Music News

Music Was a Toxic Curse for Kayla Marque. Then It Saved Her

Kayla Marque will play both days of the People’s Fair.
Kayla Marque will play both days of the People’s Fair. Katie Langley
Kayla Marque had been waiting for a text message all day. Just before midnight on March 18, it arrived: “Uploaded.”

The 27-year-old singer-songwriter rushed to connect her computer with her big-screen TV. She pressed “play,” and she and her boyfriend watched her very first music video, for her song “Body Talks Electric.”

“I could not believe that was me, honestly,” Marque says. “We watched it ten times in a row.”

Denver native Marque has been performing live for a decade. She released her first album, Live and Die Like This, in November 2016, and wrote “Body Talks Electric,” a single from the album, when she was 21. She released it on Colorado Public Radio’s OpenAir channel in December 2015.

The songstress started cooking up the idea for producing a music video back in 2011. Her goal was straightforward: She wanted to put a face to her name in Denver’s music scene. She dreamed up visuals for various songs on her album, but ultimately chose “Body Talks Electric.” She liked that it had a simple theme: sex.

Marque says that when she wrote the song, she was “just drunk on whiskey, thinking about things I shouldn’t have been. This is one of my songs that actually doesn’t tell a story; it’s just describing an experience. It’s about sex. I don’t like to be so direct in my lyrics, so I tried to talk about it in the way of music — like saying your body talks electric, and then having the electric slide guitar in the background [represent] the climax.”

She met the video’s directors, Mara Whitehead and Raleigh Gambino, after an acoustic set she played at a Denver loft, before her album was released. Marque says she had two strong visual ideas for the video, but beyond that, she asked Whitehead and Gambino to flesh it out as they saw fit.

She was scared to film the video, but as production went on, she relaxed.

From start to finish, the no-budget music video took about two months to complete; it was released on March 22. Marque was floored by the final product; she’s not used to liking her creative works right away. As she explains it, she has “red-light syndrome” and often feels awkward. Whenever she begins working on a new project, she freaks out, fretting that she’ll fail to do her best.

Over the years, Marque has learned to harness her insecurities and use them to enhance her art. She’s done that in solo acoustic sets, during concerts with her backing band, and when modeling in photo shoots, where she prides herself on acting like a canvas for other artists.

“Art is forever; it’s timeless,” Marque says. “It is an extension of its creator and a reflection of life. So for me [when I am part of other artists’ projects], it feels like I become eternalized. In that moment, we are more like one entity rather than two separate human beings.”

Her relationship to art hasn’t always been so romantic. She describes her initial forays into music in high school as a toxic curse, driving her toward negative thinking and stymieing her desire to create. Between 2011 and 2014, Marque says, she lost herself, drinking heavily and partying nonstop. Eventually, though, she focused her energy on music and changed her lifestyle. Had she not shifted course, she fears she would have wound up in jail or dead.

“I had a love/hate relationship with creating music,” Marque says. “It was almost like a relationship with another human being.... I was ignorant and looking for someone to be mad at. That someone was God and music. As I continued to write, I actually found it therapeutic.... Music actually saved me and restored me.... I’d like to say I have things figured out, but that would be a lie. All I know is that God gave me music, and it isn’t mine to keep.”

She believes that her music and creativity come from a divine source, and that she serves as a channel for that source.
Across art forms, Marque describes herself as a storyteller who shares her identity as a woman of color with her audience through photography and lyrics. She acknowledges that our society is largely focused on physical appearance, especially on social-media platforms like Instagram. While she alters her hair, makeup and accessories, she does it more to express herself artistically than to conform to social standards of beauty.

“I have to wear [my identity],” Marque says. “I have to talk about it. It’s uncomfortable for people, and sometimes it’s uncomfortable for me, but I have to be proud of it. I’m proud to be a woman. I’m proud to be black and Italian. There’s no shame here. It’s me having to embrace myself and open my arms for other people to embrace it. I refer to it as a ‘soft power.’”

In the nearly six years since Marque wrote her album Live and Die Like This, she has matured, she says, and now has the ability to pursue art with authenticity. She sees the recently released music video as proof of her maturity.

“I’ve been in this mode where I’m embracing my artist,” Marque says. “The vulnerability is scary. Kayla Marque is different than Kayla. Sometimes it becomes this battle I have with myself. I have to embrace my artist side, who is very childlike.

“I am approaching fear now with the awareness of an adult and the spirit of a child,” she adds. “I am absolutely terrified by most of my thoughts, goals and endeavors. I am just a very nervous person in general, but I am choosing not to run from my fear anymore. I’m choosing to be completely afraid and do it anyway. Failure is an illusion.”

Now, with her first album and music video behind her, Marque says she has begun a new chapter in her creative journey.

“Just being yourself will bring what you need,” Marque says. “There’s a lot of room to move around [in the Denver scene], and I’m experiencing that now.... I would be wary of staying in one circle or one networking circle, because that will only get you so far, and you’ll only know those same people.”

Her top priority as she enters this new period is to remain authentic as she continues to grow.

“I have this belief in the phoenix effect: Destroy and create,” Marque says. “I reinvent myself often, I think. I have evolved from trying to be something to being myself right now. ‘Myself’ is constantly going to grow and change, and I want my music to grow with that. As long as my evolution is authentic to who I am, I have accomplished my purpose.”

Kayla Marque, People’s Fair, June 3-4, Civic Center Park, Colfax Avenue and Broadway, 303-777-6887, all ages.
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Riley Cowing has been writing with Westword since July 2016. She is originally from Kansas City and graduated from the journalism school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. She enjoys connecting with local artists, drinking all types of espresso and loves any excuse to watch The Devil Wears Prada.
Contact: Riley Cowing