Marissa Nadler’s ‘For My Crimes’: number eight with a bullet
“When they take me down the corridor, they’ll secure my wrists with ties,” comes the will-o’-wisp quaver of Marissa Nadler, her voice quietly contrite and her mind absconding from the grim scenario to a happier memory. “I’ll be tracing the outline of your body next to mine.”
It’s a haunting way to open a record, the kind of songwriting that in an instant cuts so deep it hits bone; and as the first words of the Jamaica Plain artist’s eighth record, “For My Crimes” (out Sept. 28), they vividly situate what’s to come within the same gothic soundscape that’s long defined her brand of dreamy folk-rock.
And yet, change is brewing beneath the storm-swept surfaces of these new songs. Many were initially written throughout 2016, as Nadler embarked on an extensive tour to capitalize on the success of last LP “Strangers.” Others, she says, came in a blurry rush one week before she traveled to Laurel Canyon to record with co-producers Justin Raisen and Lawrence Rothman.
Speaking to the Globe by phone from Los Angeles, where she’s working to corral the dark energy of her new songs into a live set, Nadler discussed atoning “For My Crimes,” making music to map her life by, and the real story behind a mysterious bullet.
Q. You’ve been releasing music for over a decade. How do you consider this most recent one in the context of your discography?
A. I think of albums sometimes as slivers in time. They’re so interwoven with my life that it’s sometimes hard to separate the two; being an artist is so deeply ingrained in my identity that the songs really are so much. This particular record I wouldn’t say is a concept record in that there’s one word I’d use to describe it, but I do think I’ll look back on it and see it as a snapshot in time.
Q. Some songs, like “Lover Release Me” and “You’re Only Harmless When You Sleep,” suggest that’s a snapshot of tangled, emotional moments, not all of them good. What led you to the darker numbers?
A. It was just stuff with the personal life. I don’t want to get into it too much other than to say people can look into the songs and take what they want from them. Unlike some other records, where I’ve felt like, “OK, I have to sit down and try to write them,” this one came out really naturally, because I think I’m going through something. I’ll just say there’s a big difference for me when real-life events are catalysts for creative bursts.
Q. So many of these songs are stories. Can you expand on one in particular?
A. My personal favorite is the last song on the record, “Said Goodbye to That Car.” There’s something about that song that really sums up the feeling of this record. The car dies, you watch the sun set, the car gets towed away, the record sputters to a stop. It really feels like a last song. A car is one of these few constants in someone’s life. It’s a silent observer to the inner chaos of people’s lives; they witness fights between people, see all your sad moments. You get lost in weird places together. For me, when the car died, it felt like one chapter of my life died with it.
Q. So that’s a real car, the one you sing “took a bullet in the roof in New Haven?”
A. Yes! The car did get hit by a bullet in New Haven, we think. The cello player on this record, Janel [Leppin], actually toured with me on my record “July.” After I’d dropped her off at the bus in New Haven, me and [husband] Ryan [Walsh] went out to dinner at The Barking Crab in Boston, and when we got back to the car, there was this bullet hole I noticed, with the bullet just sitting in the backseat. So, I don’t actually know that it happened in New Haven and not Boston, but it went through the roof. Made that car pretty memorable.
Q. You’re also a fine artist, with a master’s from RISD. This album’s cover is an oil painting you made. What was the inspiration behind that?
A. The recent paintings are impressionistic landscapes that are really abstracted. The series was meant to reflect what things look like out of moving windows, across all the touring I’ve done, painting that blur you see in the window. I don’t see them as linear narratives so much as feelings.
Q. Does it feel good to merge painting and music so directly?
A. I didn’t realize how much I missed painting until I started painting again. And then it was like, “Of course! I should have been doing this all the time!”