Tuesday, February 15, 2011


An exclusive Q&A with indie singer/songwriter Anya Marina. 
By Alex Nagorski 

(Anya's music video for "Satellite Heart")

You may not recognize indie songstress Anya Marina by name, but odds are you’ve heard her music and don’t even realize it. Her often soft and melancholy songs have been played on countless television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, How I Met Your Mother, Gossip Girl, Castle, The Vampire Diaries, The United States of Tara, The Real World, and Supernatural. Oh, and her song “Satellite Heart” was featured on the soundtrack to a little movie you may or may not have heard of called The Twilight Saga: New Moon.

Following the release of her latest EP, The Spirit School -- a drastic electronic musical departure from her previous acoustic releases -- Anya is preparing her third full-length album, Felony Flats. She chatted with me while on the road (she is currently finishing up a series of dates opening for singer/songwriter Joshua Radin) about her upcoming record, her shift in musical direction, and doing ecstasy on Jewel’s tour bus.

AN: You were an English major who started out her career as an actress, then became a radio DJ, which ultimately led to becoming a musician. How did you know that becoming a singer/songwriter was the right choice for you?
Marina-0606 AM: Well, I felt pretty solid about radio for a long time. It was a great job and I was good at it, but I always was first and foremost a performer at heart, so I knew that radio wouldn’t be able to fulfill those needs on a long-term basis. Once I started developing my live show as a musician and really garnering a following, I knew I’d eventually have to quit radio. When something becomes an obsession—when going on tour or writing a song is literally all you can think about, when it becomes a distraction to virtually every other thing happening in your life—that’s when you know. It becomes almost painful not to be doing it.

Can you describe the first moment you remember having that realization?

I think I was running the board at the radio station and I kept having to focus on what I was doing so I wouldn’t have dead air because my mind was on recording (at the time I was working on Slow & Steady Seduction: Phase II) but it was a difficult thing. I remember being late a few days in a row and noticing myself slacking. I didn’t feel it was fair to be phoning it in anymore at work. I wanted to give one thing my all, and music ended up winning out.

It seems like you’ve been touring non-stop over the past several years. What’s something you absolutely cannot travel without?

Baby wipes for easy makeup removal (you can’t trust the running water in the sink on a tourbus), stevia, and sardines.

What’s the wildest/craziest thing that has ever happened to you on a tour bus?

It’s happening right now. I’m watching The Bachelor with Joshua Radin’s drummer Freddy Bokkenheuser. There were also a few dance parties on the Jason Mraz tour bus I won’t forget. I think the first time I ever took ecstasy I was on Jewel’s tour bus with my then-boyfriend Steve Poltz, but it wasn’t as crazy as it sounds.

If you could listen to one album again for the first time, what would it be?

The Beatles’ The White Album. I remember being completely blown away by all of the sounds and the characters I was imagining in my head. And how many songs there were. I loved coming to the end of the first record and knowing there was a whole other one yet to hear!

The Spirit School has a far more of an electronica feel than your previous releases. What inspired this evolution of your sound and is this a direction you plan on continuing to go in for your future releases?

Anya-Marina-Spirit-School-300x300 By virtue of the fact that I was experimenting a lot with home recording and relying on my computer’s samples and sequences, the EP took on a more electronic feel. I didn’t think I’d release those demos that way but they ended up sounding so good that I did.
It was a bit of a lark for me, which isn’t to say I wouldn’t do it again, but I am most at home with a band behind me. That’s the kind of music I relate to and gravitate toward most. The next record, Felony Flats, which will be out in a few months will be more of a hybrid—it’s mainly a band record, a rock and roll record with more organic sounds, but it will have some elements thrown in.

What else can you tell me about Felony Flats so far? How far into it are you? Who are you working on it with? 

I produced Felony Flats alongside my invaluable engineer Gregg Williams and band: Cody Votolato, Joe Plummer, and Jeff Bond. Eric Earley also makes a couple of appearances on piano and additional spooky electric guitars.

I spent the most time on this record in terms of songwriting and editing and recording. It has the most heart of all of my releases—it’s the most emotional by far. I’d say because I produced it from start to finish it’s the most “me” of all my albums, too, in terms of sound and direction.

As a songwriter, who or what has been your biggest muse when penning lyrics?

Whatever is going on inside. I’m a selfish writer. I need to get things sorted for myself—and I tend to think, think, and overthink—so writing is a way for me to solve the riddles of my life. Then again, there are songs which have very little autobiographical relevance, like “Notice Me,” which is about two high school stoners listening to records while playing hooky.

What album release in 2011 are you most looking forward to?

Telekinesis’ 12 Desperate Straight Lines.

You’ve toured with various artists including Jason Mraz, Eric Hutchinson, and Joshua Radin. If you could co-headline a tour with any artist, dead or alive, who would it be? 

I love Spoon, LCD Soundsystem, Modest Mouse, The Shins. Feist, Cat Power, and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs. I would tour with Jason Mraz, Tristan Prettyman and any of the bands I’ve toured with before (Emiliana Torrini, Paolo Nutini, The Virgins) any day of the week. I’ve been extremely lucky with all my touring compatriots.

Your songs are very autobiographical. When you perform them, do you have to transport yourself back to what your mentality was when you were writing them, or are you able to remove yourself from those circumstances and just simply sing?

When I get distracted by something outside myself (chatter or a technical issue), I try to remind myself to just go back to the moment of the song’s inception to try to recapture the heart and soul of it so I can be a good little conduit-girl for the audience. I feel I owe them that. That’s what I want anyway when I go to a show.

This will be a tough question, I’m sure, but do you have a single lyric that you’ve written that you’re most proud of? 

Bending spoons with my mind / manifesting men of all kinds in my spare time
But oh how I’ve struggled in vain to solve this riddle with my brain
When the answer’s in my hands
--“Move You”

It was based on a Carl Jung quote I was obsessed with (“often the hands will solves a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain”) and I was relieved when I managed to work it into lyric form.

Anya Marina's music is available on iTunes.
Originally published on Crazytown Blog