June 01, 2007

Jodi Marr - State of Grace

By Karl Avanzini

Grammy-winner JODI MARR finally gains her international exposure


Jodi Marr

Known for her versatile writing skills and vocal prowess, Jodi Marr has been compared to a sultry, edgy mix of Linda Perry, Stevie Nicks and Debbie Harry. Marr broke first in the Latin Market, winning a Grammy in her first year as a signed writer for an explosive single performed by Alejandra Guzman. In 2005 Jodi developed the new London-based artist Mika, whose U.K. single "Grace Kelly," co-written by Jodi is igniting in the U.K., selling over a million records to date. Jodi recently spoke with Playback about her musical inspirations and her evolution as a songwriter.

How did your interest in music begin?
I learned to sing and arrange vocals from the nuns in catholic school, and the church choir. I took classical piano and organ from the time I was 6, but I stopped lessons in high school and started learning pop and rock songs from sheet music.

You grew up in South Florida and went to all-girls Catholic schools for 14 years. What sparked your interest in Rock & Roll?
When I was five years old I had a crush on my next door neighbor who had a KISS cover band. They would play in his backyard and invite an audience. I used to watch through my bedroom window. I sang in a local rock band when I was 15 and started playing in bars underage as the "chick singer." That got old fast, so I learned to play guitar and write my own songs. I joined ASCAP as an associate member in high school and entered all those Billboard & John Lennon songwriting competitions, but the live thing really caught my attention. It was funny because I was actually this shy straight A student moonlighting as a rock diva… Who knew?

Tell me a little bit about your songwriting process.
I don't have one tried and true process. I write music and lyrics, sometimes at once, sometimes separately, on guitar, piano, bass, or even my Venezuelan Cuatro. I look at songs as if they were three minutes in the life of a character, like in a short story, maybe it's a monologue, maybe a dialogue, an internal or external conversation, but it's always about storytelling, and I don't just mean the lyrics. I believe that music implies not only a mood, but even syllables; it s like a puzzle to solve. The song tells you what sounds verbally would fit in that particular series of notes. Hoagy Carmichael said "there have always been great melodies out there in the universe, and it is the mark of a great writer when you know when you have found one."

What have you learned from the incredible and diverse artists you have worked with, like Julio Iglesias, Alejandra Guzman, Ricky Martin and Richie Sambora?
I've been lucky enough to work with both beginning artists, and some of my personal heroes, and I have learned from all of them. I wouldn't have a career if it weren't for Desmond Child, Richie Supa, and the artists and musicians I've worked with. We are all members of the same tribe. If we weren't, we'd be working in dentist's offices.

The great artists, like the Bee Gees, Julio Iglesias, Alejandra Guman and Richie Sambora, have taught me about what makes real musical success; class, courage, honesty, looking for quality songs, whether you write them yourself or not, and a close and constant relationship to your fans. Alejandra Guzman and Richie Sambora are great examples of that. They don't forget for a second that their fans enable them to live their dream. They are very in touch with their humanity. Great artists, new or established, have a few things in common: integrity, hard work, dedication to your craft and a strong sense of who you are. Julio Iglesias told me how he used to sit with his feet in a bucket of ice while writing songs so he would stick with it until the song was finished, and it literally takes that kind of dedication!

Do you have any thoughts on the way the music business is now, compared to back when you started?
Before I was a producer and songwriter, I worked at both a publisher and a record label and was signed as an artist afterwards, so I've witnessed some of the changes in the various arenas. The old model is clearly no longer working, Myspace, iTunes and YouTube, along with so many other new opportunities for distribution are changing the landscape, and for the better. We have new systems to distribute music to niches and to a wide audience. Now that you can pay to download songs legally, in the halls of Congress, songwriters can fight for rights and sensible distribution. We are living in a golden era of opportunity, for musical revolution, like in the 60's. I believe we can rebuild the golden age of performance and songwriting.