interview: Anna McClellan
Ahead of her February album release, Anna McClellan has captured our hearts with her honest and beautiful music. And as she prepared to celebrate the album's much anticipated release we were able to ask the singer a few questions about the making of her music, the long drive that inspired it all and more.
You wrote these songs over a road trip. Did the songs come after you began the trip or were you taking a trip to find inspiration? Was there any particular place or destination that inspired a particular song?
Yeah, basically I took the trip to get perspective on my life and all that. I was also half-assedly trying to play shows along the way but I think I came off too desperate for anyone to want to book me. I only played two in the four months I was gone, haha. Thank you William Kennedy of Atlanta and Ryan Davis of Lancaster, PA for throwing me a bone. The songs came out of the experience for sure. I’m always trying to write. Though, I wasn’t very productive in this time period. I only started writing songs for the record. “Look Alive” was finished in San Francisco and there’s a line about the city in the song. The whole trip was strange and sad and frustrating, but necessary. It’s weird when you have only free time. I felt very stunted by it. Being alone had a lot to do with it. I thought a lot, that’s for certain.
How long have you been making music and what sort of drew you to the idea of creating an album?
I’ve been writing songs since I was a sixteen year old exchange student in Denmark. I spent my junior year of high school there. The need to write was borne out of the impenetrable loneliness I’ve felt ever since I can remember that came to a boiling point so far away from home. It started as a journaling practice and quickly turned musical as I’ve played the piano ever since I was eight. My very talented and good friend Ben Brodin is who I give credit to for the album-making. I’d had songs for awhile, but Ben turned the songs into a cohesive thing. He also taught me a lot about sound and I assisted him in engineering on Pile’s You’re Better Than This. That happened right before we recorded my first record. Witnessing that band in the studio and just ripping was very inspiring for me. This was around 21-years-old.
So you discussed how life is intense sadness and intense happiness - which yes - so what have you learned about balancing both of those emotions? Or do you find yourself still trying to figure it out?
Well, the main thing I try to remind myself as often as possible is that I know nothing, so I guess you could say I’m still trying to figure it out. Life is very complicated, and I think that that’s what I mean when I say it’s intense happiness and intense sadness. How can I be only happy when I know someone out in the world is scared to tears? But I also can’t deny myself of happiness when I feel it because that’s not going to solve someone else’s problem.
I can only speak from the perspective of a white woman, but I think that white culture (if there is such a thing) breeds isolation and also sort of, manufactures feelings more so than lets them manifest. Rather than having space to be with one’s emotions from a young age, the goal is to pacify and make everything ‘okay.’ This obviously leads to lots of problems in later life (and I’m not blaming parents here, we are all products of our surroundings), as we can clearly see based on the state of our collective existence, i.e. everyone I know is depressed. For me, it induced numbness, general avoidance of my emotional state, prone to shutting down, over-analytical, etc. Which I have since attempted to untrain myself of. Once I started checking in with how I was feeling, I discovered all kinds of emotions I never knew I was capable of, both light and dark. I’ve come to terms with the fact that the emptiness will never completely go away, which is in its own way freeing. I can be perfectly myself for this moment, with all my shortcomings and irritants, and still strive to be better. Both of those things can be true in one instance, in every instance in fact. We strive so well to never actually arrive anywhere. Learning to not take myself so seriously has been crucial and ongoing. I want to be better at taking care of other people. Emotions are just messy af. We are all fluid contradictions, and it is hilarious.
Is music a way of coping with those moments and emotions that life brings you? Or what role do you see music playing in your life?
Music definitely helps me cope. Music gives me purpose and community and identity. Music gives me something to do with my hands besides bite my nails. I really like music because it’s sound. You can’t pick it up and take it away. You can’t hide it from a person. No one can claim music or trademark it, you know? It can’t be contained like that.
Aside from the long time spent on the road what else went into making this record? What was the process like and how does it feel to have it completed and getting out there?
It was pretty much just me going through my daily life and working my day jobs and then writing when I had time or felt like it. I moved around a bit between Omaha and NYC, had a break up and falling in love and another break up. It was all very poignant for me but would be boring to try to recount now. I will say though, after having written this collection of songs and looking at the whole of its parts, I did realize my power as a woman, probably for the first time. And then followed the heartbreak of realizing that I wasn’t aware of that power all along, and that there are so many strong, hot women who don’t realize their power because of the way our society is structured. When I say “realize power” I mean, living your life of your own volition and not for the sake of pleasing some dude. I was definitely caught up in that over several iterations of “dude” and it’s hard to admit. I don’t like thinking of myself as someone who seeks validation from anyone, but if I can’t admit it then that behavior controls me and not the other way around. So that’s what this record signifies for me. And it’s relieving but at the same time (lol) scary to have people hear it. I hope people find it helpful.
What if anything does the cover art indicate about the album and what role did you have in deciding on that?
I came up with the idea for the album cover! The eggs represent two boobs and the boobs symbolize how this is a record about feminine experience. My true friend and master photographer Pat O’Malley took the photo and did the design.
During your long solo road trip did you ever get lonely and if so how do you deal with that? And did you learn anything about yourself during that time that you worked into the music?
Yeah I was lonely. (I’ve probably already over covered this topic.) I was very lonely and depressed. It was kind of by design. I knew the trip wouldn’t be easy, but you know, if you are able, you have to spend that time with yourself. Self-discovery is a struggle but I think it gets easier. It’s better to be lonely and honest than trying to make something work that doesn’t. Everything I learn about myself gets worked into my music and then I also learn stuff about myself through writing music. It’s definitely a two way street!
Where do you find yourself now and are you working on anything new or feel inspired by any of your current surroundings? What's next?
Pretty much just have no idea what I’m doing. Not in terms of new music. My brain splits off in every direction when posed with this question. I know I can’t help but keep on writing songs. I also want to do weirder shit. I’m very interested in finding space to be vulnerable around other people the way that I am with myself in the songwriting process, and in general. Music mirrors life.