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This week, Lowell MA native R&B singer Marcela Cruz took to the mic as a part of our at home concert series. Before her performance, she spoke to WERS Staff Writer Simru Sonmez-Erbil about the challenges and triumphs of balancing a 9-5 job on top of a music career, and how her interactions within the Boston music community shaped her art.
By Simru Sonmez-Erbil, WERS Staff Writer
To start off, I’d love to know where your musical journey began. How did you come to be the musician you are today?
Marcela Cruz: I don’t know how far back to start off, but (laughs) growing up I’ve always been a singer; I actually attended a music school growing up that got me really involved [in] singing in bands, both pop and orchestra bands. I also entered a lot of different vocal competitions, which was really cool. I started really young in being very involved in all those rehearsals and competitions, as well as developing myself as a vocalist. As I continued through school I was very involved in the choir and other opportunities that were presented for me to sing throughout the community, especially at college. Being able to sing in front of big crowds was a big step for me as well – singing before basketball games, hockey games, and other big community events, which was really great. That’s also where I started songwriting, in school. I went to the University of New Hampshire, so there were a lot of different events that kind of exposed me to the world of performing and songwriting as well, so that was a lot of fun.
I actually went to school to study psychology, but after graduating I found myself applying to a lot of jobs, and I realized that the one thing I wanted to do was sing and perform and write music. It was a struggle for me to kind of figure out how to launch a career within the music industry seriously, and luckily I had a friend that introduced me to a producer here in Boston, who’s amazing – He goes by NellyProToolz. He was such a great mentor and really connected me to the music community here in Boston. I’m originally from Lowell, Massachusetts, so coming to Boston, there were a lot of people to meet, a lot of shows and venues to explore. He also gave me amazing access to the studio that he was working out of, so we got to make some great music as well. So, pretty much from there, which I believe was now five, six years ago, I have been recording my own music, collaborating with a lot of other songwriters, producers, and musicians, and performing in and out of Boston; That’s kind of where I’m at today! Still making a lot of music, working to perform, although it’s a little tough right now where we’re at, but really anxious to get back out there and start performing again.
Your songs, they sound so full and vibrant, like there are such lively vibes when you’re recording. What is the vibe in the studio like, and do you achieve that sound through what comes out of you emotionally?
MC: Yeah, I think the vibe... There isn’t just one vibe. I think it depends on how I’m feeling that day, it depends on how other people in the studio are feeling that day, and we kind of feed off of each other. There are definitely songs of mine that I have written that any time I perform them are very emotional – Actually, there are a few that I’ve cried writing or performing, and sometimes that’s the vibe when I’m in the studio recording them. Other times, it’s pure fun – just having fun with the music and playing around with different things, down from the actual beat that’s being made or the lyrics that we’re writing. So, the vibe can definitely change, but it’s always a productive one. But, I should say, sometimes we have too much fun, and we’re just playing around and creating. We have such a big catalog of music that we’ve started and haven’t finished, but it’s always a good time.
And where do you draw inspiration from? You write songs on a wide variety of topics, but is there a certain headspace that you get in to write, or, like you said, does it just depend on how you’re feeling at the time?
MC: Yeah, I think it’s a mixture of the two. I know my first EP was drawn from real experiences; It was focused around love and heartbreak, and I drew a lot of the inspiration from relationships that I had. Another EP that I had released, called Fight For It, was also drawn from real experiences, around the time where I was balancing a nine-to-five, and still am, but also really fighting to pursue my dream within the music industry; kind of drawing out emotions and experiences from that. Then there’s also times where I write music that just comes from nowhere. Maybe it’s from a movie that I’ve watched, or another song that I’ve heard and really like and kind of want to put my own spin on, but keeping the same type of topic or theme. It’s really a mixture, but not everything I write is about my own experiences; Sometimes I do draw inspiration from things that are going on around me as well.
Speaking of balancing music and a nine-to-five, do you still do music in addition to another job that you have?
MC: Yes. I do work for a global ad agency in Boston; It’s an amazing company called Havas Media, and it’s cool because it’s also something that I enjoy doing, and it’s definitely supported me and has helped me grow both professionally and personally. But it’s also the type of culture and environment that has allowed me to still pursue what I love, which is music. I’ve been really grateful to be able to do both.
Has there ever been any kind of struggle between balancing your job and music? Do you ever wish you could just do music full-time?
MC: Um, yes! (Laughs) I’d love to do music full-time, but, also, being realistic in terms of how I can support myself financially, right now I’m still at the point where I do need another job to do that. The job has helped support me and helped me invest in the music side of things as well, so I’m grateful for that. There has been in the past – not the company I’m currently working for – but I’ve worked for companies where I’ve had to literally just walk in the office and quit. It just was not working out work-life balance-wise, and I was not able to keep up with my rehearsals outside of work. I was getting sick because the work-life balance was just not there. I’ve been grateful to have a position now that I’ve been at for the past four years that has allowed me to do both.
Are you working on a project right now? Obviously, like we were saying, it’s hard to put on shows right now, but is something brewing; another EP or album maybe?
MC: Yeah, I have been writing a lot of music during quarantine, and kind of strategizing the best way to go about releasing that music. Right now, we do have music that we’re going to be pushing out as singles, but as we create we’re also trying to build the next EP or build the next album, so that will definitely be on the horizon. But as of right now, we do have a handful of singles that we’ll be releasing throughout the year.
You said you’re originally from Lowell; Have you lived in Massachusetts all your life?
MC: Yes, aside from going to UNH and living on campus there in New Hampshire.
I’m curious to know, how do you feel the Greater Boston and Massachusetts community has shaped your music? Do you feel like it’s been a supportive environment for you?
MC: Yeah, definitely, I would say it’s definitely been supportive. I am a homebody, I’m an introvert/extrovert; I’m a little bit of both, but sometimes it takes a lot for me to loosen up and get out there and network. But I’ve really been able to make some meaningful connections in the Boston area, both in the music community and also on the business side. I’ve connected with so many great people who want to [give] support, whether it’s more on the management side of things, or other creators who want to collaborate. Fans, too: people who want to generally support and like the music. It’s been a great community to be involved in.
Do you have a favorite collaboration you’ve done, or an experience that was really positive for you that you’d like to do again? Of course, it’s hard to pick favorites!
MC: Ooh, (laughs) I feel like all of the collabs that I’ve done have been so special. The first music video and one of the first songs that I ever released was called “Stuck On You” with Hank Sinatra, who’s another artist from Lowell. That was super special, especially [with] it being one of the first records that came out with a video. I have two amazing records with Dutch ReBelle as well, who’s an amazing artist here in Boston, and – oh man, I’m trying to think – I love all of the collabs that I’ve been a part of. I’ll also say, too, that earlier this year there was a huge collaboration with a lot of different artists and musicians in Boston with ZUMIX, which is an organization out of East Boston, where there was a huge fundraiser put on at The Sinclair. That was such a cool experience and collab with musicians that I had never played with, or worked with before, or met before. It was really special and something that will stick with me forever.
It’s that spirit of local acts and everyone supporting each other that makes Boston a really special place!
MC: Yeah! We had to come up with three or four songs in a day, and I ended up singing songs that were more rock, which I had never done before. It was just really cool to morph all of our styles together and perform for a full house.
You have been super tenacious and really accomplished in all that you’ve done, in terms of doing a lot with your music as well as having a full-time job. I’m wondering what advice you might have for aspiring musicians, or people who have already dabbled in music but are really looking to actively pursue it like you have, while still having another job. What advice would you give to them to get by?
MC: I would say that one of the biggest things that has really helped me as an artist is having genuine people around you that support you. I know I called out a few people earlier, but I’ve been really blessed to have people that push me and really believe in me even when things aren’t so great – and also are there to celebrate when things are amazing. I think surrounding yourself with people who you trust and who you genuinely also want to support – I think that has to be mutual. That’s the biggest thing for me, getting people around you who believe in you.
I would also say that for a lot of artists, I think the focus is always on the music, which is super important, but something that I learned too is that the business side is just as important: They do have to go hand in hand. Really try to educate yourself on the creativity side, but on the business side as well so they can support each other and really help launch a career.