The Seattle sound has moved on from the early 90s. There’s one musician whose music is delicate, emotional and no holds barred. It grabs attention, leaves us wanting more. That person is Star Anna; an Ellensberg resident. This singer-songwriter’s evolved over the years since debut album Crooked Path.
Me, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing her perform live in a small bar in downtown Seattle. Head bowed down, acoustic guitar screaming, probably one of the best voices out there and guess what? Star Anna signed my Go To Hell CD.
Due to the wonders of social media and e-mails, Moshville Times managed to send Star Anna some tough questions to answer. No surprises, Star Anna didn’t back down. She smashed those questions with answers, and emailed back just like Shiva Ayyadurai, the creator of electronic mails.
Hey Star, how’s it going today?
Hello! It’s going very well today! Forest (my Beagle) is still in bed and I’ve got a wide-open day so I’m working on a couple of art pieces!
What was the first song you learnt to play?
To the best of my knowledge, the first song I learned to play all the way through on drums was “Touch Me” by The Doors and the first song I learned all the way through on guitar was “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure.
If you weren’t playing music, what would your career choice be?
This is a very hard question because if I wasn’t playing music I would either be a completely different person or I would probably be a miserable drunk. But for the sake of answering I’ll go with the first thing I ever wanted to be, which was a dog groomer (well, to be honest, I wanted to be a pirate, but dog groomer seems more realistic).
You’ve been called “the real deal” by Duff McKagan and Mike McCready. How does it feel that two legends of music have said this about you?
I hate to say “validated” because taste and success is subjective. I greatly admire both of those men, as musicians and as people, so to hear them say that about me is an absolute honour and pushes me to continue to work hard and do right by them.
I have changed immensely since then. At that point I was just a kid with an album’s worth of songs that I’d spent years writing. I wasn’t as confident in the idea that I could be a “professional” musician and I had no real knowledge of how things worked so I let the people around me steer the ship, for better or worse. I’m proud of that album and it captured where I was at the time.
The follow up to that, The Only Thing That Matters, was mostly me rebelling against the Americana/alt-country stamp that had been placed on me. When I was in high school I was a drummer and was in a punk band, No Continuous Standing (I believe you can find some of our songs on SoundCloud). I was heavily influenced but punk and rock n roll and I wanted to continue to explore that.
The last Laughing Dogs album, Alone In This Together, was my favorite that we did. It felt much more realized, more arranged, more thoughtful. After that the band split up and I put out a solo album. Go To Hell, to me, was the album I’d been wanting and trying to make the whole time. The biggest changes for me have come from experience and sobriety. I became more independent, more hard working and more trusting of my gut.
You covered Robyn’s “Call Your girlfriend”. What made you choose that track to cover? Is there a song out there you would like to give the Star Anna treatment to?
I just remember listening to that song and hearing the words and thinking “This song is absolutely heartbreaking”. I love the original and I think Robyn is an incredible artist but I also wanted to showcase the lyrics. It’s about a very touchy subject, one that’s usually only written about from the man’s perspective. Her song is about being the other woman and in my mind there is the underlying knowledge that this man will never leave his girlfriend for her.
One of my goals this year is to record a version of “Danger Zone”. It is the cheesiest song I can think of so I want to make it haunting and beautiful. Wish me luck.
“Mean Kind of Love” from your Go To Hell is an astonishing track. What is the story behind it and the process of making it happen?
I love that song. It was written by a friend in Nashville.
You have stated that “Miller’s Daughter” is about addiction, depression and loss. Are these things you’ve been affected by?
Absolutely. I quit drinking six years ago. Friends and family have struggled/still struggle with addiction. I suffer from depression and for a long time couldn’t cope with it, which is probably why I drank so heavily. After getting sober, I’ve learned how to manage depression and anxiety. It still exists in me but I’ve gotten better at acknowledging it and navigating it. Depression is still somewhat taboo to discuss, though it’s getting better. It’s part of the human condition and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
I’ve always written songs about different kinds of heartbreak besides romantic, mostly about family members (“Time”, “Wait”, “Alone In This Together”). Recently I’ve been focused on trying to write an entire album about those kinds of experiences with friends and family. “Miller’s Daughter” is about having to let go of someone who, even though they are still alive, the person you knew is gone. You can still have love for them but you have to detach so it doesn’t destroy you.
What are you working on now?
I’m currently working on a new album with keyboard player and co-producer Ty Bailie. We’ve been taking our time with it for various reasons but it’s been nice not being under the gun. It’s going to be a very keyboard heavy album, thoughtfully arranged and orchestrated. The focus will be on the vocals and drums. We recorded the drums live then cut, pasted, looped and layered. There will also be strings and horns. I’m incredibly excited. I’ve also got a new band line-up (Rafe Wadleigh, Chuck Keller, Julian MacDonough) and we’ve been working on even newer songs with the intention of recording and releasing them.
After the sad loss of Chris Cornell recently, what’s your favourite memory of him?
That was a crushing blow that deeply and personally affected many friends of mine. It was an eye opener to the dangers of depression and the ways society chooses to treat it. He was an incredibly talented man, nobody sings like him.
Have you ever visited Mark Arm at the Sub Pop label?
I have not. Kind of a boring answer but true. I did get to see them perform at PJ20 and that was amazing. I also got to see Chris Cornell perform a few songs with Pearl Jam and it truly was untouchable.
You recently performed Ziggy Stardust at the Neptune. How did that come about and what was it like?
I was driving over the pass one night and listening to that album. All of the little parts started to pop out, especially in “Rock n Roll Suicide” when the horns come in on the third verse. I’ve been in awe of Bowie since I was six years old and saw Labyrinth. I fell in love with him but I also wanted to be him. So much so that after watching the movie for the tenth time in a week, I decided to cut my hair so it would look like his in the movie. Since I was only six, I did not have the skills to accomplish that and ended up with a large patchy bald spot right in the front so my mom cut all my hair off, except for a long stringy rat tail in the back.
When I first had the idea to do this album with an orchestra, I thought it was probably just a pipe dream but then realized I knew a few folks that could help. I called Debra Heesch and she helped me secure the venue (The Neptune) and I called Michael McMorrow and he helped me put together an orchestra and Bret Smith wrote out the arrangements. We kept moving the date, wanting to have enough time to do it right and then Bowie died. I immediately called Michael and we decided to give it time, knowing there would be an onslaught of Bowie tribute nights. We finally made it happen almost a year after he passed. It was one of the most incredible experiences. I just found the audio recordings from it and listened (for the first time since that night) and I had chills the entire time.
You have some interesting tattoos. Where do you go to get inked and what do you have planned in the future?
I’ve got a couple different folks that I really love, Lynn Gosnell and Glen Helm. My Leonard Cohen drawing of a woman was done in New Orleans while I was on tour. I have a matching tattoo with Mishka Shubaly that we got while we were touring through Austin. It’s a little heart that says “Who Cares”. For those nights when we’d play to an empty room, or worse, a room full of people talking loudly and ignoring us, it was a reminder to say fuck it and just play because it’s what we love. Who cares if nobody else cares. It’s not for them.
My next tattoo is going to be a rattlesnake wrapped around geraniums and it’s a nod to my grandpa, who I never got to meet, but got to know through my mom’s detailed stories of him. He lived in the desert outside LA in a ghost town that he’d built. He’d skin rattlesnakes and wrap them around his hats. Geraniums were his favorite and he’d sometimes ride with the Hell’s Angels. He was a badass and every time my mom tells me grandpa would’ve been so proud of me, it makes my heart burst with joy.
If you had to describe your music in the form of a fictional character, who would it be?
I would describe it as a combination of all four Golden Girls. It’s strong and biting, like Dorothy. It has the fearlessness and beauty of Blanche. It has a softness and vulnerability, like Rose. And it kicks ass and tells it like it is, just like Sophia.
Which Seattle band would you recommend to Moshville Times to feature as a Band of the Day?
Great Spiders, Whitney Mongé, Jason Dodson.
One more question… what will it take to get you to come and visit the UK?
A plane ticket, a place to sleep and food. A place to perform too. Also a parade of Beagles dressed in fancy outfits, galloping down the street howling. But I would settle for just the first four things.