The daughter of Oscar winning composer Alan Menken is stepping out from behind her father’s huge shadow and is looking to make a name for herself in the music industry. An accomplished guitarist and long time pianist, twenty four year old Anna Rose is nothing short of a phenomenon. Heavily influenced by the music of the sixties and seventies, Anna’s self-titled EP is dripping with music inspired by artists such as Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin, Joni Mitchell, and Jimi Hendrix. The amazingly beautiful and highly talented singer-songwriter easily rises above her peers and looks to be a force to reckon with for years to come. Steve Johnson of Icon vs. Icon recently caught up with Anna to discuss her influences, her recently released self-titled EP, the upcoming release of her full length album, Nomad, and much more!
First off, I want to give our readers a little background on you. Where did you grow up?
I actually grew up in and around New York City. I was born in New York City and then my parents moved about an hour outside the city in very northern Rochester County. Almost in Dutchess County. I grew up pretty much in Dutchess County. Then when I was eighteen I moved to Los Angeles.
How did music first come into your life?
You know, I really… Ha! Well I guess because of my dad. It was always there. My dad is a composer, so music has always been a part of my life. I started playing piano when I was two and singing as soon as I can remember. I can’t remember it not being a part of my life.
Other than your dad being a composer, what drove you to make music your career and what has been your inspiration?
Let me think… I guess what drove me to do it was that there was nothing else I ever really wanted to do. It was a huge part of my life from the very beginning. I think my parents saw that and really nurtured that. I’m very thankful to my parents because they saw what I wanted to do and really encouraged it. That being said, I’ve had some really great teachers. I trained with Arlen Roth for my guitar playing. He’s been a hired gun for a lot of different big people. Simon and Garfunkel, Paul Simon solo, and Bob Dylan. He’s so incredible and he sort of started to move me into that… I was already kind of into classic rock because that is what I grew up listening to. I grew up listening to The Beatles and… Then I started to get into Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and a lot of those blues guys. That took me in a bit of a different direction. I love what music has the ability to do.
Were there any other influences that have helped shape you, the musician, that we know today?
I think Joni Mitchell a lot. When I was growing up I listened to a lot of Jimi Hendricks. I can’t play anything like him, but if there’s anyone I idolize it’s him. Fleetwood Mac… Bob Dylan… Basically classic rock and blues straight across the board. Now I’m listening to a lot more of these newer blues guys like The Black Keys and The Dead Weather. Anything Jack White does is pretty incredible. A lot of those guys are influencing what I am doing now. So that’s kind of where I find myself in the mix. I haven’t seen a lot of female performers who have been doing that, so I kind of feel like I have my little nook. [laughs]
You have played the guitar for most of your life. Do you play any other instruments or is there one you would like to learn to play?
I play piano and I actually just started writing a bit on piano. I started playing piano before guitar and as soon as I picked up a guitar I was like, “fuck this!” I switched over and I’m officially a guitar head. I’ve gone back to the piano a bit. It’s interesting how much it’s changed my song writing. I actually play a little bit of harmonica, but I’d like to be a lot better at it. If you’re into the blues you have to play the harmonica! What else… I’d love to learn how to play the cello, which is kind of random, but it’s a goal.
Your self titled EP was released September 29, 2009. For those who might not have had the chance to check it out, how would you best describe it?
It’s five songs that I chose that are on the full record. I thought they were the most accessible and the best display of what I feel is to come. I left a lot of the more emotionally deep songs, at least to me personally… I left those for the record. I wanted this to be sort of be an introduction to what my music will be about in the future. I don’t pick favorites. I really wanted the song Picture to be on the first record. It’s a song that I’m really involved in every time I perform now. I kind of go through phases with different songs. I think at the time the five songs that are on the EP are the five songs that kind of spoke to me.
Were there any challenges to making the album?
I don’t read music. I think the toughest thing for me was really trying to describe exactly what I wanted as a producer. I co-produced the record with Billy Sullivan. Billy has been a really great asset to me because he taught me how to use logic and how to really record my own music. The way that I describe music and what I want it to sound like… I needed to adapt the way that I think so that my band could understand me. I had already been playing with my band for about a year or so. They knew where I was coming from and we had made these arrangements already, but there were still certain things that I wanted to hear in the studio that I needed to figure out how to spit out. That was hard for me. Also the time spent in the studio. I didn’t leave the studio for about four or five months. A lot of these songs were written… I started writing when I was twelve. I think the earliest written song that actually made it onto the record was from when I was about sixteen or seventeen. I’m twenty four now and I recorded it when I was twenty two or twenty three. So, emotionally I had lived these songs and I was done with them. These were the songs that I wanted to be the first songs that were released and I was adamant on them being the first songs that got released. Emotionally sitting with these songs in the studio and having them picked apart. Going through them again, and again, and again. The part of me that really just wanted to do it and get it done and get out was really strong. By the time we got to overdubbing my vocals and stuff, that was very hard for me. It was frustrating to want to do it perfectly and at the same time not want to emotionally connect to these songs anymore.
Bruce Botnick is the executive producer of the album. What has is been like working alongside him and what have you learned from him?
Oh! I’ve learned so much from Bruce. Bruce is so funny. I’ve learned a lot about sound design from him and about what I want my records to physically sound like. I know what I want my arrangements to be and things of that nature, but Bruce was someone who had me sit down and just listen to sound and how broad it can be. Bruce would have me sit down with him in his studio and have me listen to different sounds and different records. He’d say, “This record is so great because there’s so much space here and you feel like you’re living within these tracks.” A lot of music now, especially in pop records, is really compressed and sort of meant to go right into your ear via a little ear bud headphone. That’s totally fine for some artists. If that’s their preference, that’s their preference. With mine, I wanted people to feel like they were sitting in there and listening to me live. There’s no auto-tune on that record. We really didn’t cut up too many takes. We did a lot of live takes with the band and then over-dubbed guitar solos over it and things like that. We really didn’t cut it up like a lot of people do now. Bruce is someone who sort of let me explore that. He didn’t force his hand. He wanted to let me explore and really make this record a great representation of who I am as an artist. I think a lot of what Bruce taught me is to make my opinions heard and to trust my own instincts as a musician.
You mentioned Arlen Roth earlier. He appears on the album. Tell us a little about what it’s like working with him and what he brought to the music featured on the album.
Arlen is really close to my heart. I started taking lessons with Arlen when I was about thirteen or fourteen years old. It’s hard for me to describe. Arlen has been a father figure to me. Especially with him being a guitar player. This is someone who I went through a lot of personal experiences with because I was growing up. I had a lot of growing pains happen while I was working with him. I was experiencing those things through playing guitar. Arlen is the best living guitarist. I can’t say enough about him. I think he’s the most brilliant man. The other part of it is that he really loves the instrument. He’s someone who taught me to love my instrument and to work hard. Vocally… My voice is something that always came naturally. I never really took voice lessons. Now I do some vocal coaching because I’m playing more and more shows. Eventually your throat is kind of like, “I hate you! Please stop singing!” [laughs] Guitar was something I really had to focus on and really master. Having him on my first record was really important to me. The same thing with Leon Pendarvus, who played the organ on the record and works with SNL. He’s a musical director and writer. Having him on there was amazing too because he’s taught me a lot. Having some of my teachers on there was important to me.
It’s good to have people that you know and trust there to help you bring out the best in yourself.
Yeah. It’s just sort of felt like this completion. I’m stepping out into the public finally and I felt like I took a really long time to develop who I am and what music I wanted to… I feel like if you don’t have anything to say, don’t say it. That’s the kind of person I am. I didn’t want to just put shit out into the world. I wanted to make sure that I had chosen the best of however many hundreds of songs I have written at this point, and have the best arrangements that I can make, and have them be the most genuine to who I am. It was a long process to feel like I had really gotten to that point with these songs.
Speaking of your songwriting. What is the typical songwriting process like for you?
For me… It’s different. Sometimes there are moments where it feels kind of like a dream and the lyrics and the music come to you all at the same time. Then there are those moments where I dunno… I’m sitting on a train or something and I end up writing a large set of lyrics or a poem and end up sort of dissecting it into the lyrics that I want for a melody that I wrote a week ago. The process is always kind of different for me. I do find that it’s easier for me to write when I have a little bit of privacy and I’m not performing as much. Performing is a very different perspective for me. You’re cutting yourself open on stage so people can watch you bleed. Emotionally that takes a lot out of me. I kind of have to be living my life in a somewhat normal way in order to write. I’m also twenty four and I think that’s going to develop and become a lot different as I start touring and playing shows every day. I think my perspective on that will change.
When can we expect the full-length album, Nomad, to hit stores?
May! May! [laughs] This year! May! I think May is really the latest. Maybe June max. I’d really like it to be out in May. I’d like to be able to play a bunch of shows over the summer. Actually my first music video just premiered today too.
Where can people catch that?
It’s on YouTube on Anna Rose Music Channel, which has some live videos of me playing too. The website that premiered it is called www.themusicslut.com, which is great. I love anything that has the word slut in it. Anything with foul language I’m happy about.
A woman of my own heart. I’m the same way. [laughs]
I know. It’s incredible that I really haven’t cursed much more in this interview.
You’re on par not to set the record for cursing in one of my interviews, so you’re ok.
[laughs] But yeah, check it out. It’s for the song “Picture.”
I’ll check that out.
How did you come up with the title for the album?
The title… That’s a good question. When I was recording all of these songs and like I said before, going through the emotional depths of them, I felt myself being a really nomadic person. I didn’t want to stay in one place at one time. I had moved to L.A., but I didn’t feel like that was home. I was traveling. I didn’t really stay in one place for more than two weeks. I was actually really physically uncomfortable that way. That’s how all of the songs sort of… A lot of them were already written or some of them were already written. They really started to take shape around that mentality. Someone told me once that when you make a record it really should feel like that moment in your life, right now. I took that lesson very much to heart. I felt like titling the record after the way that I had been feeling throughout the whole process. It was important to me.
What has been the biggest surprise for you so far in your musical career?
My biggest surprise? You know… People actually accepting the record. People enjoying it. Most writers are self deprecating assholes. I think as a performer you have to shut that off and try to be as cocky as you can, and get on stage and do the best that you can do. As a writer, sending out my stuff and having it best somewhat well received or well received at all and just having people like it. Having people want to listen to it. It’s always the most pleasant surprise for me. There’s no better compliment to me. That hits me right in the heart when someone says that they’ve been listening to my music. Someone who has been listening to my music knows me better than anyone else. So that’s been really amazing. There’s been a couple of shows that I have gotten to play that have been incredible. A couple of weeks ago I actually got the opportunity to sing with The Stooges at The Roxy, which was insane. That was the biggest, most incredible surprise to me. I was so nervous. The fact that they liked my voice was just the most kick ass thing in the world. It was so amazing. I’m this little blond chick. Iggy is out of control. He is amazing. I’m alright, but I didn’t necessarily expect them to be totally wowed by my little folk rock look and whatever. They were really happy with me when I came into rehearsal and rehearsed Gimme Danger with them. I got to perform this whole different side of myself. This really heavy rock side of myself. It’s definitely somewhere in there and I think it’s going to come out some day. It was a huge honor for me.
What do you consider the defining moment of your career so far?
As the defining moment, I would say when that EP went into stores and went onto iTunes and people could buy my music. It’s kind of like a coming out party. It’s like being a really awesome debutante. I finally became a part of this world that I have idolized and sat in the background of. To really step into it and to jump into the pool and just say, “Alright! I’m doing this and I’m really putting myself out there.” That was really the defining moment for me when I said, “I am now a musician.”
I heard you got into a fight about who the greatest guitar player ever is. Is there any truth to that and who is the greatest guitar player ever?
That is true. It is a true story. I did have a physical altercation. [laughs] To be fair… I was drunk and I already thought this was the most annoying person I’ve ever met on the planet. He goes on to say that Eric Clapton is the greatest guitarist in the world. I think Clapton is awesome. Clapton is amazing. I disagreed with the best guitarist thing and you know… I had to just have my way. I’m a little five foot tall nothing chick, so if you’re not listening to me I will physically hurt you.
Just drag you out of the car and…
We were actually sitting in a car. We were in the car on the way back and my sober friend was driving mind you… That’s important. No drunk driving. I hate drunk driving. Anyway, my sober friend was driving and my best friend was in the front seat. I’m sitting in the back seat with this kid and he’s going on and on and on about how Clapton is the best guitarist that’s ever lived and blah, blah, blah… So we got to a red light and I just sort of said, “You need to get out of this car right now. You’re the most obnoxious person I have ever met and by the way Jimi Hendrix was the best guitarist that ever lived.” I kind of opened the car door and pushed him out of there.
Did you leave him there?
For a little bit. We made him squirm. Then we pulled over on the side of the road and said, “If you want your ride home you better get back in, but you better not speak anymore!”
That’s funny. I think everyone has stories like that.
Well… Being twenty two years old in Los Angeles and a little blond chick who doesn’t want people to see her as a little blond chick, maybe that just sent me over the edge.
I could see that. I have only been to L.A. once and it was an eye opener.
I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it.
I was amazed how different it was from the east coast. It’s totally different.
I love a lot of the people. I love the mellowness. I love how mellow people are there. I love the lifestyle there, but I don’t like being surrounded by that industry of film and physical beauty and things of that nature. Beauty is very much defined differently over there. I like being in New York because I think being unique and being special is praised here.
Who would you consider to be the best guitar player right now?
Hummm… There’s some really incredible guitarists now. I really like Jack White’s guitar playing. Some people don’t necessarily appreciate it. They think it’s a little bit… I like grit. I like that sound of grit, of being able to hear the emotion behind the guitar playing. I think that Jack White’s got that. He’s unique and really makes great music. So I’d have to say Jack White right now.
I take it you would like to work with him in the future if possible. Is there anyone else in the music industry that you would like to work with if you had a chance?
Oh… I’d like to work with a lot of people… Let’s see… Allison Lockheart. The Kills. Just The Kills in general. If they could just let me sit in with them, that would be awesome. I love T-Bone Burnett’s style of production. I’d love to be able to work with him. Ummm… Paul McCartney. The Rolling Stones.
Ah! Get the big guns out there.
If Joni Mitchell ever came out of hiding. I actually don’t know if she’s in hiding. To write with Joni Mitchell would be incredible. I have a real… I really appreciate the music of that generation. The sixties and seventies. Oh! Jackson Browne and Tom Petty! Oh my god!
It sounds like you listen to a lot of the same music as I do. I’m kind of stuck in the eighties myself.
Oh! I love the eighties. I can’t discount the eighties.
Progress peaked at Guns N’ Roses in my opinion.
Oh god! I love Guns N’ Roses, but I didn’t love what they just recently did. I don’t know what happened to Axl.
Your are going to be stuck on a deserted island for the rest of your life and you can have three albums. What three albums would you want?
Oh my god! Worse question ever on the history of the planet! I can’t believe you’re asking me this! Ugh… This is the meanest question. A lot of people do this to me because I’m such a music freak and I have such a big music collection. I really don’t know… The beautiful thing about music is there’s never too much good music in the world. There can never be too much good music, so for me to pick three albums… Oh… I don’t know. They’d have to be some very large compilation albums. Can they be big, big box sets because I might choose the most recent Beatles box set. I’d probably choose some Zeppelin. Let me think… Beatles, Zeppelin, Hendrix. Oh god! I can’t even continue. It’s giving me heart palpitations.
That’s fine. Don’t have an anxiety attack.
You are currently playing some live shows. What has that experience been like for you?
Oh! That’s the best thing in the world. I love being in the studio. Being in the studio is really this supremely creative place where you can isolate yourself and you can really get into your music emotionally and mentally. You can really take the time to rip the canvas apart and start over. Live, you get one shot to do everything and you just lay it all out on the table. I love that about playing live. I think the place where you earn your fans is live. Especially now with so many people being able to put out records and then not being able to deliver during live shows. It’s really disappointing. It’s almost like anyone can make a record right now, but can you sit down live and really captivate people and really make people feel what you’re feeling. I’m constantly trying to achieve that on stage. I think that’s why I love it so much. I feel more alive on stage that I do anywhere else in my life. I feel like I live a couple of years on stage and then I can go home and sleep.
What do you hope people come away with after listening to your music?
I hope people take away… You know what? It’s not even up to me to think that. I don’t think. I just hope that people think about it. Whether they like it or don’t like it. Once music hits some one’s ears is entirely subjective. So I guess I would just hope that they listen to it in general. Even just having the chance to have someone listen to it. You can’t expect everyone to love your music. You can hope that a few people do and the people who really like it are really into and really love it and feel like they understand you and it brings them something. I would hope that my music would help people in some way.
Do you have an advice for anyone who would like to get involved in the entertainment industry?
Oh… I would say get into it for the right reasons. If you want to get into the music industry, really think about whether you’re doing it for music because there are a lot of ways to earn money and music is not one of them anymore. [laughs] I think there is this misconception because a lot of people, especially when you get into pop music, think that music is this immediate money maker in a lot of ways or that they think it’s going to be. It’s not. It’s a really hard business. It’s a business where people make assumptions about you when they don’t know you. That’s part of the job. They’re judging you based on your music. I would say that if you want to do it, do it. By all means. If you love it and you feel like you have something that you want to be heard and you feel like it needs to be heard, do it. Do everything you can to get it out there. It’s the best feeling in the world to get your creation out there, even if one person is listening to it. It’s an incredible feeling.
Is there anything else you want to let your fans know before you go?
If I have any fans, I love them. [laughs] I hope maybe I have at least one. Tell them that they are amazing and that if they’re in New York on March 9th, there’s a show at Rockwood Musical Hall. To the moon and beyond!
Thanks for taking so much time out of your day to speak with me Anna! We wish you all the best!
Thank you! It was lovely talking to you!