- Jacob Funes
Whether you start at the beginning or the end of Orbit Pluto, you're immediately surrounded by words of affirmation: "This is a love song for people like me/ who are still learning to love our whole selves." That structure was absolutely intentional, producer and singer Marina Marqueza says, bolstering a message of healing and love both for their own self and their listeners.
"It's also my assertion to the world that, OK, there might be places that don't want to accept me," the 27-year-old non-binary artist says about the album. "But I'm going to make it happen for myself. I'm not going to wait for the world to accept me as I am. I'm going to create my own space."
The album was born of Marqueza's experiences trying to make music within traditional spaces in the Salt Lake City scene, only to end up frustrated and shut out. Marqueza recalls voicing ideas and getting shut down, only to hear the cis white dude in the room offer the same idea five minutes later, to immediate acceptance. "I wanted to make something at least once in my life that [was mine], from start to finish," they say. "It was my ideas, it was my own passion, no man telling me what to do, just something I self-made to say people like me can do it, and it can be great."
Marqueza has spent most of their life shuttling between Japan and the U.S.; eventually, their LDS family moved to Utah, and the Japanese-Venezuelan musician has traveling the world ever since. They say their mixed ancestry has made them a kind of conundrum in most places. "When I go to Japan, because I'm only half Japanese, most of my culture sees me as foreign," they say. "And then when I come here, people obviously think I'm a foreigner. I am always feeling out of place. My music has always been an escape and where I go to process that."
Likewise, Marqueza's non-binary gender identity (they describe themself as a "gender-fluid mermaid" on their Soundcloud page) puts them in a category that is often unrecognizable. "Most bathrooms are male or female, and I'm neither of those things, so where am I supposed to go to the bathroom?" they ask. "The most basic things in society don't affirm the fact that people like me exist." Marqueza calls their gender identity and ethnicity a contradiction. "As a non-binary person, I feel like I embody more than one thing," they say.
That sense of a fluid binary is at the root of Orbit Pluto's structure. "My music is non-binary, which is to say non-genre but multiple genres," Marqueza says. "Almost beyond genre, I want to say that my music is this watery, ever-changing, beautiful mess of emotions." The album is entirely self-produced, made mostly with three portable tools: a laptop, a pair of headphones and a mini keyboard. It was also mostly self-taught, at least on the music end—Marqueza learned production techniques on their own over the several years they spent writing and producing it. It's a sort of dreamy, sexy documentation of Marqueza's own self-exploration and discovery. "The whole process of making the album was very ingrained with the process of figuring out who I was," they say.
And it's chock full of symbolism—"My album is full of Easter eggs!" Marqueza laughs—from the paralleled affirmations at beginning and end to the sun/moon imagery; and from the concept of Pluto as the lost planet to the image of Marqueza on the album art, naked in fetal position and orbited by flowers. "I feel scared as fuck," they say. "Producing my album is terrifying. In the album art, I'm actually naked, so there's a lot of symbolism, like this is literally my heart. But I think that there's strength in vulnerability. The feeling of, it's out there, I have nothing to lose. That gives me power."
Above all, Orbit Pluto is "an homage to people who are oppressed in different ways," Marqueza says. "There are so many different kinds of people in this world, and they all deserve to heal. I think that my own healing process might be personal, but because it is so vulnerable, I've watched it reach people outside of my own experience. And that, in a way, is activism."
From the album art, which was made in collaboration with a handful of similarly marginalized local artists, to its sheer existence, Orbit Pluto is a record of resistance and reclamation. Even if you ignore the words, you're still "listening to a queer person who's singing," Marqueza notes. "And that's pretty powerful because there's so many of us here who are overlooked. Taking that space and filling up airways is in itself a form of activism—the fact that I'm existing and flourishing in a place like this."
Reaching that place required a long journey, though. "I have depression," Marqueza says. "I have pretty serious anxiety, and that coupled with all the conditioning I was fighting against, it was a literal battle to finish it." But despite their complicated relationship with Utah, Salt Lake City has become a place of healing and growth. You can find their album in local record store Graywhale, see them playing at local venues like Gold Blood Collective and Kilby Court and, now that Orbit Pluto is finished, collaborating with other local artists and writing new music. "This is the biggest thing I've ever done in my life, but it also feels like the beginning," Marqueza says. "I'm really excited that Salt Lake City is where that beginning is going to start. It makes me giddy. Salt Lake City, I want to rep it!"