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girl in red: Matching Watches, Melbourne Coffee, and High-Energy Sets

Interview of girl in red by Isobel Knight

Marie Ulven, best known by her stage name girl in red, has been releasing smart, queer, guitar-driven music since 2018, and is returning to Aus to tour her killer sophomore album I’m Doing It Again Baby!, which came out in April. With thoughts on album traditions, the mystery of how sad songs work in a big room and how influences soak into creative work, our conversation was like her songwriting; energetic, earnest and interesting.

Marie! The new album! My goodness, it’s such an exciting new sonic world for you. It’s been out for a few months now, how does it feel to have it out in the world?

I mean, it feels pretty good but also internally I had that album sitting for so long, so I’m making new stuff now that I think feels even closer to my heart. So you know, I’m happy that it’s out but now my mind is on something else entirely. Maybe that’s the adhd for ya, bitches, I don’t know. My mind is moving rapidly. I’m happy it’s out, but I’m emotionally attached to the new stuff I’m making.

I love that; you clear your desk instantly and start the next thing, that’s cool. Do you have any rituals or traditions when you do put something out? Because it is the closing of a chapter in some ways, like you work on it for so long and then you release it into the world, do you have any traditions for when you do that?

I’ve actually never had any traditions like that, but me and my best friend and co-producer on the album, and I made the first one with him also, we got matching watches for this album, which kind of felt like a ritual. We got them in May, and then we weren’t done with it til September, so we bought the watches, and left them in the store and didn’t pick them up til we had finished the album. So that’s kind of a ritual I guess? It marked something. So yeah, we got matching watches and we got them engraved on the back, which was cute.

That’s so cute. What kind of watches were they?

We were obsessed with New York in the 60’s and Andy Warhol while making it so it’s a Cartier Tank, which really felt like art deco, a symbol of that time. I don’t know if you get any watches on your feed, but it’s a pretty iconic square watch.

I feel like I heard the 60’s New York obsession most clearly in the album closer, ‘five star’. Do you think there was an influence on production there? Or was it more aesthetic attraction to that time, or an interest in the creative pressure-cooker of it all?

I don’t know actually. Maybe there was something in the visual side, because the visual of the album was a painting. I don’t really know, but I think that’s one of the cool things about inspiration and being obsessed with something; you never really know how it’s going to manifest itself in whatever you’re doing in your life. So yeah, I don’t know but I think it’s exciting that way.

Yeah! Because you know it’s in there, it’s just hard to say exactly how it’s seeped in.

Yeah; it must be in there in some way, just like the rest of whatever you go through at a certain time will seep into what you’re making. You wouldn’t be who you were at that time, so you wouldn’t make what you’re making, right?

Right. For sure. Was there a moment that you knew the album was finished? What was the last track you wrote or the last thing you finished?

The last track that I finished was the five star song, which is a chaotic, weird thing. It’s a bit all over the place when I listen back to it, but I think that was the last one. It was referencing these artworks that I did for this exhibition, and the song is a summary of everything on the album. It’s almost not its own track, it’s just referencing other things. I also really wanted to get the watch, so I was just like yep, done, it’s watch time.

Real. Love that. Is there a lyric on the album that you’re particularly proud of?

Hmm. My mind first went to, maybe it’s an obvious one, but in my song Too Much it says “Please don’t say I’m too much, that I’m over the top/You don’t understand me”. I feel like that’s something that I, still to this day, resonate with.

You’ve jumped right into playing these songs live; how are they sitting in a live? Did you know when you were making the album which ones would hit in a live setting or is it different city to city?

It’s different city to city; I did not know what would hit! It was definitely strange, the album had only been out for four days and then we started touring. I was like, damn, these songs are definitely new. I had been practicing for weeks to try and get it in, but it feels extra scary when you’re playing something brand new. Songs like Girls that I’ve been playing for like six years I really know when certain moments will resonate and certain moments that are more lowkey. I know the song and I can predict the crowd, in way, but when I play the new stuff, it’s a bit different, so I’m always a tad bit nervous. But now I’m learning that people think Phantom Pain is really fun, and they really lose their shit towards the end there; there’s new moments that I can start to predict I guess.

Your show in Brisbane at Fortitude Music Hall is sold out which is pretty cool! I have wondered; your songwriting is pretty raw, so how do you feel when a song that’s yours becomes this thing that you’re sharing with a massive room? How do you go into songs like that in a big room?

I have a song called Midnight Love from my first album which is a very sorrowful, sad, sincere, vulnerable song… I think if you’re performing something like that you also need to be that way. You have to fully immerse yourself in the feelings of that song when you’re playing it. You can’t be smiling, you know? Even though some of these songs have been mine for a sec, now it’s been out in the world, so I think my relationship to the songs that are out are different, especially in a live setting. I’ve played the songs so many times now that it feels, in some ways, normal to play them for a room, but also very magical. Especially the fact that people are singing them back to me; it doesn’t feel normal just playing it, but it’s not like I’m reliving my worst nightmare. Sometimes just thinking like “Marie you’re playing a show on the other side of the world, and people are singing along” I can get emotional and almost start crying then, it’s just very special.

It’s cool that it becomes this gift you get to give, even though it came from a moment that was pretty dark, that’s really special. So you’re playing Spin-Off Fest in Adelaide; do you get excited about that kind of set where you’re winning people over, people watching you who never have before?

Yeah! I think sometimes that can be really fun, you can let loose a little bit, just be like fuck it, you know? Some of these motherfuckers don’t know who I am and that’s cool. Sometimes it can make me a bit like “Oh man none of these people know me!” and I can crawl back into my shell a little bit.

How do you put sets together for festivals then? Do you just pick songs that you’re super comfortable with, or do you throw in wild cards?

You just take out all the slow ones haha. Take out all the slow-energy songs.

No ballads.

Exactly. When some 25 year old guy and his friend see me getting the fucking acoustic out on stage he’s going to be like “Fuck this, man, let’s go somewhere else”. So we’re not taking the acoustic, we’re hammering out the rock n roll songs.

Yeah sick. That sounds like a great time. So you have four Australian shows as well as this festival, and you’ve been here before, are there any distinctly Australian things that you’re looking forward to?

I don’t know if they’re Australian things to do, but I am very much looking forward to going to Melbourne again to drink a lot of really good coffee. I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to coffee and I love to travel and like get the best shit that’s out there. I’ve had the most amazing cups of coffee in Australia, and apparently Melbourne is famous for that. And then also obviously, imitating everyone’s accents because I just can’t resist it.

Catch Girl In Red in your city or at Spin Off Fest, and give her socials a follow to keep up with everything that’s coming next.

Isobel Knight

Isobel Knight is a musician and writer from Gadigal country in Sydney. Her album Here Now is available everywhere, and she writes about international development and the arts for UN Youth and a variety of independent magazines.

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