Mardi Wilson is a singer-songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist hailing from Brisbane, Queensland. Her unique mix of folk and alternative sounds with a laid-back, surf edge saw her complete a successful east coast in 2019. In advance of her newest single being released tomorrow, we caught up with Mardi to discuss what it’s like being vulnerable, the van life movement and the perfect partnership between music and art.
Your press release describes your music as a mix of alternative and folk, but often times publicists need to pigeon hole music to suit genre normalities. How would you describe your music to people who may not have heard it before?
I’ve been trying to find a genre for ages, which is a tricky thing to do! I like to call it ‘surf folk’ – it’s a fusion between folk and alternative with a singer-songwriter vibe and a little bit of that new “Aussie” sound you hear a lot of bands with an alternative edge have … It’s a bit hard to explain (laughs). It’s nice to know people connect with your music no matter what the genre is you’re hitting.
Perhaps the fusion or difficult-to-pin-point sounds comes from artists you listen to. Do you have any influences that may surprise people as ‘out of the box’?
It’s not super out of the box, but I remember Elvis Presley has always been a huge influence and inspiration for me. From a tiny kid, I’ve loved his music and songs. He was a pioneer in the way he approached music, songwriting and doing something a bit crazy and different. I love listening to him, but I feel it doesn’t come through in my music (laughs).
Do you have any influences that does come through more in your own music?
I listen to a lot of Kim Churchill and he’s probably my biggest influence. I love the way he writes songs. His vibe is very chilled and I connect with the subject matter of his songs.
Your next single is out tomorrow. The song is about meeting a person and immediately feeling they will have an impact of your life, whether for a long time or a fleeting moment. What was the process like in creating Runaway?
It’s been a long process to get this one done, but I’m excited to share it. It’s a song I wrote on the cigar box guitar -there’s something about that guitar that just makes the song. It’s like a ukulele but sort of a blues ukulele. I’d got given it as a gift – and had no idea how to play it – started fiddling and writing this song, and it evolved into this really cool thing.
I hope people enjoy listening to it as much as I enjoyed writing it, because, to me, it has this real sense of excitement about it that is different to some of my older stuff. The song is about being vulnerable, opening your heart and growing from knowing them.
The song is about being vulnerable, but, when you sing it, there’s also an element of you yourself having to be vulnerable, which must feel like a weird juxtaposition – especially if the song is written about something in particular.
It is a weird one. Sometimes when my inspirations stop being inspirations, I think, gosh, I wish I hadn’t written about them! I’m not good at looking into the future, so I get caught up in the moment. I write the song and don’t think like, ‘this’ll be a bit awkward to sing down the track if my feelings change’ (laughs).
My takeaway from relationships in songs is it’s an amount of time someone makes you happy that is a beautiful thing., but I try and keep it broad so, now, when I sing it, I think about friend and other loved ones that the song applies to, which makes it a better.
The single comes from your upcoming debut album. When can we expect it?
Hopefully it’ll be out this year, we’re over halfway, but it’s always hard to say because you don’t exactly know when to stop. I’m excited to see how it’ll turn out as we’ve been working on it for a while. [The singles] Astronaut, Don’t Stop and Runaway are all from the album, so those are my sneak previews into it.
You finished up your east coast Don’t Stop tour late last year. I’ve heard a rumour your touring life is a little unconventional to most, is this correct?
I guess it’s kind of different than people imagine. A lot of people, when they tour, it’s airports, go, go, go, and their schedules are extremely full on. When I’m planning a tour, I like to leave a lot of time in-between shows. I drive and pop from campsite to campsite, trying to take time for writing. Having a bit of time to myself and being in my own head; I find it’s good for writing for me.
There’s something so simple about [camping]. The things that don’t matter become insignificant and you start to focus on bigger picture things when not connected to the things that make you comfortable all the time – like your room, bed and all those creature comforts. When you’re outside of that, it makes me open my mind up which definitely helps me creatively. I’ll always have to camp I think (laughs). It’s not exactly the crazy full on tour life some people have, which I reckon one day I’d like to try, but for now, I’m enjoying this very chilled out way of touring where I can just take it slow.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of the van life movement on Instagram? It’s a bunch of people who live in their vans or like to do trips in vans who all connect. They do meet ups where we’ll all sit, play music, hang out by the fire and share stories or whatever their passions are. [I’ve been influenced by] the lifestyle and the mindset of the people I’ve met through the events. They’re got this real outlook of live and let live. They see that everyone has got unique gifts to share, everyone’s got their special something and it’s cool when people actively look for that in others. You meet some lovely people. It’s nice.
Speaking of special gifts and talents, you finished your Degree in Fine Arts during an exchange at the University of Montana. I couldn’t help but notice your single covers all feature hand-drawn illustrations. Are they also your handy work?
The art is done by an amazing artist named Holly Neilson. I love the idea of combining music and visual art, so to be working with someone doing the covers makes my soul really happy. Involving other artists to bring it together makes it feel whole to me.
Runaway is out April 3rd.
For more on Mardi, please go to www.mardiwilson.com