Story & Photos by Andy Lyons, Editor-in-Chief
Breaking into the music industry can be an uphill battle in the digital age. For many, websites such as YouTube or SoundCloud are tickets to record deals. But many a local musician will say it is building an audience that is paramount to their success. For singer-songwriter Marilyn Brie, it’s finding a place she calls home and the relationships that have allowed her to chase her dreams.
While she has had many once-in-a-lifetime experiences in the music industry, the 23-year-old Green Ridge, Mo.- native Marilyn Brie found herself in Warrensburg, Mo. and a regular at Thursday night open mic nights at The Bay, and has since started playing at other local venues as well as opening for bigger acts on weekends.
“I’ll never leave The Bay behind. This is my home,” she told CMN before her Friday night set at the downtown Warrensburg venue. “This is like my stepping stone, my first little foot step in the door it feels like.”
Her journey didn’t start as simple as a girl and her guitar. Music has been a large part of her life since childhood. While her dad and his friend from Vietnam, “Uncle Duff,” played guitar and enjoyed libations while she was younger, the inspiration came from watching her brother learn and excel at the guitar. At age 11, her parents offered guitar lessons for herself and her older brother Bri. While she declined, seeing the progression her brother made lit a fire.
“I think this is probably the biggest regret I ever had in my life was I did not take those guitar lessons but my brother did,” she explained. “And I watched him grow as a musician and that is the biggest inspiration that I have, is watching him grow as a musician. And seeing him come up with his own music and write his own music. I was always the first person that he came to every time he had even a verse or a line to a song or something. It just always made me feel so special and I just thought the world of him and it was really neat.”
Marilyn Brie said she finally picked up the guitar at age 16, but it wasn’t until she was 18 that she started taking it seriously, teaching herself to play using guitar tutorials on YouTube.
Starting at age 16, she also took the chance to compete in popular singing competitions “American Idol,” “X Factor,” and “The Voice.” While she didn’t make it beyond the initial auditions, Marilyn Brie said she learned a lot about the music industry and views each of the competitions as positive experiences.
“I cried, and it’s a sentimental moment when you realize you want something so bad in your heart and all you hear is you’re not good enough,” she said. “That hurts inside, you just have to stay positive about it and realize this is not the time. You’ve got your whole life ahead of you, you have so many opportunities to get through it you never know what’s going to happen in life. I think ultimately the biggest thing that I can take away from it is huge learning experiences, knowing that hey at least you went there, you did it, you got it done, you tried your best and that’s all you can do, I think.”
From there, Marilyn Brie was the lead singer in a Led Zeppelin tribute band and traveled all over the state. But soon thereafter, she said she wanted to branch out and focus on original music. She took some time to herself and as a student at the University of Central Missouri, she decided to head to The Bay’s open mic nights and test the waters as a solo act.
“There’s no one to rely on for making gigs, so you have to be motivated enough to realize that if you really want something to happen you have to make it happen yourself,” she said of going solo. “Nobody else is going to do it for you.”
When Marilyn Brie hits the stage, it’s almost like seeing someone on an island. Her diminutive stature at a blustering 4’11” is almost comical as she slings her acoustic guitar around her shoulders. But as she starts singing, her voice fills the room.
Playing a mix of covers and original music, as well as plenty of interaction with the crowd, she displays her knowledge of working the room – reminiscent of how June Carter would do the same with Johnny Cash.
During her Friday night set at The Bay, she made it a point to thank the bar staff and her friends and family for the opportunity they’ve given her. And while the crowd sang along to covers such as “Wagon Wheel” by Old Crow Medicine Show, the loudest cheer from her regulars came for her original song “Sometimes.”
The song has a special meaning to her as well because it details her personal take on life as a musician. But it’s not only that message that gives the song its meaning – she created the chord progression based on chords her father taught her.
“It’s one of the first songs I ever wrote and it’s everybody’s favorite song,” she said. “The chorus talks about two different spectrums, sometimes you just want to disappear. You want to get the hell away from here. And you don’t want to be noticed you just want to be. And on the other spectrum you just want to be recognized, you just want all the world to know that dreams can really come true. I am a musician and this is who I am and these are my talents and I want the whole world to know. I think the story behind that is I just wanted to be able to relate to a lot of people in this world. You may not always want to be out in public, we may not always want to be playing music or whatever, you have your two separate feelings.
“As far as the verses go, I’m talking to God,” she continued. “I need to know am I doing this for myself? I’m praying to God and I’m asking him is this all just a waste of time or is this true. I know that I can make dreams come true. It’s a very sentimental song and it means a lot to me. And I know a lot of people can feel emotion from it and that’s the biggest thing I want from my songs is having them be relatable. I just wanted a song that people can look up to and realize that, as a musician especially, it’s ok… I think that if people don’t follow their dreams then what are they doing in life?”