“This is definitely the start of my journey,” says 19-year-old Kara Marni. Though the London native has yet to release an original song, she’s announced herself as musician with a voice to be reckoned with, eclectic taste, and a budding love for writing. Raised on soul and R&B from the ‘70s, with a nod toward contemporary, electronic production, Marni describes her sound in simple terms: “I love soul music, I love current music, and it’s the fusion of the two,” she says. Her writing influences are equally varied; she looks to her own life, as well strangers she sees on the street and the input of collaborators. “You can draw something different from each and every person, and for me, that’s the most magical thing about collaboration and writing,” she explains. “It’s different every time. It’s exciting, it’s new, and it’s a really amazing thing to be able to have the opportunity to work with people who see life from different perspectives.”
When we recently caught up with Marni by phone, she was in the studio, plugging away at her original material. Her debut EP is expected later this year, and in the interim, she continues to release covers of tracks that she loves as a way of introducing herself to listeners. (Her take on Minnie Riperton’s “Loving You,” which she posted to YouTube in high school, is what first attracted her manager’s attention.) “It’s a difficult thing. It’s messing with the perfect,” she says. “These are songs that we all know and love, but it’s about putting my own stamp on it and bringing something new to them.” Her latest, a rendition of Angie Stone’s “Wish I Didn’t Miss You,” produced by Fin Robson, premieres below, with more classic covers to follow come summer.
“WISH I DIDN’T MISS YOU”: That song has been one of my favorite songs since I was a young girl. I think this one was from my mum, actually, this wasn’t my dad’s doing. My mum loved that song and she used to play it to me in the car on the way to school, and we’d be singing along—I definitely don’t have my voice from my mum. [laughs] But that song just really struck a chord with me in terms of the melodies and the vocals. It’s quite an emotional song, signing about heartbreak and missing someone, and I guess I can relate to that, as can a lot of girls. I thought, “I’d love to put my own stamp on it whilst paying respect to Angie.”
INSTILLED WITH A LOVE OF MUSIC: My dad is really a massive, massive, massive muso—I call it muso, it’s like a music lover. I have never, ever, till this day, seen a collection as big as his vinyl collection, his CDs, his turntable, his hi-fi. He’s obsessed with music and that’s definitely been an influence, because I can vividly remember being sat on his recliner chair while he’s playing me his vinyl on his turntable, which none of us were allowed to touch because it’s his pride and joy. That’s where I discovered these incredible vocalists and classic artists, and though he’s not musical, his love of music has rubbed off on me. Roberta Flack was one of the first; “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face” was one of the first he ever played me, and I was literally in heaven, like, “Oh my goodness, this voice is incredible. I want to do this. I don’t want to go to school tomorrow. Can I do singing or something?” My mum isn’t musical either, but they’re both super open and supportive. They’re very forward thinking, so I’m really lucky in that fact. Some parents may be a little less understanding of being different.
Listening to my dad’s vinyl and his records of these incredible artists—Diana Ross I loved, and Chaka Khan—but also current artists, it’s helped me shape this soulful pop sound. I also love gospel artists. I think the thread through my inspiration of artists is that they all have such incredible voices. Whether it be the tone or the range, I’ve always been fascinated with those sounds and for me, it’s so inspiring. I want to be one of those artists that the younger generation and little girls can be like, “Oh my god, that Kara’s got something cool going on. She’s half good.” [laughs]
AN OPEN APPROACH: What is amazing about being creative—this is why I’m best suited to music, and I knew from the minute I was born I couldn’t do a nine to five—is that you can draw inspiration from everywhere, and it’s just so beautiful to be able to view life in that way. I find inspiration from everywhere, and it’s not really a struggle for me. Even on the train, when I’m on my way to the studio, I could see something when the doors are closing, or hear a conversation next to me, or see someone opposite me, or something could pop up, and literally it could be one word, and it’s just like, “Okay, that’s cool, I want to write about that today.” It helps me because it gives me so many things to draw from; there are so many things to draw from in life.
SINGING IN THE CRIB: I have to give credit where credit is due. My grandma, actually, discovered my singing. When I was really young—I’ve got a sister and a brother—when we were all crying, as babies do, I would go on for hours and hours, way longer than everyone else, and my mom was like, “Why won’t she stop crying?” and my grandma said, “She’s not crying, she’s singing.” Because I’d be like [holds a note] discovering my voice. I was with my grandma yesterday and we were talking about this, and she goes, “Honestly, Kara, you would do a sound, hold a note, and you’d stop, and then you’d do it again, and then you’d do it higher and lower.” Years later, I started at every Christmas party, singing on the tables, entertaining everybody, as you do [laughs]—My Big Fat Greek Wedding style, because I’m Greek. No need for the Greek band, I’m there!
A STAND OUT IN SCHOOL: Instead of going to science class, I would be wanting to sing and dance on the tables and literally, my teachers hated me, because they thought, “Who is this annoying child?” I guess it’s always come naturally to me, even when we’d go to little karaokes or whatever, I’d be the one up there singing. Once when we went to Covent Garden, I randomly, suddenly—I don’t know why or how—started singing. This whole crowd gathered round and from a young age, I thought, “This is coming naturally to me. I want to do this for the rest of my life.” I love performing, and I think everyone who knows me knows [me as] “Kara who just loves to perform and sing and entertain and create.”
I always felt I didn’t really fit in in school, the conventional [path of] people doing their A Levels, going to uni and stuff—which I think is totally great and it works for some, but I’ve always thought that everybody’s different. There’s a bit of a stigma attached to people who maybe don’t do the A Levels and get those amazing results at uni or this and that. I was different, and I am very creative and that was my forte, but having all of my friends who aren’t that much like that, you compare yourself and you think, “Oh, we are different, but we’re both doing what we love and we’re both working hard at it, so what’s the problem?”
PEN TO PAGE: I’ve always been writing and such, whether that be poetry—I was really good at English at school—or creative writing. If you’re interested in poetry, books, and creative writing, I think naturally, it’s just having a way with words. It’s really weird, even when I’m in conversation with my friends, as a writer you think differently, like when they’re speaking and they say small phrases and stuff, I’m always thinking, “That could be quite a cool title of a song,” or, “That could be a really cool concept,” or, “That would go really well over that melody.” Naturally, it just sticks out to me—words that people say in normal conversation, how they string together, and how they sound.
HER DEBUT EP: It’s soulful, and it’s about love and relationships and things that I’ve been through. It’s basically music that I love to make. I’m super, super excited to share it with everyone. It’s like releasing my little babies into the world, once I complete it all.