SXSW Artist Spotlight: Marina Allen


360°Sound had a chance to speak with rising folk singer-songwriter Marina Allen following her March 17 Fire/Anniversary Showcase set at Hotel Vegas in Austin, Texas. Based in Los Angeles, Allen signed with British indie label Fire Records in late 2020 and released her debut seven-track mini-LP, Candlepower, in June of last year. Allen’s pristine voice and sophisticated songwriting have drawn comparisons to none other than Joni Michell, Carole King, and Laura Nyro.

360°Sound: How’s your first SXSW experience been so far?

Marina Allen: It’s been good. It’s been intense. I feel like I won’t really know how I feel until after it’s over [laughs]. It’s going by quickly. I’ve sort of surrendered to the experience.

Tell us a little about your musical background. I understand you sang in choirs growing up.

I started singing in church from the time I was really little. I didn’t start writing songs till probably high school, and I didn’t start really playing them until I was about 20. It feels like it’s been a whole lifetime, but there’s not a lot out yet [laughs].

How’d you go about signing to Fire Records? I understand you emailed them your music and they liked what they heard.

Yeah, it was really random how that happened actually. I had sent it to this smaller label and that label forwarded it to Fire. I actually hadn’t even emailed Fire and I woke up to an email from Fire Records. They offered me a deal the next day. It was all really quick and very dreamy how it all happened. I felt really lucky and still feel lucky.

You just finished recording your second album. What can we expect from it?

I got the final mix on the 14th of March. It feels like such a relief to have that big project over. It was a big goal to get it done, and I’m really proud of it. I’m excited to start releasing it. It’s a full-length. I feel like as the person writing both of these things it feels like an extension or picking up from where it left off.

I think this new record feels more thorough and considered. Also, I feel more vulnerable with the work itself. I’m really excited to start sharing it because it’s a really joyful album. I feel like that’s what the world needs right now. I’m excited to contribute that way.

Hearing your solo set at Hotel Vegas, I was struck by the variation in your vocal approach. For the song “Believer,” for example, you’ll go from spoken word to singing and back.

I think of myself as a singer as my instrument. I’m always excited to use it as a tool of expression. It’s a lot like how a guitarist would use their guitar in different ways. It’s just more exciting for me and challenging.

I listen to lots of different kinds of music. I really liked a lot of instrumental music and avant-garde music. I was really inspired by Meredith Monk and she’s like the queen of that. It’s all up for grabs and it’s exciting to be spontaneous with your genre or breaking out of a genre.

I write music with my voice. All the lines that I hear are like written on voice. That’s why I feel like I go back and forth between, especially solo, singing a guitar line or a bass line, kind of filling in those gaps as much as I can. But it feels really natural to me because that’s how I compose music.

When recording, do you like to do double tracking with your voice? Like having a voice singing harmony while another sings lead?

I did [double tracking] way more with Candlepower than this next album. I used to play around with that with demos, and with my four-track, there’s always tons of harmony. With the next album, it’s actually pretty bare in terms of doubling and vocal overdubs.

It feels really melodic and just a single voice for this next one. I’m just kind of trying that out because I’ve never really done that. But I really love experimenting with harmonies and definitely when I’m demoing things out on my four-track, that’s when the juicy stuff happens.

How’d your UK tour go last November?

It was fun. It was really exhausting. I had never been to most of those places, so it was a lot to take in. And I wasn’t there for that long, but I was playing almost every night. It was a lot of work, but I’m really glad to have had the experience. Next time I go out there it’ll be a lot easier.

I really liked the Sylvie single you were featured on, “Falls on Me.” How’d that come together?

It was a song that [Sylvie leader] Ben [Schwab] and I worked on, and it came out really well. I’m happy for him and for the song. It seems to be doing really well. Mainly Ben wrote it, but I helped with the lyrics and obviously the performance.

You’ve drawn comparisons to all-time greats like Joni Michell, Karen Carpenter, and Laura Nyro. How do you feel about those comparisons?

They’re definitely all of my heroes. I’m totally inspired by Laurel Canyon and ‘70s music and I grew up on that. So, it makes sense that it seeps through. I don’t think those comparisons will be as picked at once this next record comes out. I’m not unhappy about it, but I’m surprised sometimes because I don’t really identify with that as much.

Allen is currently on a West Coast tour with singer-songwriter Chris Cohen. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

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