THE INTERVIEW: Anya Marina
Anya Marina is a musician on the rise that might be best described as something of a modern day Renaissance woman. Michigan born and California based, Anya has worked as a radio disk jockey, actress, comedian, and singer-songwriter and has been making a name for herself with her performances. Her songs have been featured on shows like Grey’s Anatomy and The Real World and she is currently on a North American tour with The Virgins. Her new album Slow and Steady Seduction: Phase II was just released and is already creating a big buzz across the country.
So I was curious, as an artist who has performed in a number of different areas ranging from radio and music to acting and comedy, do you believe in the notion that an artist has to focus on one thing in order to be successful?
No, in fact I railed against that a long time ago. In a way, that’s why I titled my first album Miss Halfway, in sort of a tongue in cheek way of addressing that issue because people had always told me that you can’t sort of spread yourself too thin and be a Jack (or Jane) of all trades if you want to make it. I always kind of resented that- it implies that you can’t experiment. So much of being an artist is stretching your wings and seeing what you are good at and trying a little of this and a little of that and finding out what sticks. Not everybody knows at the age of three what they want to do with the rest of their lives
I respect that opinion, especially because many of the things you do are really inter-connected in ways. How much did you learn in acting and comedy that helps you in performing music?
Oh, it was invaluable. I think I rely on… I don’t want to say training, but it all certainly comes in handy. There are times when I’m watching other performers that haven’t had that kind of background (or aren’t interested in it- which is totally valid too) and it’s a completely different kind of show.
Well, as a comedian, I was interested in knowing what types of comedy have you done?
Oh God, I think I’ve only had one improv workshop for a couple of weeks and that was years and years ago. I never did stand up- that would terrify me- but I was always involved in theatre, musical theatre, acting classes, and writing. When I started out in radio, I was a copywriter so I wrote and wrote a lot of funny commercials with scenes and vignettes- 60 second long things.
I know you are on tour, but what are some of the bands you are listening to now? Do you have a favorite author? Any favorite films? Did you see any of the ones coming out that are up for best picture?
Oh gosh, lots. Like I said I’ve been listening to TI and last night I downloaded some Hot Chip. I’ve been listening to the new Gary Jewels album which is phenomenal. I accidentally listened to an entire Taylor Swift song today. I got a little sad afterwards because I knew the melody and some of the lyrics, but she’s cute and her vocals are so auditive it’s insane! It’s like eating cotton candy- through your ears. [In terms of authors] I love David Sedaris and Augusten Burroughs. I love Dave Eggers and I really love Ann Lamott. [In films] I loved The Wrestler so much and I thought Mickey Rourke was so fucking brave and his performance is so like dangerous and vulnerable and really raw. I really, really enjoyed that movie. I think Darren Aronowski did a great job with making it look like a documentary. I thought that was fantastic. I loved Milk. I thought Slumdog was a little overrated. It was sad that one of my favorite films did not get anything, I don’t think. I think one of my favorite films in the last five years came out last year, called Elegy with Penelope Cruz and Ben Kingsly and Dennis Hopper and it was so great and I can’t believe it didn’t get nominated for anything, but Penelope Cruz is great in that- oh and Vikki Christina Barcelona was a fun one too.
You’re a smart, talented, and attractive young woman in California and in listening to your lyrics there’s a lot of issues around your relationships. Is it a problem getting accepted as an intelligent artist being attractive and blonde in LA? I don’t really know the scene out there- is it all Roman orgies? How difficult is it?
Oh, so that’s why people always ask me that because they can’t believe that I’m having all these issues since I am a somewhat attractive young lady from the west coast- is that it?! So you mean, why am I single? Well, honestly some of my favorite people that I am friends with are artists and actors. Some of my favorite personalities are in the same boat. You raise an interesting point, why, why no boyfriend? Why no relationship? Yeah, I wonder the same thing and the answers got to be, there’s not one answer, but one of the answers has to be that it’s by choice. I’m not sitting here saying like “Oh, I wish I had a boyfriend.” So the boring answer is I really haven’t met anybody who is the right guy. Yeah, I guess I haven’t met ‘the dude’ and that’s totally fine with me. The weird thing is when other people alert me to it being a quasi-problem or issue, I don’t really understand. Why is that an issue? I am super busy, I’m really happy, I don’t have any complaints whatsoever about my life. I don’t have all these gripes like “my boyfriend’s driving me crazy, I’m in such an unhappy relationship, what do I do. I’m perving on my boss at work and I can’t, cause I’m in a relationship.” I don’t have these issues that a lot of people I know have, then at the same time I think yeah, how come I haven’t met the guy? I think it’s because I’m really busy and I’m probably not as available as one would be if I was in one city hanging out with friends. That would increase my chances of meeting somebody. Being an artist, you don’t have that sort of schedule or that sort of life. Even if people listen to the songs and then come up with a conclusion “oh the poor thing, she’s having all these relationship issues” that’s really short sided and shallow. I would encourage them to go back and listen to all kinds of music a lot more thoughtfully because that’s just a tiny snippet of one inner mind or inner life, you know?
Well, your career is sort of exploding right now so I imagine it is nearly impossible.
But I’m sure if I met somebody that I loved, then of course you make time. You create room, it’s just that it just hasn’t happened just right now, but I’m picky, what can I say (laughing). I know people who are constantly in a relationship. Like they go from one to another and they always say “I need to be alone, I need to have some single time, I’m not going to jump into another one” and then they do and that’s okay. It works for them but I was in a long-term relationship for six years and one for awhile before that and for me I’ve really been relishing my single time. It has really been a huge opportunity for me to grow up and figure out what I like and who I am. I think when I do enter into another relationship I think it’s going to kind of be a pretty serious one so I think I want to be careful and take my time, you know?
That’s really interesting, so how much freedom do you find in being by yourself? How much do you learn about yourself coming out of those relationships and being by yourself for awhile?
How much did I learn about myself? I guess it’s a shocking amount. When I was in the last one, I think I molded myself around his life and I really loved every second of it. I was completely in love with this person and very happy and three feet off the ground for six years. Then I realized when it was done, that I didn’t have anything to stand on. Being three feet off the ground was like being high or being stoned and that has its ups and its fun, but it was really scary because I didn’t have any real sense of passion or a direction or a group of friends. All of a sudden, it was like the breaks went on and I found myself without a lot of tools. I thought “shame on you girlfriend!” you put a lot of your life on hold while you were being a really great girlfriend (or what you thought was being a really great girlfriend) but in reality I was just enjoying being in love, but kind of being an appendage to someone’s life and that is not something I find any value in anymore. It’s nothing I’d ever want to do again. It was really alarming when it was over.
I guess it’s hard to find that sense of balance between you and your partner in a relationship, I mean that’s really one of the keys to maintaining a good one.
And maybe that’s why I am reluctant to enter into one again and it’s a tough thing to navigate. I was just talking with my parents the other day and they’ve been married for over 40 years. Even they were saying it really is a balancing act, something that you really have to tweak daily, sometimes hourly, to not loose yourself. They have managed it really well and they are two autonomous individuals that still enjoy each other’s company a lot. I am in awe of that. How do you do it without totally loosing yourself? And you know, they’ll still say “I feel like I really need my space today. Your father, he’s just, you know, I feel like I lost myself” You know, my mom will say that “I feel like I lost myself for the last three days because I was doing what you father wanted to do and I haven’t had a chance to do my yoga or read my book or see my friends or catch up with my daughters on e-mail.” So I guess we all have to do it.
Speaking of your parents, they seem like really interesting people. I know they were both musicians on some level and your dad was a psychologist. How much does that change your thinking as an adult? How much does that seep into the way you think about things?
I think that I probably can’t answer that because I am so close. I’m not able to be objective. When I got into therapy as an adult, I think that it informed my thinking more because it wasn’t like we ran analysis growing up. I think it was more subconscious.
I know your new album, Slow and Steady Seduction: Phase II is coming out this month. What was it like working with producers Brit Daniels from Spoon and Brian Karscig from Louis XIV?
Oh, it was a hell of a lot of fun. I respect both of those guys a lot and they are both different in their own ways. Brit was very, refreshingly easy to work with, not intimidating at all, very encouraging about my guitar playing and my singing. He was open to new ideas and trying new things. I did 10 songs with Brian in San Diego and he is just a riot, a very energetic guy who never stops moving, is very manic, full of ideas, can work for long, long stretches of time, and has tons and tons of different ideas. He’d come in everyday like “how about this string concerto here” and you’d say no and he’d be fine with it. “Okay great, let’s try something else.” He was very easy to work with. Both of those guys were fun because they were totally tasteful and egoless. Brit came up with this really incredible piano part on “High on the Ceiling” that I loved and he just decided that he wouldn’t include it after listening to it because it didn’t suit the song or the record in the right way. I found that vision really telling considering it was such an intricate, sophisticated piece of music and he didn’t put it in because it didn’t elevate the song. I thought that was cool and it said a lot about his level of humility
You chose to sign with well-known music supervisor, Alexandra Patsavas’s label Chop Shop Records which is an interesting record company because of it’s involvement with film and television. What it’s like to work with them and how does it feel hearing your music in television and films? That’s got to be an interesting experience?
I guess? The stigma of “selling out” is gone now but the increase in record sales and bands being licensed more and more I think will be less of a hot topic issue. It was great. I love Alexandra. She is a really picky lady whose opinion I respect a lot, so having her vote of confidence was huge to me. I was a fan of Grey’s Anatomy and all the shows she works on, especially Mad Men. She does all the music for Mad Men which is one of my favorite shows. I don’t foresee any of my songs getting into that particular series because it’s a period piece but I don’t know, maybe I could write a 1960’s era sounding song. I know it was a great, fortuitous event getting signed by Chop Shop.
The music industry is certainly in a period of immense change, where do you see the direction going now?
I think more and more we are leaning towards downsizing, perusing less and having less crap. There are things like the TI song I bought yesterday where I don’t necessarily want the whole album, I just want that song. I love the fact that I can get the song instantly and if I want to buy a whole album I can also download the digital art work and appreciate that too. We are all on the go, we don’t have a lot of time or space and I think it’s exciting. I just finished this television show called Rockville, CA that Alex has created along with Josh Schwartz who did Gossip Girl and the OC and it’s a five minute web only television show. There’s a lot of great musical guests like The Kaiser Chiefs on it and it centers around a bunch of kids who are A&R’s at a record label living in this city called Rockville, CA. That’s a really new, interesting direction that entertainment and television is going in. I was talking to Josh Schwartz about it and I think it’s really forward thinking of him to do something like that. It’s a really well produced show, so I think more and more we are catering to our shorter attention spans and I don’t think that’s necessarily a negative thing.