100 Musicians Answer the Same 10 Questions
Part Twenty-Eight: Amy Annelle of The Places
instigated by dave heaton
Amy Annelle's songs don't easily fit into categories, as the best don't. They're haunting, though, and raw and often filled with a strange beauty. If you don't believe me, listen to the Places albums Call It Sleep (Hush) and The Autopilot Knows Best, or under her own name, A School of Secret Dangers (Hush). Currently weaving its way into my brain is The Places' new ragtag covers album, Fawns With Fangs, featuring tortured and time-stopping versions of songs by Michael Hurley, Bob Dylan, Bert Jansch, Elliott Smith, and others. It's the first release on the new label that Annelle started, High Plans Sigh, which will be releasing the next Places album, of original songs, Songs for Creeps, on October 10. To hear a ton of songs and keep up with the latest information, check out the High Plans Sigh / The Places / Amy Annelle website, www.highplainssigh.com/. There's also, of course, a MySpace page.
What aspect of making music excites you the most right now?
Getting the hell back on the road and touring.
What aspect of making music gets you the most discouraged?
Making music is the best. It is a parallel world to the "real world" and I am truly grateful: without it I would never feel at home. I try not to get discouraged when I have to do real world stuff like work crappy jobs between tours, because it's just a matter of time before I get to split.
What are you up to right now, music-wise? (Current or upcoming recordings, tours, extravaganzas, experiments, top-secret projects, etc).
A few months ago I started a record label called High Plains Sigh. The first release was a backwards covers album called Fawns With Fangs: Selections From the Dark Heart of the Thicket that's all live and 4-track home recordings. I say backwards because covers albums are usually premeditated, the songs are carefully selected to represent influences, and then are recorded in a studio. Whereas these are songs that I love that I had recorded at home, or they were part of a live set or radio show that managed to get recorded. They were not intended to wind up together, but now they make a picture together in their own way.
I'm waiting for the next release to come back from the factory. It's the new Places album Songs for Creeps that I made with Brian Beattie in Austin and Jay Pellicci in San Francisco. We'll be touring to support it in the fall. Adam Kriney and I and some other friends are going to make an improv album of some of my weirder unrecorded songs this fall in New York, to be called Giant Metal Butterflies. The houses in the high plains town I've been staying in have all these giant metal butterflies attached to their sides, and I am documenting them with photos as if they are a newly discovered species. I am in the process of inviting music makers I admire to do duets with me or each other for another High Plains Sigh project. I'd like to do something fun like a subscription series of 7" duet singles, with each person choosing a side, or two disparate artists doing the same song.
What's the most unusual place you've ever played a show or made a recording? How did the qualities of that place affect the show/recording?
I often record and play in vibrational places. You are surprising the ghosts, or the birds who live in the eaves or the mice under the floor, and the acoustics are usually very distinct. Depending on whether there's walls, if the windows are broken, if there's dirt or wood or linoleum on the floor, if the wind is blowing. On Thanksgiving a ways back Kyle Field, Ryan Stowe and I wrote a song on a beach on the Pacific Ocean, and recorded it in my van with the door open, with seagulls and waves and kids on skateboards. A friend and I made improvised guitar recordings in ghost towns and abandoned pioneer houses all over eastern Oregon, including a collapsing barn with a horse looking through the window, and a beautiful Victorian farm house in a valley that had been flooded and abandoned, and on the floor was a letter from a girl to her soldier brother in Vietnam.
Recently a recording session was sabatoged in the abandoned performance hall of Fred Waring (the big band/vocal pop group leader from the 1930s—1970s). My friend Lou lives in a spooky little town on the Delaware River, across from Fred Waring's old world HQ. It's a beautiful grand 1930s building that's very much intact, with a swooping staircase that you're supposed to walk down in an evening gown with a highball in one hand and a big long cigarette holder in the other. We ran a 250' extension cord through the window and brought a 4-track cassette recorder up to the main space and set up two microphones. The acoustics were amazing: like 25 foot ceilings, ceramic tile floors, and darkness with a few candles to see. We were just getting the tape rolling and this radio interference kept breaking through the signal path, and I was like: uh-oh, that's a two-way radio…a cop came up the stairs in the darkness and was taking this bizarre approach, being all "cool" and talking the "lingo" with us because he thought we were up there smoking crack! He handcuffed Lou but not me, I think because Lou had a beard and cops are scared of beards. When we told him what we were really doing, he felt sort of bad about breaking it up, and helped roadie our gear out of the building. I think the West is the best to do that sort of thing. People aren't as uptight. It seems like the east is full of security guards and nosy neighbors.
In what ways does the place where you live (or places where you have lived), affect the music you create, or your taste in music?
I am influenced by the energy of new musicians I meet, by the voice of the author of the book I am reading, by the regional accent where I stay, by the way the birds sing and how the clouds develop in an afternoon and the sound of the general maintenance level of cars being driven by. I stayed in an empty house a little while ago where somebody's CB radio was coming through on my 4-track. So I spent a lot of time recording, in exquisite detail, this guy's vitriolic rants about his CB-world enemies. I am a creature, when there's not a tree around I get really worried. I can't stand strip malls or those creepy new subdivisions they build in empty sun-baked fields.
When was the last time you wrote a song? What can you tell us about it?
The one I wrote most recently is called "I Heard the Bird Part II" with just words and sort of a melody and my 60's Maestro drum machine through a Memory Man delay. I recorded the parts together, and was playing the delay like an instrument, to make the drum machine freak out and abstract the lyrics. One of them is "I don't want to feel your feathers if it stills your wings; won't look into those green eyes if it stops your singin'." It might be something we can do live and improvise each night.
As you create more music, do you find yourself getting more or less interested in seeking out and listening to new music made by other people...and why do you think that is?
Equally as interested. I go in binges. I can be a real hermit sometimes. Then when I really love something new I listen to it a lot, and lose myself in that music, and am writing little parts around theirs or come up with tangents in their style. This happens a lot at live shows--last week I rode the cosmic waves with the Bill Frissell Quintet! It was awesome!
Lately what musical periods or styles do you find yourself most drawn to as a listener? (Old or new music? Music like yours or different from yours?)
My main music collection has been in storage since we left for a long tour last spring. I ended up in a different town, and so have been listening to records and tapes I get at thrift stores, bands we met on tour, and compilations that people have made for me. Most recently have been digging some brilliant stuff from all ages, like Porest, Chrysalis, Chrome, Bert Jansch & John Renbourn, Captain Beyond, Lewis & Clarke, Roy Harper, Josephine Foster, Ronine Lane, Ariel Kalma, Arbouretum, The Gun Club, Circle. Then another friend sent a rosetta stone of 40s and 50s music: Memphis Minnie, JB Lenoir, Amos Milbourn, early Roy Orbison. I am playing the shit out of a nice vinyl copy of Fleetwood Mac's "Tusk" I got at the thrift store, it has all the sleeves--the artwork alone takes hours to look at. Also, I was surprised to hear Patti Smith narrating a song on the Blue Oyster Cult album Agents of Fortune. Who knew. I bought a nice Kitty Wells gospel cassette from an old-timer selling stuff out of the back of his van at the flea market. Some interesting CDRs have come my way from overseas: a friend in Austria sent me his favorite contemporary American song makers, Richmond Fontaine and David Pajo and Dolorean and Damien Jurado and Smog. And a collective of kids from Bangkok sent their psychedelic and improv music.
Name a band or musician, past or present, who you flat-out LOVE and think more people should be listening to. What's one of your all-time favorite recordings by this band/musician?
The self-titled first record by the British psych band July, from 1967. They were all about 19 or 20 when they made it and it rocks and it is experimental and earnest and whimsical and serious and confused and totally un-selfconscious. I love everything about it. An amazing, introspective kind of tape-compression galore recording and a complete sound world. You can hear some of their influences, like the Kinks and Jimi Hendrix and Indian music and the Beach Boys. It's like hanging out in the band's imagination, rocking out and smoking a joint, then having one of those existential conversations about love that you have when you're 20.
What's the saddest song you've ever heard?
Most any song by Harry Nilsson. There's an out-take on his album The Point, I'm not sure what its' called, but it goes, "I can't make it alone". It seems to me that whoever it's about is already long gone but is physically still in the picture. And that can be a far more lonesome feeling, because there is no nail in the coffin yet, so you can still keep opening it up and checking to make sure it's really dead. The song sounds like a last-ditch hopeless transmission. It has these gorgeous spooky modulating piano chords but somehow the vocal melody doesn't seem to change key, and it is only about a minute long. If it was any longer it would probably have people jumping off bridges.
To check out the rest of the Q&As, click here.