‘You can’t wait for things to happen; you have to do it yourself’: Marie Ortiz

The legendary blues and jazz vocalist Billie Holiday once said, “When you sing, always tell the truth.” Marie Ortiz sticks to that wisdom with the veracity of someone under oath. Ortiz’s voice is expressive and as warm as a vintage tube radio glowing at its height when riding the vocal waves of her originals, songs that shine with a soulful pop brilliance. 

MM- We’ve talked before and you’ve told me that you haven’t been doing music for that long, and it doesn’t seem that long ago that I remember first hearing you at JBA. How long have you been playing music and writing songs? 

MO- I’ve been singing pretty much my whole life. It was always a hobby for me that I never thought would be more than that. It was a bit later when I started trying to write, which was around age eleven when I got my first spiral-bound notebook just for writing. It wasn’t until October of 2021 when I started to think it might be more realistic than I realized, so then I decided to give them both a shot and try it professionally. 

That’s interesting– what would you say might have caused you to see it differently? 

Well, as I kept writing, I began writing songs and I would show them to others and people started telling me that they were really intrigued by it or maybe they were points of view they’d never heard put in a song. When I started getting that positive feedback, I started thinking maybe my stuff is worth hearing. 

You started going full-time last October, why specifically then? 

Well, I have two kids, and they’re kind of getting to the age where I think they might can understand dreams and the importance of having them, alongside careers and things. I realized can’t teach them to follow their dreams if I’m not doing the same. It just dawned on me that you can’t wait for things to happen; you have to do it yourself. 

You’ve called your music a blend of folk and soul. How’d you come to that style? Did you grow up with soul music? 

No, not at all, actually. I was honestly drawn at a young age to it though. When I was a kid, I found a video on YouTube of Billie Holiday singing “I’ll Be Seeing You” and all I thought was, “Hell, I want to sound like that!” There was such honesty and power in her voice, and I’ve just fallen down a rabbit hole of chasing that ever since then. 

Photo by Peyton Johns Photography

I’ve heard that you also haven’t been playing guitar all that long– tell me about that. How is it for you performing live? 

Yeah, I began playing guitar in February of this year. Prior to that I knew maybe two chords but had quit learning for about four years. Then February came and the person I had been relying on for guitar got sick. I had just gotten a gig and it was one of my first bigger ones, so I just decided that I had better learn guitar myself. I had two weeks to prepare and learn all I could on the guitar and well… Somehow it worked out! 

It’s kind of interesting to me that you said you’d been writing songs well before you learned an instrument. That doesn’t seem like the average approach– if there is one! What’s that process look like for you, and did it change when you began playing the guitar? 

Honestly, I wouldn’t say it’s changed much, but I write a lot from feelings I will have. I will have flashbacks to moments in my life when I felt a certain way or thought something, and I simply place myself back there in that mindset. From there, I usually have a song in five or ten minutes. 

I can’t imagine writing full songs in that short amount of time. How many songs have you written since you started back in October? 

They just show up out of nowhere and I just write them! I think including one I wrote today I have written 59 songs just since January. I guess around that time I just had a lot to say about where I was and where I’ve been, so they started coming out. I probably write a song a day.

Do you think it was significant for you to have those experiences for you to be able to write your songs? 

Well yeah, of course! I used to try to write about love and things like that without knowing anything about it. But after a few good and bad choices, you start knowing at least a little bit about that kind of stuff. 

Matt McMillan is a poet and singer/songwriter from Rochelle, Georgia. He has a degree in Political Science and attended law school until deciding to fully devote himself to writing in 2020. McMillan has played his songs across the southeastern U.S. and hopes to continue pursuing music and poetry for as long as it keeps coming out. He currently lives in Macon, Georgia.