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22 June 2006 @ 08:52 pm
Anna Nalick Interview - June 22, 2006  

The Anna Nalick Interview - June 22, 2006
by Brad Parmerter
Photos courtesy Beth Dimock and Terence Gui
[originally published on fye.com - 2006]

"And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd, and these words are my diary screaming out loud...

...reveals Anna Nalick on her far reaching, top 5 single "Breathe." You might say it's the song that won't stop, well, breathing. Released as the first single from Nalick's debut CD, Wreck of the Day, last spring, the song was a staple at radio and stayed on the charts for over 40 weeks. It came back to life earlier this year after it was prominently featured in an intense episode of Grey's Anatomy, and it's still going strong.

That renewed interest has lead to the release of a Special Edition of the album with three acoustic tracks and a new version of the title track, recorded with her band and produced by the legendary Steve Lillywhite (U2, Peter Gabriel, Dave Matthews Band).

The 22-year-old Nalick grew up in California, with performing in her blood. Her grandparents toured with the Marx Brothers and danced onstage with Fred Astaire. She started re-writing popular songs in elementary school and was writing her own songs in high school. She cut her teeth onstage fronting a Rush cover band.

Writing her own material was her passion and with the help of a Rainbow Brite tape recorder, she started pitching her own songs to record labels. After landing with Sony/Columbia, she teamed up with Tori Amos producer Eric Rosse, and the team of Christopher Thorn and Brad Smith (ex-members of the '90s band Blind Melon). Coincidentally, one of the songs on her debut, "Paper Bag," pays homage to the video and theme of feeling ugly and out of place, of Blind Melon's hit, "No Rain."

In support of the album, she's been on the road for the better part of the last 18-24 months opening shows for Rob Thomas, The Wallflowers, Train, the Dixie Chicks, as well as her own headlining tour. With her accomplished and rockin' band: Luis Maldonado on guitar (UFO, MSG, John Waite), Tim Hogan on bass, and drummer, 'Bad Ronald' Crawford (Lisa Loeb, Jeffrey Gaines); the four-piece lock-in for a dynamic and energetic performance. Offstage they're a happy little touring family. Maldonado and Hogan admired the new album cover, "Man, she's pretty hot!" Nalick quiped back, "Yeah, I clean up pretty nice." Onstage, seeing and hearing Nalick one wonders if she's not the next Pat Benatar. A wide and brilliant vocal range, sass and spunk, she commands the stage and delivers a stellar performance. She takes her music and career seriously, but doesn't take herself too seriously.

While on the road with Train in June, Nalick stopped by fye.com for a chat and a stunning acoustic performance. She talked about the new tracks on the re-issue, appearing on Leno, the upcoming 2nd album, and why her wedding party won't be wearing taffeta.

Bp: In the past year or so you've been pretty busy! You've been to Japan, toured with Rob Thomas and the Wallflowers, met Sting, played a ton of talk shows, received a Gold record, etc. Did you ever expect all of this?

Anna Nalick: I probably didn't expect things to happen exactly as they have, but I certainly didn't not expect it. I was one of those kids that sort of on my own believed that I could do anything. So it's never a huge shock that I get to do the cool things I get to do. Maybe I'm idealistic or maybe it's all just really stupid, but I don't know any better than to think that I can accomplish anything. So it's been really fun. That said, it is also that much more exciting to actually see all of the things that I'd hoped for, come to be. And to meet all the people I wanted to meet. Sting was on the list of people I wanted to meet and here I met him and he's very charming. I got to introduce him to my Mom too, who came to that particular show, and we were both a little bit smitten by his charm. He's very much the gentlemen.

Bp: An amazing year, and hopefully another ahead with the re-issue.

Anna Nalick: Yeah! It's been a long process, because I toured with "Breathe" at radio for a year before the record actually came out. It's been over a year since the record has been out and so many things have happened. It was going on a steady incline and then all of a sudden it sort of plateaued and people started telling me, 'Ok, "Breathe" is dead. It's time for you to go back into the studio.' And I was like 'Dang.' I wanted another single. I wanted to do more things with this record. I worked so hard promoting it and so I was kinda bummed that I had to go back home and organize new material. And then around the same time, Grey's Anatomy played "Breathe" on the show where the guy got blown up. Within days of that show playing, lots of new offers came in. Grey's Anatomy relaunched "Breathe" and because of that it's given me the opportunity to now put out a re-issue which is Wreck of the Day as it was before, plus a new version of the song "Wreck of the Day," and three tracks of acoustic songs that I wrote a long, long time ago that I sent as demos to record labels. So it should be fun now to treat it as a brand new record because now there's a brand new audience listening.

Bp: These wouldn't be the Rainbow Brite recordings would they?

Anna Nalick: No. [Laughs] But I just recorded a bunch of songs for the new album, the new-new album, which we'll probably go into the studio for in maybe November, and I'm sure that I do have the means to record it really professionally now, but maybe chock it up to laziness, I went to Target and bought a cheap tape recorder and a few tapes and I recorded them that way. It's just the easiest for me. I didn't want to go into the studio. I'd rather keep it simple.

Bp: In 10 of 15 years when they're compiling the Anna Nalick box set, you can include those!

Anna Nalick: Yeah, which will be funny 'cause I actually recorded the cassettes for my band so that they can learn the songs and so throughout the tapes I'm giving a little commentary, 'Ok guys, this part's the bridge, and Luis, I want you to do this.' Or I'd mess up, 'Ugh, hold on, let me start over again. Stop judging me, I know you guys are judging me right now.' It's been fun and I think the next, next record, as in Record 2, cause this next one is like Record 1 and a ½, I think the second one will be really exciting because I've matured a lot over the last few years and my writing has matured with me. Also I've got an official band now, which I didn't have for the first record. I had studio guys and while they were amazing, they didn't know me and know my voice the way that my guys do now. So as I'm writing some of the new stuff I'm thinking, 'What would Ronnie do on the drums at this part,' and, 'What would Luis do on guitar.' It's exciting to bring the songs to them and know that we're gonna come at it from a group standpoint. They know my voice exactly and they know my range and how I think, so it's going to be so much fun to make this record. I'm really excited about it.

Bp: You've been playing so many shows with these guys...

Anna Nalick: We've been together for about two years. They're my best friends, they really are. I've been thinking about it lately. It's based on the fact that a few of my friends are getting married now. My friends have always been older than me, so I'm 22 and they're 26, 27 and getting married. So I've been thinking, 'When I get married, who am I going to have in my wedding?' 'Cause I don't have a lot of really good girl friends. I've got a sister, two brothers, and if I was gonna try to pick out my best friends, it'd be my band. So I'm thinking that my wedding would be my sister as my maid of honor, and then my brothers and my band as my bridesmaids [laughs]. So there's just gonna be lots of dudes in my wedding.

Bp: Well, you don't have to hire a band that way.

Anna Nalick: No. And Timmy the bass player says he's fine with it as long as he doesn't have to wear taffeta, 'cause he swears it makes him look fat, which I don't even want to know how he knows that. But they're up for it. They're like my brothers. I really love my band. I'm their biggest fan.

Bp: It's important to have that camaraderie. You've got to have a good relationship with them since you're basically living together on the road with them.

Anna Nalick: Yea, you kinda of have to have that. With living on the bus, it's such close quarters, it's sort of like…imagine being, well, you don't have to imagine being the only girl, but as a girl it's like living in my living room with five brothers. And there's not a lot of space and sometimes it can be frustrating, but they're all very tolerant of our differences and they know when the time comes to not bother me. [Laughs]

Bp: Let's talk about the release of 1.5. Are the bonus tracks demos or fully produced acoustic tracks?

Anna Nalick: They're not produced, they're just me on guitar. It's the tracks that we made to send to record companies to sort of give them something to listen to. I guess it's a little bit produced because it was done in a studio, but there are no effects on it. It's just me and the guitar and that's it. It's really simple. It's kind of fun, because now that I'm getting a chance to start over again I can kind of draw from the very beginning as well, which is interesting to some people who have been with the record for a long time. And that was really my goal with putting out the re-issue. Of course it was a smart idea and best to take advantage of the fact that new people were interested so we get to treat it like a new record. However, there's half a million people or more who've already bought the record and for them I wanted something else on there. So that's why there's the new version of "Wreck of the Day," which Steve Lillywhite produced and my band played on and it's just amazing. Hopefully that will be the next single. And then these extra tracks, that'll just be fun to listen to, and gives them something extra to listen to.

Bp: About these extra tracks. Since these are the 'new' ones for many folks, what can you tell me about them?

Anna Nalick: One song, called "Soldier," I never wanted to put out. I think it's a beautiful song. It doesn't sound finished, which I like. It's just me being myself. I never wanted to release it only because two or three years ago when I was collecting songs for the first album, there were a lot of songs out that were about the war and about the soldiers and about the guys coming home and part of me felt like that's a really great way to comfort people. But then a part of me felt like it was a little bit of exploitation when it caught on and all of a sudden bands realized, 'Ok, this is the way to make money right now, because this is what people are feeling.' And then there were these songs that just seemed half-hearted but had that theme. And I thought, this song, my song "Soldier," is very personal because it's about a boy that I know. The whole story is true. It's about a boy that I knew in high school who was ready to give up entirely and then met a girl who turned everything around for him. And now he's great. Now he's married and has a baby and is very happy. But I thought, 'I don't want to be in that category,' because what if that becomes the single then I'm just one of those people that took a very opportunistic approach to what was going on at the time. So that's one song that I'm excited to share with people. Another one, ["More Than Melody"], I've already gotten some strange comments about, because it's a little…well, I don't think it's that risqué, but I suppose…from reading my message board I've seen people say, 'That doesn't sound like Anna's writing.' Because I'm talking about, I guess it could be taken in a few different ways, but it sounds like a one-night stand. And it kind of is about that [laughs]. Kind of, it kind of is. Stress the kind of. So that's one that I've already heard people say, 'That doesn't sound like her.' The truth is we all have lived a lot of life in however many years we've been alive and it's really just one more aspect that I guess sometimes I don't talk about. And that's a fun song for me. If it was ever produced, I would imagine it would be something like "Consider This." It has a little bit of…I would want it to sound a little burlesque; a little saucy. "Drink Me" is a funny…not funny, but an interesting song to use on this album because it previously was only used as a b-side for the Japanese record. I was inspired to write that song after I read the book "East of Eden" and there is a character in there who was beautiful her whole life, but she's a very disturbed little girl. And as she gets old, realizes that her looks are gone and that she's ready to go, she drinks a bottle of poison and she imagines that she's like Alice in Wonderland, slowly getting smaller and smaller and smaller until she finally fades away. So that's what the song "Drink Me" is about because of course, 'drink me' is what's written on the bottle that shrinks Alice in Alice in Wonderland. And I'm a huge fan of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and all that. I think it's so brilliantly written and interesting and I collect the books. Anytime I see a new Alice in Wonderland book with different pictures or something like that, I always buy it.

"Wreck of the Day" live acoustic

Bp: So that leaves "Home" as the only song that hasn't been released.

Anna Nalick: I didn't put "Home" on there because that's something that we sing on stage. And I guess I just wanted to leave it as a song we've done on stage. Plus I think the people that have already been interested in it have already downloaded it. So it's been available for a while. I thought if folks want to hear that song, they can download it. I don't need to put it on an album. I'd rather put different stuff on there. I'm sure you can download "Drink Me" at this point too. At this point you can probably download all of them. I've heard rumors of that too. By the people who've already heard the lyrics of "More Than Melody," and I'm thinking 'How do they know the lyrics?' I asked my manager 'How do they know them?' But they figure out a way. It's alright, just as long as they're listening somehow.

Bp: I found "Home" on the Australian single of "Breathe" on eBay.

Anna Nalick: That's how people have that. I wasn't gonna use that on the original…these songs were all written before I finished my first album so they've been around for a long time. And "Home" was another one I wasn't going to use because I was in New York when I wrote it and I'd been listening to John Mayer a lot. Because he was at my label, we have the same representation within the label, so he was my example for everything. Anytime I was shown anything, 'This is what a DualDisc looks like,' 'This is how we're going to do the video,' and they would show me John Mayer stuff, because he was the guy at that time. So I was listening to his music and he had a song called "Home Life" and I thought, 'Gosh, that reminds me of how I feel a lot of the time.' But I didn't put it on the album because somebody was like, 'This is a more appropriate song for once you've been on tour for a while.' My A&R girl told me that and she was right. It is more appropriate, it makes more sense, now. But at the time I was living at home, I was going to college, and every weekend I was flying to New York to meet with record companies and all of a sudden I was like, 'Maybe I just wanna go home.' [laughs] Like, I don't know what I'm doing because going home actually just meant going to school for a few days and literally being at school, in the library, doing my homework all day long. And then going to work during the night and then flying to New York. So it was tough and that song is really just about not feeling like I fit in anywhere. And realizing that especially with the life I knew I was going to be living, the life that I'm living now, which is I don't really have a home. My home really is where my heart is. So if my best friends, if my boyfriend, if my parents are in Minnesota or California or Colorado, that's where home is.

Bp: And as you mentioned, the new version of "Wreck of the Day" with Steve Lillywhite.

Anna Nalick: That's the most exciting part for me. I can't wait for people to hear that. I've never heard that song sound exactly like I wanted it to until I started playing it with my band. And it's all because they all have such a good feel for what I like and how I sing. We're just the greatest mix, the four of us. "Wreck" is my favorite song on the album and now it's just more dynamic. I listened to a lot of Jeff Buckley on the Live at Sin'e CD and I wanted the dynamics to be kind of like he played, with lots of playing with the melody and bring it down low and….I just wanted it to be powerful. So I told my guitar player Luis about it and since he's brilliant, he managed to figure that out on guitar and I did my best to do as much vocally as I could. And actually I did things that I didn't know I could do, which now we actually pull out all the stops on stage too, which is fun. We also brought in Rami Jaffee, who plays keyboards and organ for The Wallflowers. We toured with them for a while and became friends with him. So we brought him in and he played some parts and he had a string arrangement done for the track and Steve Lillywhite was amazing to work with. That's the easiest time I've ever had in the studio, being with Steve and my band and with Rami. It was perfect. I do hope we can do that again.

Bp: I know you're a big Bono and U2 Fan.

Anna Nalick: Oh, yeah!

Bp: Was there any U2 discussion at all?

Anna Nalick: Yeah, a little bit.

Bp: Did you ever think, 'Wow, twenty years ago this guy was producing those classic first three U2 albums and now he's working with me!'

Anna Nalick: Yeah, there was. Well, y'know what's really strange is that Steve is also very charming and very…he's English, that's what he is. [laughs] He's such a gentlemen, and very charming. And it was weird for me to think that when I was just born, he was producing albums that I listen to now for inspiration and now he's producing something for me and he's liking it. 'He's having fun,' I kept thinking, 'Oh my Gosh! This is Steve Lillywhite! And he likes me! He likes my song! That's pretty badass!' It was really fun and he's just so talented. He made me so comfortable and he knows how to be artist friendly. He's not the kind of producer that would say, 'This is how it has to be done.' He's all about where the music should be, where the song needs to go. And that's great for musicians because that's all we're thinking about too. Or at least in my group, nobody needs to be the 'chief.' Nobody needs to have their solo or anything. It was a lot of fun.

Bp: I was first introduced to you by a 5-track sampler that came out in the fall of 2004.

Anna Nalick: With the black and white picture on the front?

Bp: Yes!

Anna Nalick: With me looking up? I hated that picture! I hated that picture so much! Y'know what happened for that picture? I was doing this photo shoot and I was really hungry and the photographer asked me, 'What are you hungry for?' And I said, 'Steak with A-1 sauce' and I made this face like, 'Awww, yeah!' and she took my picture! Then Donnie Ienner who's the president of Sony picked that picture for the cover and was going to send it out to radio. And what was even worse was that I'd been singing onstage since I was 15. I was in a hard rock band in high school and I had chipped my teeth on the microphone so many times that they were uneven and one was shorter than the other. And my teeth were like that in the picture, so I went and got them fixed right after and that was the picture that they chose. It was the only picture that you could really see my chipped, crooked teeth. And I was so upset the whole time. I was like 'You have to fix this!' It was too late of course and now I just hate that picture! It is so stupid! [laughs]

Bp: That's a great story!

Anna Nalick: Yea. But I guess you can't argue with the president.

Bp: Of course not. So months later in early 2005, after some ramp-up from inclusion in some TV shows, the album comes out in April and I let some friends and co-workers know about the appearance on The Tonight Show. I've seen a ton of late night performances before, but very few that elicited such a reaction. I heard from a number of people who were blown away. It was a really positive and energetic reaction!

Anna Nalick: I didn't expect that reaction. I actually didn't know I was going to do that until the last minute. The way that started was because in the very beginning, touring at radio stations and things like that, there were a lot of shows that were so unfair. There'd be some cocktail party and we'd be right next to the shrimp bowl and I'd be there with my guitarist singing "Breathe" and not a soul would be listening to me. There was one show where the audience was so loud, over my microphone, I was singing through speakers and they were so loud that I still couldn't hear myself. And I was standing there on the floor and somebody bumped my guitar player because they wanted some shrimp, so when I got to the part about being "naked in front of the crowd," it just seemed the most appropriate, and I just guess out of a reaction I put my hand over the strings and sang that part a cappella. And everybody quieted down and I thought 'wow, that's really cool.' And so appropriate for that line too, because it's the most telling line of the song for me. Emotionally that's how I feel about performing and about singing. I tell people very personal things, but it almost doesn't matter because they're gonna use it to apply to their own lives if they're listening. So I'd done it a few times like that with my band and we thought 'man that's really cool.' But live television, I didn't know if I wanted to do that on live television. And I was nervous. For some reason I was more nervous for Leno than any other show that I've done. And I think it's because he's my favorite, to tell the truth. There was so much leading up to that because my third grade teacher used to tell me that someday I was gonna be on that show and she wanted to be in the audience. And this was in third grade! It was like his first year on the Tonight Show and here all these years later I finally got to call her and say, 'You're coming in the audience!' So there were so many things that I was thinking about and right before we went onstage I told my band, 'If I decide that I'm brave enough to do that part, I'll raise my hand.' I don't even remember thinking about it. I guess it was…as soon as we got to that part I was like 'Ok, I'm gonna do it.' And I raised my hand I sang it a cappella. I could hear a pin drop in the audience, it was so quiet. And I just realized at that point that I was shocking myself. I couldn't believe that I did that. So I was surprised, but I'm glad I did it. It was fun to get that reaction from people. And it sort of gave me a new level of confidence, thinking 'Ok, even when I'm that nervous, I can still do it.' It was fun. And now it's made its way into all of our shows. I do that every night. I don't raise my hand anymore, the band just stops at that part. I'm glad that it makes that part more powerful, because that line means the most to me.

"Breathe (2 A.M.)" on The Tonight Show

Bp: I remember one comment in particular from a man in his 60's who mentioned he was never interested in late night performances and he didn't visit message boards but he felt compelled to write in because it moved him that much and he was picking up the album because of the performance.

Anna Nalick: That was great. I liked that people wrote in. That was cool. My parents loved it. My third grade teacher loved it. Jay put her on the camera and she got to wave to her class. It was really fun.

Bp: Looking forward, I know you're focusing on 1.5 right now, but what is the direction of the material for #2. What can we look forward to?

Anna Nalick: Well, you can definitely tell that it's me. My writing hasn't changed so much that it sounds like a different person, but it has developed a little bit dynamically. I've learned a lot from my band and from the bands I've toured with. I can tell, maybe nobody else could, but I can tell which tour it was by listening, because I took pieces from the Wallflowers and from Rob, and everybody. I think having my band with me on the next album is gonna make a lot of the difference, because it's gonna feel a lot more comfortable. It's gonna feel more organic and natural. Not to say that the first one wasn't, but it's gonna feel perfect to me. I'm still singing about the same human emotions and the same kind of stuff that I've always sung about, it's just maybe from a more mature standpoint since I'm a few years older.

Bp: I look forward to hearing it.

Anna Nalick: Thank you! I'm looking forward to releasing it!

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