Anna Ternheim's new album The Night Visitor represents a journey from her permanent move to New York in '06, through creative dry spells, brand new inspirations (from beat up 1930s guitars) and her escape to Nashville with Matt Sweeney to record the album with Dave Ferguson; Johnny Cash's longtime, go-to engineer of choice. Things sound much different on the album. Gone is the icy, almost arctic sound the Swedish expat specialized in with previous releases. Instead, the sound is warm, authentic, and distinctly American.
After 18 days of recording, Ternheim, Sweeney, and a host of other pals decided to celebrate the record's completion with a finger picking party at Ferguson's house in Goodlettsville Tennessee. Though there's plenty of fancy finger pickin' here, lots of local musicians also chip in to round out the jam sesh. Plucky fits of bass, fiddle, flute, and sunny, Southern harmonies make for a feel good kind of hootenannya party indeed.
2006. The year when Paul McCartney finally turned 64 and Sweden sent their first ever astronaut into deep space. It was the year when Anna Ternheim after many visits in the past, suddenly found herself swallowed up whole by New York City. The light-hearted brutality of the city and the promise of unpredictability seemed as close a fit as an ambiguous soul could ever hope to find and upon leaving she already knew that one day she was going to return for good. So in the early spring of 2008 Ternheim left her native Sweden behind and became an expat New Yorker, determined to roam.
Hollowed out and drained from the backbreaking touring of her third album, Anna Ternheim found herself stripped bare of crea-tivity. She had run out. The itch was gone. Fumbling in the dark for her own mislaid inclination she walked aimlessly around the city, imploring her eyes to see what she couldnt, strangely fervent in her appetite for others art, music and adventures.
Anna: "I usually hunger for new music after finishing a record or a tour. For leaving my bubble and finding new perspectives. I went to see Tinariwen play at the Bellhouse, they blew my mind and definitely got me deeper into desert blues. That repetitive, hypnotizing vibe is something I really connect with. A friend of mine turned me on to David S. Ware, an impro saxophone player.
Completely off the wall, and very far away from what I do. But he was so in tune with his instrument, I wanted to get into his mind"
In these musical encounters Anna saw what she unknowingly had hungered for; the form of absolute control that paradoxally translates into freedom, the instrument as a mere extensions of the players minds by way of their hands. She realized that there was only one way to get to that place, and that it would be by practicing on her guitar. Using discipline as a stairway to affluence and ease. An untreaded and wide open road for Ternheim, self taught and instinctual by nature.
Just around the time for sizzling nights on rooftops and burning pavements, Anna began to hear something. Notes, fragments,
a sprouting distinction. During a delirious rant about sketchy guitars and the struggle of it all, over tea and meringues at a kitchen table in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn, came the following fateful statement from a sympathizing confrere: I know a place that will exceed your every dream. Go there and you will find just the guitar to pull the songs youre talking about out of you. Following her friends advice led Anna to an obscure storefront in a remote part of Brooklyn, on a hot humid afternoon in July. It was here Ternheim found what would become her beacon, her brother in arms, the extension of her mind by way of her hands, toward and all the way through what was yet to come. It was a plunky and wretched 1930s Gibson.
As the seasons began to change yet again, Anna still felt stuck despite her new beat up guitar. Like she was orbiting something, but could not trace its arc. Come October a sense of panic had entered her. Time seemed to travel steadily on without her and she couldnt catch up. So she reached out to her friend Matt Sweeney, one of the best guitarists I have ever played with, and asked him for lessons and help in arranging her songs. The two met up in a shoddy space on 4th street, things slowly began to fall into place. One night, Sweeney took her to see the unsung yet vastly influential Scottish folk singer Bert Jansch perform at an old warehouse in Brooklyn. Ternheim found herself recognizing the spirit of her style in Janschs, remembering and revisiting a time in her own history when old folk songs, featherlight picking and twining melodies actually shaped her entire musical being.
2011 Another Winter
As another bone-chilling New York winter drew near, Sweeney and Ternheim met up regularly and the songs finally began to come with ease. Seemingly out of the blue, Matt presented an idea he had harboured for some time the two of them taking their business to Nashville, Tennessee.
Matt: "I was pretty stunned by the new songs Anna showed me in the Brooklyn rehearsal space. They were haunting and direct with fingerpicked modal guitar lines. After a few weeks of productive work sessions she said she wanted to make an album based around the 2 guitars and vocal approach wed been doing. Id recently recorded a bunch of songs in Tennessee with Dave Ferguson, Johnny Cashs longtime engineer (best known for his work on Mr Cashs final American" albums), and I told Anna that Id like to produce her album there.
Anna had never heard of the Grand Ole Opry, Music Row or any of the fetishized Nashville institutions and legends that normally lead musicians there in hopes of finding that authentic, magical, down home sound. To Matt this was actually an advantage, because his vision was a different one the combination of the tensile strength of Annas songs, the great players in Dave Fergusons musical family (not to mention Ferg" himself) and the concept of using Nashville merely as a place to record them, stripped of all preconceived ideas of what Nashville should sound like, that was the whole plan. Anna, who had worked like a dog blindfolded for quite some time at this point, was far from clear on what she was getting herself into by agreeing to the plan without hesitation. And she damn well liked it. So without really asking anyone their take on this endeavor Ternheim packed her suitcase lightly, made arrangements for a bed at a strangers house, her heart beating at do or die pace. Then she just up and went. And on February 18th, a gentle full moon Friday, began the recording of Anna Ternheims fourth album The Night Visitor.
Anna: "We got to the Butcher Shoppe, the studio Dave Ferguson owns with John Prine,and spent a few days recording live, just me and Matt on acoustic guitars. I probably acted calm, but adrenaline was pumping in my veins. It didnt take long though, after a couple of days the studio felt like home and I trusted Ferg just as much as I did Matt. Ferg made a few calls to his friends: 'Hey Im here recording with this girl Anna, shes got a great voice and great songs, we could use you on a few of them."
Matt: When Cowboy" Jack Clement, Kenny Malone, Ronnie McCoury, Tim OBrien and the rest of the great men who played on The Night Visitor showed up to record, they showed up as open hearted players to serve the songs, not as Nashville legends". Peter Townsend (not The Who member) and Will Oldham, also brought their vocal, lyrical and percussive talents. 10 days flowed by and we found ourselves with something that was already sounding like a record".
Still, The Butcher Shoppe was buzzing with legends, both in the form of sensational stories from the frontier and of their non-fictional characters. The ghosts of Cash, Orbison and Perkins were present in the tales of walls, visitors and the very dust on the floor. The chemistry was all over the place. The ease. The craft. After 18 days of recording, barbeque ventures, home cooking and fingerpicking parties, on Mardi Gras when the moon was near half again, the 12 songs that make up The Night Visitor were just about finished.
The Night Visitor
The Night Visitor has been described as a story telling album. An accurate but obvious term of reference when it comes to defining music driven by lyrics. To Anna Ternheim it is a term that applies to most records, even the wordless ones. On this one however, the traditional narrative style is as present as the characteristic momentary dips into almost startling lyrical darkness.
Anna: "I was drawn to the harmonies and words of old folk songs already as a child. I knew all the words to Scarborough Fair by the age of 4. Matt played me The Night Visiting Song" with Luke Kelly, and I loved it. It had that exact same feel, we both thought it would be a good album title.
Anna Ternheim insists that all stories lie in the ears and eyes of the beholder and makes a distinct point of leaving things out, providing room for interpretation between the airy layers. That doesnt mean the songs arent full of vivid images, gracefully veiled in simplicity. In that regard, the songBow Your Head might be the albums dark horse. A haunting, epic tribute to the beauty of nature, spending the day with your lover, in a time of perfect unawareness of what the future might bring. In Walking AimlesslyTernheim aims only to drift, and for people to drift with her when ever they hear the song, creating their own safe place in space. And then there are songs like the duet The Longer The Waiting The Sweeter The Kiss,originally written by Pat McLaughlin, sung by Anna and Dave Ferguson together with heartwrenching sincerity.
Dave Ferguson: We were in the studio just getting to know each other really then Matt Sweeney reminded me of that song.
I sang it while we were sitting around and Anna loved it. She started singing along right away. Its one of my favorite songs ever. I love our recording of it! Theres no need to ever record it again. Matt, Anna, and myself decided to make Anna the sailor in the song. Shes a hell of a Sailor!! I cant wait to work with her again, I really shouldnt call it work "
The Night Visitor was intended to be beautiful. It was intended to have nerve, and to tread much closer to the feeling of a live performance than Ternheims previous efforts have. All vocals were boldly recorded in unison with the guitars, a move that confronts the listener with a heartfelt candor very rare in this day and age.
Anna: "I wanted a direct and timeless quality to this album. I wanted for my voice to come out and the instruments to sound like instruments. Ferg, Matt and all the musicians were absolutely amazing to work with, the sound was in the walls, in the fingers and minds of these people. Kenny Malone is the first drummer who has ever asked me for lyrics before playing on a song, to find its heart beat and deeper meaning."
Anna Ternheims fourth album somewhat illustrates the essence of her being, an old soul with a fearless, almost childlike greed for the unexplored. Over a pair of shins, brown and scrawny like a twelve year old boys, shoes two sizes too big and with her eyes serenely closed, Anna Ternheim sings like an earthy angel of failures and victories, acquaintances and companions, life and death.