If any aspiring professional musician ever claims that developing his or her career is easy and seamless, well, they’re either lying or delusional. It’s hard work, defined by starts, stops, ebbs, flows, highs, lows and everything in between.
Michaela Anne is well acquainted with navigating these vicissitudes. Following two critically acclaimed albums (2014’s Ease My Mind and 2016’s Bright Lights and The Fame), the Nashville based singer-songwriter found herself suddenly devoid of a record label support system, when the small independent label that released the latter title folded.
But amidst the uncertainty and instability that ensued, Anne was able to identify the silver lining that prompted some much-needed soul searching. “I was doing what I’d always wanted to do, but I realized that none of it matters if you’re not happy and healthy,” Anne confides in an official statement. “I had to tap back in to what motivated me to become a musician in the first place, and that was sharing songs and stories in an effort to connect with people and help them feel less alone in this world.”
Even the most cursory of listens to her forthcoming third studio album Desert Dove, her first for the heralded Yep Roc label set to arrive September 27th, reveals that Anne’s recalibration has been an unequivocal success. Across the album’s eleven evocative songs, she infuses her narratives with an introspective grace and profound understanding of the fundamental human longing for connection and purpose. And if there’s any justice left in this world, Desert Dove will indeed prove to be her breakthrough album that introduces her to a far broader audience.
It was my pleasure to catch up with Anne recently and as with her on-stage presence, her refreshing candor and charm shines through our discussion about her burgeoning career and the inspirations that drove Desert Dove to fruition.
Congratulations on the upcoming release of Desert Dove! It’s a wonderful album. How was the experience of writing and recording this album different compared to its two precursors, Ease My Mind and Bright Lights and The Fame?
Thank you! Well, I think just by nature of age this record’s writing experience was different from the last two because I’ve lived more and I hope I’m getting better as a songwriter. Songwriting is not getting any easier, but I think my life experiences, curiosities and topics I want to explore have expanded which inspire me to dig a little deeper in the songs I create.
Lead single “By Our Design” explores the notion of finding solace in embracing an unconventional or unpredictable life path and sharing the experience with another. Can you talk about the inspiration behind the song?
Yes, the inspiration behind the song is my life with my husband. We’re both musicians. We’ve been together since meeting at a music conservatory and have been growing up and figuring out how to live side by side since we were 21 years old. There are a lot of additional stresses to living life together as self-employed musicians, but there’s also a lot of beauty in it. So "By Our Design" is a meditation or reflection on that.
Self-discovery and independence, as essential catalysts for seeking out a sense of purpose, are thematic threads that run through the entirety of Desert Dove. How has your own search for meaning in life impacted the evolution of your songwriting? And what advice might you give to people who feel rudderless or restless?
Oh man. Well I’m a classic over-thinker. I’m constantly wondering what the meaning in life is and every time I convince myself that I’ve found some answers that bring me peace, I start down the road of questioning again. But I think a life of searching and questioning is one of value because you’re seeking lessons and knowledge. And what better way to do that than by creating something that you put out into the world that can connect with others and lead to more stories, questions and lessons. I hear so many people’s personal stories because of sharing music and that’s what continually inspires me to keep writing songs.
As far as advice, I would say keep seeking. Read, listen to music, watch movies, consume others work and ideas. It all helps. And I know it’s a trendy topic these days but gratitude lists of the most basic elements are actually incredibly helpful. When I’m feeling stuck, logically walking myself through a lot of basic things in life that I take for granted levels me out in a humbling way to be able to begin again.
“If I Wanted Your Opinion” is a particularly brave and empowering song that challenges antiquated—yet sadly, still prevalent—gender dynamics head on. What do you think we—and this goes for both women and men—need to do to make more progress toward coexisting and supporting each other in a healthier, more respectful way?
Well, I think we are living in a very interesting time. There’s so much more awareness growing about many topics of social, racial, political justice and correctness, while at the same time there is an even louder growth of negativity, racism and sexism.
I think it’s essential to constantly be self-evaluating and questioning the ideas and language we’ve grown accustomed to that may no longer serve us to actually build a more equal society. As a female musician, and especially as a petite female, I am constantly dealing with sexism, inappropriate or patronizing comments, condescension. Other female friends and I are always together analyzing different experiences and power dynamics that we are learning to be more aware of and confront how we contribute and enable these dynamics through our own behavior.
I also have these conversations a lot with the various men who I work with or tour with and am heartened by the empathy and growing awareness they have and genuine desire to help make things better. So in a nutshell, education, genuine empathetic listening and self-evaluation are always part of any complex answer for how we can all try to coexist better.
While there’s a profound, eloquently articulated melancholy and heartache laced within many of Desert Dove’s songs, there’s also a palpable and reassuring sense of hope that no matter what life throws at us, all will be ok in the long run. When you consider your own perspective on life, where would you say you reside on the “glass half full” vs. “glass half empty” spectrum?
I would say I’m half and half. I have a lot of anxiety and doomsday thoughts, always looking at how things aren’t going well enough. But then I have this other voice in my head arguing with myself saying no, keep the faith, always stay positive and grateful. That voice I would really attribute to my mother. I have an incredibly supportive family in general, but my mom is my constant confidante and relentlessly listens to my stressors whether it’s about my own personal life and career or my anxiety about the world, country, or politics. She’s always providing me with a broader perspective on life. She comes from the belief system that there’s more than just us in this life right now and that when it comes down to it, love, kindness and caring for each other is the most important. So again, she brings me down to the basics which always gives me some hope and perspective.
I had the pleasure of experiencing your excellent performance last year at Rough Trade in Brooklyn, when you opened for Courtney Marie Andrews, and I was immediately struck by your confidence and candor during your set. You seem so poised on stage, so I’m curious to know how or from where you draw that strength? Conversely, is there anything that makes you anxious or nervous when it comes to your music?
Oh wow, thank you. Well I had you fooled! [Laughs] I’m pretty nervous or anxious every show. Especially when sharing or warming the stage for someone I admire like Courtney! But I do go on stage with the intention of connecting or offering something. For whatever reason, I get more nervous and un-grounded if my intent is to entertain or “put on a show.”
It’s been a process getting to this point and accepting what it is that I feel I have to offer which is to tell stories, be vulnerable and myself, and connect. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’m there to offer it to those who want and need it. That mindset has helped me immensely at feeling more at ease on stage.
Speaking of Brooklyn, you used to live here, but moved to Nashville a few years ago. What prompted the move, and how would you say that each city has helped to shape your identity, whether personally, professionally or musically?
I would say the expense and stress of big city living is what prompted the move and just the fact that I had been there for 10 years. I love New York City and Brooklyn especially in a really deep way. I feel like a New Yorker still in many ways. And spending the first decade of my adult life there had a huge effect on me. The diversity, multi-cultural community, the grit and edge matched with the empathy and kindness I saw on a daily basis there, the fast pace, excitement, the incredibly good food everywhere. I miss it all so much.
But I also love that I now own a house with multiple bedrooms, a basement, backyard and driveway and pay a fraction of what I paid for a one-bedroom apartment I shared with my boyfriend and two cats. The space and time that Nashville provides has been very welcomed and helpful in my growth as a writer and musician.
What other singers, songwriters and/or musicians do you credit as key influences in your artistic development? Are there contemporary artists or peers that inspire you today?
There are so many, but Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Lucinda Williams have all been incredibly key in my life, as well as Shania Twain and the Dixie Chicks. For peers, there are a lot as well. I feel especially grateful to be in a community of women in Nashville who I think are all pursuing their own thing, developing their own sound and writing style, separate from each other, and working really hard to stay in the game when it is not always easy. People like Caroline Spence, Kelsey Waldon, Kristina Murray, Erin Rae, Mary Bragg, Liz Cooper, Leah Blevins, Margo Price, Lilly Hiatt, Courtney Marie Andrews, Rachel Baiman, Maya de Vitry and the list goes on for sure. But these women inspire me to keep doing my thing and stick to my guns.
Desert Dove represents your first recording for Yep Roc. How does it feel to now be part of such a revered label with such an impressive track record of supporting music of the highest quality?
It’s an honor and honestly I don’t even know if it has completely sunk in yet. I keep having this kind of distant feeling of 'oh yeah...this is happening!' But I’m immensely grateful. It’s surreal to see my name on their list of artists I admire like Mandolin Orange, Jim Lauderdale, Kim Richey, Robin Hitchcock, Nick Lowe, Dawn Landes. They’ve been so supportive and I feel so lucky to have landed in a place that really does value music as art above all else. It feels like the right home.
OK, last question. In the spirit of Albumism, what are your FIVE favorite albums of all time?
Lucinda Williams’ Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner, Linda Ronstadt’s Heart Like a Wheel, Carole King’s Tapestry and Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me. And I didn’t even intentionally list all women! [Laughs]