus has found her noir world coming to life. Recently, devotees came to her release tour embodying the funeral chic aesthetic embodied throughout the Death of Summer visuals. "I would see people dressed in like mourning attire," Marcus marvels. "You just feel like a little group of friends, you get together and have a fun night. But it's great that people feel like they can and add themselves to it."

This plays right into Marcus' ambitions. "I need everything surrounding it to be just as...good or just as creative," she thoughtfully explains. "And so I want people to experience it and to feel like that they're a part of something." Her inspiration for this comes from the acutely apparent likes of Lorde and Tyler, The Creator – artists who "build their own universe without asking for anyone to do anything" – to the more confined ideas of Fiona Apple and Mazzy Star. It’s the embodiment of personality, which in turn is something that Marcus is cautiously aware of. "I don't like the idea of commodifying a personality, it feels a bit weird," she shrugs lightly. "You can get that, but I've never tried and forced anything. I definitely want my personality to come through my songwriting...the whole personality thing I've always struggled with a little bit just because I don't want to run the risk of that being my selling point. I want my music to be the selling point."

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Marcus isn't someone who sees things in the round peg-round hole way the industry would like things. From the commodification of personality to the dreaded question – what sound are you – these notions follow her like a moor-bound spectre: "I always hate that because it means that we're just this one thing. And we're so layered. I just have a big problem with that. So I put out the first EP, and as soon as that came out, I was like, I want to do the complete opposite now…I want to surprise people. I love people like David Bowie, and those amazing artists that continue to challenge the mould."

She's also a keen horror buff. Citing the likes of Guillermo del Toro along with a penchant for spooky sci-fi, for Marcus the bliss is in the complexities of thrillers, rather than gore fests. "I don't know why I'm drawn to them...I watched Pan's Labyrinth when I was eight, that weirdly didn't disturb me," she softly chuckles. "I tried watching romantic movies, and they would just seem so fake, and so not real and so I gave up on them. I still enjoy them but when it comes to taking inspiration, I gave up on that and the horror movie just reigned supreme. There's something about it that just feels way more complex, and I like a complex lyrical song that's layered. I like the aesthetics as well, I think it's really cool."

Everything coming together in this way – the mournful darkness wrapping around the everyday like a veil – is all by design. As she explains behind a murmuring of modesty, "I've always been an ambitious person but it’s the classic British thing, you just don't like saying it,” she giggles. “Even parents evening growing up, it was my teachers going she's very ambitious and I was sort of hiding a bit, playing all coy."

Etta Marcus January 2024 Brennan Bucannan 02

Going back to that empty venue, and being welcomed by a packed out venue – as she was throughout her tour – was equally as important for quelling her fears as it was stoking her ambition. Admitting she's "tracking the ambition at the moment the most with live shows – as long as I'm playing bigger venues, that to me is a good source of progress," she explains: "Releasing this mini album has done something different compared to the last two. I've made more of a conscious effort to have more of a campaign for it and build more of a world for it before the release, and that was really fun. And so not just the ambitions for obviously more people enjoying it but just more creative choices and fun things for the lead-up to it and even post release – we've got stuff planned for weeks to come. It's definitely in my brain, always being more ambitious and nothing is good enough...but I don't say that!" She laughs.

And as for the future now The Death of Summer... is out in the world, officially in existence after manifesting in those coastal dazes, it's centred around her eventual full-length debut. While she acknowledges there are "A lot of people putting pressure on you for that, I'm just gonna do my thing – I'm gonna go to Whitstable again, I'm going to be by myself, I'm going to write myself into it, and then and then just see." Also with a potential Halloween show on the cards, which she encourages even more dressing up for, it's going to be a year that she keeps chasing that next fear to see what crowd awaits on the other side.

The Death Of Summer & Other Promises is out now via Polydor

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