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Interview: Marisa Prietto of Bizou

2 June 2021

Photo by Kristin Cofer

Featuring a trio of current – and former – members of LA-by-way-of-Chicago alternative rockers Light FM (multi-instrumentalist Josiah Mazzaschi, guitarist Niki Nevlin, bassist Nicole Fiorentino) and fronted by former Wax Idols bassist Marisa Prietto, the shared late ’80s/early ’90s influences help drive Bizou’s retro futuristic goth-pop sound.

Having released two EPs since forming in late 2017, Bizou used 2020 to write and record enough songs for a full length, Tragic Lover, that’s available on all digital streaming platforms on June 2.

After wrapping up a busy day at her day gig, Prietto took some time to talk about Bizou’s formation, how they achieve their sound, and plans for the future.

How did Bizou form?

MARISA: Everybody else in the band – Josiah, Niki and Nicole – had all played together in various projects including Light FM. They’ve been playing together for like 15 years. I was very much the “new guy”. I left my old band and I was kind of working on some solo stuff and I didn’t really have any intention on joining a band anytime soon but then a friend of mine randomly hit me up and was like, “One of my friends is looking for a singer, you should try, it might be cool.” So, I ended up contacting Josiah and he sent me a bunch of instrumental demos that he had kicking around on his hard drive forever and I demoed some vocals over them. We scheduled a practice and the first time we all played together, it went really well. We had nice chemistry and we just kept playing together after that.

When you first started practicing with the band, was the idea that this was going to become a full-time gig for all of you or did it start out with you all just feeling each other out to see what happened before making any commitments?

MARISA: I think everybody was ready to have a full-time band. I think everyone was pretty enthusiastic straight off the bat.

When does it become official? Does it become official once you’ve got a band name?

MARISA: That’s a really good question because, obviously, you can have a project and no working title for a long time and be practicing and stuff, but I feel like we came up with the band name pretty early. I think it became official through a combination of practicing enough and making plans to record a couple of songs and committing to a band name. Then it was official, for sure.

Light FM doesn’t sound anything like Bizou.

MARISA: I think it sounds way different. Light FM has a totally different vibe. I feel like with Bizou, it started off in a Light FM-adjacent territory just because of those were the demos Josiah brought initially and then we started doing a lot more writing together. It was all of us coming together with our parts. The idea was whoever had a demo can bring it in even if it’s just scraping something for parts, which happens a lot. Me or Josiah will bring in a graveyard of bones and then we’re like, “Everybody go nuts. Put in your parts.” Everybody really has the freedom to do whatever they want. Over time, I think it started to sound like it’s own thing.

I just listened to Wax Idols. That was your old band, right?

MARISA: It was a band I was in. They had been a band for a really long time before I was in it. I think it had some punk elements but definitely veered towards darker territory. I joined in 2015, Hether (Fortune) hit me up and was like, “Do you want to play bass in my band?” They had already been a pretty established project for something like 5 years prior to that. She was looking for a touring bassist. I had never played bass in a band before, I had only played basic guitar in my bedroom. I was a total bedroom musician, not even somebody who played out. It was a trial by fire for me.

We toured a lot and it was really fun. We were not an L.A. band, everybody was based in Oakland. I live in L.A. and, at the time, Hether was living in L.A. so for the first year we’d commute together for shows up north and to be with our drummer and guitarist but eventually Hether moved back to the Bay area so I was solo commuting for a few years and eventually I was like, “I can’t do this” so I departed.

Had you given any thought into doing your own thing had the Bizou opportunity not fallen into your lap?

MARISA: I was in the process of recording a solo EP, but not really solo, it was me and a friend of mine who also lived in the Bay area and we were remotely collaborating on a few things and sometimes he would come down and we would record but I just never finished anything. I had this weird guilt about it. Eventually I will probably release something, I just don’t know when.

Did any of that stuff work it’s way into Bizou?

MARISA: Some of it has. I had a lot of music I was working on that I thought, “Oh, let’s just see if this works.” I would send something to Josiah and he’s a production and arranging wizard and he’d create an arrangement. He has all the stuff that makes it sound way better. And then everybody would come in and do their own thing on the song. Some of the material that I might have intended to be solo at first I just pitched to the band.

As you started writing songs and playing shows and getting a buzz, I’m guessing Nicole’s name and her resume, which includes playing with the Smashing Pumpkins and Veruca Salt, had to have helped.

MARISA: For sure. Not just that, she’s just so talented. She’s such a great bassist and has such great stage presence and she’s so cool and fun to hang out with. Just having her in the band is amazing, we’re really lucky to have her. I saw her with The Cold and Lovely in, I think, 2011 and I didn’t even know her then. It would have been like several years before I met her. I saw them at The Bootleg in L.A. and they were great.

Was there a concentrated effort to develop a sound when you first formed or did the sound you settled on come naturally as you got comfortable playing with each other?

MARISA: We partially had this backlog of demos coming from different places and everybody being super comfortable on their instruments and being really creative. I think our idea was to have it be as democratic as possible, we really wanted it to eventually to really sound like it’s own thing knowing that it would take some time. We always had it in mind that we wanted it to sound as unique as possible and the way that we were going to get there would be to allow everyone to express themselves exactly like they wanted to and not try to restrain anybody. The synergy that arises from that is what’s going to allow it to become it’s own distinct sound.

Are there common albums and CDs that you all grew up with?

MARISA: I’m sure you can guess that everybody likes The Cure. We do have our differences – Niki hates ’80s music pop stuff like Duran Duran. I’m always like, “Can we do a Duran Duran cover?” and she’s like, “No!” I think we all have enough common influences – everybody loves The Cure and Siouxie and the Banshees and Joy Division and Slowdive and all the shoegaze bands. And everybody’s tastes also veer off into other things – me and Josiah both really love Pinback and Lords of Acid, weird niche ’90s industrial stuff. Nobody else in the band wants to listen to that.

Bizou’s music reminds me of being in college in the early ’90s and sneaking into a dance club that we weren’t old enough to get into. It was in the basement of this building and they always played alternative music by The Cure, Depeche Mode, New Order, Siouxie. When I hear “Tragic Lover,” even though it’s a new song, if I close my eyes I’m sitting in that club, I can smell the smoke machines, can see the bucket of beer my friends and I are sharing.

MARISA: That’s so cool. I really like that song. It was such a weird one, I just remember I had this really gnarly depression nap and I woke up with that bass line stuck in my head. I did a really quick demo with bass and drums and vocals and I took it to Josiah and was like, “I know this sounds terrible but can we work on it?” And then he arranged the shit out of it and made it sound so huge. I’m proud of that one.

If you could hand the album to somebody and say, “I think you’ll like this,” who would that person be?

MARISA: There’s a direct example of this from a show we played. We did a SXSW run and one of our first shows was at a restaurant at like 10 in the morning. A dad came through, he must have been a Gen X dad, he came through with his little daughter, she was probably 11 or 12 and they were both super into it. She was really shy. He brought her up to us after we started tearing our stuff down and she was like, “That was cool. I liked that.” It was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. I think it’s really sweet when kids are into it, it’s so endearing.

How long has the album been done? Was it something you finished before the pandemic or did you record it during 2020?

MARISA: This is the second album we’ve put out during the pandemic, which is sort of bizarre. We put out an EP last year and we had a few songs we were kind of working on and we were like, “Maybe we’ll just make another EP later this year.”

And then the quarantine hit and me and Josiah started writing like crazy. We were writing so many songs, we had so many demos, we were like, “I don’t know what the interest level is but let’s just write a full length.” Everybody was so stoked on it.

How did you record during lockdown?

MARISA: We would go grab a Covid test and then quarantine for two days, not do anything. Josiah’s got a studio where there’s a tracking room and a live room and he set up the live room for whoever was tracking, either bass or guitar or me doing vocals. And we would shut the door to the tracking room and be totally separate. That’s how we did it, we would each go in one at a time and slowly but surely we got all of the parts done. It took pretty much the whole year.

In the CD era, you could fit 70 minutes worth of music on a CD so bands would often try to fill up all 70 minutes. These days, with digital releases, there isn’t that obligation or the feeling like you’re “wasting space” by not using it. Tragic Lover is 9 songs and that feels right. Did you have12 or 13 done and cut some or was it like, “We’ve got 9 good ones, no use in writing more just to say we have 12 songs on the album”?

MARISA: I really wanted it to be 9 songs. Maybe I was being pushy, but I liked the way that number sounded. I felt so good about that group of songs that I was like, “Let’s not just include more just to fill out some bizarre length requirement.” If we can do it in 8 or 9 songs, then just present what we’re happy and confident with.

What does the album release date look like for you? I suspect that if we weren’t just coming out of a pandemic, you might run to a local record store just to see the album for sale. But, with the pandemic, and with Spotify, where albums become available to listen to at 12:00am Friday morning, it might be a lot different. Do you stay up late on Thursday night and keep hitting refresh to make sure the album shows up on different streaming services?

MARISA: What it really looks like, especially now because we haven’t been able to practice or do any live performances or tour planning, it’s just a day of posting, a big day of posting. I’m really looking forward to being able to play again so there’s some physical component that feels tangible to the release cycle because the last two that we’ve done, I’m like, “Alright guys, everybody wake up, get your coffee and start posting.” It feels so abstract and distant and weird. It’s just this aspect that it’s just demanded that you do it, so we do it and then you’re reposting things and it makes me feel like a geriatric millennial.

Will there be a physical release for this album?

MARISA: We’re waiting on a physical release. We might do it eventually. Because we were releasing in the middle of the pandemic, we were like, “Let’s just digitally release it right now and then gauge the interest for a physical release.”

With the album just coming out, have you given any thought into what comes next? Have you started writing or recording any new material?

MARISA: We’ve definitely talked about starting to talk about what the next record is going to be like. We have some demos that we’ve passed around. Putting out a record is such a big push of energy outward but I do have some thoughts on how I would like things to go forward and what the next iteration would be. I’m hoping that it’ll be sounding like the same band but just a little bit different.

Are you going to do some touring?

MARISA: I would love to do that. I think we would all love to do it, it’s just finding the schedule and the tour that works for everybody. I think in the short term, our record is coming out and I think we’re going to start practicing again. That’s the first step. We haven’t really been able to practice in like 14 months. Then, we’ll probably try to book some shows in L.A., maybe a little California tour. We’re trying to figure it out right now.

My hope for you and the band, even against Niki’s wishes, is that when Duran Duran tours next year, they hear Bizou’s stuff and then invite you to open.

MARISA: Niki can live with it, I think. That would be a dream come true for me personally!