The week Margot and I chatted, we were both in the calm before the storm of finals week, and we immediately connected over our unconventional paths through college - taking gap years and transferring universities before settling at our current schools. Margot attends Berkley College of Music in Boston where she's tentatively studying songwriting and adjusting back to being a full time student after taking working in a toy store during the thick of the pandemic. That time off from school proved integral to solidifying her voice as an artist.
Margot's first step into music was through guitar. After watching her father play her whole life, she started teaching herself the instrument while in middle school using YouTube tutorials. The first song she ever learned was "Stairway to Heaven" by Led Zeppelin. While participating in the School of Rock program in high school, she learned bass as well, and for a while, she aspired to simply be a guitar player, content to hang in the background. Margot still isn't sure about being in the spotlight.
It was songwriting, which she got into her sophomore year of high school, that spurred her into wanting to claim center stage and become an artist. "When I started writing it was definitely weird because I wouldn't want someone else to sing my songs. I have to sing my own songs because they're my songs," she tells me, despite singing never being one of her central musical interests before she started writing. Even so, she hasn't had much of a chance to perform her own work outside the realm of the internet or even perform live much at all due to the circumstances of the last few years.
Her earliest songs were shaped by artists like Joni Mitchell and Simon and Garfunkel, who she often heard playing around the house as a child. Recently, though, she's turned to more modern artists for inspiration naming Phoebe Bridgers and Taylor Swift, indie pop's chief mainstays, along with artists like Dodie and Alexander 23. We end up going on a long tangent about Alexander where Margot shared her insightful view of him as being the "male Gracie Abrams" and I told her about running into him at Gracie's show, which only helps to solidify her theory. Margot's love and appreciation for these artists, and above all for their songwriting, palpably fizzles in a way that makes it abundantly clear she's headed down the right career path.
With these influences swirling in her mind, she started more seriously working on her music in the newfound space that the pandemic shutdown offered her. While the pandemic started off for her as it did for most of us just, "chillin with my dad and my cat," she eventually started to question what she would do with all of the extra time. Writing became the answer. Before her gap year, she had been precious about her process, feeling like she had to officially sit down at an allotted time to write a song. But over her gap year, she started writing whenever an idea crossed her mind, jotting down random notes and lines to later turn into full songs without the pressures and boundaries of a structure. It's a practice she's carried with her ever since. Now when she writes, she'll start with "pretty chords" and then try out different lines from her treasure trove of notes until one fits. Though, as all songwriters know, "I feel like the best ones always just happen. They happen so fast."
All of that writing culminated in her first ever single release back in April of this year. "Aries" is a product of Margot's musical mind with a production assist from Zach Rogers. While Margot writes the words and melodies on her own, Zach has become an integral partner in crafting the sound of the EP, and since he'd taken a gap year too, they spent 2020 working on music together.
Simultaneously, Margot had to put on her artist hat and start navigating the world of content creation in the hopes of finding an audience for the music she's spent so much time making. With TikTok hailed as the modern method for discovering new talent, artists don't have much of a choice when it comes to whether to join the platform. Still, Margot resisted for a while. "It's really funny because for the first couple years TikTok was a thing, I was like, I don't get it," she tells me with a laugh. "All my friends would make TikTok references and I would be like, 'I don't know what that is. I'm so confused'. I was always kind of antiTikTok." As someone who had long held out on downloading the app as well, I completely understood what she meant. TikTok is a very all or nothing platform.
It was her best friend and manager that convinced her to join in the lead up to "Aries"'s release. In her time since joining the platform, there's been ups and downs. She sees how amazing this new chance at exposure is, but she also naturally feels the negative impacts of social media, especially as a young creative struggling to gain recognition. "I spent a long time trying to get out of the headspace of posting on TikTok to get people to notice me. It's tricky because I'll go through phases where I'm posting something just hoping so many people see it. Adding a bunch of hashtags," she admits. "But it's the same thing. The best songs come randomly, and I feel like so do the posts that get the most views," she concludes about the mysteries of the algorithm. She's candid about the letdown of a TikTok flopping when she thought it would get tons of views and the slippery slope of letting likes and comments start to overcome the creative process.
Clearly, she's spent plenty of time sorting through her relationship to the platform that holds so much positive and negative potential, and she's come to a truly balanced outlook on where the line between being an artist and being active on social media falls. "If I can just write something and get my dopamine rush from writing and being like that's something I did and I'm proud of it, that means something to me," she says. She continues explaining, "I feel like the goal for me is to always just have that feeling be enough. I never want something as materialistic as likes to ruin it for me, and I think it does ruin it for a lot of people because you put so much hope into this thing that you made, and you're so proud of it. Then when it doesn't get the reaction you expected, it just ruins it for you." At the end of the day, it's the pure magic of songwriting that centers her again. "Just writing a song is a cool thing. Even if it's a shit song, like, you still wrote a song. That's great."
|Photo Credits: Kevin Ludy|
With each song Margot creates, she keeps in mind an ultimate goal of wanting listeners to think "me too" and immediately feel less alone as they listen. It's honesty that allows her songs to connect, and though it's still early on, Margot has started to see the wonderful benefits of the vulnerability in her music.
"I posted a video like a week or two ago," she tells me excitedly, "and this girl messaged me on Instagram." She breaks away from the story to express her genuinely gleeful shock at what had happened adding, "This was crazy. I'm literally a nobody." She continues, "She wrote this paragraph and was like, 'I just wanted to say thank you. I heard these lyrics and I relate to them so much'. I realized the fact that she said that to me made me want to keep going."
"Sometimes you write things and you're like, 'What am I doing?' You kind of have this cycle," she says of the ups and downs of making music. It's the chance to see it resonate with listeners that makes the frustrations of writers block, perfectionism, imposter syndrome, and the rollercoaster that is being a public internet person all worth it in the end.
"The fact that she reached out and liked it and appreciated it... I don't know, I just want to help other people feel less alone because I feel alone all the time," she concludes, perfectly getting to the heart of why we all wrack up thousands of minutes a year spent on Spotify and why our connections with our favorite artists run so deep.
Photo Credits: Kevin Ludy
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