“I’ve always loved pop music, yet it’s a genre a lot of people don’t take seriously. Some say it’s not real music, that it’s like fast food… I believe a well-written pop song is something very powerful that can change your life, and that’s fascinating.”
You can hear the smile in Maryze’s voice when she talks about music. The Vancouver-born singer-songwriter is now based in Montréal, and closely studied pop music before releasing her debut album 8, a surprising mix of electro, HyperPop, R&B, hip-hop, rock, and emo – in other words, all the genres that have branded pop music over the past few decades.
Maryze is a huge Grimes and Lady Gaga fan, but she was raised to the sound of a rather unusual style of music: Celtic pop. One can even hear a few traces of it on her album, notably on “Witness.” “My dad is from Breton and my mom is Irish-Canadian, so I’m Celtic on both sides! My first show was Loreena McKennitt, when my mom was pregnant with me. I’m sure I felt the sound waves and the bass,” jokes the 30-year-old singer.
As for her dad, a radio DJ in Vancouver, he introduced her to tons of music from all around the world when she was a kid. In her early teens, the young music lover took intensive music theory classes, and joined her high school jazz choir. Which is not to say her bond with pop was weakened. Like most of her friends at the time, Maryze grew up listening to Destiny’s Child and Justin Timberlake, two artists whose influence can be felt in an R&B-tinged piece like “Experiments.”
It wasn’t long before the pop-punk and emo waves got the best of her. The intensity of the lyrics, and the raw emotion of a band like Fall Out Boy, had something powerful and liberating for a troubled teenager like her. A song like “Emo” is an obvious tribute to that phase of her musical explorations.
“I felt alone and misunderstood. I couldn’t find my community at school,” says Maryze. “Sure, we had a great music program, and the choir was superb… but my school was mainly geared towards sports, and there I was, this skinny jeans-wearing emo girl. At home, there were difficult stories of depression… I was on the floor in my room, reading the lyrics of Fall Out Boy songs. I felt like the singer was talking to me, and that made me feel less alone. That’s probably what prompted me to want to reach an audience in their teens or early twenties through my songs. There’s a sense of community that is created through music.”
In other words, Maryze creates music that she herself would’ve loved to listen to in her teens. Hence the seemingly chaotic amalgamation of sounds that she offers, with the utmost sincerity and authenticity. Entirely written on her own, the album also benefitted from the expertise of some Montréal-based producers – notably her right-hand man and friend Solomon K-I, who was also in charge of mixing and mastering the album.
Armed with her university studies in creative writing, the adoptive Montréaler explores “the interconnected parts of our past that shape our lives, for better or for worse” in her lyrics. She weaves the heterogeneous songs of her album with a central image in mind: that of the infinite loop, symbolized by the title’s number 8. This infinite loop makes us repeat the same stories, the same mechanisms, and the same mistakes. The epitome of a cycle.
Carried by an ‘80s-inspired dance rhythm, “Too Late” is the perfect incarnation of the album’s central theme. Under the guise of a toxic love story, the song is actually a deep dive into the artist’s psyche. “That song is my relationship with me,” she says. “I’m my biggest hurdle in life. Every day I wake up and the day just flashes by in front of me. There are so many things I want to do, but I don’t know where to begin. The cycle repeats itself and I end up frustrated at myself. That frustration is mainly related to music, and my dreams. I sometimes get amazing opportunities, but it’s like I sabotage myself. And the pandemic just amplified all of that. I could literally do nothing… and I felt frustrated, bitter.”
“Squelettes” is a hard-hitting collaboration with Montréal rapper Backxwash that evokes a difficult episode she lived through in her twenties. “I started writing that one eight years ago,” says Maryze. “There was a lot of depression, anxiety, and addiction in my family. I was in a phase in my life where I repeated destructive cycles in my relationships, and with myself. I mistreated my body, mainly through excessive partying. And I ended up in situations that I had inflicted upon myself. Each time, I heard my father’s voice: ‘Maryze, why did you end up – again – in this situation that you don’t like? Why are you in this relationship that is toxic to you?’ That was one of my all-time lows.”
The album’s stripped-down opening and closing songs, “Mercy Key” and “Playing Dress-Up,”offer a glimpse of Maryze with her heart on her sleeve, accompanied only by a piano or her own voice. “I have to write on the spot when I live something that’s really intense,” she says. “I wrote hundreds of diaries when I was younger. It’s always been a form of therapy, a way to better understand me. It’s when I start writing, and ideas come to me, that I actually understand what I’m going through. It’s not something I would’ve understood by simply saying it out loud.”
Far from the silence and loneliness of her teenage years, Maryze has found a way to turn her frustration into something constructive. She’s found a way to break the cycle.