ABOVE: MAX MARSHALL. PHOTO BY VITA HEWISON
Twenty-one-year-old Max Marshall—purveyor of smooth R&B jams and soulful pop classics—is what you might call a jack of all trades. Not only is her voice garnering comparisons to Lauryn Hill; an accomplished fashion design grad, Marshall also does her own hair, makeup, nails, styling, designing, produces on Garage Band, and can play all the instruments in a string quartet.
Baltimore born, Marshall moved to East London, where she had no family or friends, on her 18th birthday. After booking herself a series of gigs, her singing career began to fly, reaffirmed by her Forgive Me mixtape, featuring covers of Rihanna and Frank Ocean, which picked up widespread plaudits earlier this year.
Marshall joined Interview for a cup of tea in the heart of Shoreditch, East London, to discuss her former work with Lady Gaga, the pressures of the industry, and what we can expect from her new EP.
HOLLY RUBENSTEIN: When did you decide that you were going to make music your career, and how long was it from that point until you were signed?
MAX MARSHALL: In my mind, I decided at 14. I went behind my family’s back and recorded songs. I brought them back to my mom and she said, “Oh, you sound really great on guitar,” and I told her, “No, that’s me singing too.” But I didn’t get the ball rolling until I graduated from university, where I studied fashion design.
RUBENSTEIN: Did you feel like you were taking a big risk, entering such a difficult industry?
MARSHALL: To be honest, you never really know until you’re in it. You know it’s a difficult business, but you don’t really feel it until it’s brought onto you in your own campaign. Nothing is promised in life, and definitely in the music industry. You have to be 100 percent at what you’re doing.
RUBENSTEIN: You’ve said your music is more than just R&B or hip-hop—so how would you describe your sound to people who have never heard you?
MARSHALL: The best way I can describe it is just outside of the box, meaning I don’t necessarily color in the lines. I’m coloring on the outside, so you always have a question about it. I stem from rock, country, gospel, definitely pop. Loads of things.
RUBENSTEIN: As a new artist people will always compare you to other singers—which have been the most favorable comparisons?
MARSHALL: The three I always get, that I love, are India.Arie, Lauryn Hill, and Jill Scott. That’s top-notch. I can’t complain. That means something progressive is happening to me.
RUBENSTEIN: What can we expect from your upcoming EP, Pressure?
MARSHALL: It’s upbeat. I mixed vibes that I like—my favorite Norwegian pop producers with South London hip-hop producers. I like songs where people are skanking, so I got a bit of that in there as well.
RUBENSTEIN: When you wrote the song “Pressure,” did you know it had an extra special quality?
MARSHALL: I definitely knew. That whole song was inspired by Field Day [music festival] in Victoria Park, when I turned up unplanned and found all my friends there.
RUBENSTEIN: Is that your favorite track that you have written thus far?
MARSHALL: No, but I love tracks that can take me back somewhere, visually. My favorite is probably “Pop,” because I made that on GarageBand. That was the first song that got the attention of my manager at Universal. That song means a load to me.
RUBENSTEIN: Do you live to be on the stage, or do you consider yourself more a singer-songwriter?
MARSHALL: I’d say the creation process is the most beautiful thing, and sometimes the ugliest thing.
RUBENSTEIN: Who do you admire in the industry right now?
MARSHALL: One person who I mention to everyone I work with is Jhené Aiko, who is currently touring with Drake. Kevin Michael, A$AP Ferg, Schoolboy Q, and Joey Bada$$ are a few of the people I really like—I’m more directed to the men in music right now.
RUBENSTEIN: We can’t not mention your former career as Lady Gaga’s wigmaker. How did that collaboration come about?
MARSHALL: I used to work with the haute couture designer, Charlie Le Mindu. We once made her a hair piano. She just loves hair. We actually did everything—outfits, accessories and wigs.
RUBENSTEIN: Did you meet her?
MARSHALL: No, oh, no. She was always just requesting, and then it was busy, busy, busy. She’s one of Charlie’s good friends. The only person I would see was her assistant, snapping her fingers, and asking for things that were almost impossible to do.
RUBENSTEIN: Seeing the way Gaga’s team operated, did you take anything from that for your own career?
MARSHALL: Definitely. I think that after a certain point, you don’t have as much time to do the things you need, or want to do. I feel that Lady Gaga would love to go in the design studio and pick her own things, and help create. But you must make friends, and you must be very nice. It’s one of the main things I’ve learned. There are people that aren’t nice, which I’ve seen first hand, and it’s not a beautiful thing. Everyone knows everybody. As soon as you start to feel and progress things that are negative, it will all come back to you at some point.
RUBENSTEIN: How would you describe your own aesthetic?
MARSHALL: It’s just as colorful as my music taste. I wouldn’t mind going out in an exclusive Valentino gown, with a beautiful hat that you would wear to the horse races, and a lovely little Dior vintage bag. But I also like to keep it chill, so I’m in a track suit today. I have a contract with Nike, and we’re just launching the Liberty x Nike sneaker boots.
RUBENSTEIN: The worlds of music and fashion seem very intertwined now, would you say?
MARSHALL: When you look up to someone who’s singing, they have to be a representation of at least something that you like. Mariah Carey fans probably love glitter, sequins, long gowns, or plunging necklines. You have to represent yourself in fashion and music, as one.
RUBENSTEIN: What does the New Year hold for you?
MARSHALL: Moving forward with more songs for the album, and pushing it out. I’ll also be working towards to festivals, lots of summer shows, and the Pressure EP coming out.
PRESSURE IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON MAX MARSHALL, PLEASE VISIT HER FACEBOOK PAGE.