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Marie Digby: Childhood depression helped shape my career

Gail Chai
Singapore Showbiz
15 August 2012

She may look like your typical girl-next-door but life was not always so easy for 29-year-old American singer and YouTube sensation Marie Digby.

Speaking to Yahoo! Singapore in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, the singer-songwriter of Japanese and Irish-American descent admits to battling depression when she was only 12-years old.

"The years have been kinder to me as I get older but I when I moved to a new school when I was about 12-years-old, I was the ugly girl in school," said Digby.

"Kids were so brutal to me because I was chubby and had acne. I was picked on everyday and it was sad for me because I could not change the way I looked," she said.

The bullying she suffered as a kid inspired her to write the song "Miss Invisible", which won her the Pantene Pro-Voice competition in 2004.

"Writing and playing music was a way out for me to deal with my depression and it made me," she added.

Digby may have been taunted by her classmates back at school but it's now her turn to have the last laugh.

Since bursting on the world stage with an acoustic cover of Rihanna's "Umbrella" in 2007,  the dark-haired beauty has since made the successful transition from screen to stage. Now an accomplished songwriter, guitarist, pianist and actress, she has four albums under her belt.

She will be holding her second concert at the Esplanade on 18 October and even though it will be her fourth time in Singapore, Digby says she's still "excited to perform" for her Singapore fans again.

BREAKTHROUGH

Looking back, Digby said winning the pro-voice competition at the age of 21 helped her decide to forge a music career in music.

Despite being booed by the crowd during her first stage performance after winning the competition, American record label, Hollywood Records, saw the potential in Digby and signed her up

However, even with a record deal on hand, she still found it hard to break through.

"After getting the deal, I made an album, but the record label told me that they were not going to put it out so it just sat on the shelf for many months. I got worried and thought to myself, 'gosh I worked so hard and the CD may never even see the light of day',' she said.

"That's when I started posting YouTube videos," Digby said of her seminal breakthrough moment.

Digby's cover of 'Umbrella' was an overnight success when she first posted it on YouTube and it came as a huge surprise. To date, it has racked up over 21 million views. Other acoustic covers of hit songs have also been hugely popular.

"I still look back to those days and watch the popular videos like 'Umbrella', thinking to myself 'what's so interesting about this? It's not that special!' I'm not sure what it is that made people want to pass it on to their friends but I'm just happy they did," Digby said.

Contrary to popular belief, Digby said she was already a signed recording artist when fame arrived via YouTube but she still credits the video-sharing site for her success.

"If you have talent, people will find you  so that's what I love about YouTube, it sort of kicks the big companies out of the picture and puts the power back into the music side," she said.

However, Digby said she preferred YouTube's "golden years" when the site was still "unaffected by commercialism". Now it's "a little inundated with a lot of people who use it as a machine, like a strategy."

Her fourth and latest album "Your Love" hit stores last September.

Among the four albums, her second titled "Second Home" was completely in Japanese after she decided to produce a full Japanese cover album with songs from other Japanese singers because of her heritage.

The singer, whose mother is Japanese, grew up learning the language and only learnt English when she was about five years old.

"Second Home" had a limited release in Japan because according to Digby, she was not sure if "anyone else outside of Japan would appreciate the songs".

Although "Second Home" did pretty well in Japan even with a limited release, her album "Unfold" is still the most popular in the country and worldwide. It debuted at number 29 on the Billboard charts in the US and sold about more than a 100, 000 copies when it dropped in music stores in 2008.

STAYING TRUE TO HER MUSIC

Despite having four successful albums to date, Digby said she has decided to go independent. No longer under Hollywood Records, she is only signed to Star Records in the Philippines.

She is currently in the process of producing her first independent album and hopes for it to be out next year.

"Being under a major record label is an amazing thing because they have so much money so you don't have to fork out your own savings but the consequence is you lose your creativity and your freedom," said Digby of her decision to go indie.

But the downside she said was that "they can tell you how you should look, how you should sound, what songs are good, what songs are bad, which means you lose a lot of say in your work. I wanted to make music without having to worry about that even if it meant being challenging financially."

Marie Digby's concert at the Esplanade will be on 18 October. More info here.

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