Anna Nalick, singer-songwriter: Something Else! Interview

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Anna Nalick, who initially broke out with the gold-selling single “Breathe (2 AM)” from 2005’s Wreck of the Day, is back with her third full-length album, 2017’s At Now. She joined Kristina Mondo for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss the best piece of advice she was ever given, her dream collaborator and her very first song-writing experience, among other things …

KRISTINA MONDO: You started writing songs in the fifth grade. Do you remember the name of the first song you wrote, and do you still have it?
ANNA NALICK: I don’t remember the name of the song, but I do know it was about feeling depressed and wanting to be myself in spite of social pressure.

KRISTINA MONDO: Your songs tell a story; how does that process begin for you?
ANNA NALICK: First, I live it or while I’m in the midst of living it, I try to capture the feeling and every accompanying thought as honestly as I can. I feel like there are layers to human awareness. I recognize my most obvious feelings and then try to see one layer below that into why I’m feeling something – and then one layer below that into where I’m actually coming from. A lot of the time what sounds like a metaphor in my story is literal, and contrariwise what sounds literal is the metaphor. I see patterns in life and living and therefor I see many situations and occurrences as being symbolic of something greater than what is happening in the moment. Because of that, I feel safe telling my absolute truth in a song. I’m always shrouded in metaphor. It’s for people to translate however it applies to their lives.

KRISTINA MONDO: As a songwriter, have you only written songs for yourself or do you write for other artists as well?
ANNA NALICK: I’ve tried co-writing for other artists, but I get very anxious. I feel exposed and slow, as if I were trying to paint a picture with someone rushing me. I think if I ever find myself in a situation where I’m working with an artist to help them find their voice, I might like it – but the process of attempting to turn out a hit to appease whatever the current landscape happens to be is hard for me. I think that takes a different part of the brain that I’m not necessarily the most familiar with. I hope to get there, though. I think there’s a happy medium, and I’d like to find it for the sake of cultivating a new skill.

KRISTINA MONDO: Who are some of your favorite artists that you’ve worked with?
ANNA NALICK: I’m always pretty starstruck by my studio band. They’ve worked with everybody and their intuition as players is astounding. Matt Chamberlain, Zane Carney, Chris Rondinella – all of them, really. But as far as people I’ve performed with, I had a pretty serious crush on Jakob Dylan when we toured together with the Wallflowers. He is captivating on stage. I was 19 and he was married, so nothing exciting ever happened, but I think he knew I was smitten and he thought that was cute. He used to advise me and tell me stories about growing up side stage to an artist parent. Of course, it didn’t dawn on me that I was getting a rare music history lesson, because I was just sitting there all twitterpated. I didn’t come around to loving Bob Dylan until a few years later. Jakob had been one of my songwriting idols already for a few years since working out to Bringing Down rhe Horse when I was a ballerina in junior high and high school.

KRISTINA MONDO: What’s your favorite song that you wrote?
ANNA NALICK: Its too hard to choose a favorite. They’re like my children. I have different relationships with each song.

KRISTINA MONDO: What artist would you love to work with or collaborate with on a song?
ANNA NALICK: Rufus Wainwright. Hozier. Seth MacFarlane.

KRISTINA MONDO: Have you ever been so stuck on a song, you’ve given up on it?
ANNA NALICK: Of course. If it’s worth it I come back to it later with fresh ears, but I write literally every day. Most of the songs I finish are mediocre and I only finish maybe one out of every ten. Out of those I only like maybe 50 songs and only 10 of those end up on an album. I have trunks filled with lyrics.

KRISTINA MONDO: Did writing for other genres help you grow as an artist?
ANNA NALICK: I didn’t mean to dive into bluegrass or folk or even pop-alt, but I was so immersed in the culture while I was in Savannah, Georgia. These songs and styles stuck with me and I was listening to them constantly. It’s not surprising that they made their way into my subconscious and influenced the way I told the story. Savannah was part of the journey anyway, so I’m glad it made its presence known. I did study song structure for Appalachian music, so that once I got into the studio I could honor that style of music. I learned a lot. Going more digital on some of the other tracks taught me a lot, as well. I built rhythm tracks and beats. The more I learn, the broader my options are in my mind when writing.

KRISTINA MONDO: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten?
ANNA NALICK: Own your publishing.

KRISTINA MONDO: What advice would you give those embarking on a music career?
ANNA NALICK: I think it’s very important for an artist to know who they are when sharing music. Your self is unique to you. It’s what will determine how people are affected by your work. You don’t choose your audience, they choose you – and it’s always nice to be surrounded by like minds. The deeper your personal roots are, the less likely you’ll be manipulated into morphing for anyone else’s personal gain. You don’t need to invite an identity crisis. You might change in a thousand ways, but if you’re secure in your own personal journey with all of its rises and falls, you stand a better chance of protecting the integrity of your work while inviting your audience to grow with you.

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