No Country For New Nashville is a website that spotlights budding bands in Nashville, rather than country singers. They reviewed Melanie Martinez's show at Mercy Lounge and interviewed her a couple days prior to the show.
Thursday nights in Nashville from August-September are usually reserved for Live On The Green, but Mercy Lounge had a full house last week for Melanie Martinez’s show with Handsome Ghost. This was one of the first stops on her tour, fresh off the heels of her debut album Cry Baby, and it was clear that she’s a natural performer. In addition to catching the show, we also got the chance to talk with Melanie about the album and being on tour, so read on for a full review, interview, and some amazing photos from Lauren Hanson.
After 25 years of being perpetually late to things, even despite my best efforts, I’ve finally accepted that I’m just never going to be an early bird, so the fact that I got to the venue a couple of songs into Handsome Ghost’s set isn’t really a surprise. The first thing I noticed was that the room was already filled up significantly, which is usually pretty rare. I assumed that the rabid Melanie Martinez fans had camped out early because they were eager to get a good spot close to the stage, but I saw several people singing along with the songs, so it seems that most people were already familiar with the opening band.
Handsome Ghost, a folk-pop trio led by former folk musician Tim Noyes, had no trouble commanding the room. Noyes’ vocals, reminiscent of fun.’s Nate Ruess, were crisp, clear and easily understood, which is something I always appreciate at shows as an avid lyric lover. It was interesting to see the combination of the acoustic guitar with light synths and electronic-inspired percussion, but it definitely worked for them.
The chants of “MELANIE! MELANIE!” immediately started after Handsome Ghost left the stage. Her fans, a mixture of small children, teenagers, and people my age (mid-late twenties), were obviously ready to get this show on the road. The buildup to her entrance was very dramatic and drawn-out; a very soft, slow melody started playing over the speakers, along with the sound effects of babies crying. After a few minutes of that, the recognizable intro of “Cry Baby” started, and out pranced Melanie Martinez in a tiny baby doll dress, accompanied by her guitarist and drummer, both dressed up in teddy bear outfits.
She dove immediately into singing the album in order of the track listing, which I enjoyed because I’m slightly OCD and like to know which song is coming up next. Her vocals were on point, and you could tell that she was giving every note her all because she didn’t slow down for a second; in fact, her singing here was arguably more powerful than on the album. While there weren’t any elaborate dance moves to accompany the songs, she hardly stood still throughout the whole thing. She was always jumping around and getting the crowd pumped up, and she encouraged everyone to sing along with each song, which wasn’t an issue because they all knew every word. She seemed genuinely thrilled to see so many people out in the crowd, and took several pauses between songs to thank everyone for their support. “Dollhouse” and “Pity Party” were probably my favorite songs of the night, but the whole thing was great. It was so much fun to see the theatrics of the album come to life, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing her accompany some big name pop stars on future tours.
I had a chance to chat with Melanie over the phone a couple of days before her show and she was such a delight, so read on for the interview.
NC: Thanks so much for talking to me today! First of all, I wanted to congratulate you on your album release and selling out the High Watt. How does it feel to return to Nashville after just a year and already move up to a bigger venue?
Melanie: I’m super excited about it. I’m obsessed with the venue and the people so it’s going to be really fun. This tour is going to be different too, because we’ve got the whole lighting situation figured out. The last couple of tours I didn’t have anything like that because of the budget, so I’m super excited because this is really going to bring the album to life.
NC: Yeah, based on the imagery I’ve seen in your music videos, I’m excited to see how it translates into a live show. Did you get a chance to get out and explore Nashville the last time you were here? Is there anything you’re hoping to get out and do while you’re here this week?
Melanie: I have a couple of friends that I’m gonna try and hang out with, but other than that I don’t really know the city that well. Is there anything that I should be doing?
NC: Well, depending on how much time you have – I’m great at recommending places to eat [laughs]. As far as other things to do, not so much, but I know a ton of good restaurants.
Melanie: Yes, that would be great. Please, any good restaurants!
NC: Well, hot chicken is kind of our thing here, so if you have time, you’ve gotta check out Hattie B’s. It’s in Midtown, and it’s awesome. Lots of good BBQ here too.
NC: So I’ve been listening to Cry Baby on repeat pretty much since it came out. Do you have a favorite song on the album, or are they all special to you in a different way?
Melanie: I don’t know, it’s hard because I obviously have a different connection to each song in a different way, and they all mean something different to me. But I’m probably the most proud of “Mrs. Potato Head,” because I had that idea in my head for so long, and I tried writing that song one time and I just couldn’t tell the story the way I wanted to, and I couldn’t figure it out. But then I tried it a second time, and it worked out and I’m really happy that I finally got it figured out. I had this really strong visual for it, with the idea that you can pull off pieces of a Mrs. Potato head and that can represent plastic surgery. I thought it was really interesting and I really wanted to execute that, so I was really glad I was able to do that.
NC: Did you go into writing the album with the concept of writing a concept album, or did you take one song using a specific theme and run with it?
Melanie: I knew that the whole concept of the album was going to be taking childhood themes – I would think of different titles and write them down in my phone, like a list, and they would all be related to childhood, and then I would make the actual story an adult situation, something that adults would go through but with a child theme. So that was the main concept of the album, so that’s why the titles are things like “Milk and Cookies” and “Cry Baby”, but the story of each one is way darker and way more honest and more adult. That was the actual concept of the story. But eventually I realized that Cry Baby was a character that was based off of me, and that we had a lot of similarities. A lot of things she goes through are things that I’ve never been through, but I’m just happy that I got to tell her story and I get to go on tour and play it live for people. I’m really excited about it.
NC: Yeah, it’s great. You’ve got such a unique theme, like you said, with taking the child-like imagery and pairing it with adult issues. I think, for me, “Dollhouse” and “Sippy Cup” in particular seem to deal with a theme of families who want to appear perfect but actually have dark secrets, kind of like putting on a façade for everyone. Can you elaborate a little on the inspiration behind those songs?
Melanie: Totally. Well, “Dollhouse” was definitely inspired by the whole Edward Scissorhands vibe where all of the houses are perfect, but inside each home there are very messed up families. It also doubled as a meaning for how people view celebrities, like how if you’re too honest as an artist and speak your mind and not everyone agrees with you. If you say something that is a little unsafe to say but you feel strongly and passionate about it, a lot of people can attack you and call you a bad role model just because they don’t agree with your views, but in reality we’re all different and we’re all unique in our own way and we all have different thoughts. Just because I’m an artist doesn’t mean I should be treated differently. Basically it’s the idea of celebrities being in the spotlight and just because you think that they should be perfect, that they’re still human and they still have flaws just like everyone else. So that was the real meaning behind “Dollhouse”, at least how it related to me because it’s something I was annoyed with at the time. I haven’t gone through any family issues, but I’ve had a lot of people come up to me after shows and tell me that “Dollhouse” really helped them with whatever they were going through with their families. I thought that was really amazing, that it could mean one thing for me but another thing for someone else.
NC: Right, that’s kind of what it meant to me. “Dollhouse” was one of the first songs I heard when the EP came out last year and I immediately connected with it. I think it’s great that you’re taking that approach to being a celebrity, as far as being honest and open about everything. It’s refreshing. I also really enjoy the title track, “Cry Baby,” and I interpret that and others like “Mad Hatter” as a kind of reassurance that it’s okay to be emotional and a little crazy sometimes, and to accept yourself for who you are. Is that the message you hoped people would get from this?
Melanie: Absolutely. It’s interesting because “Cry Baby” and “Mad Hatter” are the beginning and the end of the album, and when I first started writing the album, “Cry Baby” was a song that I really wanted to write because it represented all of these personal insecurities that I had for a long time. I was always hard on myself for taking things too personally. I got picked on as a kid for being a Cry Baby and caring too much. But over time, after writing the album and figuring everything out, I became more comfortable with myself, and I think “Mad Hatter” was me embracing being a cry baby and me being a crazy person. I’m insane, I’m emotional, but I’d rather be that than a robot. So that’s definitely something that I wanted to get out there. Especially with Cry Baby’s story, because the album is about Cry Baby but I realized that me and her went through the same change. Like in the beginning of the story she was super vulnerable and insecure, and so was I, but by the end of writing it and by the end of the story for her, we both became more comfortable with ourselves and more confident.
NC: So how did being on The Voice affect your success after the show? Did you learn anything in particular throughout that process that you’ve applied to your career now?
Melanie: Not really, just because I had to sing covers on it. It’s interesting because a lot of people relate my success now with The Voice, and it has nothing to do with that. I’ve definitely worked my ass off for a year afterwards trying to get that off of my forehead. If anything, it’s actually harder to get labels to look at you when you come off a show like that, and it’s harder for people to look at you like a real artist. It’s just interesting how people relate my success when I would like to think that I worked my ass off for a reason and that it’s about the music and not because I was on a TV show.
NC: Well, honestly, I had no idea you were on The Voice until way after I heard the Dollhouse EP last year – if that makes you feel any better.
Melanie: I mean, it’s gonna happen, and it’s fine. I’m always going to hear people make that connection and I’ve just accepted it. It’s alright. I’m just happy that I get to do my own thing now. I learned a lot from the show as far as being in the TV world and being in front of the camera, which is really great because I’m not as nervous in front of the camera as I was before. I also made a lot of really great friends on that show, so that’s one of the most important things that I’ve taken out of that experience.
NC: That’s great. So we’re always interested in hearing what artists are listening to. Do you have any music that you’ve been digging lately that we should check out?
Melanie: I love the song “Here” by Alessia Cara. And I love Kehlani. I just love all of Kehlani’s music. So those are my top two ladies right now that I’ve been listening to non-stop.
NC: Cool, I’ll have to check that out. Thanks again for chatting with me, I really appreciate it!
Melanie: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much.