Marina Orchestra's New Album Represents a Step Forward for the Band

Marina Orchestra will be performing their infectious, highly danceable indie-pop take on African, Caribbean, and Latin American musical styles during a release party for their new CD, Oceans, at Pilot Light on Friday, Feb. 7. Songwriter and frontman Justin Powers says the album, recorded at Scott Minor’s Wild Chorus studio, signals a few changes for the band.

“The lineup has changed quite a bit,” Powers explains. “We’ve gone from a romping 11-piece to a more focused seven-piece band. We knew drummer Nick Swofford was going to be leaving the band to focus on school, and that’s actually how the idea to record another album came about. I was really enjoying his drumming, and I wanted to capture the band at that moment before he left.

“Subsequently, vocalist Alaina Smith and trumpeter Jason Campbell have put in their notices, so I’m extra happy we were able to get everyone on tape before the changes. Luckily, the changes haven’t left any friendships behind—we often invite former members on stage to shake a tambourine for a few numbers.”

Marina Orchestra draws inspiration from relatively obscure foreign recordings that weren’t readily available until the blog and reissue boom of recent years, and Powers is an enthusiastic champion of musicians who remain unknown to most Americans. Though Oceans doesn’t exactly turn the tide from the sound of their previous release, Take on the Silence, it does find the group reaching for a more well-defined, individual identity.

“We’ve done a little less parodying of our favorite styles on this recording and may have gone further into our own stylistic direction,” Powers says. “I’m still heavily influenced by a lot of ‘world’ music. You could even point to a song on the new album and ask, where did the inspiration for this one come from, and I could tell you Vusi Mahlasela, or Les Loups Noirs, or Ignace de Souza. But their styles were more of a launch pad for an idea, and that idea was cooked in the Marina Orchestra crock pot for a while.”

The band wanted the album to reflect the raw sound of their live shows, so they recorded the guitar, bass, and drums live, and overdubbed the vocals and horns and miscellaneous bits. The recording wrapped up in five days, as opposed to the year of piecemeal recording that produced Take on the Silence.

With its expectations of enticements and extras, the Kickstarter campaign that funded the album provided the impetus to offer a three-song remix by Fine Peduncle, a karaoke DVD, and original artwork for each new song on the album. The attention they’ve given to the album’s conception, recording, and release, along with the tightening up of the group, suggests a new level of commitment. Getting seven members with full-time jobs together for any kind of tour can be a logistical nightmare, but Marina Orchestra do have a few Midwest dates, focused around Chicago, planned for the spring. Beyond that, they hope to do more promotion and book more shows outside of Knoxville.

“We’ve started to seriously take on the business side of music,” Powers says. “None of us are business-minded, so we’re starting to work with some friends who are. We’re looking to do a lot with this album. More bookings are in the works, and also a van. We’re working hard on it all the time, it’s a full-time-job on top of other full-time-jobs.”

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