WHEN ANYA MARINA came back to her former hometown of Portland last February to record some tracks, she thought maybe she'd work on three songs while she was here. She ended up finishing eight—seven of which appear on her just-released fourth album, Paper Plane.
Marina gives some of the credit to local musician Dave Depper, who worked as a co-producer and multi-instrumentalist on the Portland recordings. "At the last minute, I was looking for someone to help me with my record," she says from her New York apartment, "and I just thought I needed a keyboard player or somebody to help me shape these songs. I emailed him and said, 'I know you're kinda busy with Death Cab for Cutie, but if you know of anybody, let me know.' And he just wrote back and was like, 'Ummm, me?'
"I was so blown away that he would (A) have the time and (B) have the interest," Marina continues. "I've only known a handful of people like him. He just thrives off working all the time; he does it really well and he doesn't have that little doubtful voice that I have. He never second-guesses himself and it's amazing to be around. He'll try something and if it doesn't work, he just laughs about it and then tries again. But it almost always works, because he's a... can I say it? He's a genius."
The sessions were a welcome return to Portland following Marina's move to New York City in 2012. "It feels like home," she says of being back here. "It puts me in a really good mood. I love doing my routine. I stay at my friend's house in Mt. Tabor—it's absolutely gorgeous there, and I get to walk in the morning and just be in that forest. And then I go get a coffee at Extracto and drive over to my engineer's house and we have that kind of marathon day of being huddled up, working on your art all together as a collective.
"There's nothing like it," she says. "I felt so purposeful, like there's a point to my life and there's a point to me being on the planet. I spent the three or four years before that just kind of spinning my wheels, wondering what the fuck I was doing in New York, and why I did this and what I was gonna do with my career. I can really go to that place of doubt a lot. But when I was in Portland, it was like, 'Yeah dude, this is what it's about! Don't forget! You were writing for a while and now it's time to record.'"
Marina's done a lot of songwriting since relocating to New York, including working with people like Kylie Minogue and Louise Goffin, along with some weird write-for-hire experiences that allowed her to flex her muscles. She recounts an example: "They're looking for something for a vampire show, but they want it to sound swampy, and also dark, yet uplifting, and also can you put in words like 'family' and 'blood'? And you're like what? It's just completely bizarre. Or, 'Hey, we really want you to write, like, a Katy Perry "Roar," but not "Roar." And then you'd write anything, and they'd be like, 'Um, can you make it more like "Roar"?'"
The songs on Paper Plane, however, came from a completely different place, and the result is a deeply personal and incisive album of wide-ranging pop styles. "Gimme Resurrection" turns a schoolyard-like singsong into a soaring, foot-stomping anthem, while "Not Mine" is a sparkplug rocker that's equal parts sugar and poison, just as "Shut Up" hides barbs beneath its veneer of seduction. Elsewhere, "Snowflake" is a golden-hued soul ballad, while "Something Sweet" is a gorgeously dreamy hymn to love. The spare, affecting "Candy #1" features some of the finest singing of Marina's career, and the lullaby "Go to Bed" already sounds like a standard. Paper Plane is an astonishingly assured and complex album of mature pop songs, bearing the potent twinning of confidence and vulnerability that's become Marina's hallmark.
It also grapples, unreservedly, with what is perhaps the great theme of pop music: love. "It really was my process of trying to grow up in terms of how to be a better partner, how to be in a relationship," Marina says. "It's about coming out of something that ended and trying to take all the tools that I've learned, and get at the heart of what I really want and who I really am.
"I just kept picturing 12 love letters written and then folded into paper planes," she continues. "That song 'Shut Up' is really the heart of the record: 'If I folded my heart into a pretty paper plane/And flew it across the Hudson, would it come back again?' I think that sentiment is what all of the songs are about. If I give myself totally to this thing—if I take an emotional risk—am I gonna get my ass kicked? I think that's what we're all asking when we're on the precipice of falling in love, or partnering up with somebody, or taking that leap of not being alone."