Marina Verenikina is not your typical rising pop star. She came to the U.S. as a teenager, leaving behind the then Soviet Union to a whole new world. Now, she is pursuing and realizing the All-American dream of being in the limelight. She released her first album, Let Me Dream, in 1999. The CD was a quiet and introspective piece of work, mostly featuring Marina and the somber tones of her piano. It was the sound of an artist seeking her voice, exposing the emotions and feelings that can only come from a songwriter with a rich history and heritage. Add to that a beguiling and exotic accent that adds plenty of character into her overall sound.
When I first heard her latest release, Lift, I almost couldn't believe it was the same artist. The past year had obviously opened up new directions for Marina V. This album is assertive and takes chances in ways that her first one could not. She delves into a variety of styles and influences, perfecting her newfound pop stance with plenty of attitude.
What makes Lift tick so well? We decided to let Marina explain in her own words...
The new album seems to be a departure from your first one. You're branching out to different styles, there's even a "punk" song. The first CD was darker and more subtle---while this one seems happier. What makes this new CD different to you?
“LIFT” is different in a few ways. First off, “Let Me Dream” was recorded live in a day and a half on NO budget. We (my co-writer and bassist Nick Baker & myself) produced “LIFT” in the manner that we wished could have produced “Let Me Dream”. This time we had more time in the studio and were able to fully realize the songs. We used twelve different guitars, three basses, auxiliary percussion, a Wurlitzer organ, my Roland piano, etc, etc, etc.. When “Losing My Mind” called for a high end punky tone, we grabbed a Strat. “Anything At All” needed chunky guitars, so we used Les Pauls. The lead in “I Don’t Know Why” would not have been right without the nylon-stringed classical acoustic that it was played on. We did whatever it took for each song to reach its full potential. As for the variety, I love many different styles of music, literally ranging from Tchaikovsky to Drain Sth. Still, If you slow my rock songs down and strip them to piano/vocals, they make very pretty ballads. This album could have easily been recorded in the same style as “Let Me Dream”, it just wouldn’t have felt right.
What's it like being a native Russian living in America? How does this influence your songwriting, as opposed to other musicians who have been here their whole lives? And, what influences has America given you?
I grew up in the Soviet Union, and there were not a lot of Western (i.e. non-socialist) music available. Once in a while I’d get a copy of a smuggled in tape. So my influences from the early age was Russian folk music, classical music and some crappy Soviet pop. In my early teens I became aware of the Beatles and up to this day consider them my biggest writing influence and inspiration. Only when I came here at 15, and then again at 17, I discovered a whole new world of music. America has given me many influences. Aerosmith, Kiss, Elvis, and Alice in Chains to name a few.
What do you miss about Russia? What do you like/not like about the States?
I miss everything, even the rude people in the metro. You name it, I miss it. It will always be my home, although I am not planning to go back to Moscow (only to visit). What I love about the States is that I feel free here, although it might sound cheesy. I can be myself and feel good. In Moscow I find people to be too harsh in their judgements. In USA people encourage each other (although sometimes it’s phony), while in Russia people like to put each other down. I don’t know why it is so, but it is very typical of Russians.
I was in Russia recently, and I noticed that American music is all over Russian radio. I was also interested to see that the people I met were surprised that most Americans are not familiar with popular Russian music. Do you think that Americans are closed minded when it comes to other cultures and their music/art?
This is so great you visited Russia. In spite of many economic and political problems, I am so happy to see many Americans visiting the former Soviet Union. Do I think Americans are close-minded? I think most people are, no matter where they live. As for modern Russian music, for a long time there have been a huge void. There were only a few Russian rock/pop/whatever bands/artists, even right now there are very few comparing to the US or UK. So people naturally want more, and American music labels are happily feeding their music to the [musically] starved Russians. Americans have enough of domestic bands as it is, so it is normal, in my opinion, not to reach out for music from other countries.
You have a hidden track on your CD that is in Russian (one of my favorites), and you also had another song, "Odna," on your first disc. What's the story behind the hidden track, and how receptive is your audience to your Russian songs?
The hidden track on “LIFT” is a short version of a Russian folk song, recorded at first take. My audience loves the Russian songs. I always do one or two songs in Russian at most of my concerts. Russian folk music is beautiful and I usually use the acoustic guitar to accompany myself (not the piano). A lot of my songs are rock/pop, so a quiet folk song makes my concerts more dynamic.
Since this album takes a different direction, where do you see your music going in the future? Are there more surprises?
Every song Nick & I have written was a piano/vocal song. Period. That’s how we write. The arrangements come later. We have plenty of material for a post - “LIFT” new album. We are constantly recording and writing. The newer songs we have written don’t easily fit together in one genre, but they touch on all of our interests. Writing can become competitive. Not competitive with other bands, but with ourselves. We always try to outdo what we ahve already done. If we feel a new song is not as good as our best material, we keep re-writing it until the song has no ‘gaps’ or ‘holes’. Surprises? If I told you, they wouldn’t be surprises, now would they?