“I find myself always touring in the winter,” explains singer-songwriter and San Diego native Anya Marina, buttoning up her winter coat. The platinum blonde with porcelain features and I are sitting in her tour bus that is parked outside of Toronto’s Opera House on one of the most frigid days in the city. Currently touring with Joshua Radin and supporting her new EP Spirit School, the second date of the tour was a sold-out show at the Opera House.

Being on the road is a consistent episode in Marina’s life, but it didn’t start off that way. A multi-hyphenate as an actress-English major-DJ-singer, Marina grew up in California focusing on an acting career before turning to music. After the release of her debut Miss Halfway and 2009 follow-up Slow and Steady Seduction: Phase II, Marina found herself the leading lady on tour with Jason Mraz, Rhett Miller and Chris Isaak.

“You learn a lot of things on the road,” she says. “It’s a difficult place to be […] for me, it can be a bubble of reality that doesn’t really exist.” The experiences and lessons from being on tour essentially form Marina’s “spirit school”—a place where anything is possible. A walk through her old neighbourhood of Hollywood led her to a sign she misread as “The Spirit School” and inspired the template and title for a collection of “misfit” songs on the new EP.

Marina’s health suffered after the first year of touring and the biggest lesson she took away from the spirit road was “staying sane was my biggest priority and healthy on the road.” She continued: “And unfortunately, sometimes it takes compromising your health and going a little insane to learn those lessons.”

After a period of hindering writers block, Marina enrolled in a writing workshop. Ironically, one of her biggest hits was a falsetto cover of T.I.’s “Whatever You Like” that appeared on an episode ofGossip Girl. This cover song got the attention of New Moon directorChris Weitz and she was asked to contribute a song for the soundtrack. “Satellite Heart” was one of the only songs she wrote in a long time, but her song sits between The Killers and Muse on the soundtrack, a suttle foreshadowing of the mainstream success to follow with her third album.

Now living in Portland, her third album is named after a bad neighbourhood, Felony Flats, in the city. “It came out of a dark place I’ve never talked about before,” she explains. Marina escaped to Portland for a two week writing trip, but ended up relocating there perminantly. A burgeoning music scene, Marina finds herself going out to listen to music more than in L.A.

With thirty-three songs written, Marina split them between the EP Spirit School and the twelve that will appear on Felony Flats. Moving, transition, the search for happiness are all themes on the new album, that is slated to be released later this year.

And what about another rap cover song? She laughs, “I did the T.I. cover because I heard it and I fell in love with the melody.” However, she isn’t working on any covers currently. I recommend that the next time she is in Pittsburgh, like the previous night, to tackle Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” song for the colours of the Pittsburgh Steelers. For now, she’s is on the road again, this time to Montreal.

~ Ivana Markotic