Mr. Marigold Finds Hope While Living in a Fishbowl

Mr. Marigold is the moniker of both iconic fish-shaped purse and debut artist Hailey Firstman. Scrunchie sat down with the San Luis Obispo native to unfold her upcoming album, “Dove”, and look into its lead single, “What’s Left”. Firstman chronicles the grief and growth she experienced across quarantine, be it the loss of employment, reflecting on toxic relationships, or feeling like you’re in a fishbowl. “Dove” is essentially the glimmer of hope and opportunity that resulted from her experiences.

In addition to being a musician, Hailey is involved in the art direction of both her own projects and the productions of others. Her artistry has manifested across several mediums, often playing into a sense of escapism that became so vital to many of us over the course of the pandemic.

What’s your star sign, and do you feel it reflects you as an artist? Why or why not?

I am a Pisces, which, Pisces season just started, right? I don’t know super much about my sign, honestly. I know Pisces has a lot of artistic, creative energy for sure. I definitely use my songwriting and art in general to process my feelings and emotions. I’m pretty sure that’s Pisces vibes, not sure.

Would you introduce us to Mr. Marigold the fish shaped purse?

Yes, I would love to, I can’t believe you asked! He has some friends, too, he has a crab friend and a shark. He’s definitely the star. This is Mr. Marigold, you have to see him on me, because that’s how we usually walk around. He has the most amazing zipper mouth. You can open him up, I’ve got a yo-yo in here and fun things. He’s great, he’s my friend. You can’t go out without someone saying something about him. People just love him. Very iconic. I got him right before shelter in place, so no one was really talking to each other in public, but he kind of broke the bubble.

How does Mr. Marigold connect to you?

So I feel like when shelter in place started, very much we were all isolated and couldn’t really leave our houses. I had just got Mr. Marigold, and I was just thinking about a fish in a fishtank, and that confinement, I guess. I kind of had a bit of time to do the things that I always wanted to do, because I lost my job, so I had time on my hands and had time to do all my passion projects and had a creative awakening I guess. In that confinement, I was able to find this freedom to express certain things and grieve certain things. The meaning of the marigold flower, there’s this idea of resilience through grief or through hard times, and finding hope. So that’s the sum of it.

While ‘Dove’ is yet to be heard by the masses, what is the story you want to tell with this collection of songs?

I wrote the album in 2020, pretty much before everything, and a lot of it while quarantine was going on. I think it’s very much me allowing myself to grieve certain things that were happening like losing my job, and things within relationships that were not good, and letting go of those things. And being lonely, and things like that. With “Dove,” it’s kind of this idea of hope or expression through that hard look in the mirror at what’s going on.

The album cover is a really good representation of that, like the fish in the fishbowl but the vibrant colors conveying that hopeful feeling.

I think another theme, some of the album is kind of addressing me trying to escape the pain in certain ways, like fantasizing or creating another world in my head. Some of the songs get spacy, or this worldly feeling, because it’s kind of this idea of trying to imagine my way out of something or avoid it. Not all of it is me facing my emotions, some of it is me trying to run from that.

And I feel like that’s also in the album cover, me stuck in this little fish tank that is also my bedroom, but there’s all these colors around, and me being oblivious to being trapped.

Your album debuts this spring: what emotions are you experiencing ahead of the release?

I think I feel like it’s been such a long process, I feel like the making of the album took a lot longer than I expected it to, because we decided to put more into it than I expected to, I guess. I co-produced with someone named Davis Leech, he’s awesome, and we got really deep into it and kept adding things to the songs. It’s been such a long process, and now it’s all feeling very quick. Suddenly I’m like, “Oh my gosh, it’s coming in a week.” Suddenly the song is just gonna be out there. Like, am I ready? Even though it’s been so long. It’s funny, it feels like it’s happening quickly, even though it’s been a year of working on it.

I think it’s definitely mixed emotions. I’m really excited for people to hear it, and to let go of it, I guess, but there’s definitely a grief involved with, “This is no longer my thing that I’m working on.” But I think it’s time to give it away and let it go. It was a longer project, and I think I feel good about all the songs on it, and really proud of all of them. I think it all kind of tells a story together. It was a big thing to take on, for the first thing I’m putting out.

You’re putting out your first album via Good Boy Records, based in Oakland, CA. How did you come to call this label your home?

Good Boy Records is basically, Davis, the person I’m co-producing with, him and a bunch of other guys had a band called Donna in college, and now they all live in the Bay Area and have a home studio. He’s one of my really good friends’ boyfriends, that’s how I know him. He just kind of offered to record the album, and hadn’t heard my music before at all, like in good faith said, “Let’s record it!”. They’ve helped one other artist record something, and that’s what they put it under. It’s not super official record label, it’s just their home studio thing that I’ve kind of added to. I’ve recently been reaching out to some smaller labels, and trying to go more in that direction.

‘What’s Left’ is a vulnerable track reflecting upon the aftermath of what once was. How did the song come together and did it allow you to receive any clarity of your experiences? Why did this song feel right to be the debut single?

It’s funny, with that song, for so long I feel like I was telling myself it was about one thing, but then I realized months and months later that it was actually about another thing. I was telling myself… I think it’s about a lot of different things. With that idea of continuing to give, I think it’s about when you’re in a relationship that’s not good, and continuing to give and give even though it’s causing pain. And being like, “I’ve given you everything, but let me try to give you more.” Like just a very unhealthy, toxic spiral.

And I think for a long time I was telling myself it was more about how I was feeling in quarantine, or it was about losing my job. And I think it was about those things, or about the general state of the world, but I think it was a lot more personal than I was giving it credit for. And especially when you listen to the album as a whole, it very much adds to that story of, “I’m trying to keep giving to this thing that’s only hurting me.”

Why did this song feel right as the debut single?

That’s a good question. It’s funny, at first it wasn’t going to be the debut single. At first, “Space” was going to be the debut single. I think I wanted the first one to be a little more upbeat. I feel like all my songs are pretty sad, but an upbeat sad one, you know? I think that “What’s Left” ended up feeling really right in terms of it going with the theme of the whole album, the idea of letting go, and also avoiding the reality of what’s going on other than facing it. But it also has that very much, you can bop your head to it vibe, which is very good, for a first song. But I just really like it, and Davis and I agreed it would be a good first song, and some other friends also agreed, and that was the decision.

In addition to writing music, you take on the role of creative director both for your own projects and others. How has being a creative director been fulfilling to you beyond music?

That’s one of my favorite things, is that I’ve kind of also been in charge of doing all of my visuals and creating this visual world to go with the sonic world that I’ve created. I’m trying to get even more into art direction/creative direction for other artists, because it’s one of my favorite things. I’ve just recently started that process, I’ve made some Canvas videos for Spotify, for one artist specifically. That’s been so much fun, so I’m kind of trying to network for that. I studied graphic design, and I love all visual art as well, like painting. It’s been really cool to see them come together.

You have a really distinct style across your videos, especially the colors.

I’d been dreaming about doing that for awhile. I’ve always thought those informercials were so hilarious, like the dramatic music and slow motion videos. I’ll get an idea, and I’ll just hyperfocus and cannot do anything else until I’ve actualized it. With that kind of stuff, like the reels and things, I’ll be like, “I need to do it right now.” And then I’ll come out of it, and be like, “I’m so hungry.” Or it’ll be dark outside.

The title track from the album is a little voice note, which you have shared to your Instagram. ‘People don’t know that we’re watching them’––how is this moment connected to the bigger picture?

That’s a good question. The intial recording is actually me and my friend Jenna, who’s also a musician, she’s amazing. We were sitting in this downtown area of SLO, and we could see all these people below us, and were just watching them. And I just said that, and she was like, “You should record that!”. And we redid it, but I was giggly the second time. But that was the actual moment.

The idea for the album being called, “Dove,” the song is called, “Dove,” is because I was thinking about birds because we were very much above all of the people, so I was thinking about birds flying above everyone and looking down on everyone doing their thing. So that was the idea behind the song being called “Dove.” But throughout the album, I feel like it’s called “Dove,” because of this idea of hope, or this thing that’s there in the background, even if I’m not clinging to it or seeing it. It’s somewhere watching.

You call back to that idea in the closing track, too.

“It was the dove that found me when at last there was no more to give.” That idea of when there’s nothing left, you can finally grieve and let go. Even like, find yourself when you lose yourself in something that’s not good.

What are some of your upcoming plans?

I’m trying to figure out how to play more live things, in terms of playing shows. All the people I play music with are in the Bay Area, so I’m trying to pull together some people in SLO. Musically, obviously the album’s coming, and I also have another project I’m working on with David, my co-producer, we have a cowritten album we’re working on. That’s really fun, I’m really excited. Whole different vibe. Trying to move to a city and start playing more shows. Diving more into the music.

Do we have an official release date for the album?

I have a pretty official-ish month. The only reason I’m not officially naming it is because I have been reaching out to some smaller labels, and have some conversations going on. So I don’t want to officially say it yet. But I’m hoping for June. Each month, there will be another song. So, March, April, May, and then album.

Check out Mr. Marigold on…




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