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Interview w/ Russian Artist, Marina
By Ben Ohmart
(more articles from this author)
2000-08-02
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Here's Marina, a 21 year old girl from Russia who's at the start of something big. You can find out about her at www.marinav.com so I won't ask the ?s already there: go find out the Rest of the story.

She's been voted best singer in a couple of sites and in the 'real world', and now she's trying to set the world on fire, one torch at a time. Can she do it? Will she be Queen for more than a Day? Let's see....

[Ben Ohmart] Wow. After reading your life's story at your website, I'm thoroughly impressed. I don't know how you have the time to do Anything. Or do you? You're not going American and spending every brainless hour you can gather in front of the tv, are you? By the way, who made that nifty website of yours? You?

[Marina] Ben, first of all - thank you for taking the time and reading what's on my website. Looks like you don't spend too much time watching TV either.. :)

About time... Sometimes I wish I didn't require sleep at all so I could get everything done. Once in a while I have a dream that time freezes, and I work, work, work.

I design my own website - www.MarinaV.com. I try to keep it fresh and updated so people always look forward to coming back. Often when a fan approaches me at a show, I'll have a picture taken with him/her and post the image on my Fan Page. Did you see the drawings of me by younger fans on that page? This is part of what makes the "all ages shows" fun.

[Ben Ohmart] You write some very beautiful music. And you seemed to have lived enough lives for several people so far, for your inspiration. Do you have any regrets? Does it take a little heartbreak to write a good song?

[Marina] My biggest heartbreak was leaving my homeland and my family behind in order to pursue what I wanted. The first time I left Moscow was when I was 15. I am proud to say that I won a scholarship to study in the US. Although it was only for a year, the transition was still difficult, and I think it made me mature much faster than my peers. I could barely relate to people my age, and that was tough. When I was 17, I saved enough money to come back to the States. Once back in the US, my future was so grey, I really did not know how long it would be until I was able to see my family again. During that particular time (summer 1996) there was a possibility that communists would take over Russia, and they would have definitely closed the borders.

Also, my mom remarried and moved to Australia. My great grandpa , to whom I was very close, died back home in Moscow. It felt like everything was falling apart. The American family I was staying with was friendly, but I could not relate to them. I had no friends and I remember feeling desperate.

There were other heartbreaks. Relationships were difficult. Beginning with my first move, I felt neither completely Russian nor American, which made it hard for me to relate to a majority of people. These troubles were multiplied by a lack of involvement in my life by certain key people. My father had never tried to be there for me. My mom found a new life which excluded me. Even my American host family ruined what trust was there. "Let Me Dream" helped me get these feelings out and hope for the best. However, there is actually only one song about girl/boy relationship heartbreak, "I Miss You In My Life." Without listening carefully, some people think they all are about romantic relationships.

[Ben Ohmart] How did you finance your cd? I know you're co-writing with your boyfriend. Are you both sharing equal responsibilities for getting the music out there and heard?

[Marina] A big part of the money came from my savings. Considering I am foreign and not able to work, saving the money took me a while... :) Nick Baker, my boyfriend, has contributed a lot as well. The other part of the money came from the fans! I asked if they would pre-order the CDs, and many did. It meant very much to me. I put their names on my webpage to show my appreciation.

[Ben Ohmart] Is there a Good Enough name for the genre of music/songs you write? Or would you like to create your own label here and now? What IS your music?

[Marina] My music is melodic, simple yet catchy and very straightforward. That's where the Beatles come in. A majority of their songs are so 'right to the point', without any bullshit. Yet they rip your heart right out. It all comes from emotion. When I write a song, I feel it. If I don't, I throw it away. Even a few funny songs I have, or the punk song that will be on my next album (I am in the middle of recording right now) are all results of what I feel. I HATE stigmas. People see a girl singing and playing piano and automatically think Tori Amos. Well, you know, my style is VERY different from hers. Now that I have heard her music, I do like what I hear. But I wrote most of my songs before I ever heard Tori's songs. I really appreciated it when C.J. Cauley of "Shock Value Music Webzine" (http://members.aol.com/svwebzine) said: " 'Always' is reminiscent of another singer/pianist, Tori Amos, with wild, untamed vocals and spirited piano melodies. But that's where the comparison ends; in fact, Marina is able to overcome problems that usually plague pianists like Tori, originality in the melodies. Many pianists string along song after song that sound exactly the same but Marina immediately demonstrates her diversity with 'Butterfly'." But if they are gonna compare, at least they aren't comparing me to Gwar. :)

[Ben Ohmart] Your cite the Beatles and Elton John as influences. Let's pretend you're really 42, an established act, influencing groups of today. Who would they be? And what's the future of music like?

[Marina] There are only a few musicians today that I like. There are many great vocalists and performers out there, but unfortunately there is not much good writing for them to perform. I think a majority of today's writing sucks! People get too caught up in arranging/producing a song, or in complicated riffs, etc.. If you forget all of 20 tracks of backup vocals and as many guitar tracks, if you strip most of contemporary songs down to one instrument and one vocal, it won't be much.

Another thing is an acoustic guitar - there has been a big wave (both indie and major label) of acoustic singer/songwriter/guitarists. Hundreds of thousands of musicians go that route - identical strumming with some non-melodic vocal lines over it. Enough already! :) I really hope that people would substitute quantity for quality and go back to good writing. My favorite new artist right now is Beth Hart. She's on 143/Atlantic Records. She is an amazing musician. With great vocals and strong stage presence, Beth writes and co-writes all of her songs, and they are good! I listen and nod to every chord change or melody twist. If Beth gets the proper backing, there is no telling how far she could go.

[Ben Ohmart] Lots of stupid Americans learn what little they know of Russia from stereotyped jokes on The Tonight Show, about standing in line for bread, etc. Why don't you put us straight on what the Russia of today is really like?

[Marina] It's funny that you ask. When I was 15, your government gave me a scholarship to come over here and inform American students about life in Russia. If you want to know about Russia, I'm your man! But seriously, all of the stereotypes are based on some truth. I grew up standing in line for not only bread, but all other products, including clothes. During the times of the Soviet Union, there was no private sector in the economy. Everything was produced by the government. Because of this, the quality of manufactured items was very low, and there was little to no choice. Supply was obviously lower than the general demand, which created product deficit as well as long lines. However, it is no longer so.

Since 1991 (the fall of the USSR), Russia opened the borders to all of the imported goods. Pretty much everything you have here is available in my home country, although it is more expensive there. On top of that, the salaries of people are so much lower than here. For example, my father makes an equivalent of $150 a month working as a nuclear physicist for the government. My aunt, who is an architect, makes a little bit more, while my grandpa, who is an engineer working for the MIG company, makes less than a hundred a month. Life is very hard there. Most of the money earned buys the bare minimum. I am from Moscow where life is significantly better than in other regions of Russia. In spite of economic hardships, there are many tourists visiting Russia (and Moscow in particular). On my website www.MarinaV.com I have a few pictures of my home city as well as some links on my Links Page.

[Ben Ohmart] Can you figure out how Russian life and music has crept into your current songwriting ability? If you were from America, how do you think you'd sound?

[Marina] Growing up in the Soviet Union did not leave me with a lot of choice for music. I listened (and played) to classical music mostly. The government did not allow any foreign (especially American or other capitalist countries) products. I guess they were afraid that people would realize how crappy the domestic stuff was. But people found ways around it and once in a while would smuggle various things into the country. That's how I got a few Beatles tapes. Although they were 10th generation tapes with a lot of noise, I listened to them all of the time. My mom was also a huge Beatles fan.

I really cannot imagine how I would sound if I were from America. I would probably not even be involved in music. A lot of my writing came from the fact that I wanted to have some music, and there was nothing there. Soviet pop? Yeah, right. I remember trying to fill in that void. Making up my own tunes, singing and playing the piano (and later guitar) always seemed right. Most of my songs (including the early songs that I am embarrassed now to admit to) came from a lot of pain, having to deal with the every day reality of the gloomy surroundings. I was born an extremely energetic person (got it from my dad), and somehow I learned to direct this negative energy into the making of music. Many musicians say that music (writing, singing or playing) is their kind of therapy. I can certainly relate to this. Often I don't know what to do with myself, but when I go to the piano and finish a song I rid myself of this 'anxiety' and can finally rest.

[Ben Ohmart] I notice you're donating some $ from every cd sale of yours. That's a great thing. Would you call yourself politically minded? Do you keep abreast of the news, the injustices, the new cereals on the shelf?

[Marina] I've always been interested in 'staying on top of things', i.e. reading newspapers, watching the news, etc. Politically minded - yes, definitely. I feel that I can make a difference on a small scale. I have many visitors to my website with different backgrounds. If they see that I am donating some money, it might make them want to be involved as well. The way I see it, if I have a chance to make a difference, I should take that chance. I am donating $1 from each cd that I sell to the American Cancer Society. It looks like almost every family has been touched by cancer. My family is not an exception. My favorite grandmother died of cancer when I was 12. Nick's grandma died of cancer in May. My aunt just had mastectomy. Maybe this gives you some background as to my association with ACS. By the way, my favorite cereals are: Banana Nut Crunch, Cranberry Almond and Honey Nut Cheerios. :)

[Ben Ohmart] I'd like to ask something that's never been asked in an interview you've given. What would that ? be, and what's the answer?

[Marina] Here is the question. "A number of musicians are/have been involved with drugs. What's your experience?" I don't like drugs or alcohol. People find it hard to believe that being Russian I don't drink vodka. :) I don't drink anything but an occasional glass of good red wine. I did some drinking in my teen years, which was quite normal in my country. I used to smoke regular cigarettes but quit. I think smoking is stupid. Drugs? No. I get my own natural "high" with music - onstage or off. I don't think anyone should have to rely on foreign substances to feel confident and proud.

[Ben Ohmart] Is music going to be your future? Or do you have other aspirations of hope and prosperity?

[Marina] The music is my present, and I will do everything humanly possible to make it my future as well. I see many musicians giving up after a year or two of actively performing. I will not be one of them. As of right now I work my ass off to make as many contacts as possible, to register my website with many organizations, to play gigs, to improve myself as a songwriter/performer/singer, to learn more about the music industry in general, etc... Right now I am working on my second album. I am proud to have achieved everything I have in less than one year. I believe I deserve it because I work very hard to get myself out there. I also appreciate all of the support I have gotten from my friends, fans and other musicians, sound guys, etc...

[Ben Ohmart] Finally, I've gotta know - what do you Loathe about Americans? Come on. Confess.

[Marina] The thing that I hate most about Americans is the lack of value of intelligence/knowledge, as well as lack of drive. I think many Americans take things for granted. Life is much easier here than anywhere else in the world. Americans are used to having it 'easy', and as a consequence they 'turn off' their brains. Obviously, there are exceptions. But you asked to confess. :)

[Ben Ohmart] What's your gig schedule like nowadays? Where can we see you?

[Marina] As I mentioned earlier, I am working on my second album now. I am focusing more on recording right now than on gigging. I am working with a few booking managers right now to get shows lined up for late Fall. Even during recording, I play out. For example, I just came back from Nashville where I participated in a showcase for Just Plain Folks (jpfolks.com) independent music organization. I am proud to say that "Let Me Dream" was nominated for the Best Indie Album of the Year on jpfolks.com. At this showcase I met with the founder of this organization as well as with other members. It was a great time!

Related MusicDish e-Journal Articles:
» Marina - Let Me Dream (2000-03-29)


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