It was a beautiful sunny southern morning over at Belmont’s beloved Bongo Java coffee shop, chock full of dust and debris swirling in the air along with a cacophony of jackhammers, bulldozers, and construction claws digging through rubble across the street where the landmark International Market once stood.
It was here I had the pleasure to speak with rising Country and Americana artist Michaela Anne.
Michaela is another hard-working Nashville artist grinding it out day after day, and pursuing her passion and dreams regardless of obstacle. She is on the cusp of releasing her third album, Desert Dove, and will be playing Americana Fest in Nashville this week. While sipping our morning cold brews amidst the noise, we discussed the album, her writing process, musical pet peeves, and much more.
So without further adieu, in her own words, Miss Michaela Anne.
Music Mecca: Where did you grow up?
Michaela Anne: I grew up in a lot of different places. My dad was a submarine captain in the U.S. Navy. That meant we moved every other year: I lived in New York, Connecticut, Virginia like D.C. area, San Diego, Washington, Southern Italy- all over the place. I most identify with Washington and like outside of Seattle.
MM: What got you into playing music?
MA: My mom always says that I was dancing as soon as I came out. My family was always pretty musical. I have an older brother and he played piano, and I wanted to take lessons because he was taking lessons. The teacher told me I was too young, and I was four or five. So I ended up stealing his book and teaching myself. I’ve always been someone who rises to the occasion if someone tells me I can’t do something, it pisses me off. I’m a little bit stubborn.
MM: Are you an Aries?
MA: No I’m a Gemini. I’m a Gemini on the cusp of Taurus, and Taurus is the bull, so. But yeah so I just immediately fell in love with music and dancing. And I was just always learning instruments and singing. I think it was also a way to cope with moving all the time. It was a fun solo activity when we would move in the summer time and I would spend a whole summer with no friends. It was a thing to do.
MM: You’ve got your newest album, Desert Dove, set for release September 27th. What’s the inspiration and influence behind it?
MA: A lot of things. The main thing is really just growing up, and being an adult. Specifically as a woman. I made the record over the past three years, and it’s been a pivotal time in my life. Being in my early thirties, you know you’re not a kid anymore, especially as a musician. All the messages you get from society are “well you don’t have a real job, what’s your backup plan”, and sometimes whether your conscious of it or not, I spent my twenties thinking well if this doesn’t work, for better or worse, this is what I’m doing with my life. It doesn’t always make you happy, and it can be really hard and challenging on relationships; romantic relationships, friendships, family, and all of that. It’s a really weird lifestyle to always be gone, but at the same time it’s an incredible way to live. You get to see so many different types of people, for me sharing songs and what that brings back is people sharing their stories based on what they feel through the songs. That’s kind of the point of life to me. Desert Dove is grappling with a lot of growth, life choices, and relationships.
MM: How does it differ from your previous album, Bright Lights and the Fame?
MA: Bright Lights is a little more in the semi-traditional country vein. This record is a bit more expansive. Not everything is driven by guitars. My last record was really heavy on guitar. This record was co-produced by my friend Kelly Winrich from the band Delta Spirit. He comes from a different background of music than myself. He brought a more exploratory sonic element that was important to me on this record. I kept saying I wanted to make something that felt like what I considered classic pop country of the 90s, but still feels current, and feels like a lot of the records I love like The War on Drugs, Rayland Baxter and that kind of stuff.
MM: While it may be like asking a favorite child, do you have a song or songs you’re most proud of/like the best on the album?
MA: I kind of like the darker moodier songs. But I never let myself write too many of them. I feel like it takes away if you do the same thing all the time. I love the song “One Heart.” It feels like a more Fleetwood Mac vibe. And “Desert Dove”. It feels like a song I didn’t even write, like it was just given to me. Like it just appeared. I just opened my mouth and it came out. So those two songs specifically I’m interested to see what people think.
MM: What was the most difficult part of writing or recording this album?
MA: Hmm. I think the difficult part was with the writing this time. I tried really hard to not censor myself. I think as a songwriter you can be conscious of how the people closest to you will react. And I’ve many times had songs that came out and would have people reach out to me and say “oh I hope this isn’t true, I hope this isn’t autobiographical.” And I feel like some of the greatest songs, what are the greatest songs to me, like Lucinda Williams is one of my favorite songwriters, and sometimes you hear their stuff and you’re like “I can not believe they said that”. Like it is literally out of their diary, and you wonder, “what does their mom think”, and that kind of stuff. I want to be a writer that expresses that vulnerability. Allowing myself to write what I wanted to write regardless of how it would be perceived was important.
MM: Do you have a specific atmosphere or pastimes that aide in your songwriting process or does it usually just happen sporadically?
MA: I’m not someone who writes all the time. I spend a long time feeling bad about myself for that. I think like “oh I’m not as good of a writer because I’m not writing constantly”. I’m a big fan of writing retreats. I have to strip away everyday life to really get into that space. Most of Desert Dove was written kind of in that space. I went to Arizona outside of Phoenix to Cave Creek, and took five days by myself to hike and write songs. I often feel like I need to escape in a way. At the same time I do write at home in Nashville, but I need to create like a fantasy vibe in my head.
MM: What is your biggest musical pet peeve? Whether it’s something other artists do, the fans, promoters, venues, etc.
MA: Nobody’s really asked me that before. Probably doing the same thing over and over again. It irritates me when I feel like I’ve written something I’ve already done. There needs to be some diversity. It can be limited diversity, its not like I’m writing drastically different songs. I really hate when I go to a show and it feels like they’re playing the same song over and over, just slight variations of it. My other pet peeve are people at the merch table who want to give you criticisms, which 99.9 percent of the time it’s usually men. That really irritates me.
MM: Now for a classic question. You’re stranded on a desert island and you have three records. What are they?
MA: It is a classic question, but I still never know what the answer is. I feel like Lucinda Williams’ Self-Titled album is one of my all time favorites. I would need something that would have some variety, and give me multiple moods. I love Neil Young’s On The Beach. His song “Walk On” always makes me feel better. I might need some optimism if I am stranded. And I’ll say Dixie Chicks’ Wide Open Spaces.
MM: Do you recall your “first big break” in Nashville, and how did it all transpire? Or a medium break, small break…
MA: Hmm. I’m thinking to myself I don’t know if I have. (laughs) Do big breaks still happen? (continues laughter) Signing with Yep Roc has been a real accomplishment. I do hear people talk about, and maybe more in the pop mainstream world, but this one song or one thing has changed their life. I haven’t yet had that experience. My experience has been you get something awesome and you think this is it, it’s gonna get the train rolling now, and it’s just kinda chugging along. And you get something else really great, and it’s just like this constant ebb and flow, these peaks and valleys, and it might not always be like that, but that’s been my experience. I’m super grateful for every peak and valley, because I think that’s what makes it all.
MM: Similar question. What would you say is one of your most defining moments or accomplishments as an artist so far?
MA: These are really tough questions.(laughs) I feel like it’s a culmination of a lot of little things. My last record that I put out I had my release show at The Basement East. That felt like a big accomplishment. It was well attended and had good friends enjoying the night. It made me feel included. That’s been my lifelong challenge, being a military kid, never fully feeling included in a community. Also not having a record deal and deciding to go out on a limb and risk a lot by taking out a bunch of credit cards and making a record on my own, kind of rolling the dice, was another one. And luckily it looks like it’s paying off. And Yep Roc is really awesome, and I’m feeling really grateful. Continuing to keep going is a big accomplishment. And doing a Grimey’s in store was great. I never had a record sold in Grimey’s before.
MM: I see you’ll be playing this year’s Americana Fest in Nashville. Is it your first time, and where can folks find you playing?
AM: Nope this is my fourth time, and I will have several shows all on Saturday September 14th. I’m just going to be sleeping ‘til Saturday basically. I’ll be doing a Yep Roc day party at White Avenue Studios, then I’m playing City Winery Saturday night at 7:30. Then I’ll be singing at The 5 Spot for Erin Rae’s Tribute Night, doing a bunch of sixties pop songs. A themed tribute night.
Desert Dove will be available on all streaming platforms September 27th, and for more info on Michaela and her music visit her website HERE.