Talks with Anne Heaton
I Know This EP
CEV: When was it that you first found music to be something that you not only loved personally but also found that it was what you wanted to do as a career?
AH: I used to go hear 10,000 Maniacs and watch Natalie Merchant sing and dance all over the stage. I would get mildly upset at these shows which was confusing since I loved the music so much. I later realized that I was frustrated that I was not pursuing writing or singing and that going to these shows reminded me that I was not moving toward my creative desires. The songs of the Indigo Girls and Peter Gabriel inspired me to want to express and reach people in the way that they had reached me.
Peter Gabriel has a line in one of his songs "digging in the dirt, find the places we got hurt" - this is one of the things I want to do when I write. Find the psychology behind something, the motivation, the fear, or the desire underneath the feeling that is on the surface. To me the Indigo Girls often write along the lines of: "I've thought about this intensely, I've studied it, agonized over it, and now I'm still not sure about it, so I've got to let it go and allow some space for mystery, myself, and beauty without explanation." that is kind of how I see their music and why I like it so much.
CEV: What part has your classical training on piano played in how you approach composing/writing your songs?
AH: In the beginning, I would write very ornate accompaniments to my songs. They were beautiful (I thought) but busy. Later, I did the opposite. I wanted to have the bare minimum. I would play just the beat in fifths in my left hand with occasional very sparse right hand parts. My musical partner Frank Marotta, Jr. calls me "band in the hands" which means that the way I write songs is I bang out the basic rhythm in the l.h. and play (what would be) a simple higher ambient electric guitar part in my r.h. - this kind of arrangement I can bring to the band, but it would never pass as a solo piano accompaniment. The classical training has helped me hear the types of melodies I would like to back up vocal melodies. Anything I write and spend time playing, is easy for me because my fingers can do pretty much anything I tell them to.
CEV: Everyone mentions their influences when it comes to what they have listened to but when it comes to composing are you aware during the creation process of where particular influences come from or is that something you grasp when you see the finished product?
AH: I adopt song mascotts (other songwriters/musicians) to help inspire me to come up with the best feel for a song. In my song black notebook, I was struggling to write an upbeat rocking piano part so I adopted Martin Sexton as my mascott and tried to imagine a piano part comparable to a rocking sexy guitar part he might write. No one would ever make an association between black notebook and Martin, but it helped me to write it. Here are some of my other songs and their mascotts. Bellyside: Edie Carey, Hey New York: Dan Bern, Old Fashioned Love: The Counting Crows.
CEV: Tell me about your first official release to the public and what it was like for you reaching the point with your music where you were ready to share it with the world?
AH: My first release was independent and it was incredible how many people wanted to help and how things fell into place. I got national distribution through Goldenrod and I was playing 150 shows a year. We sold a lot of records from the stage that first year. I think my lyrics were so personal and raw that people really felt the need to give me feedback. I had focused a lot on the details, on the photography and graphics, every sound because i knew how I wanted everything to FEEL and to the best of my ability, I got what I was looking for.
CEV: Were you encouraged by the feedback that you received on this CD and how motivating is it for you in regards to composing/creating new compositions?
AH: We got good feedback from both Black Notebook and Give In although it was different. For Give In, we got feedback like "you have arrived" musically and this is nothing short of excellent work. However, so far we haven't been able to move as far as we wanted to beyond our core fan base in terms of exposure. With the first record, the songs may have resonated with people on a deeper level either because lyrically it was more personal or possibly because it was sadder.
CEV: Where do the songs that you compose come from? Are they more a reflection of your inner self or your perceptions of the world around you?
AH: Well both are the same thing really. What is inside me, I see outside me or what I choose to notice outside of me I choose because I recognize it inside me. I write about people I know. I write about the slants and tendencies each individual has toward a role. Some people are caretakers, some are underdogs, some are overachievers, etc. and a lot of times people keep repeating behaviors that reinforce a role and they don't know why they are doing it, nor is it always in their best interest, nor is it even truly who they are deep down. I am fascinated by this and I think it permeates almost all of my writing. I have been inspired by authors as well (Joseph Campbell) and dreams (I had a dream about Stephen Tyler and I'm writing a song about him)
CEV: Do you have set times in your schedule for composing music or is it more squeezing it in where you can?
AH: When I tell myself there is plenty of time, there always seems to be more than when I believe there isn't enough. I like to work for a few hours and then walk away from it. The morning is best (before my intense critical thinker is fully awake) for writing. I like to write in a space that is just UNDER my more intellectual mind so being sleepy helps. My intellect can be a real bitch. WALKING can be helpful because I can work on the lyrics to the rhythm of my walking. I have finished songs this way.
Relentlessly touring is NOT good for writing, which is why it is unfortunate that most indie artists primarily make their money through playing live shows because I think the addiction to this can slow down the creative process, unless of course you hit the wall, and then, well, a crisis is an opportunity for writing.....
CEV: You've had a couple of CD's out this year. First was Give In which came out earlier this year. Tell me about the songs that make up this release and what themes a listener might find running through the project.
AH: Loss of self, boundaries in love, empathy, how much empathy is too much empathy, space, love shown through suffering, role playing, more lighthearted sypnosis of the need for control in relationships, revenge, competition, comparison....
CEV: What made you decide to throw in the two live tracks at the end of the CD? I enjoyed the lighthearted energy that came from the tracks but it is a little unusual to include live tracks on a studio CD.
AH: I ran out of money. We had already spent the budget and had only finished 8 songs. Mike Denneen thought that the song "Hey New York" would be better if played live so those two factors really determined it.
CEV: Do you enjoy hitting the road and sharing your music live around the country? How important to your musical career is taking your music out live to your fans?
AH: It has been extremely important because it is how I have built my whole musical life. However, recently, I have been a little down on it. I really feel that I need more time for creating and always being on the road is not helping.
CEV: Recently you've also released the EP I Know This. Tell me about the 6 songs you decided to include on this CD release?
AH: Well, the first song is political. It is my first political song although I have always had strong feelings about these themes. I was tired of hearing about people who had left their churches or abandoned their spiritual lives altogether because they felt unworthy or unwelcome or like they didn't have a place in it. At the same time, I was tired of running into people who only saw things in black and white and talked about Jesus like they owned him. It was annoying so I had to take a stand. Two of the other songs on the EP are radio edits from Give In. The other three are well known songs that we have been playing live for a long time, but they have never been recorded for release. We were lucky to have gotten decent recordings of them by chance on the road.
CEV: When including live cuts on your CD's how do you go about deciding which material that you collect from the road fits in with the CD that you are working on?
AH: We are planning on making a live CD sometime in the near future and at that time, we will listen to all the recordings we have been given by fans or venues over the last few years and try to pick the best recordings/performances of all of the songs.
CEV: Many mainstream recording artists (other than the Grateful Dead of course) completely ban live recordings being made of their performances due to bootlegs and the like. You mentioned in your answer that you will be looking listening to fan and venue recordings for an upcoming live disc. What is your reasoning behind this relaxed attitude about the recordings that get made of your music? How do you feel about MP3's, song sharing and all the other issues that surround your music circulating without you actually selling CD's?
AH: A lot of my fans like to record the shows and I want them to be happy, to be able to take home new songs that won't possibly be recorded for at least a year, but I always ask for a copy. I actually feel more than one way about this topic. There are recordings out there that I wish weren't (bad performances, horrible sound, and/or me trying out a new song and I would hate for a new listener to hear if that person had never heard us before). However, that said, it doesn't feel natural to me to be strict about it. Our most loyal fans are hungry for new music and currently I am not making albums more than once a year. I reserve the right to change my mind though ;-) (I mean that in a funny tone of voice). I guess the primary problem I have with it is one of first exposure. I don't want some crappy recording of some off night being someone's first experience of us. In terms of finances, I think that the folks who are recording our shows are already supporting us regularly by coming to shows, buying cds etc. I would hate it if everybody just burned our albums and didn't pay for them because this is one of the only ways that we make money and are able to make records. It can cost quite a bit to record an album so we rely on past cd money to do so.
CEV: Looking back from where you are now along the path of your musical career do you have any thoughts about what you have managed to accomplish so far? Any regrets about opportunities not taken?
AH: I think I tried to prove myself (to myself) without always giving myself good opportunities. I don't think I thought anyone would help me and so I did too much on my own. I think I assumed that I should do things the hard way and in the most independent way possible. I have certainly learned a lot but I don't think that this path has necessarily served me as well as another may have.
CEV: What are you looking forward to in the coming years musically and personally?
AH: New songs and a new record. shows with other artists we love.
CEV: Are you going to be out on the road for the end of 2005 and into 2006?
AH: Yes, we will.
CEV: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us and I certainly wish you even more success with your music as we head into 2006.