On Deck: Mree


For some artists, the words “genre” and “influence” are as intangible as the music which pushes against these often irrelevant categorizations. Experimental folk singer Mree — born Marie Hsiao — is just one more artist in a long line of artists who see music in terms of connectivity and inclusivity and not merely the trappings of rote musical classification. Wielding her angelic voice over complex rhythms and often surprisingly dense instrumentation, she draws on years of experience far surpassing that of her own age of 19. You can hear this ageless quality on her latest collection of songs, entitled Winterwell, which is due out on August 6th. Blending delicate folk compositions with subtle electronics, Mree deftly sidesteps any preconceived notions of what folk and electronic music should be and creates something that is reminiscent of her influences, while still sounding singularly original.

Mree recently took some time from her busy schedule to talk with Beats Per Minute about a few of the records which have helped to shape her own unique perspective on music. Drawing from artists that share a similar musical mindset, she speaks with obvious admiration and affection for records by Sufjan Stevens, Bon Iver, and Jonsi & Alex – also talked about are records by Imogen Heap and Hammock. Through her choices here, you come to see how her approach in trying to combine different genres has been championed by numerous artists in recent memory, and Mree seems to have no intention of missing her opportunity to help with the cause. Check out her full list below in the latest installment of our On Deck series.

Jonsi & Alex - Riceboy Sleeps
Jonsi & Alex – Riceboy Sleeps

Riceboy Sleeps is most certainly ethereal – slow moving strings, light piano playing, choirs drenched in reverb. But it is a troubling kind of beautiful (the best kind, in my opinion). Right along side the heavenliness hangs a heaviness. They mix in noise artifacts of what sounds like old record players, creaks from floorboards, and soft scratching noises panned left and right. These organic audio artifacts provide a sense of grounding authenticity, reminding us of the floor beneath our feet while mixing it with otherworldly ambience. Instead of working against each other, they work in harmony, speaking to our longing to be stationary, grounded by reality while at the same time, drifting above it all, delving into dream and memory.

To me, Riceboy Sleeps plays to our desire for the permanence of the lasting. It gives us a taste of not being caught, but comforted in the endless dance with the in-between.

In my own music writing, Riceboy Sleeps has taught me that art works powerfully when backed by the mystifying trickery of its dual nature, when it plays on our natural embedded desires to resonate with something inside us. And it doesn’t necessarily have to come from actual words. Music has always spoken to me than lyrics, and just through their composition, the choices they made in production, the instruments, sound artifacts and their timbre, tells me that music can speak more clearly to us than words.

Imogean Heap - Speak for Yourself
Imogen Heap – Speak for Yourself & Heapsongs

To me, Imogen Heap just screams artful creativity. I love everything about her sound. The instruments and sounds she creates are so unique, mixing electronic elements with live acoustic sounds. And the production is just stunning. Everything has it’s own space and purpose in the mix, aiding to the evolution of the songs. It is just as equally important to the song as the lyrics and music – an inspiration for me to get better at production.

I also love how she uses dynamics, getting extremely up close, dry and quiet, blooming to grand and spacious. There is so many interesting things going on in her music, I have to listen back multiple times to appreciate it all.

Hammock - Departure Songs
Hammock – Departure Songs

I really admire the soundscapes Hammock creates and the way they use the power of the build-up (similarly to what I love in Sigur Ros and Jonsi & Alex’s music). Probably my favorite off of their album, Departure Songs, is “Ten Thousand Years Won’t Save Your Life”. They start off with a simple chord progression with ambient electric guitars soaring in reverb. The song grows and grows as strings are added until it breaks out in a powerful chorus. I can’t listen to this song without getting chills. They have definitely influenced my song writing in Winterwell, teaching me to give my songs the proper time to grow and evolve.

Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
Sufjan Stevens – The Avalanche

What I love most about Sufjan’s music is his layering of instruments. In the track, “The Avalanche”, for example, the banjos and piano have their own intricate lines. It seems as though there is always some note being plucked or key being played in the beats of the measure, but although they all sound at once, they fill in the empty gaps like a puzzle piece. It’s never over the top – they just fit together. It sounds like a moving wall of sound, traveling forward but never to take the limelight.

I think I try to take some of that into my own music, especially with the new album. I absolutely love layering, adding different instruments and timbres with what seems like intricate melodies of their own, but all work together.

Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago

Lyrically, Bon Iver has been one of my biggest inspirations when it comes to writing. As much as I appreciate songs that are raw, direct, and to the point, I love that Bon Iver is less revealing, more ambiguous and mysterious. A single song can mean different things depending on the listener and leaves room for question and interpretation. It allows the art to expand inside the listener’s mind, making for an artful observer if they choose to explore it.

Mree’s sophomore album, Winterwell, is due out on August 6th.