To say that indie singer-songwriter Lauren Marsh is on a roll is an understatement. Just this past weekend the multi-instrumentalist and resident of Pennington played the venerable Bitter End in Greenwich Village, and did so by invitation, and on a Saturday night.
“Everybody has played there, so many stars,” Marsh says. “And they reached out to me to perform on a Saturday night, when so many songwriters have played on weeknights and are still waiting to play on a weekend.”
Marsh also recently graced the stage of World Cafe Live at the Queen in Wilmington, Delaware.
If this wasn’t enough, earlier this year Marsh quite unexpectedly learned that one of her original songs had been placed on the soundtrack to the CBS show “NCIS: New Orleans.” The popular crime drama starring Scott Bakula featured “Dear Love” toward the end of the episode titled “Second Chances.”
As an independent artist, with no manager or publicist, Marsh still isn’t quite sure how her song found its way onto the show, which aired on February 23.
“I was on the way to a performance and got the phone call, a representative from ‘NCIS’ saying ‘We’d love to use your song,’” Marsh says. “But even the music director of the series didn’t know where the request came from — maybe someone on the set had heard it.”
It’s an exquisite song, with simple accompaniment, just one of a handful of new works from Marsh’s latest indie EP, “Veracity.” The singer with a fluid and tender soprano voice obviously has contemporary influences — such as Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine — but fans of older luminaries like Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro will also hear a kinship.
However “Dear Love” found its way onto “NCIS: New Orleans,” its placement has helped boost Marsh’s reputation; she estimates that some 20 million viewers heard her song.
“It’s one of CBS’ top shows, and I got a huge reaction,” Marsh says. “(This kind of exposure) absolutely helps. It’s great recognition and definitely opens doors. But also, my song really did fit the scene. I was amazed at how well it did.”
So catch Marsh locally before the “star-maker machinery” (as Ms. Mitchell might say) swoops in and spirits her away.
Maybe someday you can say, “I saw Lauren Marsh when she performed at Communiversity,” as Marsh and her band will be performing on the Washington Road Stage, located at Nassau Street and Washington Road, near the Princeton Garden Theater on Sunday, April 17, at 3 p.m.
Once again produced by the Arts Council of Princeton, Communiversity ArtsFest is the annual event that links student participants from Princeton University with support from the town. It runs from 1 to 6 p.m. in the heart of town.
The event features more than 200 booths showcasing original art and contemporary crafts, as well as unusual merchandise and all kinds of culinary goodies from local chefs, as well as six stages of live entertainment. Marsh and her band are among a host of live acts to be showcased.
Marsh says she is happy to be part of the event for a variety of reasons. “I just released ‘Veracity’ and want to give it the attention it deserves, so right now I’m working on performing live, and there are a lot of shows coming up,” Marsh says. “I’ve had so much positive feedback, so I’m trying to find ways to give back, but I also love performing live, connecting with the audience. It’s the kind of communication I’ve always loved.”
Born in Rahway, Marsh describes herself as a very quiet child who sometimes didn’t know how to communicate her more complex feelings and found poetry as a vehicle for expression. These early writings and explorations would eventually develop into the rich song and lyric writing that seems to come right through her.
Marsh’s family moved around when she was young but settled in central New Jersey in 1999. Professionally, her father was a vice president with the California-based pharmaceutical company Vivus, retiring last May. Her mother had been a home economics teacher, but opted to be a stay-at-home mom after Marsh’s brother was born in 1989.
Both parents were musical, however: Marsh’s dad has been playing guitar since his youth, and her mom had always loved performing in plays, especially musicals. Marsh talks about how they had been playing and singing together at weddings and other festivities since meeting in high school.
“They did all this on their own, not professionally, but there was always music playing in the house,” she says. “Growing up I heard lots of theater and show tunes, jazz — since my dad is a big fan — and of course the Beatles, Springsteen, all kinds of things.”
As a member of one of earliest classes at the Princeton School of Rock, Marsh, who is primarily a keyboardist, was exposed to classic rock and soon counted superstars like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd among her influences. During her time at Hopewell Valley Central High School, Marsh also dove into jazz, falling in love with such greats as Ella Fitzgerald. (Marsh graduated from HVCHS in 2010.)
“I became passionate about singing jazz, and sang with my high school’s jazz orchestra,” she says. “Hopewell Valley has a brilliant music program, and the head of the program was (and still is) Peter Griffin, who’s been such a big influence, very open-minded. He taught a progressive rock class where we learned about groups like Yes and Jethro Tull, etc. He helped bring a huge love for all kinds of music into my life.”
Having studied piano since a young age, and always having the desire to communicate her inner thoughts, Marsh began writing original pieces around age 14.
“I’ve always gravitated to writing my own music, telling my own stories, expressing my own emotions, and whatnot,” she says, noting such diverse literary influences as Robert Frost and Charles Bukowski.
Her yearning to write started to overcome her love for studying jazz vocals, and she was torn between these twin passions during her first year at Moravian College in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
“I was definitely going in the direction of singer-songwriter, but I didn’t know how plausible it was, just that I had a passion for writing,” Marsh says. “When I went to Moravian I was a jazz major, but I was writing more and more music. In fact, I would go into my lessons with original music. Unfortunately, Moravian didn’t have a songwriting course, so I transferred to William Paterson University” in Wayne, New Jersey.
There Marsh enrolled in the pop music program, earning a bachelor’s degree in 2014. The program teaches artists how to balance their creativity with practical studies in recording and production, as well as intellectual property law, management, and social media marketing and analysis.
“(The pop music program) is fantastic and gives a really clear picture of how things work, so you won’t be taken advantage of,” Marsh says. “You also learn music theory and ear training, as well as pop song producing — how to build and structure a song through the studio process.”
Even before Marsh graduated from William Paterson, she had connected with producer Chris Badami, who is also frequently the drummer in her band. The Grammy-nominated Badami has run Portrait Recording Studios in Pompton Plains for about 20 years, working with a national and international host of creative and corporate clients. Badami has produced all three of Marsh’s recordings, beginning with “Ready for Takeoff” in 2012.
In 2015 the singer and her band performed at the RedGorilla Music Festival in Austin, Texas, just across town from the South by Southwest Music Conference.
In the last few years, Marsh has been touring and performing at venues like Rockwood Music Hall in New York and Havana in New Hope, where she opened for international touring act Anna Nalick. Prior to Nalick, Marsh opened for Howie Day, with appearances at more than 30 colleges.
Marsh was also selected for spotlight performances at music festivals like Millennium Music Conference, Singer-Songwriter Cape May, and the Jersey Shore Music Festival. She has also workshopped her originals for the crowd at Patriot’s Crossing tavern in nearby Titusville.
She not only has natural talent with song and lyric writing, Marsh seems to have an instinct for the studio recording process.
“I think I have a knack for the concept, and I bring a full body of work to the studio, not just samples of the songs,” she says. “I am always writing songs, and I can see a certain (theme) going on. I try to think sonically, like, ‘what will the record sound like? Is it more piano-driven or more synthesizer-driven? What kind of bass line will sound best?’
“From there we do a rough draft: we hear what the song sounds like, and then we tweak it,” Marsh explains. “The song is the bare bones, and we’re creating the world and the universe the song will reside in.”
She describes the latest release, “Veracity,” as alternative-pop, with maybe a twinge of folk, a nice balance thanks to the richness of synthesizers and the rawness of acoustic instruments.
In addition to Ella Fitzgerald, Marsh notes such singers as Adele, Sara Bareilles, and James Bay as vocal influences. Then she recalls how much she loved Led Zeppelin when she was at the School of Rock, and adds Led Zep lead vocalist Robert Plant to that list.
“I fall in love with any artist who is passionate, who is bleeding on their songs, and with Robert Plant, he’s 100 percent in. You can hear that,” Marsh says. “Same with James Bay, you can just feel him pushing everything out.”
Songwriting influences also vary, but there’s one song in particular that stands out as the gold standard, a piece of music Marsh would love to be able to emulate someday: “Blackbird,” the masterpiece by John Lennon and Paul McCartney from the Beatles 1968 album popularly known as “The White Album.”
“It’s such an amazing song, simple but complex, and when it comes together, you’re not even thinking about it,” Marsh says, adding that, in regard to her originals, “I want people to be captured by the song, living in the moment as the song is happening.
“I think songs come through me subconsciously, and I am moved to write,” she adds. “Sometimes I don’t even know what I am writing about until I listen back later, and then I say, ‘Oh, that’s what my song is about!’”
Communiversity ArtsFest, Sunday, April 17, 1 to 6 p.m., downtown Princeton. Free. Rain or shine. Singer-songwriter Lauren Marsh and her band will perform on the Washington Road Stage, Nassau Street and Washington Road, near the Princeton Garden Theater, at 3 p.m. www.laurenmarsh.com.
For the full lline-up of activities and events at the six stages on Nassau and Witherspoon streets visit www.artscouncilofprinceton.org/communiversity.