MariÃ© Digby is one impatient girl. Twenty minutes after first learning Rhianna’s hit single, “Umbrella,” last May, she propped her MacBook in her living room, filmed herself performing the song and put it on the Web. As fast as you can say “viral video,” MariÃ©’s performance racked up more than 500,000 views on YouTube and landed her a national TV appearance on “Last Call with Carson Daly” and placement on the season premier of â€œThe Hills.â€ But she isn’t stopping there. With the release of her new Hollywood Records 4-song digital EP., MariÃ© Digby instantly vaults to the forefront of emerging young singer/songwriters.
As the YouTube clip caught on, MariÃ© and producer Mike Daly entered the studio in June to record “Umbrella,” along with a cover of Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done” and two Digby originals, “Stupid for You” and “Unfold” (the title track of her upcoming debut CD). Meanwhile, L.A. radio station STAR 98.7 jumped all over “Umbrella” this summer, placing the track in heavy rotation and setting the stage for a wider national exposure to come.
This all might seem like overnight success for MariÃ©, but that’s never how it goes in real life. For years, the 24-year-old L.A. native has worked diligently to break through, counting on talent and perseverance to carry the day. “When I put up those YouTube videos I had no idea of people would react to them,” says MariÃ©. “What’s working for me is the stance I put on my songs. People feel like they know me.”
The daughter of a Japanese mother and Irish-American father, MariÃ© (pronounced Mar-ee-AY)Â began piano lessons as a toddler. By her teens she had picked up the guitar and started writing songs, inspired by favorite artists like Martin Sexton, Beth Orton and Poe. Soon enough, the coffee house circuit beckoned.
Midway through her freshman year at U.C. Berkeley, MariÃ© came to a realization. “I felt totally incomplete because I knew music was what I wanted to do,” she recalls. “I was coming home every other weekend to play shows, and I decided I couldn’t do both at the same time. I put everything I had into music. I had this conviction that if I believed this was what I wanted more than anything, it would happen.”
She put college on hold and started playing every open mic gig in L.A., from Chicano bars to retirement homes, anyplace, as she puts it, “that allowed nobody singers.” She finally landed a gig at L.A.’s famed Rainbow Bar and Grill. Even though the electricity went out midway through her first set, MariÃ© was ecstatic. From then on, she upgraded to more prestigious clubs, perfecting her performing and songwriting.
On a whim MariÃ© entered a national songwriting contest sponsored by Pantene. Her song “Miss Invisible” ended up winning the top prize: performing the song on MTV and VH1. Soon after, she began auditioning for major labels the old fashioned way: just MariÃ©, accompanying herself on guitar, singing before a roomful of record company honchos, and was signed by Hollywood Records. “By the time I got the deal, I had learned enough not to get over-excited,” says MariÃ©. “My attitude was, here’s where the real work starts.”
She was right. MariÃ© entered the studio. “Like many other musicians, first and foremost I’m an observer,” she says. “I love watching people, and songs come out of that. When I have an experience that moves me, I can’t sit still until I’ve written the song.”
Beyond the studio, MariÃ© loves performing live, something obvious to anyone who sees her videos. “There’s an energy you share with the people you play for,” she says. “You feel it intensely when theyâ€™re paying attention. When you write the most personal and truthful songs, that’s when you connect that way. It’s scary. You still feel naked, but it’s also very cathartic.”
Blessed with beauty, poise and extravagant talent,Â MariÃ© Digby might remind some old timers of Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro and similarly insightful artists. But she shrugs off any comparisons, intending to navigate her own unique artistic course. “I don’t want to sound like Iâ€˜m saving the world,” she says with a smile, “but everyone on earth is given a gift. Music is mine. I hope someday I’m successful enough to use it as a way to help other people.”