When did you get the music bug ? I don’t know if it started as a bug. My parents made my siblings and I all take piano lessons and we had to play a band instrument as well. I think I started piano when I was around 7 years old, and I started playing flute when I was in 5th grade. I don’t remember not being able to read sheet music, that’s how ingrained it feels in my life. I went through certain ages where I was mad at my parents for making me take lessons and making me practice, but I’m grateful that I’ve always had music to fall back on when I’ve had nothing else, or no one else.
When I was in college, I found myself pretty miserable when I didn’t have time for music, so I figured out how to make time for it. I was probably better at it then than I am now. I took a few classical guitar lessons when I was in college. It’s something that I have always wanted to play, but always thought would be too challenging. It still is challenging, but that’s probably good for me.
Who are your ‘core’ favorite artists ? Maybe it’s just because I feel like I need role models, or I’m trying to emulate them, but I really love women who are singer-songwriters. Corrine Bailey Rae, Eva Cassidey, Lisa Hannigan, Abigail Washburn, Tracy Chapman. I also love folk and bluegrass, which I never thought would happen, but when I started to run sound for folk bands, the musicianship blew me away and I was hooked.
These probably don’t influence me as far as writing goes, but I really like Ratatat, Beats Antique, Sufjan Stevens and Noah Gunderson, to name a few. I grew up in a pretty conservative home and we weren’t really allowed to listen to music (kind of ironic, I know). I grew up listening to the Nutcracker and Psalty the Singing Songbook. I’m still discovering music that my peers listened to years ago.
What was your first concert and what strikes you about it now? I’m not sure if you want me to tell you about all of the band concerts my siblings played in. I was pretty young and I fell asleep a lot, ha. I often was more interested in playing then I was in listening. The first show that I went to as an adult was to see the Flaming Lips in the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago. Marnie Stern opened for them, another great role model. What comes to mind is that it was like magic, and I don’t know how else to describe it. I think that’s what it is, when it comes down to it. We go to musical shows because we want to feel the magic that is part of this world; we lose a hold of that sometimes when we’re distracted with living our everyday lives, at least I know that I do.
What was your first public performance and how did it go? As an adult, my first public performance was as a senior in college. You could put on an event called an Hour After. It was a sit down affair; students would dress up, drink coffee and eat dessert. It was a really amazing experience because I had never collaborated with that many people before, or led something like that. I think I got together 10-12 people, some of who were good friends, and some of who I barely knew. I didn’t know anything about putting together a show, orchestrating music, or asking people what to do musically. It was a blast. I think people enjoyed it, but I don’t really remember now. I wish I kept better track of those things, because it feels important now.
What perspective does being a pro sound man (woman) and working with so many acts live contribute to your feelings or /philosophy about ‘the stage’ as an artist in your own right? The biggest impact it’s had on my mentality is to always be kind to your sound people/stage hands. They are usually trying their hardest; the ones that aren’t won’t be working for long anyway. I try to be kind to people anyway, but I have run into many musicians who are downright rude, and don’t treat you like a person. If you treat me like that, I am not going to help you sound good. That said, the majority of musicians I’ve had the chance to work with have been really gracious and appreciative of the work that happens behind the scenes for their show to go smoothly. In short, kindness will always get you further than a bad attitude, or bossing people around to try and get their respect. Also, I would much rather be backstage than onstage.
Side note: I refer to myself as the ‘sound guy’, because that’s who people are always asking for. I was called ‘the sound lady’, affectionately, while I was running sound for the metal/hardcore scene in Goshen.
How do songs ‘happen’ for you as a songwriter? The best songwriting has worked for me is when I’m doing it everyday. I write a lot of crap songs, but I believe that quantity leads to quality. Always, if inspiration doesn’t find me working, then I’m not going to get a good song out of it. That said, I should practice what I preach. The hardest part for me is finishing songs. I get a lot of ideas and have many more finished songs than I do finished ones. I used to journal a lot and I’m trying to get back into it. A lot of the time, I jot down thoughts, or feelings that I’m struggling with, and sometimes they later develop into lives of their own with songs of their own.
What’s up with your band Shiny Shiny Black these days? I played with Shiny Shiny Black for about three years. We dubbed it ‘coffeehouse rock and roll’, mostly because we play electric guitars, but quiet enough to play in a coffee shop. SSB has definitely been a big part of my musical experience. It got me on the stage, even when I didn’t want to, got me playing my electric guitar, when I wasn’t sure that’s the guitar or kind of music I wanted to play, and gave me an amazing group of people to collaborate and create with. I didn’t do any writing for SSB, that was all Nate Butler. I refer to it as ‘Nate’s band’, because it is. It’s his vision, his dream and his songs. I feel as though there is little better than helping other actualize their dreams.
I toured with Nate and Amber, and their toddler to Nashville, St. Louis and back again. They took a break to add another little when, and when they returned, it made sense for them and for me to not continue being part of SSB at this time. It’s a little sad when I hear songs play on the radio, or that I don’t get to hang out with Nate and Amber every week, but it’s giving me the time to work on my own projects, both musical and visual art, as well as giving more time to developing as an audio engineer.
How is the approach different writing for sway them versus your own ‘voice’? I’m honestly afraid to collaboratively write. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t really tried it. I’m a very private person, which I find slightly ironic. It’s hard for me to get up on stage and share because it’s not an act for me, it’s just who I am. Therefore, what I write is really personal. It’s taken me awhile to become comfortable with sharing my music, but they few people I have shared it with have asked me to, so I’m trying to do that to a wider audience. I think I’m afraid that someone will hear one of my songs sometime and realize it’s about them.
So many artists pigeon-hole themselves by clinging to tightly to an indie image / vibe to appear sufficiently counter-culture enough to be have credibility with hipsters but are you comfortable with being a huge, national pop star? If there was an image I wanted to uphold, it would be authenticity. For me, playing music isn’t really about how many people come out to hear me play, where I get the opportunity to play, or who I’m getting to play with. The reason that I started writing music is because I felt alone, and unseen. That’s not really something I struggle with right now, but there are a lot of very human things I struggle with constantly. What I want when people listen to my music and hear me play, is I want them to feel that they are seen, that they are not alone in their struggles, that there is hope in this often dark world. Maybe that sounds idealistic, but I’m pretty sure that’s the point of art. I never thought about being a huge, national, pop star because I think that people don’t want that much honesty in popular music, in a popular stage presence. I want to be who I am on stage and I want to invite everyone who listens to be who they are, fully, and accept that.
You are offered one wish from a legit Genie with actual powers but it must involve your music career: You consider carefully and offer her the following humble request: I want my music to have meaning. I want it to speak to people. I want it to invite people to dig a little deeper, to have hope, to pursue dreams. ~ Anna P.S