New York musician Marques Toliver was plucked from obscurity by TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone. The Florida-born 24-year-old was busking on the streets of Brooklyn, playing violin and singing – combining elegant classical musicianship with a warm, R&B-influenced vocal. His debut EP, Butterflies Are Not Free, is out now – here’s what you need to know about him.
He was pretty popular in his home town of Daytona, Florida.
‘By the age of 10, I was known in the area as the singing golden boy. I sang at funerals and weddings – anything morbid or celebratory – because my parents were involved in the church and everyone knew everyone.’
Having picked up the violin, he was very dedicated to the cause.
‘I went to out-of-zone schools because they were the only ones with a string programme. I had to wake up super, super early to get there. I was in the orchestra and had private lessons –and, on top of that, was making up my own band.’
At 20, he moved to New York on a whim, started busking and fell in love with the place.
‘Being able to feed myself and pay for things just by playing outside, I was like, “Wow – this is what I need to be doing!” I was so inspired to be in NY, I started writing songs and it kicked off from there. Meeting Kyp and all these musicians that I read about in magazines on the plane to New York – then getting there and those people are standing in front watching you play – it’s like, “Holy s***!”’
Busking can be pretty lucrative.
‘In Florida, when I was starting out, a woman gave me a US$50 [Dhs180]bill. In New York, I once made US$400 [Dhs1,500] in a day. I was outside playing for about six hours, then went and bought a pair of US$400 boots. It was October and it was getting cold. I think I lost them.’
He has surprising influences.
‘Frederick Douglass was an American abolitionist in the 1800s who escaped slavery, moved to Europe and started speaking on black rights. I wrote a song based on his autobiography and I’m going to try to put it on the album.’
He’s stoked about the future.
‘I’m excited about touring and meeting musicians in my age bracket such as Lykke Li and Fleet Foxes, and maybe collaborating with them in the future. I’m sure the Beyoncés and Erykah Badus and Jay-Zs will happen in their own time. They’ll probably come to me so I can help them work on an album! Ha ha!’
And his biggest plan is…
‘For me, it’s getting string instruments in the public eye –as opposed to a Celine Dion concert being the only time they hear violins or see a harp. I want to have some sort of crossover success in terms of string instruments being in pop music.’
Marques Toliver’s EP is available now on iTunes.