Next Wave #1103: Etta Marcus

Dreamy pop melancholia that bursts out of definitions...

For 21-year-old Etta Marcus, 2022 has been a year of ‘firsts’: First EP, first music video, and first headline show, to name a few. After being booted out of a jazz conservatoire in early 2020 and hitting an all-time low, the entire world shut down. Etta was left heavy-hearted, but with time to kill, and an aptitude for songwriting. Serendipity ensued, and she emerged with a buoyant sonic future.

Clash caught up with Etta mere hours after her crack-of-dawn flight back to London from Germany’s Reeperbahn festival. Situated within the Imperial Theatre, a decadent, ruby velvet-clad sanctum, the space’s haunting luxury lent itself to Etta’s idyllic ambience, floating into the periphery of realism. But although she has nailed that dreamy, sad-girl tenderness, her musical aptitude and sonic inspiration reaches far beyond that.

“I was so used to being pigeonholed as sad girl writing, which I love, and I still will do that, but I think I wanted to break that mold a little bit and say, ‘I can do this as well,’” says Etta. “I never write fast songs. It’s not my thing. So I wanted to put myself outside of my comfort zone,” she continues. It’s yet another accomplishment to add to Etta’s running tab of ‘firsts’ this year. 

‘Crown’ is the dawn of the emotional odyssey that is ‘Heart-Shaped Bruise’. Etta teases the project, mediating on its themes of self-sabotage and the bitter end of a thorny relationship. “The EP goes through this arc, this sort of rise and fall. It starts off pretty intense and it falls into this lost period of time where you’re accepting that everything is over and that’s okay,” she says. 

Enlivened by a blossoming love of poetry, Etta was inspired to write lyrics before melodies on this EP. She gushes about the odic majesty of Sylvia Plath and T.S. Eliot, a towering wall of books looming in the background. Her poetic inspirations track – there’s a literary wistfulness to her music that conjures the spectral melancholia of Mazzy Star and the dewy-eyed poignancy of Jeff Buckley. Like her inspirations, she’s equal parts emotive and technically remarkable. “I grew up classically trained, so all about vocal health. I do wacky vocal warmups like pretending to play ping pong and singing the words ‘ping pong,’” she giggles.

Eccentric pre-show rituals may be routine for Etta, but the discovery of ping-pong-inspired vocal warm-ups definitely belongs on Clash’s list of ‘firsts’. 

WHAT: Explicitly honest pop
WHERE: London
3 SONGS: ‘Crown’, ‘Provider’, ‘Salt Lake City’

FACT: For guitars, Etta tends to play a Telecaster – as she likes the trademark ‘twang’.

Words: Bella Savignano
Photography: Sophie Maynne
Fashion: Sabrina Soormally

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