Marian Call
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Marian Call

Anchorage, Alaska, United States

Anchorage, Alaska, United States
Band Folk Acoustic

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"Singer-Songwriter Finds an Alaskan Self to Celebrate"

Tok greeted Marian Call five years ago with a Thanksgiving blizzard, a harbinger of her long, sometimes bitter journey to become an Alaskan.

Take last year, when she and her husband rented a yurt at Chena Hot Springs -- in October.

"It was 10 degrees that night. I'm lying there shivering and the wolves are howling, and the sled dogs are howling back, and I was like 'I do not belong here. Get me back to Kaladi Brothers.'"

On the road home to Anchorage, the Washington transplant burrowed into her element -- paper and pen. She wrote a blithe ode to the women who "eat Rudolph for breakfast and Bullwinkle for lunch."

The boogie "I Wish I Were a Real Alaskan Girl" admires while it lampoons, with jaunty lyrics such as "I would wear hip waders in summer/ and heels at 10 below" and "I'd drive a huge domestic truck, and actually haul stuff in it."

Finally, she resigns herself: "Oh, I wish I were a real Alaskan girl, but when it comes down to it/ for most of us Los Anchorage is gonna have to do it."

Though Call may not be poised to win the Wilderness Woman Contest anytime soon, in Alaska she's unearthed something much more precious to her: She's found her voice as an independent musician.

Call said the state's frontier spirit prodded her to venture into the songwriting wilds. Since she moved here, she has recorded her first CD, started performing and begun an online project where she posts one new song a month, an act that restored her faith in herself.

"In college I really allowed my confidence to be torn down, became mistrustful of my own tastes and enthusiasm," she said.

"It's taken a number of years here in Alaska to get some of that back, and this project has really done it for me.

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"I think I'm worth listening to. I think I'm worth it enough to step out on the stage, and that is something I didn't believe before."

She performs today at Snow Goose Restaurant, Saturday in Talkeetna and Thursday at Terra Bella Coffee.

Of composition and coffee

Call isn't the typical pick-up-a-guitar-and-go sort. The daughter of two classically trained musicians, she buried her nose in the classical music world, earning a bachelor's degree from Stanford University in music, with an emphasis on composition and vocal performance.

Onstage, she delivers a smart, jazzy folk-pop, existing somewhere on a plane between Regina Spektor, Feist and Aimee Mann. Though her music is approachable, a music nerd could deconstruct her songs to reveal classical underpinnings, as well as early music devices. She also likes to toy with unconventional sounds. Instrumentation on her 2007 album, "Vanilla," includes a typewriter, sandpaper and her cat, Zippy.

When Call went to college to study music, she intended to be an orchestral composer, possibly for films. But when she followed her husband to Alaska, she gave up that idea.

"You can imagine the number of people lining up to pay you to be a composer in Alaska," she said.

She floated, trying to figure out her next move and how to fit in here. As she waited tables and worked as a barista (under her nonstage name, Emily Butler), she perked up to the music scene in the local coffee shops.

"This music was much more compassionate to the listener, much more focused on connecting with people, sharing common experiences, common feelings," she said.

Soon, she became a closet songwriter. Until last spring.

A sci-fi fanatic, Call was watching "Firefly" for the billionth time when something clicked. "There was like this wall that fell down in my head between me and 'people who do cool stuff.'?"

Nice can be nice too

A couple Fridays ago in the teeny tiny Tap Root Cafe, the flushed-face audience was packed in like cigarettes.

On the dollhouse stage, Call sneaked a swig of beer and flicked back her ginger bob to reveal an elfish grin. Then she caressed the mike: "I'm not sexy/ but I really want to be."

Her smoky, quiet opening crescendoed toward a plucky jazz groove: "A nicely balanced budget's not so thrilling/ and courtesy's outdated/ and sobriety is lame/ reliability is not appealing/ but I don't know any other way to be."

Her sweet purr grew to a yowl: "My virtues are vanilla at best/ but you can always count on me."

This song, "Vanilla," popped into Call's head one day when she got fed up with the misconception that good girls and smart girls can't also be sexy girls.

"Even nice guys like my husband get a little bored of someone like me, who always pays the taxes and budgets carefully and says 'No honey, lets not get that motorcycle.' ... I kinda wanted to apologize for myself, but at the same time I didn't want to apologize at all.

"I was like 'No, dammit!' I am reliable and I work really, really hard and I'm nice and that's worth something." - Anchorage Daily News


"Hometown Sound"

by Paige Richmond

Given the chance, Marian Call could probably play any instrument. With a lifetime of experience — she comes from a musically inclined family, played the piano for years and studied composition at Stanford University — the Gig Harbor native oozes classical talent. These days, though, she’s focused on a new sound: The combination of her own voice and a typewriter.

“I play this song on the typewriter,” Call explains in a video posted to her MySpace page, “because the typewriter, like me, is a little bit antiquated, a tiny bit rusty, old-fashioned, very literate, very feminine and very kick-ass.”

The video depicts Call, a red-haired 26-year-old, standing on stage before a live audience, her two-man band behind her, waiting for the cue to start playing. Call smiles and carefully punches the typewriter’s keys in a staccato rhythm as her lilting, clear voice begins singing.

In time with the keys, a stand-up bass player starts plucking his strings, hitting low notes. Call is singing “I’m Not Sexy,” a song featured on the music Web site singleoftheday.com just last month.

“I’m not hip / but I really want to be,” she sings. “All the bands I like you’ve heard of / and I watch too much TV.”

They are lyrics that encompass the transformation the Gig Harbor High School graduate has made in the past few years.

“Marian Call” is the stage name for Emily Pew, a woman born and raised in Gig Harbor who, just a few years ago, was composing pieces for and conducting string quartets at Harbor Covenant Church while home on winter and summer breaks from Stanford.

But since September, Call has been learning what it takes to be an independent folk musician: She recorded her first full-length album, “Vanilla,” and has been performing in coffee shops up and down the West Coast. She even played in March at the South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, an annual series of concerts known as ground zero for launching the careers of new, independent musicians.

This weekend, she’ll be playing her first show in Gig Harbor under her stage name and debuting her singer-songwriter sound.

“It’s really important to me,” she said, “because it’s my first show at home.”

Music — in any form — has always been a part of Call’s life. She comes from a talented family: her mother, Karen Luc Fildes, helped launched the local Peninsula Youth Orchestra, and her father, Paul Pew, is a pianist. Call was a member of the chamber choir, jazz choir and Meistersingers as a student at GHHS before graduating from Stanford with a degree in music composition and vocal performance.

“It’s just been so much a part of her, from growing up and in high school,” said Wayne Lackman, the choir director at GHHS, where Call conducted her own women’s choir octet as part of her senior project. “She just has this incredible musical imagination and ear.”

Raised here, Call said she didn’t have much exposure to popular music, outside of jazz. When she studied music in college, a strong emphasis was placed on composing complicated pieces — not listening to or writing the kind of music played in dorm rooms and off-campus coffeehouses.

It wasn’t until after graduation that things changed for her musically. She moved to Anchorage, Alaska, with her husband and Gig Harbor alumnus Stone Butler when he was offered a job there.

Call didn’t find the same musical environment in Alaska that she had grown to know in her home and college towns.

“When I moved up to Anchorage, I felt like I couldn’t do anything in music at all,” she said about not finding a place to play classical music. “I just felt completely trapped — stuck in a place with no music scene — and I couldn’t get out.”

Rather than launch into her preferred career, Call started working as a waitress and barista in coffee shops, where musicians played live shows and fellow employees mined their extensive CD collections for on-the-job background sounds.

Call was finally gaining exposure to popular music she’d never had before — and she couldn’t get enough of it.

“I remember listening to these CDs for the first time with eyes wide open,” she said, referring to folk musicians like Bob Dylan and independent singer-songwriter Kris Delmhorst. “The wall fell down between me and people who play popular music.”

Call kept learning about more bands and eventually began writing folk songs, a task that took some practice, since she’d never been taught how: Stanford’s music department didn’t offer a songwriting class when she attended.

Eventually, the songs that would begin Call’s independent music career — including “Whistle While You Wait,” a quiet folk tune where a lone guitar follows Call’s voice — were born.

The change from classical to popular music has been a challenge for her, but she feels her strong education will serve her well in the music industry.

“It’s kind of exciting, because I have a really solid theory education ... And applying that to popular music, honestly, is what all the bands I respect are doing,” Call said. “Instead of growing up in folk music and just saying, ‘Hey, I can write folk music,’ and writing it, I approached it from the point of view that a theory education really has a lot to bring to popular music.”

Lackman, her classical vocal coach, agreed. He thinks Call’s singer-songerwriter style is a testament to her background in composition.

“From a musician’s standpoint, it’s really well-crafted. It’s clever,” Lackman said. “I think you can tell you there’s some thought behind it.”

For now, Call’s goal is to be able to support herself as a musician and to make enough money touring on this album to fund producing another, since she’s not signed to a music label. She is looking forward to playing at home again — although she admits she’s nervous — and hopes that someday her hometown will hold the same folk music scene she eventually found in Anchorage.

“The way it’s changed over the past 20 years is kind of sad,” Call said about Gig Harbor’s development. “But at the same time, with the growing population, I can expect it will develop … some spaces made for popular arts and music. And I think that would be really great; I bet people would like it.” - The Peninsula Gateway


"Concert Review from Whole Wheat Radio"

by Jim Kloss, founder, Whole Wheat Radio

Marian Call gave one of the best house concert performances we've ever had here at Whole Wheat Radio.  Not only did she fully engage her audience with graceful ease and humor, but she truly stunned them with her vocal quality and control. 

I seldom receive phone calls the day after a performance - but Marian was so well-received that several people called to thank us for having her. 

We've had over 35 nationally touring performers in the last 3 years at Whole Wheat Radio ... no one made a more lasting impression on an audience than Marian Call.
- www.wholewheatradio.org


"CD Review: Marian Call's Vanilla"

Marian Call - Vanilla
2007, Marian Call

Okay, stop what you're doing and pay attention. It's not often that you get the opportunity to meet an artist like Marian Call, and I want to make note of it so that years from now you can recall where you were when you first heard that name. Hailing from the great northern outposts of Alaska, Marian Call is the export Alaska has been waiting for to top Jewel.

If you're looking for a popular comparison for Marian Call, the closest I can come is Nellie McKay. Marian Call's primary instrument is the acoustic guitar rather than the piano, and she uses irony more than overt anger to get her point across, but her songwriting skills are in the same class. To add to all of this is the voice. Marian Call has a warm voice that sounds equally superior in either alto or soprano ranges. Her sound is unique enough to become iconic in time.

Vanilla is an amazing debut. There is not a weak track go be found on the CD. The music is diverse and dynamic and flows like an album should. Marian Call is very much in control from start to finish. Fret is the opening song, about the guilt the singer feels about not returning feelings in kind to a suitor. The lyrical construction of the song is remarkable, and is typical of the songs on Vanilla. Call has a singular ability to tell stories in her songs that are part stream of consciousness and part careful confessional. The twists and turns of lyric are those you'd expect from an accomplished lyricist, and are surprising and delightful from a newcomer.

The Volvo Song shows the vocal range and dexterity of Marian Call, as well as the complexity she can create riffing on a simple melody line. This is currently my favorite track on the album, but the favorite keeps changing. Flying Feels Like displays Call's willingness and ability to take musical risks with melody choices. The decidedly dark minor-key verses resolve into uplifting major key choruses that betray the singer’s true ambivalence.

Be sure to check out Sunday Afternoon and I'm Yours, the latter of which has "wedding song" written all over it. With the right push from a label, I'm Yours might become the most requested first dance song of the next decade. No kidding.

Stop What You're Doing is the sort of song Sarah McLachlan has been making millions on for years. It doesn't sound like anyone other than Marian McCall, but it made me think of McLachlan, particularly in the chorus. Your Fault is a stark confrontation set to music, and sounds like it might have walked off the soundtrack of some prime-time teen soap opera. Chelsea Morning is a gorgeous closure to Vanilla, and will be running through your head incessantly until you next pop the CD in.

Oh yes, the title track. Vanilla is a tragic-comedy of self-doubt, and is impressive because of how unabashedly honest it is. Fans often think they know an artist from their songs, and usually what you get to know is a caricature that is part the person and part projection. One gets the impression from listening to Marian Call that there is no subterfuge or misdirection in her songwriting. Marian Call can sing openly about herself because of a self-awareness that surpasses her years. Pepper this with the sort of insecurities that we all feel and seldom voice and you have the essence of Vanilla.

Look, there are singer-songwriters, and then there are artists who transcend their genre to become divas, icons, symbols, or whatever label you want to use. This doesn't happen in one album but over the course of time through repeated excellence and reinvention as an artist. There are a mere handful of such artists every generation, and some burn out before they ever get recognized for what they truly are. But if I were a betting man, I would put my money on Marian Call.

Vanilla is a Certified Desert Island Disc, and any other awards or monikers you can think to throw its way. It's the best thing I've heard thus far in 2008, and is one of the three best debut albums I've ever heard. Remember the day and time when you first heard about Marian Call, and get on the bandwagon soon. This star is going to burn bright.

Rating: 5 Stars (Out of 5)

You can learn more about Marian Call at www.mariancall.com, where you can purchase a copy of Vanilla. You can also pick up Vanilla at www.cdbaby.com/mariancall. Also note that there was a limited edition release of Vanilla with the bonus track It Was Good For You Too. This is sold out, but you may be able to pick up a copy on Amazon.com. - www.wildysworld.com blog


Discography

"Vanilla", full-length album, released Sept. 2007

"Got to Fly," full length special album project, commissioned and sponsored by Quantum Mechanix, released November 2008

Singles for the "Song of the Month Project", released October 2008, available for download only.

"Something Fierce," double album, released Oct. 2011

All music is available for free streaming or purchase at http://www.mariancall.com

Several of Marian's works have been featured on independent podcasts and internet radio stations such as Whole Wheat Radio and 'Nette Radio. Stations airing tracks from "Vanilla" include KNBA and KSKA Anchorage, both of which are repeated across the state of Alaska, along with NPR and college radio stations around the country.

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Bio

Anchorage-based singer-songwriter Marian Call does things a little differently. Throughout 2010 she took to the road in her Subaru and played shows and house concerts in all fifty United States — beginning in May with Alaska, the 49th state, and ending in December with a flight to Hawai’i, the 50th. Her music has been described by fans as “funky acoustic joy jazz” — she plays eclectic, humorous and heartfelt songs that appeal to crowds of all ages and demographics. Her signature Underwood typewriter, rain stick, and kazoo can be heard in most of her performances.

The 50 State Tour was booked and completed without the use of a record label, manager, or booking agent — venues and housing were coordinated almost entirely through Facebook, Twitter, and cold e-mail contacts. Call drove over 35,000 miles in seven months to complete the endeavour, while updating fans online about her experiences around the country. This alternative adventure was designed to be more environmentally friendly, economically friendly, fan-friendly, small, and sustainable than traditional band tours — yet the tour still garnered attention from national media, and the concerts generated rave reviews across the country.

Marian Call’s grassroots-style tour booking is becoming more critical for musicians worldwide as the entire entertainment industry changes. But this paradigm shift will be particularly critical for Alaskan artists, who stand to benefit most from the internet breaking down barriers of distance and isolation from larger audience bases in the contiguous U.S.

Marian Call is an eclectic, humorous acoustic artist based in Anchorage. She has a web-based international following and the enthusiastic endorsement of a number of web celebrities such as @wilw (Wil Wheaton), @feliciaday (Felicia Day), @petersagal (Peter Sagal) and @donttrythis (Adam Savage of the Mythbusters). Call’s shows are unlike any other, and she is most often compared to other artists noted for their distinctiveness or non-traditional approach rather than those with a similar sound — artists such as Joni Mitchell, Regina Spektor, Erin McKeown, Amanda Palmer, and Jonathan Coulton are often referenced. Marian Call has released two studio albums and more than a dozen singles. She is currently in Anchorage, Alaska working on her next studio album Something Fierce, and she will tour across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and the U.K. in 2011.

For more information or press materials, including music and photographs, visit http://mariancall.com or contact mariancall@mac.com. Interviews always welcome.