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Anny Celsi - Interview

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 21 / 1 / 2011

Anny Celsi - Interview


Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Anny Celsi speaks to Malcolm Carter about her first album in six years, 'Tangle-Free World', which has been produced by Brian Wilson drummer Nelson Bragg, and her forthcoming European tour

With 2003’s ‘Little Black Dress and Other Stories’ Anny Celsi certainly left her mark on any music fan who loves the classic pop sounds of the sixties. While the songs conjured up memories of Jackie DeShannon, the Brill Building, Spector and more it was all wrapped up with a contemporary edge. The searing guitar solo of the title track was an early indication that here was an artist that was capable of more than just cloning a classic sound. Much like some of Amy Rigby’s work, Anny used the past while still keeping it original. There was a summer vibe to much of the album ; hailing from California and with song titles such as ‘Summer Fling’ we expected as much and everything about Anny, from the outstanding cover of that first album to her vocals which are warm, familiar and inviting the very first time you hear them, is so appealing. Anny is adept at writing melodies that are instant yet never cloying and lyrically she really is something else. Anny is one of those artists whose lyrics stand on their own even without her melodies. But at the end of the day it’s in her vocals, while hours could be spent discussing which traces of our favourite female singers from the last 50 years can be heard in her songs, Anny does have a sound of her own and she is the owner of one of those voices that you can’t help but fall in love with. Anny is, simply, a superb vocalist. It was some six long years before Anny released a follow-up album to ‘Little Black Dress’. Positive reviews met the release of ‘Tangle-Free World’ last year and most critics made much out of the fact that Anny had gathered some well-known and respected musicians to play on the album this time. It’s surely a measure of how much respect other musicians have for Anny when she can not only acquire the services of Nelson Bragg (percussionist/vocalist for Brian Wilson) as producer and multi-instrumentalist on ‘Tangle-Free World’, but also get a helping-hand from Probyn Gregory and Nick Walusko (Wondermints, Brian Wilson, Lisa Mychols), Evie Sands and Amy Farris to name but a few. While classic pop and Byrds influences are noted in those reviews what many fail to mention is just how soulful Anny can sound at times. ‘Now You Can Hurt Me’ is an outstanding vocal performance by Anny that can break even the hardest of hearts. Again, despite superb backing it’s Anny’s vocals that draw you in. After recording an unexpected but outstanding Christmas song, ‘Christmas in the Pines’ which you can download via Anny’s site at www.annycelsi.com,( and where you can also sample some of the songs featured on Anny’s albums) Anny is just about to embark on a European tour which hopefully won’t be hampered by volcanic ash as her planned tour was last year. But before Anny hits the road she was kind enough to find the time to answer a few of our questions: PB: Your debut solo album, ‘Little Black Dress and Other Stories’, was released, I think I’m correct in saying, in 2003. Was that the first time your music had been commercially available or had you been in bands before that? AC: My first band was the Tearjerkers. It was three girl lead singers, a male drummer and guitar player. We released a single – on vinyl!- with three songs on it, and we signed each and every copy by hand. If you see one on E-Bay, buy it! I also released a CD titled 'She Walks In' under the band name Annyland. PB: It’s taken you about six years to follow up ‘Little Black Dress…’ with ‘Tangle-Free World’. That’s quite a gap. Were you still involved in music during that period? AC: It took me a long time to get going on a follow-up album. I was in a little bit of survival mode, working four or five jobs, raising a son and all the logistics that entails. I did still play music and even toured a few times. But a big reason it took so long is that I was incredibly proud of 'Little Black Dress'. Kevin Jarvis, who produced it, had done such an amazing job of bringing the songs to life. I was terrified I wouldn’t be able to live up to it on the next record. It took me a long time to get a start on new songs, to find the right producer and recording situation, and, oh yes, the money. Once I started to feel some momentum, things began to take on a life of their own. The songs fell into place, and it turned out to be a very exciting project – and a completely different album from 'Little Black Dress'. PB: How would you describe the music you make? There’s a distinct sixties feel to ‘Tangle-Free World’ which I think many have overlooked especially when comparing your music to that of Aimee Mann and Sheryl Crow. AC: ‘Tangle-Free World’ has more in common with early Amy Rigby than Sheryl Crow. There's a tendency to lump female singer/songwriters together by gender. But when people make those comparisons, they're putting me in company with women who have something of substance to say, which is flattering. I think Amy and I have the same love of sixties-pop, hook-oriented music and are influenced by those writers. Sheryl Crow seems more into seventies guitar rock, which I didn't pay much attention to when the actual seventies were happening. For me every song comes down to a good lyric,a good story, which is straight out of the Tin Pan Alley/Brill Building aesthetic. A great song has a point of view, a beginning, middle and end - maybe even some mystery. That's true of pop, country, folk, whatever bag you're in and whether you're male or female. PB: You’ve got some well-respected musicians involved on ‘Tangle-Free World’ including Nelson Bragg and Evie Sands. How did they get involved? AC: We're fortunate here in Los Angeles. World class musicians make their home here and play in other bands around town when they're not on the road. Everyone gets to know each other as you circulate through the clubs. Half of Brian Wilson's band lives here; Evie is a friend and plays in a band whose gigs I haunt regularly. I met Nelson at a big jam night we used to have at Highland Grounds every month. When it comes time to record, almost anyone you ask is happy to pitch in if they're in town, just to be playing good music. I feel extremely lucky and I take advantage any time I can! PB: Did having Nelson producing the album shape the final takes of the songs greatly from how you originally envisaged them? AC: Very much so. I knew Nelson as a drummer but it was a revelation when I discovered what a great producer and arranger he is. Nelson brought a much wider musical landscape to the sound than I had before. We both love old-school production, the world of Bacharach, Jimmy Webb, the Byrds, but I wouldn't have had a clue how to get that sound in the limited recording situations we had. Not only that, he took the songs in directions I would never have thought to do. PB: Apart from a couple of songs the whole album is self composed. When working on songs which instrument do you use? AC: I write on guitar. It's the only thing I know how to play. PB: Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Some Velvet Morning’ fits in perfectly with your own songs on ‘Tangle-Free World’. That particular song has already been covered by so many artists. What were your reasons for including it on your album? AC: My son Ivan is a pretty eclectic music listener. After he heard some of the songs we'd recorded for the album, he played me that song and suggested it as a duet for Nelson and I. I wasn't familiar with it and it blew me away, that combination of Spaghetti Western, Americana and whiskey-fueled psychedelia - all stuff I love. Not that many people seem to know the song over here but when we go over to the UK, everyone knows all the words and gets up and dances to it - which isn't easy to do! PB: It appears from the notes on the cover that the songs you wrote for the album are linked in some way. Do they reflect a certain period in your life? AC: I don't set out with a set of linked songs to make a record. There might be four or five to start, and the rest come along in their own time through the process of making it. Towards the end, I start to look at sequencing and seeing how they're related, and the connections start to become more apparent - the tangled threads, as it were, start to untangle, until you arrive at a through-line. That's a very exciting moment, when you begin to see what the record means as a whole. But from the first day, I did know that 'Tangle-Free World' would open the album and 'Paper Umbrella' would close it. Everything else served as the journey between. PB: ‘Now You Can Hurt Me’ is one of the most soulful performances you have recorded. It’s not the only heart-tugging ballad on the album but it’s steeped in that old Southern Soul sound. There’s a new breed of female singers who are making their mark cutting whole albums where they recreate that classic soul sound. But they seem forced at times whereas your vocals on ‘Now You Can Hurt Me’ sound so natural. Is this a side of Anny Celsi we can look forward to hearing more of? AC: I love all those great soul singers, but I've never been in that league as a vocalist. When I've tried to sing like that, it's never come off right it sounds forced, as you say, and I always regret it. Even though I wrote that song I was intimated by it, thinking it would be better served by a vocalist with more raw power. So I just had to approach singing it the way I do best, which is just to tell the story and stay out of the way, not try to show off. It's a natural and personal song, and I hope that's what the listener hears - not my lack of belting chops. PB: There have been many glowing reviews for ‘Tangle-Free World’. You must be pleased with the reception the album has received. AC: Yes! PB: You’ve toured the U.K. before and return again in March. I understand you had to cancel gigs in the U.K. last year due to erupting volcanoes! That must have been a major setback. Was the whole tour cancelled? AC: We landed at Heathrow on the morning of April 15th, one of the last planes to land. We were supposed to go on to Amsterdam but within hours, every flight had been cancelled. It was a very confusing few days - nobody knew what was happening or when the planes would fly again. We couldn't get a train, car, reach anybody by phone, anything. We missed five dates in the Netherlands before we could get there, which was by ferry, the following week. As soon as I got back to the US, I got on the internet and started trying to rebook everything we'd missed. And here we are. PB: Are you bringing the musicians who backed you on the album over for the tour or do you have a regular touring band? AC: I travel light - I just bring Nelson, who plays percussion and sings. His whole drumkit fits in a suitcase. We have a few friends who'll join us on the road to fill things out: Roland Wolff, of Riviera, lives in Germany and plays with us in Holland, Belgium and Germany. Duncan Maitland, who has played with Pugwash and has a fantastic new CD out, will play with us in Ireland, Scotland and some of the England dates. Richard Snow, another UK powerpop luminary, will join us on a couple of shows in the Midlands. PB: What can we expect from the gigs? Are you planning on unveiling any new songs? AC: We've just recorded a single that should be on the airwaves by the time we get over - a cover of a Peter Holsapple song that we duet on. It's the beginning of the next album... PB: Have you started work on that yet? AC: it is going to be an album of duets between Nelson and I. It's been hard to find recording time - maybe we'll be able to put in more time after we get back from the tour. PB: You must get tired of this question but who has influenced your music? What or who do you draw inspiration from? AC: You've certainly heard the 60's influences - Phil Spector, Laura Nyro, the Byrds and the Beatles, 'Dusty in Memphis', all things Brill Building. I also love literate songwriters like Elvis Costello, Bruce Springsteen, Steve Forbert, Nick Lowe. And besides music, I'm inspired by writers like Mark Twain, Dickens, Steinbeck, Theodore Dreiser - people who really know how to tell a story. I'm always looking for ways to do that in a song. PB: Finally it would be cool to know what music you are currently enjoying. AC: Loving Springsteen's 'The Promise'. Listening in on the creative process that led to 'Darkness on the Edge of Town' is a songwriter's dream! The new Crowded House CD 'Intriguer', is fantastic, and anytime my son sits down to play the piano...that's my favourite thing to listen to. PB: Thank you. Anny Celsi will be playing the following European dates: February 26 - The Stables, Boskoop, NL with Roland Wolff February 27 - Tavern de Waag, Haarlem, NL with Roland Wolff March 4 – Mojo Soulfood Café, Osnabrück, DE with Roland Wolff March 5 - Vestzaktheater – Enschede, NL with Roland Wolff March 10 – Chapter One, Cavan, IE with Duncan Maitland March 14 – The Black Sparrow, Glasgow, UK March 18 – The Robin Hood Pub, Nottingham, UK with Richard Snow March 20 – What’s Cookin’ at The North Star, London, UK Ramblin’ Steve’s 50th Birthday Bash! March 23 – The Beehive, Swindon, UK March 26 – The Jenny Lind Inn, Hastings, UK March 27 – The Green Note, London, UK

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Anny Celsi - Interview

Anny Celsi - Interview

Anny Celsi - Interview

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