Local band Marina Orchestra cuts a perfect summer soundtrack on new album
By Steve Wildsmith (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Credit a musician born in Benin, the break-up of one of an eclectic East Tennessee indie-pop ensemble and a sense of general restlessness for the creation of one of the most refreshing new bands to come down the pike in a while.
Marina Orchestra, the brainchild of I Need Sleep veteran Justin Powers and 10 other talented, energetic musicians, celebrates the release of “Take on the Silence,” it’s full-length debut album, this weekend at The Pilot Light in Knoxville’s Old City. It’s a direct reflection of Powers’ personality and interests, he told The Daily Times this week, and the driving force behind the tropically tinged pop-rock is a relatively simple concept.
“I’m not a cynical person, basically,” he said. “I can enjoy some cynicism from time to time, but for the most part it kind of bugs me. I like people to enjoy music and have a good time. There should be no secrets, and you shouldn’t have to know anything to enjoy it. And I love it when people dance.
“I just went at this project from a very selfish point of view, almost. Music doesn’t need to be this big mystery, and you don’t have to be ‘in the know’ to like it. As far as our music goes, we just want you to lose yourself. The lyrics are a little bit cheesy, but you know what? It’s good. It’s not cynical, and it’s not trying to be cool. It’s not trying to be anything but fun and happy.”
Marina Orchestra got off the ground in 2010, when Powers and his I Need Sleep bandmates returned from the South By Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, and decided to call it quits. After a few months of working and not playing, Powers began to feel “cooped up,” as he calls it. At the time, he’d been listening to a variety of world music — African, Caribbean, South American, Cuban; and it was while listening to the Benin native Ignace De Souza that the concept of playing such music locally hit him.
“I realized I wanted to hear this music out loud, that I wanted to hear someone play it, and since I wasn’t hearing it anywhere around here, that maybe I should start a band that plays this music,” he said. “I don’t feel like there’s a lot of music made today that has the same heart as the music made in the ’60s, ’70s and even the ’80s, and I thought it would be a lot of fun to bring that back — of course, putting my own little spin on it. It can’t be just me loving on something; thee has to be a little bit of me in there, too.”
His original idea was to start a loose ensemble of street performers who would perform throughout the city; long enamored with street buskers, he called upon some of his old I Need Sleep bandmates, as well as veterans of other projects like Matgo Primo, and started small.
“The picture I had in my head was a couple of horn players, a guitarist, percussion and a bass; not a small band to begin with, but we just kept adding ideas,” he said. “Right now, we don’t even have a keyboard player, but there are keys all over the new record, so we could totally use one. But the flip side is that 11 people are too many. I would love to have more people, but I can’t.
“It gets to a point where you build a tower too tall and it just crumbles down. Really, it just started with me and Tim (Eisinger) on bass and Joel (Thompson) on drums, and we were just driving like that for a while. Then we need backup singers, and more percussion, and a horn section, and another guitarist … it could continue to go on and on, but I’ve had to put a cap on it.”
At the band’s first show, a dedicated group of friends came to support the group; the infectious nature of the music fueled word-of-mouth, however, and soon the offers came pouring in for Marina Orchestra. Rhythmic percussion, swaying beats, catchy melodies, lyrics that are easy to sing along to and a vibe that’s blindingly sunny have made winning over fans the easy part. The hard part is finding room on local stages to accommodate 11 musicians.
“I need Sleep was also a big band with a whole bunch of gear, but now it’s just sort of a circus on stage,” Parker said. “But we’re all accustomed to jamming up there. It’s not a problem for us. As long as we get to play, we’re all happy.”