Etta Marcus: “I like keeping people on their toes” 

Ahead of the release of her ‘Live At Narcissus’ EP, the Brixton-born artist explains why she likes to challenge expectations, the importance of supporting independent venues and what fans might be able to expect from her debut album


“I like keeping people on their toes,” confesses Etta Marcus with a devilish smile. Earlier this year, the Brixton-born singer-songwriter released her mini album ‘The Death of Summer & Other Promises’, which arranged playful bursts of indie pop alongside brooding acoustic numbers and crashing rock crescendos, serving as a fresh showcase of an artist who is determined to always stay one step ahead.

After all, this is one 23-year-old who knows all about creating to the beat of her own drum. At the start of the first lockdown in 2020, Marcus was told that she didn’t deserve her spot at jazz school after word got around that she was writing her own songs instead of sticking to the curriculum at the prestigious Trinity Laban Conservatoire in London. But the singer’s departure from education and “break up” with jazz allowed her to pursue more unfiltered creative instincts, leading to her two EPs, 2022’s ‘View from the Bridge’ and last year’s ‘Heart-Shaped Bruise’, followed by her mini album, a warm-up for her debut.

Ahead of the release of her ‘Live At Narcissus’ EP, the singer speaks about the importance of performing live, her love of Mazzy Star and what fans might be able to expect from her debut album.


Hi Etta! You released your mini album ‘The Death of Summer & Other Promises’ back in January. How have you found the response?

It’s always a weird one, because you just don’t really know how people are going to react to it, especially from the previous music that I put out. And I think everyone maybe has an idea of what the trajectory is going to be, and then I ruin that and I go, ‘No, this stuff is not anything like that stuff’. So it is nice to see the surprised element. 

What was the idea behind releasing a live EP featuring songs from the album?

Live is such an important thing for me, and I think there’s also loads of people that haven’t been able to see me live, just because of where they live. I thought having songs that hit each part of the mini album – ‘Theatre’ was the high intensity part, ‘Fruit Flies’ was the lowest of intensities and ‘Girls That Play’ felt like a happy medium – was fun to play around with.

There’s also a cover of Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’ on the EP. Why is that song special to you?

I’ve always been a big fan of Mazzy Star, maybe top five of my favourite artists of all time. I thought on the tour that we throw a cover in there. And I thought that it’s going to have to be something reminiscent of ‘Skin Parade’, which came from a place of making it reminiscent of that era. It went down so well on the tour, and whenever we did it you’d see everyone’s faces and [people] turning to their friends going, ‘Oh my God!’ And because of that response, we were like, ‘Why don’t we just try and do it as part of the live EP, just to give something a little bit different?’

The album covers themes of womanhood and the female experience. How did those ideas manifest at your recent live shows?

Being able to put faces to an audience recently, it’s been majority young women, which is really cool. You kind of see this gradual gradient in my audience – it was loads of young women at the front and also people who are a part of the queer community as well. It felt really diverse and you had all of these young people at the barrier and they were really going for it, really screaming. I also met everyone afterwards so it was cool to see who they were and get to know everyone.

As someone who has played smaller independent venues in London, why do you think it’s important they continue to be supported at such an unstable time?

I’ve been playing small independent venues for years and years, even before I started writing music. I’d do little showcase nights, open mic nights. And it just sucks, really. I have grown up in such a musical area – Brixton is such a big hub for those sorts of venues. And luckily, we’ve managed to keep a lot of those open, but then you see so many places at the moment being shut down. I think for me, it’s about playing them, so that’s the power that I have – getting people out to see shows in these smaller venues is really important. 

You went to London Fashion week in February and got to sit front row with Laufey, Kaya Scoldelario and Cherise. Did you get to chat with everyone?

Everyone was so nice. My friend Matt Maltese did a little duet with Laufey, so we had a mutual connection. And we talked a little bit about jazz funnily enough, just because of my start [in music]. I think they were maybe a little bit weirded out by it, because obviously I came across as someone who’s like, ‘I love jazz!’ And they’re like, ‘Oh are you a jazz artist?’ And I’m like, ‘No. I went to jazz school…’ and they’re like, ‘Oh my god, no way, so you’re a jazz artist?’ And I’m like, ‘Nope. I kind of had a big falling out with the genre as a whole, but I love it’. Even though it was brief, everyone was really sweet.

Have you started thinking about a debut album at all?

That’s what I’m working towards next, hopefully. It’s kind of scary, but we’re at very, very, very early stages. I did my first writing week away by myself last month. Whenever I finish a project, I get into this headspace of, ‘How do I do this again?’ Because you’ve gone so far into the finishing part, but then you have to go straight back to square one. I’m in that situation now or where I’m kind of testing out the waters.

What kinds of themes or ideas have popped up so far?

On one of those first writing weeks, I basically throw shit at the wall and I go, ‘I’m just going to have fun with it and not put any restrictions on what anything could be’. And so, I will say that the first week that I did was very eclectic. Some surprises, maybe some sounds that I haven’t really touched on before. 

Etta Marcus’ ‘Live At Narcissus’ EP is out March 29 via Polydor.