There's a lot of things to look forward to for 2021 -- namely, that it's not 2020. But in terms of music, there's no shortage of songs that will give us the strength to clean up the aftermath of this year -- not to mention all of the other ones before it.
Miko Marks is going to be one of our guides, releasing Our Country on Redtone Records, her first album in 13 years. In 2003, Marks made her way to Music City, playing CMA Fest year after year and fully immersing herself in the country music community. While Marks received well-deserved accolades - "Nashville's Hottest New Country Star" by People Magazine and “Best New Country Artist” by New Music Weekly - her efforts to be fully embraced by the industry in return proved to be elusive. While her crowd of supporters grew year after year, so did efforts from the industry to diminish her success, as she discusses below.
|Beto Lopez, Mooncricket Films|
This experience ultimately led her to pick up her life and move to California to start anew, never giving up on the dream she was devoted to.
Miko Marks proves to be a bonafide maverick that has blazed an unprecedented trail in the music industry. After a long overdue hiatus from music, Marks is eager to spread not only her music, but a message of unity and outspokenness for black musicians in country music and beyond. She has done much more than just make a splash and now she is ready to make waves. Marks works towards an ever evolving dream of creating art that is not stereotyped or pigeonholed by a specific genre and is created with no borders or boundaries.
Thank you so much for your time, Miko! You've been unrelenting in your quest to be heard. What first lit the spark of music in you?
I was born into a musical family. There was always music and singing all around. From an early age, my Mama realized that I could “carry a tune” as she would say. From the age of 3, I was singing in our youth choir at church and performing at our family gatherings. I was a slow burn and the spark didn’t really ignite for me personally until around 8 or 9 years old. I learned that folks really enjoyed when I sang and often were overjoyed. At that age I got a little scared when I would see people crying or passing out in response to my singing. I didn’t understand at the time that they were feeling the spirit, and that it was a positive thing. Once I understood it, it made me happy and fed into my desire to bring joy.
Nashville likes to spin this idea of "authenticity" when introducing country songs -- but I think it's clear that most country singers are not from the backwoods of wherever, even if that's what they want us to think. What's your connection to country music? I believe there are a few reasons why I personally am drawn to country music.
What draws me to country music is unconscious still. My family migrated from Mississippi in the late 1940’s to early 1950’s for jobs in the automotive industry in Flint, Michigan. My roots of gospel, country and blues were carried with. I can remember being around my Mama and her just playing music that was country, gospel and R&B and I instinctively recognized the difference between all three. I was drawn to the stories of country music. I don’t know if it was because I was a kid, but it felt complete and resolved at the end of each song, like I had been taken on a journey.
Could you speak to some of the barriers you faced when you first got to Nashville in the early 2000s?
Barriers! Yes, they exist and I have experienced my share. I can remember, when I had a meeting with one of the major labels in Nashville, I was told that my music was great, but... “we love your music, but you won’t sell.” Without saying it directly, they were communicating that because I was Black, and especially a Black woman, there was no place for me in Country music. I wasn’t marketable, but they suggested maybe I “try another label down the road.” Also, for my first appearance at CMA Fest, I was performing in a tiny corner upstairs and out of the way in the Convention Center, where hardly anyone could find me, and the sound engineer didn’t show up, so I had to run my own sound for the performance. Experiences like this were common for me as I was trying to break into the Nashville scene.
Something I've noticed with artists like Leon Bridges and Alabama Shakes, who started out embracing a vintage sound, found themselves attracting mostly white audiences who received them as sort of retro acts. On Our Country you use a lot of traditional country motifs. How are you hoping to build an audience that reflects country music's true diversity?
Honestly, I have not thought about that. I am focused on making music with a sound and message that reflect who I am. I feel that whoever connects with that music is who it’s meant for. That said, the songs on Our Country represent a new style for me, both in terms of music and lyrical themes. It feels like for the first time I’m showing my full self through my art. I do hope that the subject of the songs connects with a wider audience, themes like racial justice, social change, facing our nation’s history, and more. I hope that this will be an album that transcends boundaries.
Assuming we can move around safely, what are your big plans for 2021?
Oh geez!! I would love to get back to performing! I love interacting with my audience and carrying on a beautiful conversation. I miss that a lot and I’m hoping I can get back to it soon. I’m also obviously very excited to be releasing my first album in 13 years, and I want to do everything I can to push it out into the world. I’ve been recording some live performances in the studio that we’ll be releasing and plan to do more of that even while we’re in this weird state of existence. Whatever I can do with music I want to do: write, record, perform, promote, etc. We are already working on a follow up album and I’m really excited about it. I hope that 2021 opens up a lot of new doors for me and for artists in general.
Our Country will be out in March 2021 via Redtone Records.