I like Marian Call. I like Marian Call a lot. And so should you.
Not only does she have an incredible singing voice, not only does she write haunting, intricate, and funny lyrics (yers, it's possible), not only is she a talented musician, but she's a geek, and a proud one.
You remember her from our "Sing a Song of Saffron" when she won, rightfully so, for her smoky song "It Was Good For You, Too." Since then she's been embracing her obsession and writing more geek-friendly songs, and now thanks to QMx she has a whole CD of them debuting just in time for her live performance coming up at Creation Entertainment's Tribute to Firefly and Serenity, November 22-23 in Burbank, CA. And I got to ask her questions!
So what's a nice girl like you doing in a 'verse like this?
I never meant to be a fan of any show, ever — but enthusiasm sort of caught me by surprise and opened a wormhole in my personal solar system. On the other side was an awesome 'verse full of like-minded folks who were unafraid of enthusiasm and nerdiness.
When did you discover "Firefly"?
Exactly two years ago now, in November 2006. A despondent friend swore she had to watch it as therapy, and so I let her put it on at my house while I worked on my computer. But I gradually got drawn in, and at the end, sheepishly asked, "Can we watch another one?" When I finished watching "Objects in Space" for the first time, I wrote the song "Dark Dark Eyes" in about five minutes. When I watched it with Joss's commentary, something clicked, and I thought, "I can do this. I can be an artist." The next day I booked two weeks in a recording studio in Tacoma, and my first album, Vanilla, was born several months later. The only way I can describe what happened is to say that I finally got brave after watching the show and learning about how it was made.
How did family and friends react to you "coming out" as a geek?
They always knew. You can't fool people close to you — mostly you just fool yourself.
I always wanted to be "normal," so from the time I was very small I would pretend to be bad at reading and deliberately misspell words so that I would not stand out in school. That longing persisted through college, and I learned a certain regiment of self-suppression that never really worked. I feel a lot more free now. Though I still apologize when I bring sentences to a grinding halt by accidentally using phrases like "false yet pertinent dichotomies" in all seriousness.
Why Alaska? What's the attraction over the lower 48?
You have to go there to know there. It's the true Outer Rim. You either enjoy the freedom and wildness and weirdness of the Outer Rim, or you don't. I'm a city girl myself — but I like to think of myself as a resident of Persephone rather than Ariel.
You've always been very open with fans, posting regular blog entries and offering free song downloads every month. Your nature, a business decision, or both? (More to the point, will you forget us when you win a Grammy?)
I really wish I had a secretary so I could spend ALL of my time interacting with the friends and fans I've met on my journey so far. It's my nature AND a business decision. And it's partially inspired by the way Joss, Nathan, Jewel, Greg Edmonson, and some of the other cast & crew have chosen to interact with their fans. I was encouraged by their very different take on "celebrity" and being in a performance-oriented career. I saw that being on stage did not preclude being friendly and polite, and I thought, "If I can do it that way, I can do it."
Which came first, the singing or the geekiness? And when did you start to merge the two?
That's a chicken-and-egg question. My geekiness knows no beginning, and I've been singing since birth. And they've always been merged — I've always loved musicals, early jazz, Gilbert & Sullivan patter songs, Pre-Renaissance polyphony, difficult modern compositions, and other nerd music. My college degree was in composition, which is basically thinking and talking about modern orchestral and chamber music. And there's nothing geekier than that. Except for musicology.
When did you decide to move to living on a bus? And how is that working out for you? Is this a Partridge Family thing?
Comparisons to the Partridge Family may exit to the rear, thank you. Husbandface has always wanted to live in a converted bus, and I want to be a full-time musician. The timing just worked out this year that we could do both. He and I decided to take a crazy gamble and merge dreams when we bought the Millennium Tortoise. It's massively inconvenient, but it's also terribly convenient. And it's a great adventure. I am expanding and revising my definition of faith.
How would you describe your style?
This has always been hard for me. People ask me what king of music I write, and I answer, "What kind do you like?" I've done everything from Gregorian chant to Australian Aboriginal bitonal throat singing, and I incorporate everything I hear into what I do. But nobody's music is above blurbification. So that's why I go with folk funk or alt-jazz or pop fusion, and I usually try to throw in something about rhymes or lyrics, as well as being indie and lo-fi and recording in other people's closets.
Have you ever heard from any of the BDHs about your work?
Nope. But I'm doing this for me and for the great folks I've met over the last two years of being a Browncoat, not for approval.
Wait, I'm not being entirely truthful — I got one sentence from Christina Hendricks about my "Sing a Song of Saffron" entry. I believe she said my impression of her didn't suck or something along those lines. She's wonderful.
(Well, close. Christina Hendricks' actual quote was "She sounded just like me! It was fantastic, I really thought it was a good song even if you don't know the character. That song and 'Undressed' by Zane Stafford were the two I thought would make fantastic pop songs. I thought it was amazing!")
How did this CD come about?
I met Andy Gore of QMx last time I was in LA, and he is very interested in finding professional artists who happen to be fans. And when he finds them he sometimes turns them into professional fan artists. That's what happened to me. The whole project developed very, very quickly, and I wound up creating the whole thing — from writing songs to sending off the master — in about two months. (By the by, there are many reasons you shouldn't try to complete a whole album in two months. I can list them all now.)
I asked about all of the songs on the new CD but she said there'd be a lot in the liner notes, and she was too wordy for an interview (not true). But here's a couple of them.
"Good Old Girl": This song was inspired by Starbuck, but like all my songs, it's really about human nature. So it very much applies to other characters, like Laura Roslin and Zoe Washburne. I also wanted to write something about the battle-weary ships themselves, and the love they inspire.
Incidentally, since I finished this song, I have come to think of it as being about our vintage bus or our beat-up Alaskan Jeep. Or my dirty, dented laptop.
"Don't Try": There are so many frustrated romantic relationships in Firefly and BSG — there must be, otherwise the shows wouldn't be interesting. This is about some of the awkward male characters, like Billy and Simon. But at its core it's about Mal and Inara.
"It's Good to Have Jayne on Your Side":This is the song that's most literally about Firefly, and ironically, it's the song I didn't write. This was written by an Anchorage cowboy who had never heard of Jayne Cobb. He wrote it about his friend Shane, and when I heard him sing it at an open mic, I nearly fell out of my chair. I tracked the author down and got permission to cover the song, without hardly changing a word. This is just to demonstrate that Alaska really is the outer rim — because this song is not about Jayne, it's about a real Alaskan man.
"Got to Fly": I wanted to write one song about why it's important to tell these stories — why comic books and sci fi and fantasy and gaming matter to us. I don't want to spend my life on escapism — but I think it's important and telling that we dream up worlds where things are more dramatic, more meaningful, more decisive, where we might be capable of great things. That's a good dream, and a very human one, and that dream is what the title track is about.
What can fans expect from a Marian Call concert when they see you at Creation's Firefly con?
My shows are usually punchy and funny and a little weird, and I tend to close my eyes and gyrate arhythmically while singing as hard as I can. But the music still comes out OK, so don't mock my unconscious dancing, please. I play with a typewriter and a rain stick (from the San Diego Browncoats), and I love meeting and talking to fans (who often wind up friends).
At Creation, I'll be playing at the same time as the guests (=stars) come out to mingle with the fans over dessert, so I expect I'll be background more than the main attraction. After the mingling is over, though, I'll present some of the songs from the new album, which have only been heard in public once or twice. And I'll play as long as they'll let me. My band, the Independents, have come a long way for this concert, and they're excited to play. BTW, I'm playing in LA all week and even on the Sunday night after the con ends, so folks who aren't going or who can't afford the gold ticket can come to one of my other shows — listed at www.mariancall.com.
The CD, "Got to Fly" will be available for the first time at the con. There will be 1,000 CDs made and hand-signed, for $15.95, and then digital downloads will be available.
If you want some free samples, and of course we do, go to www.qmxonline.com/gottofly to check 'em out, and don't miss her concert! You can find more information about Marian at her MySpace page, her website, or on Twitter.
(Photo of Marian Call by Brian Adams)