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(Hard)Working Musician

Ben Anderson

Back in December of last year, Anchorage musician Marian Call had a celebratory concert at the Tap Root in Spenard. Ostensibly a closing concert for Call's "49>50" tour, in which she played at least one show in all 50 states, the tour was more of a homecoming party. Call considers Alaska her adopted home, but as the night wore on and Call drew from her eclectic repertoire, it was hard to tell just who adopted whom.

The way Anchorage responds to Call, it's pretty obvious that the love is reciprocal. And why not? Call moved to Alaska in 2004 and has called it home ever since, embracing the small Alaska market and touring extensively within the state. Her return to Alaska following the grueling tour was designated as a time for focus on a new album, her first in three years.

That album, titled "Something Fierce" and boasting cover art featuring Call peeking from behind her trademark vintage typewriter--which she uses at many performances as a source of percussion--is nearing completion, and it seems like Call is encountering the pre-release jitters.

"I like it so far," she says of the tracks she's completed or nearly completed. "But I'm scared to death -- it's the biggest project I've ever done."

That fear arises from the impossible-to-avoid criticism of any new work, especially as Call's fan base has continued to grow since the release of her last album, "Got to Fly." The more fans, the more scrutiny, and sometimes that scrutiny can extend beyond the musical and into the personal.

"I think it's inevitable," Call says, "that when you put yourself out there, you’re going to encounter criticism. I don’t mind criticism of my art, but criticism of my sincerity bothers me a lot."

An Alaska indie musician with deep Netroots

Call has an intimidating online presence. That's not saying that she has an aggressive online attitude--on the contrary, her Internet demeanor is pleasant and admittedly geeky--but to put it simply, she has very nearly four times the number of Twitter followers as Alaska Dispatch (although we still have more Facebook fans -- take that, Call!).

That means many of her fans are Internet savvy, and any technorati will tell you that the Internet breeds particularly intense fans, willing to belittle any disagreeable aspect of a person or piece of art they find.

"The Internet is very, very cruel," Call says.

Call is a working musician of the most extreme kind. As a fan of hers on Facebook and Twitter, it's exhausting just keeping track of what she's doing on any given day. In the time that I've been writing this article, she's tweeted six times.

Call said in early April for an article on Anchorage's indie music scene (of which Call considers herself a part) that "90 percent of the work right now for an indie musician is not music. My job is basically secretarial -- I spend 90 percent of my time in front of a computer."

Call embodies the independent artist mentality, doing much of her own promotion, paying her way through tours and coming up with innovative ways to raise money to support herself as a full-time artist.

“One of the things that’s exciting about (the upcoming) album is that it’s completely fan-funded,” Call says.

Her Donors' Circle, a collection of fans who donate on a regular to semi-regular basis to support Call's drive for new music, have gotten access to the first tracks of "Something Fierce," with the unique opportunity of being able to offer feedback to an artist before the general public hears the album. It's feedback that Call takes seriously, considering the source -- some of her biggest fans.

"It doesn't take a lot of money," Call says, "just kind of a long term commitment."

Call also recently auctioned off a number of unique items on eBay, including a framed copy of handwritten lyrics, cover songs that the winning bidders got to choose, and even her trusty rainstick, a regular accompaniment to her performances (and signed by Nathan Fillion and Alan Tudyk, two stars of the now-defunct but still-popular science-fiction series "Firefly"). That item went for more than $1,500, with half of the proceeds going to a fund for Australian flood relief.

Call says that nearly all of her concerts are performed to support her music -- she recently traveled to California to work on mixing and mastering "Something Fierce,"and performed shows to support the trip, including one on a beach, with no accompaniment.

"I tend to go for alternative spaces," Call says of her favorite places to perform, "I do better in a concert setting than a bar setting." It's made her a regular at small, intimate venues like Terra Bella in Anchorage, but she also says she tries to avoid playing too many shows in her hometown at once.

"Usually," Call says, "if I play more than one or two shows a month in Anchorage, I tend to oversaturate it."

The last of her solo Anchorage shows "until December" will happen this Friday, at the Snow Goose Theatre. There, she hopes to announce pre-sales for her new album, although it's still a work in progress and subject to change. She declined to offer a release date.

"I've twice announced the release date for albums and had it fall through," she says. "So now I'm waiting until I have a master in hand."

She may perform some non-musical poetry reading as well -- something she just did for the first time during a performance at Vagabond Blues in Palmer.

"People really, really, really wanted me to do it again," she says, adding that her poetry is written primarily for herself and reflects sadder or darker times than her music generally does. As for songs from the new album?

"I'll definitely play some new stuff, including a couple of things I've only played in public a couple of times," she says, but notes that fans aren't always wild about hearing unpublished tracks. "It's more fun for the artist to do more new material, but when you do a lot of new material and the fans can't pick up the CD that day, it's kind of disappointing (for them)."

Coming soon: All-Alaska tour

Following that show, Call will embark on a broad Alaska tour, playing in numerous towns around the state.

"An all-Alaska tour is new for me," Call says. "I've never played in Seward, I've only played private shows in Homer -- people have been asking me to play these places, and I finally get to."

She'll have a couple of other non-solo performances in Anchorage, one for the KSKA summer picnic--where fellow Alaska artists Pamyua, Superfrequency, Melissa Mitchell and High Lonesome Sound will also perform--on June 4, and at the MTS Gallery's closing on Saturday.

After that, Call will be in and out of the state, staying in Alaska only briefly at any time. She's planning an East Coast and West Coast tour, as well as a trip to Europe for some performances -- provided she can secure a performance visa. She says she's attempting to play by the rules by obtaining a work visa for the trip, in order to set a good example as a working musician.

"A lot of people try to sneak across the border," she says, "but I’m not a good enough liar."

So what's a girl who professes to love Alaska to do when she's out of the state so much? Well, for right now, she's enjoying the little things that come with the security of an established fan base.

"I'll be home for more than six months this year," she said, "and that's what I want." She pauses for a minute. On the other end of the phone, I imagine she's looking pensive, one finger on her chin. "I've never even seen my house in the summer, actually," she says.

Marian Call plays Friday at the Snow Goose Theatre in Anchorage. Tickets to that show are $15 for general admission, $10 for students, military, seniors, and the disabled, and are available at the box office or online at Call's website. Follow Call on Facebook or Twitter for updated information and upcoming shows.

Contact Ben Anderson at ben(at)alaskadispatch.com