Artist Spotlight: Margaux

    Margaux Bouchegnies, who records mononymously as Margaux, is a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter who grew up in Seattle. After picking up guitar and then upright bass, she began writing songs and went on to study jazz at the New School in Manhattan, though she later switched to the writing program and graduated with a degree in poetry and non-fiction. Currently, Margaux plays in Katy Kirby‘s band for a headlining European tour in support of Blue Raspberry and has also played bass for Fenne Lily, Allegra Krieger, Dougie Poule, and others. She started performing her own material as Margaux in 2018, releasing her debut EP, More Brilliant Is the Hand That Throws the Coin, the following year. Her first full-length, Inside the Marble, not only navigates heartbreak and the anxieties of growing up with startling intimacy, but makes them feel proportional to the weight they hold over time: ballooning and making us feel small, trapping and sweeping us away. Aided by producer Sahil Ansari and collaborators who contribute trombone, violin, and clarinet, Margaux seems to take these swirling personal thoughts out into the wild, turning her debut into a gentle, layered, and beautifully dramatic affair.

    We caught up with Margaux for the latest edition of our Artist Spotlight series to talk about her earliest musical memories, her lyrical process, her debut album, and more.

    Do you mind sharing some of your earliest memories of connecting with music?

    I think it was sometime in middle school when I started to pick up the guitar a little more. The neighborhood I grew up in had a thing over the summer called Beet Walk, which was just street musicians. I got to participate in that as a young person, and I think that’s where I started to build my connection to performance. And also, through the school I went to, we had a lot of ensembles and things that were student-driven where we could play songs we liked or experiment with writing songs. Those were definitely the spaces that I first built that connection.

    When did writing songs become a real passion for you?

    It really started to become a thing for me during my freshman year of college. I had written songs here and there, kind of privately or songs that were just instrumental. But during my freshman year, I was in a jazz program playing upright bass and doing music in a very academic way, and I think as a response to that, I started to find relief in creating my own compositions and lyric writing. I was taking more classes in the literary studies program, feeling more inspired by that than the jazz curriculum. That’s when I seriously began crafting songs in a way that ultimately made me feel that I want to share them with others.

    You mentioned that the rigidity of studying music led you to shift your focus academically, but how did studying poetry and other kinds of writing in an academic context inspire you outside of that setting?

    We would really catalyze things beyond classwork. Just taking in these writers that have really inspired me and got me into that headspace of wanting to create. That’s something I’m finding that I miss a lot about that experience, and I’m realizing that now that I’m out of school and have been out of school for a while now, it’s kind of on me to supply myself with that stimulation and the stuff that will get me reinspired to start writing more. It was really compelling – not just to me, but to a group of people, and that was really energizing for my own creative practice.

    Do you feel that there’s a separation between how you use your voice in poetry and in songs, or do they inform each other?

    I think they are coming from the same place. It’s just one of these things that you can feel you’re in that particular headspace where things are flowing out. I feel like, whether I’m free writing or writing a poem, it is kind of the same feeling I have when I’m writing a song. Although I will say there are some songs on this album where I feel like I didn’t quite achieve that space, and for me, I can really hear that in the lyricism. There are some songs where I can tell I was really in that poetic headspace, and others where the lyrics feel more straightforward. I definitely prefer the times when it feels like it’s coming from the same well as when I’m writing sans music.

    On your debut album, ‘I Wouldn’t Want It Any Other Way’ feels like one of those more lyrically direct songs. But I love how there’s still a subtle ambiguity in how the beginning of the chorus alternates between “and” and “but.” It’s like there’s both a logical contradiction and continuity in not wanting to lose your friend in the context of a breakup. Did it feel like you wanted to write something simpler while still dealing with complicated feelings?

    I remember feeling stuck at the time with songwriting, in particular with the direction I was going for the guitar. I generally start by writing the music first and then the lyrics, and I think I was feeling fed up with the blocks I was putting in front of myself – I was like, let me write a song that is not complicated, both musically and lyrically. I wanted to be clear about what I was saying. But it’s one of those feelings that is difficult to articulate, even using simple sentences. It’s like, how do you really explain the feeling of missing someone but not wanting to reconnect? There’s a sense of loss and grieving, but that person isn’t technically gone. I felt the best way to explore that was within this more straight-ahead song.

    The first song, DNA’, struck me musically with its convergence of acoustic and electronic instrumentation, which feels like a way of complicating and layering those feelings.

    Yeah, that definitely resonates. I was trying to illustrate the different shades of those emotions. Sometimes it can feel very simple and distilled, and with something like the first song, where it is pretty heavily arranged – that was definitely written during a time of a storm of feelings.

    That brings me to Ships’. Another way you contend with big feelings is through metaphor, and you really explore that in this song. Does that figurative language feel useful to you in a different way?

    I feel like there’s also a part of it for me that if I speak about this feeling in terms that are a bit removed from the specifics of what happened that made me feel this way, then there’s space for it to transform into being about other things as well. In a way, it feels like I’m not committing too closely to one specific incident. Even though it still feels personal to me and I feel that sense of closeness, it’s also freeing to not tie it too directly to something specific. Also, I think writing songs about heartbreak is so prevalent, and finding a way to not make it feel like it has been said before can be challenging. It can be easy for those things to feel trite.

    It can obviously mean different things to other people, but I’m curious if you feel that emotion has transformed for you. 

    Yeah, a little bit. I resonate with the sentiments I expressed in relation to other things I’ve since experienced. At the end of the day, it will always be about what it was initially, but it’s nice to have that freedom – there’s enough space between the words and the specifics of my experience that I feel like it can grow, or I can grow with it.

    ‘Ships’ also has one of the most wonderful and winding arrangements on the album. What was it like putting it together?

    It was really fun. That song is particularly old; I had demoed it in different ways with different sounds and arrangements in the past, and it was fun to actually bring it into the studio and dream up all the different ways to bring it to its final form. Leaning into the drama of it I had a lot of fun with. The outro was a new addition written by Willem de Koch, who played trombone all over the album. That was a really fun day, hearing what he came up with. It fit so seamlessly with the song – I had never done that before, having someone else write an extra part to a song I had written. It was nice to see it have this new life, to have someone else’s perspective but stay so in line with the feeling of it.

    How did that and other songs on the album take on a new life for you?

    With ‘Ships’ specifically, it became a longer song, which I loved. We really leaned into that. The melody has moments where a note is held for a long time, and that was part of a feeling I was trying to express there, that weight, something drawn out and dragging on. When you’re going through some kind of breakup or letdown, you can’t really rush those feelings; sometimes it feels like they take up your whole world, and you feel like, “Oh, is this just going to be the foreseeable future?” I feel like adding that outro, the way it emphasized what the song was already about, made it feel more complete.

    For other songs, ‘Sadie Something’ is one that definitely arrived at a place I hadn’t totally imagined before. It was fun to include instruments like the pedal steel and trombone. I remember there were moments with that song in particular where Sahil and I were trying things we weren’t sure would work, like some really crazy, abrasive trombone stuff happening at the end. I feel like some of these things were just more voices in the story.

    I’m interested in how you describe your relationship to time on the album – it’s something that moves quickly, but you’ve also got nothing but time. When you’re writing, do you sense that you think about time in a particular way that’s not accessible when you’re not in that headspace? Is time something that feels blurry or conflicting?

    I definitely feel this sense of time warping while I’m writing – that experience of being in a flow state where you’re not even paying attention to time. In terms of time as a theme and a point of inspiration, I do think a lot of that comes from anxiety – how much time is left, spending time wisely and efficiently. That works its way into my experience with songwriting, too, feeling like, “Is this something worth chasing or spending time on?” But it is nice when I can break through that. Even if I’m just talking about how I’m anxious about it, it still feels cathartic to have a song come out of it.

    Do you feel like songwriting almost has to be an opportunity for pause? Are there times when you can rush through a song?

    I don’t often feel that I can write a song quickly. It takes me a long time to complete a song. I feel like I’m one of those people that’s quite sensitive to the space. Fr a while, I felt I could only write songs when I went back home to Seattle. A lot of that had to do with the sense of privacy that I was able to have at the home I grew up in, and also all the memories and baggage that come with going to a place that is so part of your person that you don’t encounter as much anymore. That felt very rich as a space. But I don’t feel like I’m able to rush through writing a song, and anytime I do, especially with lyrics, I often end up feeling pretty unhappy with what comes out. It would be nice to find a way to feel a little less precious about these things, because I almost feel like the bulk of the time that I spend on writing is just overcoming these obstacles.

    The title partly refers to the idea of losing one’s marbles. Could you share some processes or rituals that keep you grounded?

    I feel like making my bed is a big thing that provides me with a sense of, like, “Okay, this is made.” Sometimes, to get that mental clarity, I need to see something that is put together right in front of me. Doing that consistently has been a good way of feeling grounded. I’ve been drawing more, which is something I have never really been into. It’s been nice to be playful, especially with how my relationship to music and songwriting has changed now that I’ve made it this thing that I’m trying to pursue as a career and sharing it with people in a very public way. A lot of those thoughts enter my mind when I write, so it’s nice to have something that’s very disconnected from that that is still a way of expressing myself creatively.

    Does playing and being present in other people’s songs affect how you think about your own?

    It’s interesting, I feel like it’s so separate in my head. When I’m on tour with an artist and I’m playing bass in their band, I feel like I’m totally just living in that music and I’m devoted to that in the moment, which I think is why maybe I haven’t even really been super tapped into this release yet. I feel like I’m doing something right now that I want to be 100% present for. That feels really important to me, although I’m definitely very inspired by a lot of these artists I’ve gotten the chance to tour with. They’re people that I was listening to before, and it’s really a huge treat to be able to play music that I love.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Margaux’s Inside the Marble is out now via Massif Records.

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