"I get weird songs in my head and putting pen to paper is kind of like a diuretic," Anya Marina says about why she writes songs. "If I didn’t get them out, they would probably make my mind feel very bloated. And no girl likes to be bloated."
Perhaps that’s why Marina’s new album, Slow & Steady Seduction: Phase II, feels like a skillful embodiment of that old storyteller’s adage "less is more." The album is a tightly honed collection of winking pop gems and slyly sexy rock and roll that showcases this newcomer’s deft melodic sensibility and wryly humorous lyrical point of view. As sassy and seductive as its title suggests, it’s also keenly heartfelt, thanks to the intimacy of Marina’s appealingly conversational vocal style and the personal nature of her lyrics, which Marina says chronicle a relationship. "It’s about how you pick yourself up and dust yourself off after a break-up, and realize how fun it is to be on your own again — that all the negative stuff happened for a reason."
Musically, Marina and her producers Brian Karscig (guitarist for San Diego’s Louis XIV, who produced 10 tracks) and Britt Daniel (of beloved indie-rock band Spoon, who produced two) keep things rocking at a dynamic clip. Many of the songs were originally built around rhythmic loops that Daniel had sent Marina to inspire her to begin writing again after a dry spell. "The record evolved from a conversation I had with Britt in a bar in Burbank," Marina says. "He was asking me about how I write and I told him I didn’t feel inspired to write much of anything. I had been listening to a lot of Peaches, LCD Soundsystem, and Public Enemy, and I was thinking about how their music has this rhythmic drive to it. I told Britt I felt frustrated that I couldn’t write that way." A week later, a CD of beat loops that Daniel had created arrived in Marina’s mail. "At the time, I didn’t think what I was playing around with was going to form the seeds of my record, but those loops ended up giving birth to ‘Move You,’ ‘Two Left Feet,’ ‘Cut It Out,’ ‘All The Same To Me,’ and ‘High on the Ceiling,’" she says. "It really changed the way I wrote."
For those who may know of Marina from her early debut releases – the five-song EP Exercises in Racketeering and 2005’s acoustic-driven full-length Miss Halfway (whose title track also appears on the Grammy Award-nominated second volume of the Grey’s Anatomy soundtrack) – Slow & Steady Seduction is an artistic and creative leap forward in this evolving artist’s career. "Miss Halfway was sort of a demo of songs I came up with," Marina explains. "I wanted the new album to feel like a more accurate expression of who I am as an artist. I wanted it to sound like something that I’d want to buy, and that meant making it something you could tap your toes to. The album’s got some sexy, dirty rock and roll moments on it. I just wanted to have a little more soul."
Marina accomplishes that on Slow & Steady’s first single "Move You," which was inspired by a quote from psychiatrist Carl Jung: "Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain." "I love the idea that when you can’t figure out something intellectually, going into your body and getting physical can help undo whatever knot you’re grappling with," says Marina, who was first introduced to Jung’s writings by her father, a psychology professor. "It really works, so I wanted a quote like that to inspire a love song."
Some listeners may recognize "Move You" from its use in a memorable scene on Grey’s Anatomy, where best friends Izzie and George wake up and discover they’ve had drunken sex the night before. "I watched the show on TV with my hands over my mouth, smiling and thinking how strange it was to hear a song I’d written in my bedroom put over pictures," Marina says. "It was a really cool moment."
Other album highlights include "All The Same To Me," which sets the freewheeling musical tone with its vaudevillian, cabaret feel. "I’m always thinking there’s going to be some old person who’s going to sue me, saying ‘We wrote that in 1925,’" Marina says with a laugh. Then there’s the playful "Cowboy," the swaggering "Afterparty at Jimmy’s," the strummy "Drop Dead Blues," and an airy cover of the Antonio Carlos Jobim classic, "Waters of March" – a tune Marina fell in love with growing up. "That song really speaks to me in that it talks about how life can be all these different little things," she says. "I wanted to pay homage to the original sung by Jobim and Elis Regina, but also to acknowledge Susannah McCorkle’s version, which is why I sing it in both Portuguese and English." The album closes with one of Marina’s favorite tracks, the spare, clap-happy "High on the Ceiling," an older song that Marina wrote about how you can feel most alone with the person you love. "It’s sort of about feeling like I can’t reach someone even when they’re right in front of me because they’re emotionally absent."
No matter what Marina is singing about, her one-of-a-kind, almost child-like voice is hard to miss. Marina’s doctor once told her she had the larynx of a "very young adolescent." When asked what that meant for her singing career, he replied, "Well, it's not like you're ever going to be singing at the Met." Maybe not, but Marina, who was raised in the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley, didn’t let it get in her way. After earning a degree in English at Santa Clara University, Marina took a job as a radio DJ in San Diego. It was there, nurtured by the fertile local music scene, that Marina first began to perform her songs at open mic nights. Audiences responded to her stage show, which quickly became a must-see event, with crowds flocking to hear her melancholy rendition of "Someday My Prince Will Come," juxtaposed with a spot-on impression of her heavily accented Russian mother.
In 2005, Marina released Miss Halfway, which earned her a San Diego Music Award for "Best Local Recording," as well as the attention of Chop Shop Music Supervision’s Alexandra Patsavas, the taste-making music supervisor for Grey’s Anatomy, The O.C., Gossip Girl, and a host of other shows, as well as head of the newly formed indie label Chop Shop Records. After featuring Marina’s songs on Grey’s, Patsavas offered to release Slow and Steady, which Marina had planned to put out herself after giving up hope on getting a record deal. Now signed to Chop Shop, Marina’s looking forward to people finally hearing Slow & Steady. "I hope people listen to it over and over and hear new things every time," she says. "There are a lot of fun little twists and weird surprises on there."