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?
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?
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
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.
By Alex Nagorski
The Decemberists, The King Is Dead
Gone is the overly-ambitious rock opera/concept album band that tried a little too hard with 2009’s The Hazards of Love. In their place is a folk band returning to its origins as a beacon of contemporary Americana. Listening to The King Is Dead is like hearing a harmonica and ten tracks worth of poetry fall in love. The band’s literary lyrics and breezy, acoustic instrumentation serve as portals to transport their listeners to the romantic worlds that seem to only exist in frontman Colin Meloy’s mind.
The world’s huskiest chanteuse follows up her Grammy Award-winning 19. 21 is a strong testament to Adele’s musical maturity. With this record, she sheds her skin as just a smokey-eyed blues-club singer and evolves into a cross-genre sensation. While Adele’s sound primarily courts the boundaries between pop and jazz, 21 features undeniable surges of R&B, soul, rock, and even 1960s-inspired girl group bubblegum. with a triumphant sophomore album.
Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean
Be forewarned: Kiss Each Other Clean is not only Iron & Wine’s most eclectic album to date, but is also their best. Back In October, frontman Sam Beam described the record to Spin magazine as sounding like “mid-70s FM radio-friendly” music – and there’s really no better way to put it. On the band’s major label debut, they layer their tracks with various instrumentation – ranging from organs to synthesizers to all sorts of percussion. And although this is a new direction for Iron & Wine, Kiss Each Other Clean is brilliant in that it serves as a logical evolution for them without ditching the sound their legions of fans know them for. The little band that softly crooned a cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights” on the Garden State soundtrack is still in there – just all grown up, gone to college and ready to experiment.
Gimme Some, the sixth album from Peter, Bjorn & John, brings the band back to their indie pop/rock roots after their sharp, dark and experimental turn with 2009’s Living Thing. Tracks like “Dig A Little Deeper” contain an undeniable surf pop feel, while album highlight “Eyes” sounds like a mash-up between The Beatles’ funkier tunes and a Nintendo theme song.
Zonoscope, the third album from experimental Australian psychadelic rockers Cut Copy is stuffed with enough trance to feel like you’re Black Swan’s Natalie Portman spinning out of control at a rave and enough disco-rock to feel like the disc has personally sliced off a ray of sunshine for you. It’s a sugar-dusted trip to outer space that solidifies Cut Copy at the forefront of the new-wave pop movement.
Newcomer Corinna Melanie’s Primal Kitchen Film, is a refreshing blend of indie piano pop with a dark jazzy twist. Blending together a pinch of Sara Bareilles, a dash of Regina Spektor, a spoonful of Tori Amos, and a hearty serving of Amanda Palmer/The Dresden Dolls, Corinna Melanie has concocted a daring and near-flawless debut. I promise that after one listen of the EP’s phenomenal opening track “Don’t Dare Darling,” you won’t question that Primal Kitchen Film was the best way you could have possibly spent those four dollars.
Why Katy Perry’s “Firework” needs to fizzle out.
By Alex Nagorski
I’m really over all those people who keep claiming that Katy Perry’s “Firework” is such an “inspirational” song. If I see one more person’s Facebook status about how they feel surges of confidence and empowerment when the song comes on at a club or bar, I’ll probably make like that one Japanese poet and committ seppuku on national television.
What is it about this song that is blinding people to the stupidity of its lyrics? Perhaps some of the pyrotechnics that went off in Perry’s bra in the music video ricocheted into people’s ears and scrambled up their brains, planting a chip that would manipulate her audience into thinking she was talented.
But what really gets me about this song is that fireworks only last about fifteen seconds! So when Mrs. Russell Brand “sings” in the chorus, “baby, you’re a firework,” what she’s really saying is “baby, you have a short fuse before you explode all over the place … and die.” Wow, Katy. That’s like so totally inspirational. Like oh-em-gee.
What you’re not necessarily right about is the line “after a hurricane comes a rainbow.” While, yes, it is possible for a rainbow to occur after a hurricane, it is not a scientific rule that this will definitely happen. So really, Katy has written the official anthem for the “It Might Get Better” campaign.
The music video for Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful” Katy Perry’s “Firework.”
(Make it go-oh-oh-oh away)