Mariami fuses urban soul, modern RnB, and Indo-European melody to create empowering music that comes straight from the heart. Her lyrics hit home, her voice heals you, and her vibe is invigorating. Mariami is an alumnus of Emerson College and a previous in-studio guest. Her 2017 album Vortex is full of silky, intimate anthems that intertwine acoustic and synthetic production with grace.
I sat down with her to talk about her various writing processes, her experience as a Georgian Immigrant in America, and her ardent cultivation of her uniquely versatile skillset.
Gabe Allanoff: How do you go about writing for other people as opposed to writing lyrics for yourself?
Mariami: Writing for myself was a process finding my voice and who I was in the world as an artist. When I sit down to write my story, those songs don’t really take much effort. If you think about it like a garden that you’ve been toiling. And every year, you fertilize it and give it sun, you just access that really fast. So, it’s always a certain vibe, it’s always a certain tone. In writing for others I am more empirical and pragmatic. Everything has perfect syllables and perfect arrangement, and I approach it in a way more linear way. Whereas with my stuff, I’m just kind of like alright spirits, what’s up today? What do I want to talk about?
GA: How has living in Brooklyn, compared to the various places you’ve lived, influenced your music if at all?
Mariami: I spent most of my developing years in NY, but when I went out to the west coast, I realized that I’m more of a sun, beach, and mountain person. I’ve been writing up in Vermont, and it’s crazy much clearer and freer I am up there. When my family first came to America, we moved to Brooklyn and we were immigrants. We came from the war. To me, New York still represents struggle. We got there and we didn’t know anybody. I didn't speak english. I started going to school in first grade and I was the new kid. So I have this connotation with New York of it being a challenging place.
GA: As someone who has lived almost their whole life in LA, I can very much hear that in your music. Where have you been on the west coast specifically?
Mariami: Malibu, West Hollywood, and also Monte Nido. I was in the mountains in a gorgeous mid-modern home and I wrote my new single there. I’d just drive around and the songs would write themselves. That always to me is such a breath of fresh air.
It’s so much doper when the words fall in your lap. In New York, I was looking for them.
GA: That makes a lot of sense. Especially since I have spent a lot of time in Malibu, and since I write music myself, I totally know what you’re talking about. There’s something really special about LA. For me, I love driving around there at night, that’s where the ideas come from. You can’t not write a song. It’s just not up to you.
Mariami: Do you miss [Los Angeles]? New England is so different.
GA: I do miss it, but I’ve found a way to kind of turn parts of Boston into parts of LA.
Mariami: How so?
GA: Have you been to the Santee Alley in LA? Do you know what that is?
GA: It’s this little part of LA, right below downtown, and it’s my favorite place in the world. It’s actually kind of like Bushwick. It’s just a bunch of random bootleg stuff, and people yelling on the corner and stuff like ‘two for ten, one for five, this way, that way.’ People are just hustling, and I get some of those vibes in the North End sometimes. Like when it’s super crowded on Salem Street, and there’s old people drinking in their driveways and stuff, I love it. That stuff gets me hype.
GA: Tell me about the environment in the studio when you’re recording.
Mariami: Environment of the studio does not matter. I could record anywhere. I could record in here, I could record in a shoebox. This summer I had my Scarlett interface, I had my laptop and my Mojave condenser. At one point I was recording in my car because I was so inspired. I would charge my laptop all the way up, drive to the ocean, and track the idea in my car. This past summer I was hungry. I wanted to get to the next level in my writing after I released Vortex, and I felt like I had still so much progress to make. Because I was writing for other people, I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to get outside of my comfort zone, so I spent a lot of time writing.
GA: On your song “Isev,” you sing in Georgian, but more often than not you sing in English. What about that song in particular drove you to sing in your native language?
Mariami: There’s this part of me that’s always wanted to bring in elements of Georgian music because it’s so soulful. Often times melodies or ideas will come from that place. I’ll access those Georgian tonal structures and once in a while I’ll take a risk and actually sing in my native language.
GA: What’s your experience been like in Boston, especially since you went to college here?
Mariami: I was the first kid in my family to go to college in America. So there were definitely learning curve moments for all of us because my family didn't really know how to have a kid in college. A lot of my peers were really excited to be independent and go out in the world. But I had a lot of anxiety because I didn't have that voracious appetite to kill that a lot of college students do because I had a lot of self-confidence issues.
The American paradigm where the kid goes off to school and becomes independent is not something that my culture is familiar with. So I was holding on to home a little bit and was scared to really foray out into the world and get it, the way youth do in America. But I found my voice in music.
When I got signed and got my first production deal, I actually worked with a team of college students. I found myself in a position of leadership, and it was so interesting to see how they were finding themselves in the world. I was inspired by them and their hunger. What I really hope is that all college students have the resources that they truly need to be confident people in the world, and to feel secure. I wish I had spoken up and been like ‘Oh I’m scared, I have anxiety.’
I didn’t know what it was, so I harbored it and put it into my music.
GA: What advice would you have for someone who is a first-generation college student, coming from a background like yours perhaps, or maybe just someone who is having a tough time with their identity and anxiety in college?
Mariami: Seek guidance. I kept so much to myself and I thought what I was going through was just happening to me, and I didn't seek support or ask questions about why I was having anxiety and stuff. Talk to friends about it. Know that you’re not alone, and you can overcome it, and that there are things that you can do to heal. Also, if you’re not comfortable with something, or something isn't the right fit, you can pivot. I stuck through it because I thought I had to, and I didn't know that there were other options.
As you have more life experience, you realize that if something isn't the right fit, or something doesn't make sense, you can pivot.
It’s funny, I was watching Will Smith on Instagram talking about failure and how absolutely imperative it is in the road to success. It’s a necessary ingredient, and you have to fail forward, which means don’t fail and stay in the dwell space, just fail, and fail forward. Every time, extract whatever the lesson is and keep going. Also, don’t look in your peripherals. Nine times out of ten, you know what you want, you know what you’re good at, and your instincts are leading you on the right path. So keep going.
Listen to Mariami’s new single “I Survived a War,” coming soon.