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SAT POISED IN FRONT of a wall of photos and paintings, long hair and curious eyes to the fore like some turn-of-the-‘70s singer/songwriter from central casting, Marina Allen is politely not raising an eyebrow or curled lip to the rambling confession-in-the-form-of-a-question coming at her.

Maybe it is the lingering California in her despite years now in more unforgiving New York. Or maybe it is her resigned acceptance of what happens when you begin Deep Fake, a song on her captivating new album, with the lines, “Tell me another story, I know it’s hard but I’m listening/Tell me another dream, I’m right here loving it, really.”

She’d come to mind a week earlier, I tell her, when I was being quizzed about the island where I was born but left aged three. The stories or memories lodged in my head had always seemed clear and fresh but lately I’d lost confidence, uncertain whether I had actual memories or ones built on family legends and what my parents, not necessarily the most reliable narrators, had always said.

On her album, Eight Pointed Star, Allen’s third of songs that might well have emerged from some turn-of-the-‘70s singer/songwriter in the quiet and sophisticated mould of Judee Sill – “Judee Sill has this tragic and incredible story and I think her music is almost like the Beach Boys in the sense that it’s devotional music,” says Allen, who welcomes the comparison. “It’s secular devotional music. I love that kind of music the most.” – she explores that same territory.

In her case it is stories told of and by her mother’s family in Nebraska, of the plains and the braids, of coyotes and stillness. A long way from Allen’s upbringing on west and east coasts as the daughter of two writers who met at a newspaper. A long way too from references in other songs to Bitches Brew and Antigone, of the infinite wasteland of the internet, and of “the lighthouse, the ballroom, the swimming pool”.

Did it matter if those stories she loved and drew on were or weren’t true?

“To me it’s a very intriguing and exciting question: no matter what, you are getting someone’s version of the story. Similarly, I have three siblings and we have very different take and different experiences, even though we were seeing the same thing,” Allen says. “I think of it kind of like that: you come from one line of one story and that person comes from one line of one story and it becomes this mythology, and it becomes this fable.

"I was like, ultimately it doesn’t really matter what the truth is because you build your identity … I think of so many stories of people landing into some truth, even genealogy, like ‘oh my God all this time I thought I was Irish but I’m actually not Irish but I built my identity on having Irish [[antecedents], I have all this Irish memorabilia in my house, and I love fairies …' ."

We want to believe and that’s enough?

“Ultimately it’s just wanting to feel connected and belong somewhere. We are built for that and it’s up to you to build your story from that,” she says. “I guess I just wanted to play with the idea and objectify it in a way to lighten it because a lot of times identity and family mythology sits very heavy in you to narrate, and we are not very good narrators.”

Does Allen understand why she, someone who grew up in such markedly different circumstances, feels this connection with Nebraska and that part of her family history?

“I think it had to do with, first of all, the stories that my mom told were always much more exciting than the stories that my dad did,” she says with a slightly sheepish smile. “I love my dad’s side of the family and all of their stories but they are very bookish and academic and my mom’s [stories] were mysterious and she would tell them differently each time. Even as a kid, the concept of it not being true, or some of it not being true, I could sense, but it felt very vivid for some reason. Because of the storytelling.

“Even small things like my mom telling me you know your grandma used to – and this actually is true – ride a pony to school, and it had one brown eye and one blue eye and its name was Daisy. Already, you can write a whole book on that [she laughs]. I think there was fertile ground for imagination and I felt connected to my mom in a very distinct way where I just understood and I could imagine what it was like for her growing up, and her mother, and her mother’s mother. There is great tragedy and alcoholism, it was just dense: there was a lot of content there.”

The kind of content that any half decent writer would want to have available to draw on for 20 or 30 or 40 years.

“But again, you could just make it up,” Allen says. “That’s kind of what I realised from it: you could make up that your grandmother had a horse, and just write that story. We are often told, write what you know, but a lot of it is write what you know and also what you do not know.”




Eight Pointed Star is out now through Fire Records.


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