Analogue Music | Anya Marina

Anya Marina

By Matt Conner

The striking images and sensuous soundtrack on Anya Marina’s latest EP, Serious Love, are a startling turn for the singer-songwriter.

She’s certainly ventured in new sonic directions before, moving from straightforward acoustic tunes to quirky pop to indie rock depending on her mood. However, Serious Love is seriously different, a seductive turn that Marina describes as a bit awkward to deliver knowing someone is six feet away.

That someone was producer Ian Keaggy (Hot Chelle Rae), who produced Marina’s EP, and was significant in helping her unearth a new sound and persona. Serious Love doesn’t necessarily indicate a permanent new direction as much as it is a musical experiment, an exercise in confidence, risk and having fun.

Serious Love is more than just a dazzling song cycle. It’s a series of lessons about self-consciousness and learning to be yourself.

Analogue: I want to start in left field, so to speak, since I just read something about how you shaved your eyebrows for a film role. My first thought was, "Is that the most extreme thing she's ever done for her craft?"

Anya: Well, if you're talking about acting, then certainly. That was maybe before my music career or I was playing open mics at that point. I don't know if I'd made a record yet. That was the most extreme thing. It was funny because the producer said he needed someone and no one was willing. He said, "You have to shave your eyebrows for it or else pluck them." I was like, "Why would anyone hesitate?" [Laughs]

First of all, Baywatch Pamela Anderson eyebrows were totally in at that point. I thought they'd for sure grow back and, if not, I'll just draw them in. It's not like the eyebrows of today where everyone is wondering how to get eyebrow implants.

Wait, what?

I literally had a friend get eyebrow implants recently and another friend is debating microblading. Have you heard of that?

I have not.

Just file it under the sometimes horrible things women do for beauty. Women are doing anything to get their eyebrows hairier in 2017. That's the CliffsNotes version. At the time it wasn't a big deal. I did it, got my SAG card and never regretted it.

What's the musical equivalent?

Hold on; let me censor what I really want to say. [Pause] The most hardcore thing I've done for music... I mean, I've done stuff that felt punk rock in the moment. I've pulled my skirt up. I didn't moon the audience, but I pulled my skirt up. That was sort of fun. I've never stage dived. I wish I had. The most extreme thing I've done is probably driving 14 hours straight without stopping except to pee and get gas. Nothing that exciting, to be honest. [Laughs]

It's one of those songs where, as I'm writing it, I'm thinking, "This is too easy! This is too bratty and full of herself, but I just had to get over it. It's fun to let go of some of those trappings, the pretension for example, in indie rock.

Let’s talk Serious Love. I dig the new EP and the environment that it creates for your voice. It's something I've never heard from you before.

You're right. It's a new geographical zone. It's a genre I haven't really dipped into that much, but at the same time, it doesn't feel entirely out of place. At times, it feels a little more pop than I'm used to. "Cut You Loose" is like that. I let myself have a little more fun on it, but it also feels darker and sexier, too. 

There were moments on previous releases where I remember feeling kind of timid or I'd think, "That's too sexy." I just had new pressings made up of Slow and Steady Seduction: Phase II, my first real full-length album, and there's a song on there called "Afterparty at Jimmy's." I remember trying to channel a really horny girl on that song. The producer said, "What do you need to do to get into the role of this character?" because I couldn't nail it. I kept trying to deliver what I wanted on the vocal performance and we couldn't get it. When I finally got it, I needed to be alone in a dark room without anyone else. I was really self-conscious but I liked the final result.

I went through a similar thing on this recording some of the songs. It feels weird singing in such an honest, vulnerable way with somebody else six feet from you, but I like how it feels. We were listening to a lot of Sade and Portishead's Dummy album when we wrote Serious Love and I think it comes out in that recording. 

I'm glad you said that, because I was going to ask about the expanded horizons. Is that a product of working with Ian [Keaggy, producer]? Does it have more to do with the fact that you've had the chance to say things already so now you're moving on to new ideas and sounds?

That's an interesting way of looking at it. I was going to default to saying it's the person I was working with but I think you're right. To some degree, when you've made three albums, you've said a lot of stuff. I've definitely been playful before. I had an EP called Spirit School and there are a couple songs on there that now I'd think are really foolish. The song "Busrider" is really silly, but I really wanted to put it out because it was fun and it sounds cool, but it's not sophisticated or highbrow at all, and yet I like to occasionally do stuff like that.

I would say that maybe it's both. I've done a wide range of stuff, from very moody indie rock stuff that was more obscure lyrically and now I have "Faze Me". The attitude there almost borders more hip-hop, like, "Fuck you, dude." [Laughs] It's a little less precious. It's less self-conscious. I was actually self-conscious about writing that way but my producer said, "No this is great." Sometimes I like to cloak my lyrics a bit more or be a bit harder to decode. Being that blunt 

There's one lyric that says, "You always told me I was a stubborn little dime." That was hard for me to write because I'm calling myself a 10. That's an attitude in hip-hop or pop that's totally fine, whereas in indie rock, you're supposed to have all of this shame about yourself or be more self-conscious. Maybe that's less true now but that's how it was 15 or 20 years ago or whatever. 

"You always called me funny/ A stubborn little dime/ Bet you think I'm angry and going to cool down in time/ If you think I miss you and that I'm playing your games/ Well, I'm already miles away." That's "Faze Me" and it's one of those songs where, as I'm writing it, I'm thinking, "This is too easy! This is too bratty and full of herself, but I just had to get over it. It's fun to let go of some of those trappings, the pretension for example, in indie rock.

Are you glad on this side that you went to those places or is there still a part of you that cringes at the thought of people hearing you this way?

No, I'm totally sure about letting it out. I think it sounds amazing and I want to leave behind a catalog that doesn't all sound like one thing, and yet it really sounds like me. That's the feedback I do like getting and that I've always gotten over the years, whether it's my first album, which is very acoustic and sweet and my voice is soft, or this EP which is poppy and bass-heavy production and is almost entirely electronic music. I like that people continuously say that it sounds different and yet it always sounds like me. That's a huge compliment that I don't often get mistaken for other people.

One time my dad emailed me recently and he said, "Your song sounded great at the end of this movie." I Googled what he was talking about and wrote him back, "Dad, that was Macy Gray." [Laughs] He said, "Well, she sounds great, too."

[Laughs] That’s a great story. So much of our conversation has been about your growth in confidence over time to musically let yourself explore; yet when we first started talking, your acting self was ready to do whatever without hesitation. Do you think there's something about the music that feels a bit more vulnerable? Am I comparing apples and oranges?

That's a good question. I think probably because I've made a name for myself now and it feels like there's more to lose, which is really just an illusion. When I was first starting out, I literally had nothing out there, maybe my first EP, when I did that movie. I had no work performance-wise on TV except for maybe a couple independent films and an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I think you can take more risks when you haven't done anything yet, but when you start amassing a little bit of a catalog or a library, you start thinking about being judged on the basis of your work.

I'm glad I didn't put too much of my wackier stuff. There's certainly a host of songs in my iTunes library that are demos that I'd be mortified if anybody heard them. However, they're important songs in the sense that I think it's necessary to keep writing all of the time. Normally I belong to a group that writes one song each week, but I haven't been involved in it the last couple months. However, I've written several songs for the group that I never have any intention of putting out. But it keeps me loose and creative. [Laughs]

I think there's something about the recklessness of youth. Young people who are less experienced have less of an ego construct about themselves and maybe get less wrapped up in being judged on what people will think. I think that's why they can have a lot of luck, because they just don't care as much. There's an attitude of adventure and risk and having fun. Self-consciousness is not helpful for the most part. I need to remember that and keep the eyebrow-shaving girl with me. [Laughs]

But I think I do take a lot of chances. There was some hesitation and fear to put out this EP. I wasn't sure if this was the message I wanted to send, but this felt like its own special chapter of my career and I wanted it to stand alone. I kept picturing this dark purple color whenever I would listen to these songs, because they sound dark and sexy to me. So I love the way the EP looks and I like it as a standalone release. Who knows what I will do next. I don't know if it will have this sound, but I loved working with Ian. It was such an unlikely pairing since we're from completely different worlds, but he loved working with my voice and I loved working with his production. It was magic.

Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez