Marian Call’s music has a way of getting its claws in you. Her style, aptly described as “acoustic joy jazz” by one of her fans, pairs folk and rock with classical and gospel influences. The result is an eclectic, warm, whimsical, wonderfully listenable repertoire bound together by powerful songwriting and personality. Call’s compositions are half study and calculation, half improvisational instinct. The lyrics are full of triple rhymes and unexpected twists and turns. Call cites among her influences Joni Mitchell, They Might Be Giants, and Dr. Seuss; her work evokes comparisons to contemporary artists Regina Spektor and Ingrid Michaelson. Call’s songs are funny and light on their feet one moment, tragic and powerfully honest the next, and deeply grounded in the human experience.
Often inspired by popular culture, she has written songs about Shark Week, reality shows, TV series like Firefly and Battlestar Galactica, Jane Austen, the Mars Rover, and artificially ripened produce; currently she is intrigued by The Name of the Wind and Mad Men. “Great art inspires more art as a response. It always has,” says Call. “So I’m drawn into songs about the popular stories that resonate with our culture. I want to put my finger on why we like them, on what matters about those themes and characters right now.”
But fans respond most powerfully to the musician revealed by the music. Call’s endearing and quirky persona is what drives her career. She loves her fans and engages them online or at shows in experimental, innovative ways, taking after internet darlings Amanda Palmer and Jonathan Coulton. The passionate support of Call’s listeners powered her 50-state Twitter-coordinated tour and funded the production of her tour-de-force studio album Something Fierce. In 2012 fans raised $11,111 for Call’s European tour Kickstarter within three hours of her first online announcement, and the campaign went on to fund nearly six times over. The Kickstarter resulted in Call’s live album, released in 2013.
Marian Call’s inclusive community approach goes beyond fan engagement into the artistic process. On Something Fierce and a number of her singles and cover songs, her friends, family and nationwide music community all play together with instruments and found sounds. Her sister’s string trio joins a tin of bobbins from her brother’s sewing kit, Call’s typewriter and rainstick back up her mother on flute. “My fans even appear in the first track of Something Fierce, singing along with me and almost every musician on the record for ‘Good Morning Moon.’ It thrills me to hear all their voices together; it’s a group project, the sound of my community.”
While her work ranges from somber elegies to playful parodies, most Marian Call songs are built on the same foundational themes: courage and cowardice, insecurity and boldness. “To me those are the most human problems,” writes Call. “They’re the questions that all of us face, regardless of romantic status or age or race or creed. Our struggles to be brave every day are what move me at my core, and most of my songs, even the silly or romantic ones, can be reduced to questions of courage. Courage and place.” Hence her album title Something Fierce, and the subtitles of its two halves: “Vol. I: Good Luck with That” and “Vol. II: from Alaska.”
Though Call tours much of the year, her musical identity draws deeply from her love of Alaska, her chosen home. Call describes Alaska as “more than just the setting for my story. It’s a character. Knowing Alaska has made me stronger, bolder, and better able to step over my fears. It’s made me more honest. So I’m fascinated with it, and I’m fascinated with the things Alaska shows me about people — about myself, ourselves.”
Her personal transformation after moving to Alaska, and her journeys to and from the Last Frontier, served as a primary inspiration for her songs, especially the ones on Something Fierce. Each piece in the two-movement work is forged from personal experience and grounded in a powerful sense of geography. The stories range from Nome to New Orleans, and many were written and recorded during Call’s 2010 tour of all fifty United States and Canada. But after sweeping the length of the continent, in a whirlwind of rhymes, Marian Call’s voice always returns to a clear ringing melody and magnetic North.