Many college seniors cannot say they have lived in Florence, traveled around Europe and released an album in the course of a year. But, singer-songwriter, actress and Syracuse University senior Maricelis Galanes can humble brag these experiences and many more. Still, when I meet her at Abracadabra Counter Cafe in Santurce, I am greeted by a sweet, yet powerful young woman with no ego to spare.
In the days before her final return to Syracuse to finish off college, Maricelis finds herself in the midst of rehearsing monologues for her grad school applications, while promoting her first album Day and Night (Syracuse University Recordings) and her new music video for the single “Wild”.
While still in her 20s, Maricelis is no stranger to the busy artist life. Since childhood, she has built a career in musical theater, acting and music and developed a passion for writing. As a singer-songwriter, she believes her greatest attribute is her ability to see the world from a broader cultural perspective, a trait she carries into her roles in acting and the lyrics she writes.
What moment from your childhood do you consider a premonition of who you are?
From what I remember, as a kid, I would go to Marshall’s with my mom and grabbed all the books I could find and read them, so I was always reading. I also had a diaries. The other day I found one I started when I was in kindergarten. So, I always loved writing. I was someone who needed to express myself. I danced ballet and jazz since I was little, too. So, that shows an interest in performing arts. According to my parents, I never stopped singing at the house. I did impromptu shows to them.
Why did you decide to go to college instead of pursuing a career out of high school?
That is something I need to thank my parents for. You always think that you know what you want and you actually can. As a kid, I would watch Disney Channel and wished to be like one of the kids in it. I always knew that what I wanted to do was act. I asked my parents to go to Los Angeles to try to pursue acting. But, they always insisted that I got an education because it would mold me as a cultured person and that it would show in my art. Finally, I agreed. I knew that I could have gone elsewhere like others have done before, but I wanted to try college. I opted for college in the US to have a different experience and become more independent. I also wanted to work on my English because I knew I wanted to work in the anglo saxon market. At Syracuse, I’m double majoring in Drama and Psychology because I wanted a broader experience in a diversity of subjects like literature and theater and to know more about other cultures. I think acting is not only about technique but what your personal experiences bring to your acting abilities.
How was the experience of studying abroad?
Studying in Florence was perfect. It is the city of art in Europe. They have some of the most famous literary figures in history. I had also taken Italian for three semesters at Syracuse, so I had a chance to improve my skills. I lived with an Italian lady who cooked pasta for me every day. I was practically obligated to speak in Italian all the time. Now, I master another language, which opens a lot of doors for me in my profession. It inspired me a lot, too. Also, to have more sensibility towards what happens outside of our comfort zone. It basically opened my mind. I had time to take a break on my album and rethink it completely. If I had uploaded it before I went to Florence, it wouldn’t have been ready.
So, you consider breaks an important step in creating your work?
Yes, because you get frustrated. All you want is to finish it. In the end, all you do is get tired. So, it’s better to just leave things to the side for a while and do whatever, as long as it is not being on the phone. When I was in Florence, I learned how to live without my phone. I didn’t even check apps because I insisted on living in the moment. I was forced to read a lot because of my classes. So, if you take a break from your work and technology, it will definitely help.
Are there any difference between who you are as a person and as an artist?
Maybe there are some differences, but I always try- at least with my music- to be as honest as I can with my values and beliefs. I don’t like being afraid of what people would think. Of course, I still make decisions that could improve the commerciality of my work. You obviously can’t sell out. Those decisions lie more towards instrumentation or sounds. I always really try to be myself because I’m not a character. The most important thing to me is to do good through my work and move society forwards, mainly to inspire people.
How was the experience of recording your first album?
I had never done anything similar. Aside that it was super fun, I learned what it is really like to record in a studio. It was super stressful, though. I learned how to handle a lot a the same time. Instead of creating the music electronically, I began working with a group of students from the Music Department at Syracuse. I had already written the lyrics and worked on the melody on the piano. It was a process that took an entire semester without even recording. We just met to rehearse every Saturday. I had to figure out a way to express to the musicians what sounds I wanted in English, which is not my native language. There are certain terms that I did not know existed in the anglo music world. Still, the experience fulfilled me in a special way. I loved the end result and the fact that people have enjoyed it. It made me realize that I could actually do it.
How is your routine like when you have to perform?
I follow a strict diet a few days before. I can’t eat anything spicy or heavy. Food is super important. I always carry this tea with me that helps with my throat. I try not to speak too much. Also, no lactose and lots of water.
How do you write your music?
It’s always different. Sometimes I get the melody first. Others I get the lyrics. Unlike the other things I write, I can’t say ‘Oh, I’ll sit down and write a song’. I can do that with poetry or a play. Of course, you always need inspiration but if you never actually sit down to write a book, poem or play you will never progress waiting for inspiration to strike. But with music, it’s different. The majority of my lyrics are based of things that happen to me. If I don’t have something that actually pushes me to sing, I cannot write the song. Usually, I need to be inspired. If don’t have a melody, I write the lyrics first and then work on chords at the piano.
Do you consider yourself a feminist?
I do consider myself a feminist. I don’t believe it should have a label, though. Everybody should be feminists. People think that feminists are these crazy ladies who hate men. I love men. Feminism means equality for both sexes. Everyone deserves the same rights. This is a very sensitive topic right now inside both music and film industries. There are so many people who aren’t informed properly on the topic, yet still say they are feminists. That is how concepts like white feminism are born. These women are feminists insider their privileged world and they don’t put other cultures and ways of living in perspective.
That was my perspective of Sex and the City the last time I watched it. Yes, it was a very important show for sexual liberation, but all of the characters are white, privileged women. Where are the women of color?
The color issue inside Hollywood has me unnerved. The whole Oscars nominations situation is incredible. There were actors and actresses of color that deserved to be nominated. Obviously, there weren’t that many because they aren’t giving enough roles to this communities. If you think about the roles that colored and foreign actors and actresses have played in recent years, they are still stereotypical roles of slaves and such. Those aren’t roles that represent these communities as strong, smart and equal. It’s not an accurate reflection. There aren’t enough opportunities is Hollywood for actors that aren’t white. It’s not that the work white actors are doing is crap. They are excellent artists. But, it’s about inclusion.
What is next for you?
Right now, I’m rehearsing monologues for my grad school applications. I’d like to continue my studies in acting. If I don’t do that, the other option is to go to LA, search for an agent and start auditioning. Regardless, I’ll never stop doing music and acting. I’ve written a couple of songs for my next project. Last semester, I focused solely on promoting the album. This semester I hope I can work on new music and diversify my style into tropical house. Now is when everything really starts to kick off. So, I’m really excited for it.