Annie Barker, a Los Angeles singer-songwriter currently living in the UK, started her music career back in the young days of the new century. One thing that stands out about Annie Barker is her voice. It delivers a similarity to Cocteau Twins’ Elisabeth Fraser, but maintains its own uniqueness. Annie Barker’s voice is trained in jazz, but the songs found on her remarkable debut, Mountains and Tumult, move far beyond that style.
Mountains and Tumult was released in 2007 after a chance encounter with Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie, whose lush guitars contributed to Cocteau Twins' greatness. Mountains and Tumult is an album of considerable worth. Guthrie contributed as much in the creation of the album, lending a style not many bands are privileged to have incorporated. As a result, the debut album was well-received critically.
In October of 2011, Annie Barker released four new songs, along with a remix of one of the original tracks on an interim EP called For A Better Place. With Robin Guthrie once again at the production position, the five-track EP is not only a brilliant selection of memorable songs, it once again reminds us that Annie Barker is a potent singer-songwriter who has a world to take command of.
The Morton Report was privileged to have a short chat with Annie Barker. In the interview, I attempt to gain an insight as to where Annie Barker gets her inspiration, as well as get a glimpse into her plans for the future. It’s certainly a future that we’re very interested in.
What is your background?
I grew up in Los Angeles as an actress and singer. Studied piano from an early age and spent most afternoons as a child performing. In school I trained in vocal jazz and classical music, which also fostered my love for tight harmonies and the tricks and thrills you can get with that. After many attempts at creating bands without much luck, I decided to learn how to make the sounds on my own. So I created a home studio, took some courses in Logic, and started making demos of my tracks.
What brought you towards music?
Music has been something I've always done, without consciously thinking about it. When I was a little kid, my teachers at school complained to my parents that in class I was always singing to myself. "It's not bad, it's just constant," they would say. My parents claim I was singing before I could speak. When I thought about what I wanted to do, music was the only thing that I couldn't live without. When I listened to music as a teenager, I used to want to live in the stereo with all those other musicians doing and making those beautiful and soulful sounds. I still do.
What does music mean to you, do to you, do for you?
Great music humanizes my world, adds color where there is only grey, captures potential, and reminds me of those moments of intensity: pain and bliss. When I create music I get to express my experience of being human. I get to work out and express things I can't process in real life.
Do you write biographically, or do you write what you feel? Where do you draw inspiration from?
Most of what I write is inspired by experiences in my own life or from empathy of someone else's experience which then becomes my experience. I also may take a personal experience and relate it in terms of some myth or old story. I think the struggle of being a musician at this moment in history offers unlimited fuel for a creative pyre.
What moves you to create music? Does it extend from your heart, what you feel? Or is it a response to an external event?
Creating music has become something I have to do for me. If I do too much other stuff and not enough songwriting and singing I start to get mysteriously depressed and frustrated. I also create music as activism, I want to add music to the world that is beautiful and touches people. What I wanted most when I began fleshing out my songs was to touch people deeply like some other music had touched me. But the guiding force for me was and is that I create music that moves me. Which is why it's so exciting for me to be able to work with two of my favorite musicians, Robin Guthrie and Manual, because I've gotten to create something that really impresses me.When I was listening to the masters after all the edits, I just sat back with my headphones on and allowed the songs to wash over me and got chills all over.That is what I do it for. That experience.
What is your songwriting style?
My songs typically come from an idea or theme which I play around with on guitar and record as a free-form lyric with a melody. I record lots of these pieces and then assemble the pieces to form a cohesive whole. That's the hard part, where I'll sit down with all of my songwriting journals spread out in front of me, guitar in hand, sometimes with a dictionary and thesaurus and work out the lyrics and movements of the song. But then, some songs just come out whole and there's hardly any labor.
Your music is reminiscent of the beauty that Cocteau Twins produced during their period. It's not a replication, but the comparison is there. Intentional, or lucky happenstance?
I think having Robin Guthrie, who was the guitarist and producer of the Cocteau Twins, produce the latest EP as well as my first album contributes quite a lot to a sound that might resemble the CT aesthetic. And in my own productions, I like heavily layered arrangements because I love the complexity and mystery in those layers. I think that reflects the story and emotions, you hardly ever just feel happy or sad, but instead feel sadness, elation, fear, and relief all at the same time.
How did you get with Robin Guthrie?
It was in the middle of recording those demos when I ran into Robin at a pro audio shop in LA when he was in town for a gig. I went right up to him and told him I was a huge fan and that he needed to produce me. I sent him some demos and he said that he'd enjoy working on them, and that was that.
Where do you play at? Have you been to SXSW, or other forums like it to help showcase your music?
I'm not playing out much right now. I had a band and played shows while I was in LA and found that it was impossible to get someone else to replicate the sounds that Robin and I made in the studio. Getting someone to sound like Robin Guthrie is really tough. Robin Guthrie is who he is because of all the years he's spent perfecting his sound. The musicians I worked with were either intimidated with the project of attempting to fill Robin's shoes or weren't much bothered about the project because they had six other projects going at the same time and so wouldn't practice from rehearsal to rehearsal or remember any of my notes. Really frustrating, so I'm rethinking and redeveloping my line up by starting with just me.
Where do you see yourself a year from now? Five years? A decade?
In a year from now I see myself in my studio, cranking out my next album. Five years from now producing my own music, living I have no idea where; in ten years, playing music to a sustainable fan base, releasing records, touring.
You can stream not only Annie Barker’s debut album, Mountains and Tumult from her website, you can also stream the recently released For a Better Place EP.
Today’s musical environment is a tough sell for many artists. But when you’re as good as Annie Barker is, I’ve a feeling that it’s just a matter of time....for a better place. by Annie Barker