Interview: Anya Marina – Singer and Songwriter

Posted: January 13, 2011 in interview, music
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Anya MarinaDate of Interview: 01/13/2010

Anya Marina is a rare talent: a skillful songwriter than can encapsulate the most indescribable human emotions within the nooks and crannies of her lyrics. Her signature hit, “Satellite Heart,” is a shining example of her power to transform a personal experience into a universal anthem to which many lovers can relate. Perhaps this why the song is firmly attached to the relationship between Edward and Bella in New Moon, for which the song served as the backdrop for the Twilight saga’s soundtrack.

Following the independent release of Miss Halfway (2005) and Slow & Steady Seduction: Phase Two (2008), Anya Marina has meticulously crafted her forthcoming album, which will be released via Atlantic Records. A preview of this effort has been showcased on Spirit School, an EP that was released on November 15, 2010.

In promotion of Sprit School, Anya Marina managed to squeeze some time out of her busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on her recent move to Portland, her love of Deerhunter, and “Speakeasy,” her collaboration with Michael Lerner of Telekinesis.

Clayton Perry: In the most recent press release for Sprit School, you note that these songs are special to you because they document a time when you got out of your own way as a writer. What particular obstacles or barriers did you have to push out of the way?

Anya Marina: Well, I’m a professional procrastinator, so that’s probably my biggest one. Like everybody, I think that I have a lot of trepidation about just starting the process. Whether someone is a songwriter or a poet or a writer or, you know, a plumber, it’s tough to go to work every day. Or a student. Remember when you’re going to school, it’s difficult to just get out the door. So for me, as a songwriter who doesn’t really have a typical schedule, it’s really difficult to implement a rigid kind of routine every day, and sometimes that doesn’t work for the creative process. Having this songwriting group that I was in that my friend Bob Schneider started and invited me into was really helpful, because then I had this group waiting on me that I couldn’t let down. So there’s this strength in numbers where when you’re in a group, you really want to get your work in on time. You want to produce good work. There’s also less pressure, because there’s less time in which to do the assignment. There’s only a week. So, you can have a lot more fun that way. Not every song has to be some perfect gem. So, I ended up writing something like thirty-three songs in the last year while I’ve been in this group. Four or five of those are on the EP, and one of them is a remix of “Satellite Heart.” Twelve of them ended up on my record, which I’m going to put out soon.

Clayton Perry: It is interesting to hear how productive you have been recently. My first introduction to your work was “Satellite Heart,” which you note – in an old press release – was the only song that you wrote the previous year.

Anya Marina: Yes.

Clayton Perry: Which begs the question: “Where, oh, where, did the inspiration go?” I realize know you are a member of a songwriting group. But to go from one to thirty-three, that is quite an explosion.

Anya Marina: Yes. Well, I was on the road, and when I tour, I can’t multitask too well, so I didn’t have time to write while I was on the road. I was too busy driving and practicing and playing shows and doing sound tracks and selling merchandise and getting back in the car and doing all that. So there was no time. This last year, I’ve moved to Portland, Oregon, and I’ve just focused on making a home for myself and writing. Those two things have been my priorities over the last year. So, it wasn’t that difficult to write as much as I did, because I just really focused on that being the number one, most important thing. Above socializing. Before everything. It’s really been my mission.

Clayton Perry: I am sure that most artists come to that divide at some point: making a life, while also trying to make music. What led you to Portland? Is there some kind of inspiration or vibe you get from the city?

Anya Marina: Well, the first part is I really do, like you said, feel like there’s a vibe and a soul that comes with every city and for whatever reason, Portland clicked in with me five years ago when I first came here on a tour stop. Ever since then, I just always found myself living there. I don’t know why. I just felt like that place was my speed. Most people get me and I get them, and it’s just easy. It’s like when you fall in love with somebody, how they say “It’s just right. You just know.” That’s sort of how I felt.

Clayton Perry: Have you found that the city influences your writing style?

Anya Marina: Yes. Portland isn’t as light as California, and I noticed that when I flew back to San Diego to visit some friends, and I had forgotten my sunglasses. I realized how completely incapable I was of walking around San Diego without sunglasses. I was thinking: “Wow, I’m just immune to it”because there’s just not as much light in Portland. You just get things being a bit darker up here in the Pacific Northwest. So I think that’s shone through – no pun intended. I think that darkness bleeds through in the music, too.

Clayton Perry: There are a few noticeable changes – lyrically and sonically. Obvious comparisons can be made between the original “Satellite Hearts” to the remix, and the “dance club” vide of “Busrider,” which is my favorite song on the EP.

Anya Marina: Oh, thanks.

Clayton Perry: I am not going to say it is “left of field,” but if someone is coming from “Satellite Hearts,” and then found themselves introduced to “Busrider,” the music feels like it is coming from two different people. It is obvious, however, that you are the same person. But why do you think you are freer to experiment more – lyrically and sonically? What has changed about you as a songwriter?

Anya Marina: I feel like I’ve gotten to be a better songwriter. I don’t necessarily think I didn’t have the seeds of that before. I mean, I was always writing. Even when I started open mics, I always had songs that were serious and then songs that were sillier or more off the cuff or more playful, like “Busrider” which is really playful. I like to be transparent and let my personality come through, both in my shows and on wax, if you will. So, I’m a really dark and sensitive and sad and f**ked up person, but I’m also really optimistic and bright and loving and I think I have a really great sense of humor that I rely heavily on to get me through life. That’s a big part of who I am, so it’s kind of seen in my music, too.

Clayton Perry: As a graduate of Santa Clara University, you have a degree in English. In what ways have you found your academic career as an influence on your professional career? In what ways have those two worlds dovetailed?

Anya Marina: Well, one of my emphases in my major was poetry, and that definitely plays a huge role in terms of writing lyrics, which I didn’t even see at the time. I didn’t think that, that would be useful to me, at all. As the years went on, then I ended up going into songwriting more seriously. I think that just having an education really helped me grow as a person. I don’t really think I’m answering your question correctly. But yes, I guess I’ve always been fascinated with language. I’m interested in words a lot, so yes, definitely my education certainly helped my career.

Clayton Perry: In a time, when overproduction is the key to music-making, I find it interesting that none of the songs on Spirit School have been too fussed or labored over, production-wise. What beauty do you find in the flaws of demos or “first recordings”?

Anya Marina: I love that stuff. I mean, I really gravitate toward bands that put out records that are flawed and aren’t perfect. They’re not slick. My ear doesn’t like slick stuff. It sounds like a can of soda pop; just too perfect and flat. I can’t stand it. Like the new Deerhunter record that is so good. It’s really imperfect and yet it’s perfect. You can hear all kinds of things in the background, and the vocals aren’t synced out perfectly or doubled. It’s great that way. I love that. It’s like some of the best records of all time were done on a four-track, so I didn’t want to fake it too much.

Clayton Perry: That is an interesting perspective, that you would mention the four-track. But there is a lot of truth in what you said: some of the best songs were made that way. Since your music is the perfect counter to contemporary music fare, in style and content, two questions come to mind. As a young up and coming artist, how difficult is it to follow your artistic vision, instead of bending to the status quo? And from an artistic standpoint, how would you classify your music?

Anya Marina: Oh, man, it’s pretty easy because I stay out of it all. I’m just sort of off by myself making music with my small group of bandmates, and I don’t even really listen that much to popular music. I’m not that in touch with the latest hits. And I should be more, but I’m not. I’m lucky I don’t have a record label that’s trying to make me into anything other than what I am. They’re always encouraging me to just “be more you. Be more you.” That’s what they’re always telling me. “Just do what you do,” and they stay out of it. It’s great. So, kind of what you see is what you get, or what you hear is what you get.

Clayton Perry: I find it odd that you feel out-of-touch with popular music, since you used to be a DJ in San Diego. If you were creating a playlist for the soundtrack of your life, what songs would come up if you stayed away from popular music?

Anya Marina: Well, I know I’m repeating myself, but I love this new record by Deerhunter. It’s called Halcyon Digest, and it’s so good. I love the whole record. I really like this song called “Revival” that’s on there. That’s great. I love the whole album, so I’ve kind of been listening to that on repeat. And what else? I really like Wolf Parade a lot. I think they just broke up. See, I don’t even know. I just get a record, and then I listen to it over and over. And right now, I’ve just been listening to my own mixes forever. I’m trying to get it right. Oh, Telekinesis. I love the band Telekinesis.

Clayton Perry: In the past, you have mentioned that Michael Lerner is one of your favorite people from Telekinesis.

Anya Marina: Yes.

Clayton Perry: What special bond do the two of you share?

Anya Marina: He’s just such a sweet guy, and so genuine. I was such a fan of his music. And then it turned out he was a fan of mine. I don’t know if he was as big a fan of mine, which is fine. We started emailing back and forth, and then he joined my songwriting group for a bit, and we hung out. It just seemed like he was my little brother. Now every time we talk, we always say, “Hi, bro.” “Hi, sis.” I don’t know what it is. It’s just he’s one of those special people. I think he’s a genius. I love his voice. He has one of my favorite male voices in rock, and I think he’s such an incredible, exceptional songwriter with such great instincts. And we even have a co-write on my new record together. He helped me write a bridge for this song called “Speakeasy” which I’m excited for you to hear.

Clayton Perry: Out of curiosity: did you use the title of the song as one word, or did you break it up into two? I imagine you could use the title in a variety of ways.

Anya Marina: That’s funny, because in the song, I actually do say it both ways, but the song title is one word, but then later in the song, I use it in such a way as to split it up, so you’re very perceptive.

Clayton Perry: Before you moved to LA, what major life events paved the way to your success?

Anya Marina: I was born in Ann Arbor, but I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and then many years later, I moved to Los Angeles. And then I moved back. And then I moved to San Diego. But I did move to L.A. at one point, before I went to college, to try and be an actress, and I ended up coming back and finishing college. I didn’t want to do that at that time. I wanted to finish school.

Clayton Perry: Definitely. You always need to have a Plan B. Now when did you finally set your mind on making music a career goal or something that you knew you wanted to pursue for your lifelong career?

Anya Marina: I waited until the last possible second to quit my job. I waited until I got signed. But I was doing both for a long time. I had my DJ job full-time and I was playing music. And I was juggling both for probably four years, and then pretty seriously for two years, and then it just became impossible to do both, so then I got signed right around that time. And then I quit my job.

Clayton Perry: Now, what year did you officially sign with Atlantic Records?

Anya Marina: 2008.

Clayton Perry: And any word on the title of your first project?

Anya Marina: I think it’s going to be called Felony Flats. That’s the working title, anyways. There’s an exclusive for you! [laughing] You’re the first to know.

Clayton Perry: Well, I definitely appreciate that! [laughing] It was definitely a pleasure just speaking with you, and I’m glad that we finally had the opportunity to catch up. I know your schedule has been all over the place.

Anya Marina: Well, thank you for such thoughtful questions. Good luck to you and thanks for supporting the music. I really appreciate it.

For more information on Anya Marina, visit her official website: http://www.anyamarina.com


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