On the latest installment of Chris Shiflett’s Walking the Floor podcast, the longtime Foo Fighters guitarist and alt-country singer-songwriter sits down for a super-early conversation with rootsy up-and-comer Michaela Anne. Her new album is called Bright Lights and the Fame, and their chat was appropriately bright and chipper – despite the fact that it took place at 6:00 a.m. and Shiflett had just been to a Drive By Truckers show the night before.
Anne is a young military brat with a Navy submarine captain for a father, who up until recently was a stand-out member of the tight-knit Brooklyn roots music scene. She now lives in Nashville, and during the podcast explained how going to Jazz school almost ruined her love for music, how some country singers need a reality check and why the lack of women in country won’t be resolved from the top down. Here are five things we learned from this week’s Walking the Floor.
1. Going to a Jazz Conservatory for college actually almost ended her music career, rather than getting it started.
She found out quickly that jazz wasn’t her thing, but it wasn’t until she met and began taking lessons with bluegrass guitarist Michael Daves that she found her style. “For a time I was like, ‘Do I hate music?'” she said. “I would listen to something somebody gave me like, ‘You have to listen to this,’ and I would feel nothing. It was always about impressing the people around you with your knowledge and how you could fit all these substitutions in, just adding as many notes as possible. When I started learning about bluegrass and country harmony, it was like there are three notes, just sing.”
2. She left a career at a record label to begin her journey as a country artist.
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Anne worked at the well-respected indie label Nonesuch records through college, witnessing the music industry’s behind the scenes reality while bands like Wilco and the Black Keys were making big waves. “I was an intern there and got a job offer my last year of school and was like, ‘No, I’m a musician, I can’t have an office job.’ Then I was like, ‘It would be really nice to have a paycheck and health insurance until I figure this out.'” She took the job for two years, made her first DIY record and learned how to balance authenticity with commercial concerns.
3. She was actually encouraged not to move to Nashville.
“A lot of people told me, ‘Whatever you do, don’t move to Nashville because you’re kind of this anomaly with this Brooklyn country-cowgirl thing, and you’re just gonna be one of many in Nashville. You’re never gonna stick out.’ People straight up said that to me. And I was like I’d rather take that chance.”
4. Her album’s title track, “Bright Lights and the Fame,” was written as a response to a classic Hank Williams song about life on the road.
“‘Ramblin’ Man’ is about [Williams] leaving his wife and family at home because the appeal of the road is too strong, like he was made to be a ramblin’ man,” she explained. “I totally relate to that because I have a hard time sitting still, but I also was thinking about the fact that this is a recurring theme in country music, especially for male country singers. I see this vibe a lot in my male, country-singing friends, like ‘I’m a wandering cosmic cowboy,’ this romantic idea. And I was like ‘I wonder about the other side and what songs were written about that by women?’ Because the other side of that life exists, and it doesn’t have to be the boring side.”
5. From her point of view, the lack of women in country music is an ongoing problem.
Going way beyond Music Row and radio, festival lineups, Country Music Hall of Fame exhibits and even the Walking the Floor podcast are all lacking when it comes to equal representation. “I love listening to your podcast, but it’s like, all men,” she said with a laugh, as Shiflett reluctantly agreed that Anne was only the third female on the show (but not for a lack of trying). “We had long drive other day and my band is all guys,” she continued. “I was like, ‘Guys, do you realize we just listened to 10 hours of music that you DJ’d, and no females were in the mix?’ And they were like ‘Well, yeah there was. We played some Fleetwood Mac.'”