This is an opinion column. The thoughts and viewpoints expressed are those of the author, Marsh.
It’s September 2017. I’m standing at Heathrow Airport, a suitcase full to the brim. I’m about to say goodbye to my family, friends, and work, emigrate to a new country, and marry my American fiancé Maddy. Little did I know, I was embarking on quite the rollercoaster. In the next three years, I am going to fulfill many of the dreams I’d poured my life into, while, at the same time we’d have our hearts ripped out by the unexpected passing of Maddy’s Mom, Carme.
This is the journey to my sophomore artist album Lailonie, the "safe place" where, over the last three years, I’ve been able to process and unpack my life through writing.
My name is Tom Marshall. I’m a 28-year-old Cincinnati-based dance music producer, DJ who goes by the stage name Marsh. I’ve released two albums, numerous EPs, and have performed at esteemed venues on both sides of the Atlantic, including Printworks London, The Brooklyn Mirage, and The Gorge, Washington.
When I arrived in the States, I felt very out of place. I had no social security number, no driver’s license, no car, no friends close by. I wasn’t legally allowed to work and I had no studio – my studio was on a boat somewhere mid-Atlantic, making its way to me. I’d spent the good part of 2017 perfecting my debut artist album ‘Life On The Shore’, released on Silk Music in June right before emigrating so, in a way, it felt nice to have a break from writing.
Maddy and I spent ten days exploring Hawaii on our honeymoon and two weeks building IKEA furniture. Life was good. The studio finally arrived in Mid October and I was back to writing.
My heart has always been in music and though I loved my job in the UK, I couldn’t face getting another office job. I’ve always said I’d be happy to scrape by if it meant doing music full-time. But to scrape by in music, you need to play shows, and to get shows, you need to be backed by a label that venues go to for their bookings. There are thousands of electronic music labels but there is only one that ticked all my boxes.
I’ve closely followed Anjunadeep since its launch in 2005 and have always felt that it was the true home for the music I was writing. Their releases process every human emotion in an authentic, raw and honest approach. At the heart of every release, there is a consistent theme of soulful, emotional music. Anjunadeep is also one of the only labels in this niche world of deep and progressive house music that can actually create an opportunity for an artist to begin touring. But how to work with Anjunadeep was my biggest challenge. I’d already spent years trying to get an opening with the label, but none of the music I had sent seemed to work for them.
Come December 2017, I sent five fresh demos, different from anything I’d written so far. I believed strongly in the music I had sent but this was a pivotal, make or break moment. If I could land music on the label I might be able to make music my living—but my Green Card application was being processed and I knew that as soon as that arrived, I’d have no excuse but to "get a real job."
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I’d almost lost all hope, but after weeks of waiting, I woke one morning, and there in my inbox was an email from Anjuna. They wanted to sign two of the tracks I’d sent: "Black Mountain" and "Soul." They had given me the opportunity of a lifetime and I’m still pinching myself about it today.
Fast-forward one year to September 2018. Anjunadeep had just emailed, giving me plans for the long-awaited release of "Black Mountain." Maddy and I were approaching our first wedding anniversary and had come to Estes Park, Colorado for a week’s hiking in that glorious scenery. We’d found the most beautiful AirBnB and had the fridge filled with a week’s worth of groceries. We had so much to celebrate.
Then, at that moment, came a phone call from the hospital in Cincinnati to say that Maddy’s Mom, Carme, had been brought in. She was in a coma and they didn’t think it likely that she would pull through.
We got the earliest flight home and spent the next few days with Carme in the intensive care unit. It was as if time had stopped. On September 11th, 2018, we had to say goodbye. No one should have to say goodbye to their Mother so young as Maddy was. Just like that, our lives were flipped upside down. We’re still processing and healing from this loss, which has been incredibly difficult for us both to unpack. I have watched Maddy battle this trauma while working as a nurse, caring for children with cancer and blood diseases. She’s been incredibly brave, continually growing, blossoming and it’s a privilege to have her as my wife.
We live in a world with so much going on and we all process emotion in our unique ways. I think it’s important to have a "safe place" where you can go to catch your breath, process life, and grow. The studio is my safe place. I sit down with an empty project, start tapping away, jamming on the keys, and in that moment, my head seems to connect with my heart. I’m able to process, feel, and release emotion that has been bottled up. I’ll find myself opening up to all kinds of emotion—not always sad but expressing the whole of my life experience. This is how the story of Lailonie began to unfold.
"Leilani" is a Hawaiian word meaning "heavenly flower." Maddy’s Mom, Carme gave her own unique spin of the word, giving Maddy "Lailonie" as a middle name. The album is a series of snapshots taken at different points over the last three years. Lailonie has been my way to process everything.
All sorts of emotion are packed into the album. There are tributes to the memories created by "Florence" Terrace, the quaint house I lived in whilst at University, and to "Beech Street," the road we have lived on for the past three years. There’s the feeling of infatuation explored in "Over & Over," "Lailonie" and "Amor." Then there’s processing the many hard ways I’ve had to grow in married life: The feeling when you’ve given everything but it "Wasn’t Enough," the feeling when you’ve let someone down or you’ve been let down by someone else when they said they would be "There For Me." There is the awe of seeing incredible waterfalls and scenery in Iceland in "Foss" and also the pain of loss expressed throughout the album but given specific focus in "Carme."
One theme that stands out to me is that feeling when life has all become too much and we’re crying out for a "Healer." Both Maddy and I have been in this place independently and together through our marriage but we have concluded that the only ‘healer’ that has actually made any difference in our lives is Jesus. He’s transformed our minds, filled a void that nothing else in life seems to fill, and continues to heal our souls from the pain of losing Carme. He is the fountain of hope and joy that spills into my creations and keeps me going.
Ultimately, I will always strive to be real with the people that enjoy and support my music. With Lailonie I feel like I’ve opened up and had the opportunity to process some of the deepest things going on in my life through the music. I hope the album resonates with people and if it brings any joy or healing, I’ll be a very happy man!