Artist: Anna Tivel
Hometown: Portland, Oregon
Latest Album: Blue World
What other art forms — literature, film, dance, painting, etc. — inform your music?
Literature and poetry really get in my bloodstream and make me want to write, all those vivid words and ways of telling a thing. I get the itch to write the most from reading things that unravel like a song but are in much longer form. Right now I’m digging deep through the novels and short stories of Annie Proulx and finding so much inspiration. The way she spins a story, unadorned and brutally human, feels honest in this way I’m forever working toward with songs. Andre Dubus sparks a similar feeling, this gut-punch of everyday struggle told in a way that feels just like reality, but more stunningly laid out in bite-sized, brilliantly observed and relatable moments. I dream of writing songs that make people feel that way.
What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a musician?
Music has always been the place I felt most at home in my mind, where I could just be, work things out and communicate in a slower, more intentional way. I first found that freedom playing violin as a kid, backing people up later, learning that kind of conversation without speaking that feels so powerful. I started writing songs when I was about 23 and it was a completely magnetic force of expression that I must have been really hurting for because it took hold of me immediately and forcefully. I don’t remember consciously thinking, “This is what I want to do with my life,” just couldn’t seem to think about anything else. I’m forever grateful to be able to move through the world this way. It constantly pushes me out of my box, allows me to bump up against the world, try to see it more clearly and with more curiosity all the time, try to reflect something true.
Which elements of nature do you spend the most time with and how do those impact your work?
Seems like touring is always shaping the way nature plays out in my writing. You’re on these long expansive drives through empty country, red canyon cliffs, vultures, sun bleached sagebrush, and heat waves on the blacktop that stretch out farther than you can see. And then two days later you’re in a dense forest, lush and wet and forty shades of green darkness. And then you’re suddenly in a giant metropolis. Watching it all change for hours and hours out the window feels like a recipe of sorts, like gathering all the images that hold an emotion to draw on later when a song is forming. I love to set a scene for the emotion of a story to play out in, and this constant observing of the natural (and man-made) world through car and plane windows seems to help tie human struggle and beauty to place and landscape in a way that feels necessary.
What rituals do you have, either in the studio or before a show?
I want so badly to have pre-show and studio rituals, like vocal warmups or a three-piece show suit or something, anything. Mostly I let shows eat me alive in good and bad ways and I’m trying to work on being more intentional about that stuff. When I have time and space, I like to read something beautiful or listen to something that moves me before a show, sit somewhere all alone and take in some words and music that make me feel free and vast and inspired. It feels really good to get up on stage and get the chance to play my heart out after that. I’m going to do it more, just decided. OK I have a ritual starting now.
If you had to write a mission statement for your career, what would it be?
Write and write. And play songs for people. And try to be 90 years old someday and still loving these two things with wild abandon.
Photo credit: Matt Kennelly