“I feel way more excited than nervous. To be totally honest, this is the only thing I have ever wanted,” says Mariel Loveland of NYC-based indie-pop band Best Ex about the announcement of her debut album With A Smile(out on October 6, 2023 on Iodine Recordings/Alcopop! Records). “So many times, when I feel like I’m flailing around with no direction, the universe seems to give me exactly what I need. In this case, the month I was getting ready to think about recording a new single, Iodine Records randomly reached out to me and asked if I wanted to make an album. I honestly had been feeling like I may never get the opportunity to make a full length on my own—especially with how much the industry has changed since I made music with Candy Hearts. Of course, I said 'ABSOLUTELY YES.' It feels like the world is giving me a second chance, and I hope fans will too.”
This second single off the album, the bouncy tongue-in-cheek “I Promise To Ruin Your Life,” is about having “innocent little crushes” which she says fuels her during bouts of creative ennui. “I write so many songs about heartbreak, but this time around, I just wanted to write something about that light, hopeful feeling of meeting a stranger you just absolutely adore.” Recalling those anxiety-inducing butterflies where you want to “peel your eyelids open at 3am because you don’t want the day to end,” she adds, “I also wanted this song to be a bit of a nod to my previous work with Candy Hearts. I referenced the song ‘All The Ways You Let Me Down’ in the lyric ‘I know how this ends / we won’t be speaking / I’ll add you to the list of things that let me down.’ I wanted to give a nod to all the places my career has taken me. I really value those years, and my album didn’t feel complete without reflecting on that.”
The follow-up to Best Ex’s 2020 sophomore EP Good At Feeling Bad, With A Smile marks a dramatic life change that forced her to re-examine her life. “I honestly feel like I entered the Covid lockdowns a girl and came out a woman—but maybe that’s the trauma of enduring an entire pandemic that really forced me to sit down and reflect on my life (a silver lining, for sure),” she explains. Navigating that intersection of life as an unlucky-at-dating single woman living in Brooklyn with roommates and a continual ceiling leak, she started writing the album but felt like she was missing an anchor to hold her creativity in place. “I always struggled with periods of high anxiety, but I started getting panic attacks that only got worse as the pandemic continued.” But life threw her some pivotal events that gave her balance and foundation. “I feel like I’ve aged a decade in three short years, and I think that’s all reflected on the album," she realizes. "I met my husband, moved in with him almost instantly. We eloped. I became an aunt. I lost my grandma. I was diagnosed with OCD. When I listen, I literally hear myself coming of age.”
The first single off the album,“Tell Your Friends,” is a bright yet somber waltzy track that speaks on society’s way of telling women that they are “too much,” especially in relationships. Likewise, she says she wrote the album’s melancholic title track (“With A Smile”) about the time period she felt part of her was “too much” of everything, “Too annoying, too damaged, and too hard to love. That a fake smile would make [her] more tolerable. That if [she] could need less, people would want [her] around more.” Similar to the themes on the aforementioned tracks, the album as a whole speaks about the ways in which society dictates that a woman should smile. “We’re expected to be a million things, but one of those is always pleasant in public,” she says. “We’re supposed to suck up our issues with our mental health (lest we get labeled hysterical or over-emotional). We’re expected to shrug off the injustices we see in the world. We’re expected to smile through our own abuse and never say a word. And of course, sometimes we smile for good reason. We fall in love, people make us laugh, the sunshine in the summer feels healing. Good things do happen, there is still beauty in the world. I’m not a total cynic, I’m just an exhausted introvert.”
Elsewhere on the album the R&B infused “Cut Me Out” speaks on the painful losses of female camaraderie, while the breezy “Salt On Skin” feels like NYC in July — "really thick and soupy but also with the lightness of summer” — all thanks to getting a helping hand on harmonies and a guitar hook after a chance encounter when sitting next to another songwriter at a wedding in Mexico. The song that ultimately means the most to her on the album, though, is the optimistic “Joyride,” a song about meeting her husband and how prior to meeting him she was super cynical about love and even to this day doesn’t believe in soulmates or true love; she believes that love is a choice - but meeting him nearly shattered her way of thinking. “The more I got to know him, the more it felt like our lives had moved in parallels, like the universe kept him on the sidelines waiting for the moment when it would work out.”
While most of the album was recorded in Brooklyn with her friend Andy Tongren (Young Rising Sons), the last song, “Daylight,” was recorded with Gary Cioni (Crime in Stereo, Daytrader, Royal Psalms) of Sound Acres Studio near Philadelphia and it’s a modern take of an early aughts indie record (a la Bright Eyes, Rilo Kiley, Death Cab for Cutie). She says the themes of which focus on the juxtaposition of life: “anxiety, OCD, womanhood, falling in love, and self-doubt.”
Living in the shadow of NYC in Northern New Jersey, Mariel Loveland got her start battling it out in the rough and tumble suburban scene with her nostalgia-tinged punk outfit Candy Hearts in 2010. Within two short years, she went from playing basements across the East Coast to sharing the stage with pop punk heavyweights like Man Overboard,New Found Glory and Weezer. After a final stint on Vans Warped Tour in 2015, she adopted the moniker Best Ex, trading energetic guitars for fuzzed-out synths, dreamy acoustics and a melodic sweet tooth that rivaled Carly Rae Jepson's or Sky Ferreira's. Loveland’s previous two EPs—Ice Cream Anti-Social (2017) and Good At Feeling Bad (2020)—were met with critical acclaim from publications like Billboard and Alternative Press, even landing airplay on BBC Radio 1. After inking a new record deal with Iodine Recordings, the singer-songwriter is gearing up for the release of Best Ex’s debut full length album With A Smile out later this year.