Premiere: Anya Marina’s Moving “16 Letters” Spotlights 21st Century Communication Breakdown

Anya Marina
A powerfully poignant and aching lament, Anya Marina’s “16 Letters” highlights the heartaches and pains of communication breakdown through stirring sonics and bittersweet visual imagery.
for fans of Laura Stevenson, Matt Pond
Stream: “16 Letters” – Anya Marina




The more connected we get, the more alone we become.” These words, preached by South Park character Kyle Broflovski in an effort to #SaveTheLivingRoom, resonate as deeply today as when they first aired six long years ago. While the animated series’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone were sure to inject a wealth of humor around this sentence, the particular moment resonated for audiences with a darker, sobering truth: We have so much technology at our disposal – as a culture and society, we pride ourselves on the devices and data at our fingertips – and yet, rather than bring us closer together, they separate us; they create distance and discord, isolation and detachment. This transcends the living room to permeate the full spectrum of relationships, from family ties to friendships and romance.

Six years haven’t necessarily seen any improvement in how we relate to and interact with one another; if anything, behaviors and interactions that should be seen as serious issues or red flags are becoming increasingly normalized as acceptable, appropriate human behavior. Singer/songwriter Anya Marina bemoans and denounces this growing reality in her latest music video: A powerfully poignant and aching lament, “16 Letters” highlights the heartaches and pains of communication breakdown through stirring sonics and bittersweet visual imagery.

Queen of the Night - Anya Marina

Queen of the Night – Anya Marina

16 letters that I never sent
One bad apple and a malcontent
16 letters that I never read
For 16 sides of you I never met
Oh this misunderstanding is getting so old
I’m stuck between the lines just undoing the code
Remember when we called each other on the phone
Hello? Hello? Hello?

Atwood Magazine is proud to be premiering the Scott Coffey-directed music video for “16 Letters,” taken off Anya Marina’s recently-released album Queen of the Night (released September 25, 2020 via Good Rope Records / Tone Tree Music). Actively releasing music for over fifteen years now, Anya Marina has five studio albums, three EPs, and countless tours under her belt. She has shared stages and bills with every from Jason Mraz, Spoon, and Eric Hutchinson, to Paolo Nutini, The Virgins, and Jenny Owen Youngs – and her music has been heard in the likes of Twilight: New Moon (via her song “Satellite Heart”), 13 Reasons Why, Grey’s Anatomy, and Gossip Girl.

In other words, the New York City singer/songwriter is no stranger to the spotlight. Furthermore, even the most cursory listen to her oldest and newest songs alike shows that she has long focused on cultivating, through her music, a direct connection with audiences: Some kind of safe space for folks to feel, to reflect, to relax, and to breathe. Her fifth album Queen of the Night isn’t explicitly about connection, but from the outset, its opening title track does set the scene with a reflection on intimate connection and disconnect – the torn physical and emotional experience of being together, but apart:

My love grows in the dark, it’s like a secret little flower
Feeding off the sun and sky and water in the air
My love grows in the dark, against my better plans
When I wake up in the morning, I just love you even more, and I
I can’t say this thing is over
But I don’t know what to do
‘Cause it’s bigger than me and you
I can’t say this thing is over
But I don’t know what to do
‘Cause it’s bigger than me and you
– “Queen of the Night,” Anya Marina


Arriving toward Queen of the Night‘s tail end, “16 Letters” is one of the record’s most stripped back and heavy-hearted moments (alongside tracks like “Last Word” and “Pretty Vacant.”) Speaking to American Songwriter ahead of her release, Marina described herself as a “lyric person [but also a melody person],” explaining, “I like to make a song kind of stripped down so that you can hear the lyrics, which are so important.”

“16 Letters” exhibits this lyrical focus with profound finesse, with celestial voice owning center stage around an increasingly ethereal, atmospheric backdrop.A naked acoustic guitar serves as both melodic and rhythmic accompaniment, helping lift the song off the ground before light percussion and a shiver-inducing electric guitar pattern join in the fray. Meanwhile, Marina sings of memories long gone of “calling each other on the phone.” It’s such a simple, universal notion that has lost so much appeal with so-called extroverts and introverts alike, who employ the bulk of their communication via text.

A pretty highway, three dollar bill
Just ‘cause you dream it, it don’t exist
Remember when we called each other on the phone
Hello? Hello? Hello?
16 letters that I never sent
One bad apple and a malcontent
16 letters that I never read
For 16 sides of you I never met
Oh this misunderstanding is getting so old
I’m stuck between the lines just undoing the code
Remember when we called each other on the phone
Hello? Hello? Hello?

I wrote 16 Letters about communication problems in the modern age and how careless we are now that we’re armed with these devices called phones (which we rarely use to actually talk to each other–voice to voice, face to face–anymore),” Marina explains. “I was struck by the endless stories I had heard: one person had ended a 20 year friendship over text, another got so offended by a comment on a social media post, they deleted them for good. Another wanted to decipher the myriad of permutations of possible meanings in an online dating chat and whether to respond with an exclamation point or without. I myself had dozens of unsent love and hate letters in my Drafts. How were we all living in such an interconnected time, yet all feeling so isolated on our own little islands?”

The end of the song feels like a call to come together, come to the light, and to connect for real.

Anya Marina

Anya Marina

“The song was written, sung, and in part played by me, and recorded by artist, producer, multi-instrumentalist Miles Francis (who played additional guitars, bass, synth, percussion). Chris Hansen (Matt Pond PA) also added additional guitars.”

Marina’s “16 Letters” music video, directed by Scott Coffey, brings to life this idea of being so close, yet so far apart. We watch words unsaid burn up in a fire, their sentiment forever lost in an ether of unsent messages and what-ifs.

“Matt Pond gave me the idea for the video: Two people in a relationship, facing each other over a fire in the woods, holding up the lyrics and then placing them into the fire in one last effort to communicate, to connect, to understand, and, hopefully, to be understood,” Marina shares. “The video was filmed mostly by Scott Coffey in Berlin, starring himself and his partner Blair Mastbaum (who are both dear longtime friends of mine). The additional footage of me was shot by Matt Pond in Kingston, NY. I love how seamlessly the footage comes together—you’d never guess we were continents apart.”

She adds, “Scott Coffey has directed me many times—in my very first video ever (“Move You” off Slow & Steady Seduction: Phase II), in “Satellite Heart” for Twilight: New Moon, in the video for my version of Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” and most recently in “Broken Bottles” (also shot in Berlin and New York). He is a favorite director of mine (Ellie Parker, Adult World) and a real champion of women and strong female characters.”

Anya Marina © Shervin Lainez

Anya Marina © Shervin Lainez

A pretty highway, three dollar bill
Just ‘cause you dream it, it don’t exist
Remember when we called each other on the phone
Hello? Hello? Hello?

“16 Letters” shines a light on the fracture that technology so effortlessly injects into our relationships. It’s a vivid reminder that not all progress is progress in the right direction; that often times, things hailed as improvements are in fact standing in the way of our longterm health and happiness. Whether or not you would subscribe to the #SaveTheLivingRoom bandwagon, “16 Letters” has a certain universal, heartbreaking appeal; stream Anya Marina’s latest video exclusively on Atwood Magazine, and be sure to give Queen of the Night a listen on your digital platform of choice!

:: stream/purchase Queen of the Night here ::

— —

Stream: “16 Letters” – Anya Marina

 



— — — —

Queen of the Night - Anya Marina

Connect to Anya Marina on
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
Discover new music on Atwood Magazine
📸 © Shervin Lainez

:: Stream Anya Marina ::



Mitch Mosk

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com