Andrew Darley talks to Marco Lawrence, the man behind Hall of Mirrors, a new voice in electronic music.
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Living and studying in Boston, Marco Lawrence is ready to make his first step forward in the music world. Studying classical music for several years and writing his own compositions since he was 14, the now 20 year old decided to try his hand at experimenting with electronic music. Adopting the name Hall Of Mirrors, he started to learn the technical aspects of home recording and production, which he described as both frustrating and rewarding. His determination resulted in his aptly titled first EP, Begin, which was released in February of this year.
Although considered a solo project, Lawrence records and performs with a cellist, Jenna Callabro, who adds a rich texture to his electronic pop. The five song EP showcases a smooth and meditative contemplative voice and an aptitude for strong pop melodies. The record promises future talent from a musician who has only been recording music for under a year. He has just released his first video for the standout song of the EP ‘Keep’, which he describes as “visual scrapbook of my life for the last six months”. We talked about the story behind the solo project, the process and limitations of producing his own music and how he made his first music video.
Hi Marco. To get started, can you tell me about when and how did the project come together?
I’ve been writing acoustic music for a long time now, and as soon as I wrote the first two electronic songs in October 2012 (‘Sacrifice’ and ‘Dreams’), I knew there was a need for a new name. I didn’t want to put it up under my own name because that’s what I used for my acoustic piano stuff and I wanted a fresh start, so I started Hall of Mirrors. Jenna Calabro, who plays the cello, has been playing with me for five or six years now, so it just made sense for me to ask her to play on these songs. She always adds whatever is missing when I finish a draft of a song and ask her to come over and play on it.
How would you describe the sound of Hall Of Mirrors?
I think I would describe it as electronic pop music with an acoustic twist. It can be dance music, but it’s also pretty somber. People have described it in a number of ways, but it seems I’m most commonly compared to Neon Indian, Depeche Mode, and Purity Ring. The comparisons have been really flattering.
How did you choose the name Hall of Mirrors and what does it mean to you?
I’m always a little hesitant to talk about the name because I don’t want to come off as pretentious, but it’s a pretty simple concept. Music, to me, has always been an introspective experience, whether it’s listening to an album hundreds of times, or writing music myself. I guess in that way, it’s sort of like a hall of mirrors – a tool to see yourself, certain situations, and others through different perspectives. I don’t really think about it too much anymore – it was a quick decision. It was more like, “yeah, this name seems like a good fit.”
You released the first EP, Begin, back in February. All the songs were all written, recorded and produced by you. When did you start learning the technological side of music and music software?
Just about a year ago now, and just about two and a half to three months before I wrote the first songs. I became obsessed with electronic production and it happened very quickly. I am still learning every day; it’s a priority of mine to improve myself technically. I’m taking a break before releasing new material for this reason. Sometimes I think I lucked out a bit on Begin.
What artists or albums that motivated you to make your own music?
Artists like Depeche Mode, Austra, M83, and iamamiwhoami have definitely influenced my production. I think they are great examples of electronic musicians who make music that is danceable while also still having a lot of beautiful and ethereal sounds behind it. I think you can hear some influence from each of those artists. I’m not sure which albums I would say motivated me to make my own music. There are many, and many which are non-electronic albums. I actually didn’t even really listen to a lot of strictly electronic music until a few years ago.
You put out the first music video from the record for the song ‘Keep’. Can you tell me a bit about how the video came together and where it was shot?
I had a pretty abstract idea for the video, and asked my good friend Sophia Carreras to film and help me develop it. There was no budget or anything – any equipment or software used was borrowed. We used my car headlights for lighting. That aside, I’m pretty pleased with what we came up with.
The video was shot almost entirely in the Allston neighborhood of Boston. In some ways, it’s like a visual scrapbook of the past six months of my life – people I’ve been spending time with, things I’ve been doing – and that’s, pretty much, what I wanted it to be. Something that reflects the nostalgic feeling of the song, and something that visually represents what it’s like for me to be the age I am where I am living now. I wanted it to be about being twenty – about the fun times. It’s something that all involved will be able to watch in a few years and probably really remember this time.
What is the song ‘Keep’ about and why did you pick that one as a single?
‘Keep’ is, to put it simply, about memories, and about remembering not to get too caught up in things. It’s about a strange time where I felt my memory completely failed me. There were a couple of weird years of my adolescence that seemed to be missing, and I ended up calling my sister and having to ask, “Did this happen and can you explain it to me?” It was so bizarre. I think ‘Keep’ ended up being a response to that. At some point, I had to remember not to get too caught up in my memories or lack thereof. I also had to remember to be genuine and act honestly and to forget pretenses in certain situations. So in some ways, the song is about two things.
I picked it as a single because I think it’s both the most unique and the most accessible. The vocal sample, which runs through most of the song, came from my friend and I playing around with a loop pedal. We passed the microphone back and forth a few times, layering our voices until it sounded good. I recorded and looped it and wrote the song around it.
How long does it take to complete a song from start to finish?
It depends, although the songs on Begin were fairly consistent. Most of the songs took two to three days to write, and then maybe a week or two to get a good mix and finalize the production. The last song, ‘Outro’ was a pretty big exception. It was written and recorded last, and took the least amount of time. I found some old piano lines I had written, and wrote the song around them in an hour or two. Jenna came over and we finished recording the song, and I mixed it within the next 24 hours. I think the song has a rougher sound when compared to the others because of how fast we did it, but I kind of like that element of it.
Is Hall of Mirrors your primary focus at the moment or are you working/studying too?
I’m a full-time student studying Public Relations and Psychology at Boston University. I haven’t really been doing anything else extra-curricular wise since I started this project so it ends up working out fairly easily. I just moved into a house near campus with fellow friends/students, most of whom are musicians as well, so I expect this semester to be a lot easier on me. I’ll have an open space to record, write, and practice without having to go too far.
Have there been any difficulties you’ve faced being as a musician so far?
They mainly stem from still learning about electronic production and performance. I had to watch tonnes of videos on YouTube on random things like using compressors properly and EQing and had to use Google to figure out various ways to play things live, but I think recently it’s started to work out well.
Also, there was also the problem of defining exactly what I was doing. It was unclear whether it was a band, duo, or solo project. It has ultimately ended up being my solo project, mainly because I write and produce everything with consistent collaborators. In that way, Jenna and Sophia (and even others) are a part of Hall of Mirrors but they aren’t members.
As an electronic outfit, are you happy with the songs you’ve produced so far or can you imagine taking them further if you had more studio equipment and technology at your disposal?
Oh, absolutely! I face many limitations caused pretty much exclusively by the equipment I have access to and the level my skills are at right now. As I’ve learned more and more about proper mixing, producing and recording, my standards have gotten higher. This has ended up being a kind of frustrating roadblock in my creative process. Nothing sounds good enough and I’m more inclined to throw things away. But otherwise, I’m actually pretty happy with the songs on Begin, especially when taking into account how little I knew at the time. I spent countless hours mixing the songs until they sounded right, but I didn’t necessarily know if I was doing it correctly. This isn’t to say I had no idea – I had some. I guess the major difference between then and now is that I could probably do it in half the time.
You’ve played some shows locally to you in the past few months. How does it feel to perform live? Do you get nervous?
In the beginning, it was honestly very difficult. I had no idea how to perform the songs live, and I had terrible stage fright. I was nervous for almost two weeks before my first show. Thankfully, it got easier pretty quickly. I’ve redone my live setup twice since then, and in the right situations, have actually come to have a love for performing. I find it very rewarding and feel comfortable on stage. People have told me the shows have successively improved. I do still get a little nervous beforehand, though.
Looking back on my first real show, I think I took a risk playing at a formal venue and opening for a nationally touring artist while having almost no idea what I was doing. It ended up being a pretty amazing experience.
As you are very much in its beginning stages, do you have a clear vision of where you’d like to go with it and what you’d like to achieve?
Not at all, really. I’d just like to continue writing songs and playing shows around town. I have no idea where it is going to go, or if it’s going to go anywhere. I just want to keep having fun with this! I am thinking of doing another EP in the next couple of months, but I am still deciding what to do next, sonically speaking. I have some new songs that I’m sitting on. I definitely didn’t expect people to take interest in the way that they have, especially online, so that’s been really cool. If whatever happens next will be anything like the past couple months since I put the EP up, then I’m really looking forward!