Adulthood doesn’t mean that an acquaintance can’t manage to make you feel like shit. Anya Marina is an accomplished singer-songwriter, known for an expansive catalogue, including “Satellite Heart” (from the platinum-selling soundtrack to Twilight: New Moon) and her bomb-ass cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” (6 million YouTube views and counting). Her latest single, “Pretty Vacant,” off 2020’s Queen of the Night album, strips away the resume and showcases the raw pain of adult friendships.
“I wrote that song in Nashville and I was really hurt, at the time, by this famous girl,” Marina remembers. “I thought we were friends and I heard through the grapevine that she didn’t like me – it was like junior high school all over again. She showed an email that I wrote to a group of other people who I respected and I was just like: I am too old for this bullshit. It was so wild to me that adult women could act this way. Of course they can – we can all get that way. She had her reasons for being threatened by me or not liking me, but it really took me by surprise.”
The resulting song is a gel-penned hate note for the modern era, its pleasant guitar strumming and gentle vocals mocking the reader: “Darling, I don’t want your money or fame/Darling, I don’t want the keys to your place/Don’t you see I’m happier, too?/So happy without you.” From Marina’s point of view, the unnamed celebrity was only interested in an entourage, not a real friendship (with real sparring and emotions). And while she could understand not being liked, it was this woman’s approach that turned her stomach. “I was really shocked by the gossiping. I can’t believe that a 35-year-old woman who’s so strong and powerful and revered would say this stuff about little old me,” Marina says with a shrug. “I’m nobody to her.”
The video for the single, premiering today via Audiofemme, strays from the original plot of the song and focuses on Marina’s real-life move from her longtime hometown, New York City. In a series of cutaways, Marina cleans her apartment, carefully sweeping dust bunnies from the corner of her living room; the city looms outside the window, as static and ever-permanent as it could be. The move was a difficult, but necessary turning point for her. “I know the Buddhists say you suffer when you resist things, but it was hard,” Marina confesses. “I did not want to move. I loved my apartment. It was my little Shangri-La. But you know, when I started to move I was ready to do it.”
The album Queen of the Night was written as an ode to her time in NYC. “I had a really fruitful time in the city – going through heartache and living with a comedian, Nikki Glaser, who I love,” Marina says with a smile. “We were talking about our respective heartbreaks a lot as roommates. We’d come home for the night and discuss: ‘Who did you talk to?’ ‘Who did you see?’ ‘What’s the status of your love life?’ She would write jokes and I would write songs.” During this time, Marina and Glaser began co-producing a podcast called We Know Nothing (which she continued with comedians Phil Hanley and Sam Morril after Glaser’s other projects took precedence), chronicling their wild adventures in Chelsea and beyond.
With the whirl of daily life, Marina hit a creative wall, and put off writing for months despite her prolific run of albums spanning from 2005 debut Miss Halfway to 2019 EP Over You. “I was getting angry at myself for being such a bad singer-songwriter and being so undisciplined,” she remembers. “And then I was like: Just play one note. You always tell yourself just take baby steps with everything and then you’re not doing it with your music.” She grabbed her guitar and hummed what became the opening lyric for the album’s title track: “Maybe I’m a fool in love/But I don’t care/I won’t play their games.”
Anya Marina loves pulling vignettes from her life to use in her music. Like an expert in collage, her albums tend to capture and reinterpret a moment. She was raised on the drama and improvisation of jazz; her father was an amateur jazz musician and her grandmother a jazz pianist. “She was in bands up until the day she died [at the age of] 99,” Marina says. “Her last week of her life, she had three gigs with her big band and the other big band in her convalescent home. I come from some good genes I guess.”
While she’s now living in upstate New York with boyfriend and fellow musician Matt Pond (of Matt Pond PA), she is grateful for every moment spent in NYC. She’s incredibly thankful for her final performance there, which will be released as a career-spanning compilation, Live and Alone in New York. Her good friend, collaborator, and tour mate Eric Hutchinson convinced her to do the live album, not knowing it would be her final performance in the city for the foreseeable future. “I don’t think I would have done it if it were not for him pushing me to do it, which is how most of my projects get done – somebody pushing me to do it,” she remarks. The album was recorded over two nights at Rockwood Music Hall on the Lower East Side in December 2019, then Marina and Hutchinson handpicked each intro and song. “It’s a good snapshot of the time,” Marina says of the experience.
Anya Marina isn’t resting on her laurels. She recently started her own Patreon and is busy sharing demos, unreleased songs, blog entries and private live stream shows with subscribers. As she looks forward to a new jazz ensemble project and ongoing collaborations with Matt Pond PA, New York City – and the failed friendship that inspired “Pretty Vacant” – are now in her rear view mirror.
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