Marie’ Digby at Hotel Café in Hollywood, CA. August 31, 2007
“Can I squeeze by?” a mysterious voice kindly asked me as it weaved through the crowd inside The Hotel Café on Friday night. Moments later, I realized that this voice belonged to Marie’ Digby, the “YouTube Phenom” (thanks, Carson Daly) whose popularity has exploded since her cover of Rihanna’s “Umbrella” has been played on the radio and on the MTV’s Season 3 Premiere of “The Hills” (coincidentally, my favorite TV show). In today’s world of user-generated videos and downloadable tunes that flood an already crowded music scene, it is rare to discover an artist who has separated herself from the crowd through these mediums. Digby, whose videos are approaching 2.5 million views combined on YouTube (and is currently the #26 “Most Subscribed Artist (All Time)”), proved through performances of her original material on Friday night that she is much more than a “cover artist.” Now signed to Hollywood Records, Marie’ packed The Hotel Café to capacity and performed in front of an appreciative audience that collectively appreciated being a part of her continued ascent in the music industry.
Marie’s (pronounced “Mar-ee-ay”) warm personality and desire to interact with each and every one of her fans showed a refreshing, humble attitude that has not been changed by her recent success. Beyond Digby’s stunning good looks and hair model-quality locks (I think that’s a real job) lies a fresh-sounding artist who is quickly establishing not only her fan base, but her identity as well. Marie’ Digby is an artist to look out for, not only in future “50 Most Beautiful People” lists, but in the music industry, as her music easily stands up to the best in pop music today.
Greeted with enormous applause from the anxious crowd inside the unusually stuffy venue, courtesy of this week’s heat wave, Marie’ (who somehow managed not to be sweaty) took the stage. After taking a seat at her keyboard, Marie’ opened up with “Mistaken (Better Off Alone),” a catchy, upbeat pop song that was the perfect song to open up her set. While I was familiar with the covers that Marie’ posted on YouTube (and yes, she does post them and no, they are not completely mandated by a record-label driven viral marketing campaign, or “LonelyGirl15”-like mockumentary despite recently popular beliefs), which range from Linkin Park to James Morrison, this night was going to be about Digby’s original music, all of which was by far more engaging than her popular YouTube covers (no small feat).
Even in playful tracks like “Stupid for You,” Marie’ proved to be a hypnotizing presence throughout the night – compelling many of those in attendance to quickly hush anyone who dared steal a note from their anxiously awaiting ears. Normally, I really appreciate a very active on-stage performance when taking in live music, but Marie’s warm personality and strong performances allowed her to “just sing” and have that be more than enough for the audience. A group of three women standing next to me couldn’t help but admit, “I definitely have a huge crush on Marie’!” By the sounds of the applause Marie’ received after every song, I think we all did.
One of my favorite performances on the night was “Beauty Walking Away,” a simple ballad where Marie’s voice and melodic keyboard combined to create one of the more listenable tracks out today. While Marie’s vocals won’t necessarily blow you away with dramatic, mind-blowing runs like a Faith Hill, Carrie Underwood, or a Mariah Carey, she never does too much or too little with her vocals and it works! Thankfully, Marie’ varies her sound and avoids the all-too-common risk of having her songs sound the same. As someone who has listened to many a singer/songwriter acoustic type, that’s something that is often much easier said than done and well appreciated when it is done as well as Marie’ did on Friday night.
Before her acoustic performance of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” Marie’ performed “Traffic” for the first time in front of a live audience. The song is a pop-ballad with a rhythmic guitar that utilizes more of Marie’s upper register than many of Digby’s fans would be used to hearing, and it was a good example of how Marie’ varied her sound throughout her set.
Of course, “Umbrella” was a huge crowd pleaser. The acoustic cover of one of this summer’s biggest hits has not only found popularity on YouTube, but iTunes as well. As a proud member of “Team LC” and a not-so-closeted “The Hills” fanatic, I would be lying if I said that the track is not in my “Most Played” list on my iTunes, which is quite the feat considering I am one of those people who listens to the same song on a loop for months on end (Carrie Underwood’s “So Small” currently shares this honor, which must drive my neighbors crazy).
Digby’s rendition of the song brought smiles to the faces of those in attendance and everyone was happy to hang out and sing along under Marie’s “Umbrella…ella…ella… ey…ey…ey…” to the song that thrust Marie’ into “teh intarweb” spotlight. Despite the fact that Marie’ is carving out her own identity, it was good to see that she was still happy to pay homage to the song that has brought her this far. Many times, artists don’t perform their most popular tracks to the disappointment of those in the audience because they are trying to pursue a new image or promote a new album. Luckily, this wasn’t the case on Friday night and you get the feeling that Marie’ won’t ever feel like she’s too good to appreciate where that song has taken her.
Marie’ saved two of her best performances for the conclusion of her set in “Voice on the Radio” and “Unfold.”
Before performing “Radio,” Marie’ revealed that the song was about her falling in love with a singer and wanting to meet him after a concert, only to be discouraged by a mob of girls “with their boobs out” who had similar desires. A few years later, Marie’ was now performing a song that managed to convey the feelings of at least half of her male audience who would jump at the opportunity to be Marie’s 2nd or 3rd boyfriend in a Hugh Hefner “Girls Next Door”-like arrangement (I’d probably clean her toilets, floss her teeth, or provide free mani’s and pedi’s just to hang out). “Radio” is a beautiful ballad that shows a more vulnerable side to Digby’s voice and honestly, it got me a little “emo” listening to it – especially during the chorus where Marie’ reached for some higher notes that were a joy to hear live.
In “Unfold,” Marie’ utilized her rarely heard falsetto on the chorus, which is something that seems to separate Marie’ from many acoustic singer/songwriter types out there who tend to love performing “vocal gymnastics” over all of their songs. “Unfold” is an extremely personal track from Marie’ with introspective lyrics that also really managed to get to me, which is impressive considering that I generally possess the emotional capacity of a children’s department-sized mannequin. It was clear that Marie’ poured out her heart into the lyrics of this song, but it was her performance of the song that set it apart to close out the set.
Overall, Marie’s melodies generally keep it pretty simple, but the sound of her voice is just so pure that I was left beyond impressed with the well-arranged simplicity of her songs. In terms of style, many of her songs are reminiscent of the very best that Michelle Branch ever released. I realize that this might not mean the same thing to everyone, but coming from a guy who had Michelle Branch posters in his room during his freshman year of college and took a lot of crap for it and yet still refused to take them down, it is supposed to mean a lot.
After a well-deserved ovation, Marie’ announced that she would be giving away free CDs outside. Immediately, the capacity filled audience cleared out and the “Marie’ mob” waited in the alley to get autographs and take pictures with the up and coming star.
I was immediately impressed at how Marie’ remembered names of those who she had met and at how genuine Marie’ was with all her fans as she signed CDs and took multiple pictures with fans, who would inevitably be uploading them to MySpace and Facebook immediately upon returning home that night (I cannot say that I have not since done the same).
With a sound that’s easy on the ears and a look that’s more than easy on the eyes, meeting Marie’ on Friday was one of the biggest thrills of my concert-filled summer. I told Marie’ that not since meeting Carrie Underwood earlier this summer had I been so star struck upon meeting an artist (and it’s really hard for me to get so giddy for something unless it involves me getting designer sunglasses) and that was the truth. It is exciting to see an artist like Marie’ at the beginnings of her career and it will be interesting to see what the coming year brings to Marie’ as she continues winning over new fans every day via 425x350 video screens.
Marie’ Digby’s current rise in popularity makes for one of the most interesting stories in music today. While Marie’ is best known for her covers, it is her original music that gives Marie’ the opportunity to impress not only vocally, but as a songwriter as well. Not only is her recent meteoric rise impressive, her story is an interesting narrative as to the different roads that musicians are taking to find success in the music industry today. With a full album currently being slated for an early 2008 release, Marie’ has the sound and talent to make her album one of the most anticipated debuts of the coming year. After her performance Friday night, I’ll not only be back to see her perform, but I’ll be one of the first in line to purchase her upcoming album.
I had the chance to do a brief Q&A with Marie’ after the show and the transcript of our brief interview is included below.
DC: We’re here with Marie’ Digby after her show here at
Hotel Café, where you’ll be playing all this month. How did that end up coming about?
MD: Hotel Café is probably the best venue in the area
DC: Your EP is coming out on September 11th as
well. What can we expect from that compared to what we’ve seen on YouTube
MD: It’s going to be pretty similar. We kept the recordings very simple. On every one of the recordings, I played and sang at the same time and we recorded the songs in a single take. There’s no cutting of takes, so it’s really raw. The only difference is that there’s a couple of instruments, not just me on the tracks. We added organs to some of the songs, but overall it’s going to be a lot like what people have seen on YouTube and have seen live.
DC: Do you know how many tracks are going to be on the EP?
MD: Yeah, there’ll be four on the EP.
DC: You recently came back from overseas
MD: I think my YouTube was already just starting to take off before I left for-Japan. One of my friends joked with me, “You’re going to come back
DC: Your song being on “The Hills” was a big way that a lot
more people started to hear about you. How did that come about and as a fan, do you watch
MD: I can definitely say that I know who Heidi and Lauren are. The music supervisor for the show wrote me an email on MySpace and wanted to see if anyone had contacted me about putting my version of “Umbrella” on “The Hills.” I didn’t believe that he was actually the music supervisor, so I forwarded it to my manager. And there we go, it was on the show! I just had no idea how big it was going to be. I think it was in the closing of the episode, so it had a really good spot.
DC: 3 to 4 million people hearing your song isn’t so bad.
MD: Yeah, it was crazy!
DC: Whose idea was it to do the YouTube videos in the first
place? Was it just something you wanted to do?
MD: I didn’t know how to reach as many people as I could in a short amount of time. Playing venues and getting residencies can definitely help, but I knew that it was no where near as big of an audience as YouTube could potentially provide for me. I started doing covers because I knew that I would have a better chance of people randomly finding me, instead of just putting out my originals. The whole point of it was to find an audience and see if there was an audience of people who would respond to my songs and my voice. I never imagined that it would be this successful, especially this fast!
DC: Are you starting to get recognized in public? Can you
still walk around like a normal person?
MD: Oh yeah, I totally can. But for example, I went to Disneyland the other day and when I came back, I had a few messages on MySpace from people saying that they saw me, but they were too embarrassed to come up to me. I love it when people come up to me! Life hasn’t changed yet, but little by little, it seems like people are starting to recognize me.
DC: I really enjoyed your original material tonight. I think
that many might misinterpret you and think that you’re more of a cover artist
from YouTube. When you’re playing these live shows, do you want to play your
original material or the crowd-pleasers, the “Umbrellas” and things people have
MD: I think “Umbrella” will be the only cover I really ever play. I never really imagined that I would introduce my music to the world through a cover. It took off on its own and I’m just along for the ride. I would never say “Please don’t play that on your radio station” or “Please don’t like me for that song.” I feel really lucky because artists have to do anything they can to get a chance and if this is my chance or opportunity, I’m totally grateful.
DC: You’ve been in the music industry for a while, even
though I think a lot of people think you just busted out on the scene. What
were you doing before music? Any odd jobs?
MD: Just a regular, regular life. I went to college for a year at UC Berkeley. I had the time of my life. I started pursuing music seriously when I was 19, when I was interning at Island/Def Jam during the day and I would go to open mics at night. Basically, I was a coffee maker. I delivered toilet paper to Method Man one time. I just did odds and ends, but that’s when I realized that I didn’t want to be on the business side and just wanted to be an artist. I think that was my oddest job.
DC: Let’s talk upcoming plans. You have a full length CD
coming out sometime in the near future?
MD: We’re hoping to get something out by the beginning of 2008. I am going to be opening up for Matchbox 20 in October, which is really exciting. Everyday, a new station seems to be adding “Umbrella,” and my hope is that eventually the song will run its course, and stations will start wondering, “Hey, so where are your songs?” That’s a moment that I’m really looking forward to.
DC: You have so many fans who want to come out here to meet
you and I think half the guys out here are in love with you. What would you say
to all your fans and everyone who looks like they’re here for the beginnings of
MD: I just hope that they’re all as excited as I am for this whole journey. There’s a long way to go and it’s so exciting that they get to see every single step, from making a YouTube video, to being on the radio, to packing shows. I am just so grateful and I think I have the most polite fans in the whole world. They’re so attentive and I hope they stick with me! I hope to be around for a long time as an artist, so I hope they grow with me!
DC: No doubt your fans hope you’ll be around for a while
too. Thank you so much for your time, Marie’!
MD: Thank you!