This Side Of North
This Side Of North:
Willow, Mariana, Christina

This Side Of North

Musical Discoveries: Who were your musical influences growing up?

Mariana: U2, Mozart, Judy Garland, classic country like Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams, & Willie Nelson, Aaron Copeland, John Denver, Neil Diamond, AC/DC, the Beatles--Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band--and 80s mid-western pop radio.

Chris: Eeeks--so many--I'm bad at questions like this, but I'll try to at least scratch the surface: The Doors, Mozart, Michael Jackson (Thriller), The Monkees, Chopin, Bach, Satie, Elvis, all film music composers: John Williams, Henry Mancini, Michael Kamen, Thomas Neuman; 80s pop: Billy Idol, Howard Jones, Heart, Human League, Dream Academy, Thompson twins, Madonna; 90s: Simply Red, The Cure, Rush, Primus, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, Alice and Chains, Soundgarden.

Who is your band compared to?

Mariana: Portishead, Radiohead, Bjórk, Cocteau Twins, the Cure, Cowboy Junkies, Sígur Rós.

So why did you change the name from Siren?

Mariana: There was a band called The Sirens from Washington, DC that was getting popular on the east coast last summer when we were in New York mixing our album so we decided to change ours to something entirely unique. North became quite a concept we could work with as we are all from northern states, colder winters, and love snow, and all of us were living in LA, so it became ironic to wonder which side of north we were really on. And also to poke a hole in the concept of sides-- politically and culturally, are there really sides? Is that like a border? It's just a mental concept you can negate any time you like.

What drew you to scoring films?

Mariana: I love scoring films! I love working with music and visual images and letting the music pick up on emotional lines that are in the scene or that should be in the scene and will make it richer and more complex.

OK, it was a guy. I was dating a director who was shooting his first feature film. I found that I was scoring the film already just watching the monitors on set. Then I realized I score my days as well--from the music I play in the car, and when I wake up and dance around my house and do yoga, to the music I make in my head in any given situation--I score my days. So I figured I must have some innate sensibility for the process. That's how Chris and Willow and I started working together actually. We thought we would score films together.

Mariana Bernoski | Christina Agamanolis
Mariana Bernoski | Christina Agamanolis

Chris: How powerful music is when placed with picture. And how equally powerful it becomes to have silence. If you're watching the shining, and have the volume down and play some Beach Boys over it, it doesn't seem like the same film. Music is so important. It can help guide an audience member through the scenes, or tell them how to feel.

Is it a difficult market to get into?

Chris: Writing for film is very difficult to get into professionally. I feel like pretty much anyone can get into scoring for student short films, something that I enjoy a lot. These are one step below professional independent projects and take about a quarter of the the time. To get into the field as a professional takes a lot of patience, determination, getting out to know your clients, good demos, and then getting the job.

I feel like i'm still getting into the business, even though with the girls we received a certain amount of clout. More often than not, films that we worked on were up for an award, or won awards. You'd think that that would mean more people would come knocking at your door to hire you. But it still really means nothing unless you know the right people to take it to the next step.

You mentioned that one of your musical influences is cats. What role do cats play in your life?

Chris: In my life? Well, their my sweethearts. Somebody once told me that I still know how to be excited and play with cats as if I was a child. I think it definitely makes me happy to own/play with my cats. And they are a huge stress relief. I suppose I also like the sounds they make and have fun mimicing them with my voice or my guitar--you might hear a little of this in our album from time to time.

My cats also have strong reactions to music. when i practice singing or guitar it's like a little cat magnet especially for my rookie. They come over and are very interested and excited. Sometimes they become animated and play with each other, and sometimes they just want to sit in my lap or on my shoulder while I practice, and lots of purring and meowing comes out. This makes it very difficult to record sometimes.

Are there other things that influence you musically other than music?

Mariana: Art. I visit museums and galleries and feel like I'm bursting at the seams with musical ideas and usually start humming while I'm there. I once spent three weeks in Berlin looking at art and came back to LA with so many ideas for pieces! it fills me up creativity in a way that listening to music does not. I also love the way certain artists describe their creative process and find such relief when I hear them talk about it, like I'm not the only one that thinks that way. sometimes it's literature too; when I saw Beckett's Waiting for Godot I thought I could never feel lonely again knowing that Beckett lived here too.

How do you work with This Side of North in the studio process, who's the primary writer or do you all collaborate?

  Mariana Bernoski
Mariana Bernoski

Mariana: We work together in different ways. Sometimes I write a piece at home by myself. Sometimes one of the other two do. Sometimes we play together in rehearsal and start jamming and improvise a piece. Then one of us might take that piece home and make the sample textures for it and add bass parts, loops, extra keyboards, harmonies, etc. Then we bring it back to the table for someone else to make changes to. Sometimes it happens with a little bit of all of the above.

What's next after this album?

Mariana: We're working individually right now. I've been working with a friend of mine in LA on a new project that will be down-tempo electronic, and with another friend in LA on a piece of hers, also dance music, and with someone in NY who makes awesome techno. I moved to Miami in April this year so I felt like I wanted to jump into the dance music genre while I was here. In Miami it's techno in the morning, techno at night, everywhere.

Chris: Working on more music--films/tv, working with my new band, producing bands.

How important is touring or playing out?

Mariana: I think it depends on the artist. to me playing out is incredibly important. I feel like myself more when I have a gig. I've been singing publicly since I was four years old so I guess it's just what I'm used to. but in terms of the internet and developing a persona and a public following? it seems like the animated pop stars are doing pretty well in Japan. but there is a whole culture there set up for that world. I think in the states and in Europe live shows are still the primary way for the artist to connect with the public.

Chris: Extremely important. It makes me feel whole. I have been playing music my entire life, and also have had a great love for the stage as an actress and almost majored in that instead of music. So being able to get on stage and express myself and play to an audience is ultimately important to me.

How relevant is it to being an artist?

Chris: That's a hard question. there are so many different types of "artists." I don't think it makes you more or less valid if you play out. In terms of gathering an audience, and interest, it can be important, but having a large presence on the web, or in music videos on MTV/VH1 can "sell" you far more easily these days I think. It's nice if you can back up your recording and perform well for people to see that you're real.

This Side Of North
Willow Willamson | Mariana Bernoski | Christina Agamanolis

Do you prefer performing live or working in the studio, how different are those processes?

Chris: I love both. The studio is totally my home and it's safe in there. Getting out makes me feel alive--a little more danger and unpredictability. Life in the studio happens inside my head; a list of stuff to do that keeps on mounting more and more as i work on a song. On stage you have to let all that work go and allow yourself go into the music instead of the music going into your head.

Mariana: Oh I like both! I love studio work! and I love performing! they are incredibly different processes, though I did start dressing up and wearing make-up for recording sessions at some point while recording the album. The public aspect is one obvious way in which they differ. But also just the fact that performing live is entirely real-time and studio work is real-time while actually recording but also slow and grueling when you track over and over again and explore sound, emotions, and still strive for spontaneity and a totally natural, authentic performance!

So where did you grow up?

Mariana: Bismarck, North Dakota on a wheat farm with five horses, three dogs, two sheep, one summer and eight cats. There were fifteen acres where we lived and we farmed about a thousand. I also claim West Yellowstone, Jackson Hole, WY, and Big Sky, Montana as home because I spent so much time there either hiking or skiing.

Chris: Fairlawn, OH--close to both Cleveland and Akron) in a nice house with a big backyard, and a forest which is now gone. It was the real deal--four seasons a year--so you get your warm and colds, your rains and shines, and your snows.

How much do you rely on a community of musicians?

Chris: I like working by myself, so I don't feel like I necessarily rely on other musicians. I do however enjoy other musician's company and musical input. It can be so refreshing and eye-opening to hear a different take on a piece of music. Sometimes it's peoples creative perspectives are so similar and sometimes they are universes apart.

Christina Agamanolis | Willow Willamson
Christina Agamanolis | Willow Willamson

Mariana: I rely a lot on a community of musicians. But I don't have to live in the same town. I still have my musical community in LA even though I live in Miami, whether it's via phone, internet or trips.

Why do you sing and what is it about the piano that you love so much?

Mariana: I love the piano, grew up playing it. I also grew up singing. they go together for me. My main compositional instincts are at the piano but I've gotten better about improvising vocally and feeling competent as a composer in that way. I like the way the piano resonates in me and same with my voice, I like the way I feel when I resonate. It's so different from note to note and feeling to feeling. The subtleties are amazing. I could talk about resonance all day.

Chris: I started guitar later in life. I was more of a keys and voice kid. I still do sing and play keys regularly and love them both. I find, as Mariana mentioned, I too like the resonance in your body while I'm singing--a seriously intense way of emoting--but I had to start learning guitar when i started listening to Zepplin and Rush and The Doors. Cool riffs, so many options on sounds, bad ass and sexy to play. I am in love with it.

Are there certain lyrics that you're particularly in love with?

Mariana: I'm in love with Batman.

Chris: It's hard to say. I like them all. I guess I really connect with "Love Affair," "Blue Song," "Five Cent Skunk Love," "Ground Level," "Frequenncy," "Silence," "5-4". Oh fuck, I love all of them.

What is the primary theme of the album or are there several?

Mariana: Blue? Water? Are these too obtuse? Sex? I think the theme is in the unique emotional space created by each piece.

Chris: Sex, sadness, playfulness, digging deeper, below the surface.

Are you looking for something dreamy or melancholic when you make sounds/samples or is it something unconscious?

Chris: It depends on what I'm working on. I have a large sound library that I've collected over the years with sounds and samples to place in the music or play on a keyboard. A large amount of those sounds/samples are dreamy and melancholic as I have written a lot of pieces of that nature. So those get used a lot. But, I almost always will try several different-feeling samples with a piece before I'm settled with one particular feel. With the This Side of North album, the songs clearly were reacting and interacting with those dreamy/melancholic sounds so they got used quite frequently.

Mariana: I don't look for dreamy or melancholic but a lot of what I make seems to have that so I guess it's something unconscious. Sometimes I look for gritty and rough, sometimes funky and weird, sometimes just funny. I really like funny sounds. The beginning of Batman still cracks me up.

More This Side Of North
Album Review: This Side Of North (2004)

interview © Jo Gabriel and Russ Elliot 2005
review © Jo Gabriel and Russ Elliot 2004
images © Siren Music Productions 2004
used with permission
Last updated 26 November 2005

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