Sultry, velvet-voiced songstress Anna Rose tips her cap to Arcade Fire with her cover of "My Body Is a Cage".
During her twenty-four years on Earth as what she calls a "rock kid," there have been great passions in Anna Roses life, and then there has been music. "More than anything, I have always straight-up just totally and truthfully loved it," she says.
She has experienced only one physical altercation.It took place in an automobile. "I got into an argument," says Anna Rose, who was born in Manhattan, raised upstate, lived after high school for several years in Los Angeles before returning to New York, and has a dog named Joplin. Her words, remembering the incident, begin to race. I was in the backseat with someone who tried to tell me Clapton was better than Hendrix and I forcibly removed him from the car. Id rather have innovation than interpretation any day of the week " She calms down: "That doesnt mean I dont think Clapton is amazing; he is. I have so much respect for Clapton, but also for Jeff Beck and Waylon Jennings and Tom Waits." She gets even calmer: "If Im having a bad day," Anna Rose says, "Ill put on Jimi and Ill be OK."
Always, she has known she would perform and record as a singer, songwriter, and guitarist-pianist who would release an album such as 'Nomad, her upcoming debut, which she co-produced with William (Billy) Sullivan, five songs from which comprise her sensational current 'Anna Rose EP. And always she has been a little nuts about guitars. She started playing at age 5, after an older cousin brought one along to a holiday family gift exchange.
"I just picked it up," Anna Rose says. "My cousin taught me a G-chord. At the time I was taking piano lessons my parents had started me at some ridiculously young age. I remember the overlap of the two instruments for a while I play piano now, Ive kinda returned to it. But the guitar, yeah, I just loved it. From the beginning, I was a guitarhead."
After early years of teaching herself, Anna Rose began to study with Arlen Roth, the celebrated guitarist who has performed with Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and illustrious others, and who wrote the book 'Masters of the Telecaster. Anna Rose calls him "the best living guitarist on the face of the planet," pointing out that he encouraged her to listen to Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy.
Anna Roses mother used to dance ballet and her father is Alan Menken, the celebrated and widely influential pianist and theater and film composer. She danced once herself choreographing Hendrixs "Voodoo Chile" and played sports and rode a lot of horses and cleaned a lot of barns. She fully appreciated and learned copiously from her fathers work and world yet sometimes to his complete delight critiqued them, finding in a school essay major fault with the Middle Eastern politics she found inherent in 'Aladdin, the 1992 Disney film he scored.
For Anna Rose and her younger sister, it was a packed, productive, happy life in a family that Anna Rose calls "a Disney version of the Osbournes." Throughout everything from as a tiny kid belting out a song to a Barbra Streisand record played on the radio, to having her first songs analyzed by a family friend who ran the Yale School of Music, to withstanding classroom jibes after her father told a TV interviewer she listened to Ten Inch Nails nothing Anna Rose pursued mattered more to her than the Doors. In a coincidence not ignored by Anna Rose, Bruce Botnick, who produced not only the well-remembered 60s Bay area band Love but also The Doors themselves, served as executive producer of 'Nomad.
She has no idea where she discovered the legendary '60s LA band, whose lead singer died over a decade-and-a-half before Anna Rose was born. Their music has just always been in her ears, mind, and heart. "If you ask me who I would like to look like on stage," says Anna Rose, who has long blond hair and blue eyes, "it would be Jim Morrison."
On 'Anna Rose, songs like the guitar-rich 'Picture and the atmospheric ballad 'Wilshire Blvd. proceed with an elegant ruggedness that comes from Anna Roses life-long attraction to rock and roll from the halcyon days of 60s and 70s southern California, and she sings them with an effortless-sounding soprano gravity. "I love that Mulholland Drive, rock-songwriter, star-tripped, holed-up-in-a-house-drinking-gin-and-smoking-weed-writing-songs thing," she says. "I think thats why I moved to California when I was 18, and the place will always be that to me, even though it wasnt that for me. I remember driving up on Mulholland Drive, for example, one night after Id played one of my gigs in L.A. I was with Billy Sullivan, my co-producer on 'Nomad. It was like I had found a place in the music world."
She believes that this leather-and-suede foundation of her creative worldview accounts for why, in her music, Anna Rose takes stylistic routes not often encountered among female singer-songwriters. The process involved a lot of full takes, no Auto-Tune, and "maybe one synthesizer," Anna Rose estimates. "I did intentionally go for a gritty sound but I also come from a background where, since I was a little kid, Ive seen the best people in the world record. I know what it takes to make a great record, and its not one take. Sometimes it is one take sometimes the first vocal that you do is the most honest. But youve got to do all these other takes to realize that."
Anna Roses music on songs like "The Four Corners," about friends dispersing across time and space or "You Got It For Free," a Springsteen-Dylanesque confrontation of personal difference recalls that of young bands like Kings of Leon who are inspired deeply by the classic past yet shun retro simulations. "I listen to all these people," Anna Rose says, "who I wasnt alive to ever see play. I think Im always trying to capture that, to imagine what it would have been like to have seen people like that live."
Anna Rose wont wear a dress onstage, finding it "extremely uncomfortable." Its the guitar thing, again. "If youre wearing a guitar it rides your dress up, and youre just worrying that your ass is showing, or whatever," she says. "I like my hair and make-up; I like to look good, to look hot." She says dresses are great sometimes. "But," she says, "I dont always feel the most beautiful when Im wearing a dress. I feel that way when Im wearing my guitar and my heart on my sleeve."
On "In the Morning View," which Anna Rose calls one of her "poppier" songs, she writes about going out to clubs. "You play a person at night," she says. "When I was younger, I would go out to these places after-hours clubs I had no business being in. I would go out, then the next morning Id go back to the barn and shovel horseshit. And I would be like, 'Oh, this is who I really am."
On 'Anna Rose, thats basically who she is, too, one terrifically talented and grounded girl. And what shes wearing is a guitar.