Analogue Music | Anya Marina

Anya Marina

By Matt Conner

If Anya Marina had her way, we'd have the songs but not the stories.

Live and Alone in New York is the latest release from Marina, an interesting release in quarantined times. It's a tribute to a not-so-distant past when such intimate exchanges between artist and audience could be had. It also honors Marina's vulnerable, off-the-cuff approach—perhaps a little too much so, if you ask her.

We did just that recently in an interview to hear more about a productive pandemic from the accomplished singer-songwriter. Marina told us about the importance of community in launching a new project, being nervous while recording the live set, and why she rather just delete all of the intros that were left on the final recording.

Analogue: A live album released in a global pandemic is an odd juxtaposition. It’s hard not to start there.

Anya Marina: Yeah, it’s a bit strange. I’ve released two albums now during the pandemic, which is ironic, of course, since nobody’s seen any live music since March. But I’m glad I did. I’ve talked of this a few times, but one of my favorite pieces of advice is something I heard in an interview with Emily Haines. They were asking her the best advice she’s ever gotten, and she said, ‘Put out the best work you can at the time and keep moving forward.’

I think that’s so great. I know a lot of artists are like me and can get hung up on getting things perfect. You get paralyzed and never put anything out, or we can get really delayed. The pandemic was a big deterrent for releasing music, but I’m glad I did because there’s no end in sight. There is a vaccine in sight, but we don’t know when live music is coming back. I don’t know when we’ll get on the road. I was slated to be on tour from March of 2020 through January of 2021.

So I’m glad I did it. It’s fun to listen to a live record. It’s particularly bittersweet because that particular venue was and continues to be very special to me—Rockwood Music Hall on the lower east side of New York. Those nights were really special because it was just a few handfuls of people for these shows I wanted to keep very intimate. It was really neat and I don’t know when it will happen again. It feels like a little time capsule.

Credit: Leonardo Mascaro
Credit: Leonardo Mascaro

Analogue: Just to get the details right, you entered into these shows knowing they would be recorded for this project, right?

Anya: Yeah. I was heavily influenced by my friend Eric Hutchinson, who I was on tour with at the time opening for him in California. We were touring wineries and we were at this really beautiful space on the central coast somewhere sitting around a fire after the show.

We’ve watched each other’s shows for years. I never miss his set. I love his set and I can’t say that for everyone I’ve toured with. [Laughs] But he’s such a great performer. I love the songs. I love to sing along and dance along. I don’t know if he does the same for me, but he’s definitely seen me perform many, many times—like dozens of times, I would say.

So I trusted him. He knows every song, the stories I tell before songs, and we’ve even written songs together. So we’re sitting around this fire and he says, ‘What’s the deal? Why haven’t you recorded a live album? Your songs are really strong. Your stories are interesting. You’re a different performer. Not everyone does a live show the way you do where you have these entertaining stories before your songs.’

I would have never done this without his encouragement. He said, ‘I’ll produce it. You can pick the songs and the stories and we can go through the set together and edit it and make it a tight, entertaining show. It’ll be a piece of your life that can live forever.’ I said at the time, ‘Okay, if you think people will want that.’ He said, ‘I think it will be great.’

I’m glad we did. It’s difficult to sit there mixing in the studio and hearing your vocal track totally isolated. [Laughs] You don’t know how many times I listened to that record and tried to take notes on which version was best and what to keep and what to cut. But I’m glad I worked with somebody else on it. I needed a friend to be objective. There were a lot of things I wanted to take out but he would say, ‘No, that’s a really special quality of yours’ or ‘No, you should leave that in.’ I beat up on myself and would be cringing at a story but he’d say, ‘No! Leave it in. It’s charming.’ I’d turn away and say, ‘Okay fine!’ But I’m proud of it. I’m glad we did it.

c There’s something about letting your stories be heard on a recording that is particularly vulnerable. At a live show, if you say something you’re embarrassed about, then 100 people heard it and that’s it. It’s forgotten forever. It’s not a big deal. But on an album, it’s permanent. It’s gotta be good. That was daunting to me.

Analogue: The final album has 17 tracks. If you’d been in charge alone, how many would be on it?

Anya: [Laughs] I probably would have cut out a story or two. Knowing me, I might have deleted all of the song intros. [Laughs] I think I really would have gotten rid of two song intros, so it would have been more music, but I’m glad I didn’t. One of the stories is about my mom and I’m glad I kept that, even if it’s a little bit cringeworthy.

Analogue: You said the boost from Eric was what you needed. Is that true of most of your output is that it was dependent on the community around you to push you over the edge?

Anya: I think with things that are perhaps me stretching outside my comfort zone, like doing a podcast or a live album, I do need friends to give me a little kick. [Pause] Maybe even with more things now in my career now that I look back.

I think my very first job that I got was on the radio in San Diego. I found out I got a deejay job. I’d been working on college radio, but I’d submitted for a couple stations and got a gig. I told my friend, who was my radio mentor at the time, Mike Nelson, who is known as the “DJ with no name” in San Francisco.

I was living with my parents at 25 years old and got this gig in San Diego doing overnights on weekends, just two shifts a week at $8/hour. I told Mike I wasn’t taking the job. He asked, ‘Why not? You just got a gig in market 14, one of the best in the country. Pack a suitcase. Move out of our parents’ house. Get in the car and grow up.” That’s when my whole career started after taking his advice, and I don’t think I would have had I not.

"It’s probably the most personal record because there are no bells and whistles on it."

Analogue: Do you remember the headspace while you’re playing on these nights that you know the tape is rolling?

Anya: Yeah I was so nervous. It was weird. I think the first show, strangely, was the magic show. I don’t know why that is. But yes, I was very nervous, much more so than usual. I was hyper-focused on making sure I had the words right. Typically I don’t mind screwing up a lyric at all in a normal show; in fact, I do that a lot. I’ll stop in the middle of a song often and say, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you guys this thing happened on my way here.’ It makes for a fun show, too.

This is such a nerdy thing, but I did notice I was singing more softly on the first night and hitting the sweet spot on the second night. I told myself, ‘Just have fun tonight’ and let loose. I’d nailed everything the first night but I was more tentative. I like my voice a lot more when I’m not pushing. So there was a different energy on the second night. I think that paid off because I got done what I needed to get done.

I’m sure being in the audience that first night was a little awkward, because I don’t think I was as loose. The second night was probably a better live show but not such a great recording, whereas the first night was the better recording but now as great of a live show.

Analogue: You’ve got one cover in the mix here, which is Taylor Swift’s “The Man.” What led to that decision?

Anya: Well this was recorded at the end of 2019 and we’d just released that cover a couple months earlier. I loved the recording of that. It was produced by Miles Francis, who is a great artist in his own right and a fantastic producer. I think it captures that point in time. It was before it had become a big hit yet for Taylor, at least I think. I just love doing it solo on piano and I had fun covering it. I don’t sing the bridge. I just didn’t think my version needed it.

I just fucking love the lyrics. I think they’re so smart and doing it with a piano, at that particular pace, really milks the feeling of those lyrics, the theme of this kind of hypocrisy between genders and what we’re all expected to be. So that was fun to do.

VISIT: Anya Marina

Photos: Shervin Lainez