Russian-born singer Marina V ( full name: Marina Gennadievna Verenikina ) couldn't be more American with her loves of everything and everyone from Jewel to The Simpsons. However, the chanteuse's sunshiny personality is in stark contrast to a life that has involved a constant and almost overwhelming struggle to achieve her dreams. Recently, Marina—who describes her sound as a mix of Sarah MacLachlan, Jewel, The Beatles and Tchiakovsky—talked with Windy City Times about her music, tough times living in Illinois and her desire for Russian winters.
Windy City Times: Growing up in Russia, was your musical upbringing as rigid as it comes across in your bio?
Marina V: Yes, absolutely. First, the government did not allow a lot of music from other countries. For example, I didn't hear Elvis until I was in my mid-teens. The government would allow certain bands like ABBA, which was bubble-gum pop. However, Elvis was considered a rebel with his hip movements. If people were caught with Beatles records, they could go to jail. So people only had classical music. On top of it, my parents didn't even have a record player. I went over to my grandfather's place to listen to music; we listened to concertos.
People would get bootleg tapes and the quality wasn't good. The first time I heard an original tape, I was amazed that there was no [ background ] noise on it! [ Laughs. ] I assumed it was part of the rock-and-roll thing.
WCT: You came back to the U.S. at age 17 [ after initially coming here two years earlier and staying a year ] . You say that things weren't easy the second time around.
MV: No, there were a lot of problems. I had visa problems, first of all. I couldn't leave the country to see my family and I couldn't work or go to school.
I stayed with the family ( in Illinois ) who hosted me a year earlier, but [ times were tough with them ] . Then, I took all types of under-the-table jobs like working at a flea market and at hamburger stands.
WCT: So how did you make it to L.A.?
MV: Well, my visa finally came through and I got a great scholarship to go to college in Illinois. I performed a song and people loved it. [ So many people pre-ordered her songs that she was able to finance a recording session and manufacture a CD. ] Unfortunately, I had to stay in school [ instead of touring ] or I would've lost my visa. Then, I moved to L.A. about four and a half years ago.
WCT: You then met up with David Krebs [ a manager who's worked with Aerosmith, among others ] .
MV: It was a big break. In the industry, it's who you know. It's a miracle that my manager's assistant liked it; he then told the manager, who contacted me.
There was some luck but there was some [ hard work ] . I sent out hundreds of demos.
WCT: How did your sound come about?
MV: I originally got it from Russian folk music; it's melodic and passionate. When I first heard Jewel in 1996, I was just amazed. With all the boy bands around, her music stood out. 'Foolish Games' and 'You Were Meant For Me' were exactly what I loved and they were on the radio—and that was significant for me. I figured that if she could do it, then I might be able to do it as well.
WCT: You've released Something Of My Own ( 2003 ) and Simple Magic ( 2005 ) . Do you see your music evolving?
MV: Oh, absolutely. It's impossible not to evolve because of all the influences, and not just music. As we grow as human beings, we change. People can definitely hear differences [ in the two CDs ] .
WCT: Your Web site is quite unique in a couple of aspects. First, you have images of your handwritten lyrics, scribbles and all. Why?
MV: Once, a fan e-mailed me and wanted to know what my handwriting looked like. That gave me the idea to scan my lyrics and post them on the Web site.
I once went to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I saw the Beatles song 'In My Life' on a yellow envelope with grease spots. When you see that, you feel like you're in the know, you know? It puts you that much closer to the artist.
WCT: The other intriguing item on your site is a snippet of Mr. Burns and Smithers from The Simpsons mentioning you. How did that come about?
MV: [ Laughs. ] We saw Harry Shearer [ who provides the characters' voices ] here in L.A. and I had my recorder with me that I carry in case I have song ideas. He agreed to say something in those voices. It was really cool that he was right in front of us and that he switched those voices. I was so star-struck and nervous! Sometimes, people think that I was on the show—but that's for big stars.
WCT: If you could collaborate with any singer, who would he or she be?
MV: I would love to do something with Paul McCartney—and also Willie Nelson. [ Nelson is ] known for duets and I think he would like my music because it comes from the heart and is honest. Oh, and I like Elton John, too. He does duets and has an incredible voice.
WCT: What do you think of shows like American Idol?
MV: Well, it's entertainment. I could never go on a show like that; they're about performing and I'm about more than that. If you perform something from your heart, you make a deeper connection with people. On one hand, I like it. On the other hand, it's a bit superficial.
WCT: Is it true that you miss the Russian winters?
MV: Yes. The snows in Moscow stay from mid-October to mid-April—and they're so magical. Don't get me wrong—I don't just love the cold. ( I wouldn't want to walk into a meat locker, for example. ) I love the snow and the beauty that comes with it, and I love the changing of the seasons. L.A. is beautiful but it's the same year-round.
Marina V will perform at Speakeasy, 1401 W. Devon, on April 12 at 8 p.m. Cover is $7. See www.speakeasysupperclub.com and www.marinav.com for details.