‘Help me keep going despite the ache’
‘Recognize where privilege rests inside your bones
Use it to combat oppression
Find your role’
‘Know where you are, know where
You've got strength, allow it in’
I put this on when I got in from a particularly wild/manic/frustrating/exhausting day at work and had come home to find Annah’s package patiently waiting for me on my doormat. Putting her CD on calmed and quietened and focussed my mind. But more than that, in the quietness it gave me the space to consider the positivity and empowerment of her delivery and the songs’ messages. With titles like ‘Keep Going’, and ‘Find Your Role’ the album filled my head with possibilities and a sense of consciousness-raised.
Listening to this album made me think about community and the connections I feel to so many incredibly talented, giving, and productive people I know and am indebted to for filling my life with messages and affirmations of positivity and mindfulness, even if to get to those places they themselves have gone through acres of hard-times.
You know sometimes that thing happens when you love something that your friend has made, and then you wonder if you like it because you love and want to support your friend and appreciate what they have gone and done. But then, no, you really hear what they’ve made, and strip away any ties you may have to their work, and it is actually achingly wonderful.
Doing a comparative thing to Annah’s album would do it a disservice, but at times it really does remind me of the magic sadness and hushed poetry of a Mirah album.
Oh, and you’ve gotta know, the physical version of this album is the most beautifully packaged thing. Opening it feels like an act of art and love, bound up and enveloped in recycled and co-operatively made casing, featuring hand-printed artwork designed by a dear friend of ours (Lex Non Scripta), and liner notes that give considered sense and meaning to the sounds you hear: the whole thing is a joy to hold in your hands. Like Annah says in one of her lyrics, ‘Hello thoughtful precision’.
As someone who knows Annah as much as somebody living on the other side of the world can, after meeting briefly in the joyful Californian summer of 2009, it’s so good to re-connect with her and the art that I’m so pleased she’s creating, making and sharing. It makes me feel like there’s so much potential and joyful talent in our communities coming from people who are actively seeking to creatively make things that have positive impacts on the worlds we live in.
‘Dangling Modifiers’ is a work of art in every way possible.
I was lucky enough to ask Annah a few questions:
Where did you make and record the album?
This album has been under construction since 2011. It was recorded in different bedrooms, lofts, attic spaces, squats & back seats all over the US and Canada (Toronto, Vancouver BC, Philly, Oakland, Portland Maine, Portland OR, Seattle, Baltimore, Connecticut, San Francisco, Tennessee, etc.)
You’ve collaborated with a number of artists and musicians on this album. How important is collaboration to you, and is community to your art?
Both are absolutely vital. As artists I believe we have symbiotic relationships to each other. We inspire each other by existing, by creating, by sharing, and by bearing witness to each other’s processes. These cyclical and symbiotic relationships are a driving force for me—experiencing & participating in other people’s art is what sustains me & my own ability to create. My art is filled with the echoes and reverberations of other artist's work- the ways in which they’ve creatively shared themselves with the world.
What does the title, beyond &/or because of it’s definition, mean to you in terms of what you are wishing for this album to convey and communicate?
In a literal way, I’ve been thinking about this concept of the “traditional sentence,” which is supposed to contain a subject and a predicate. The subject of a sentence serves to assign specific context to the rest of what's being communicated. The predicate consists of the verb and all of its modifiers. A dangling modifier, then, refers to the descriptive word associated with an action, in a sentence that is void of a subject. For example, in the sentence, “Annah sang loudly,” Annah is the subject, and “sang loudly” by itself would be a dangling modifier.
In this project I've identified the “dangling modifier” as a symbol of resistance rather than simply a grammatical error. I've found that sometimes predicates are more powerful & all-encompassing when the subject is left blank. The listener or reader can superimpose themselves into the narrative & assign context themselves. In other words, the absence of an autonomous subject in a sentence encourages us to relate to each other through shared, collective experiences. I mean for the “dangling modifier” to complicate the capitalist obsession with individuality & individuation.
With that said, I think this album is very much about the importance of connecting with each other, building, sustaining and honoring our queer/chosen families.
How long have you been making music, and what instruments have you played on this album? I remember you telling my when we last saw each other that you made/reused items as instruments (I’m pretty sure you told me that you made an instrument out of your bike), is that still something you’re enjoying?
I've been making noise forever- and at some point I think it turned into music...or maybe it never did, I don’t know! Using objects that are referential to the theme of a song in order to lay down my initial percussion tracks has become an important component of my work. For example, songs written about my mother are often looped from the sound of me tapping whiskey bottles together (cuz whiskey was her favorite when she was alive). This creates a visual component to the song, which (obviously) isn't legible on recorded CD. In this album I use melodica, piano, xylophone, guitar, some metal pots & pans, sloshing bathwater, asthma attacks, sewing machines, snapping twigs, voice-message clips, crickets, and all sorts of other stuff to make referential sound for each piece.
Malic Amalya has made a wonderful video for your track, ‘Keep Going’. How did you guys end up collaborating? Is it exciting for you to see your work entwined in two mediums?
Yes! Getting to see my work inspire projects in other mediums feels like such a gift! Malic’s film for Keep Going is compiled of still-shots from the yard of my childhood home. This visual gesture creates a narrative for the piece that feels simultaneously attached to my body & out of my grasp at the same time.
We met through mutual friends at a queer-land project in Arcata, California called “Fancyland”. We had creative chemistry right away.
Malic's work is breathtaking in general- check out his other stuff at malicamalya.com.
This album strikes me as equal parts defiance and compassion. Is that a fair reflection on your emotional association to your creative output?
Yes, I think so. The compassion part is pretty overt I think (?). The defiant components are captured in multiple ways that are probably a little more subversive. For instance, the bits of static & background noise on each track, the absence of a pop-filter, the slight changes in timing that happen in the middle of some songs, the instruments that introduce themselves in the beginnings of a verses and vanish by the end, are all structural decisions I made in order to challenge the rigidity of traditional music-theory norms (which are established and controlled by a very specific class culture).
Could you comment on the politics of your music making? I see and hear an equal mix of personal, and radical subject matter on the album. Is it important to you that your politics are explicit and integral, (alongside the more general political implications of a queer/femme making kickass art and sharing it with the world)?
Whenever I think of art-activisms, I think of this quote by Anne Cvetkovich from her book, An Archive of Feelings. She says,
As a name for experiences of socially situated political violence, Trauma forges overt connections between politics and emotion. And music as a medium, can help return the listener to the pleasures of sensory embodiment that trauma destroys.
I believe that music- and art in general-have the capacity to mobilize people into radical, political action by way of accessing the powerful emotional responses humans have when witnessing or experiencing injustice. While political theory, lectures, texts, etc, can inspire action from the left side of the brain via analytical, logical, critical thinking responses, art and music have the power to access the right side- the emotional/ empathetic/ somatic responses. We live in a society that values left-brain thinking, but when we act using a combination of both our emotional and tactical lenses, I believe mass revolution becomes 1,000 times more possible! I guess in short, this is why I make music.
What other art and projects are you working on at the moment?
For my 30th birthday I asked the artists in my life to create a piece of work (in their medium of choice) that’s been directly inspired by my art (music or otherwise). Since then, I’ve continued to update this forum, artisticsymbiosis.tumblr.com/ Sometimes these kinds of artifacts/reminders about artistic symbiosis are what motivate me to keep creating (and keep breathing in general).
I'm also working on a publication project with Lex Non Scripta (lexnonscripta.com) called PASSAGE & PLACE. It aims to connect conversations of localized displacement and gentrification to more expansive conversations around immigration, imprisonment, community building across intersections, mental health and spirit, and the ways in which queerness interfaces with these.
PASSAGE& PLACE asks its participants and audience to connect their own experience to a broader narrative about the impacts of movement and place-making in physical, liminal, and metaphorical space in three parts: an art exhibition, a panel discussion of participating artists, and a printed anthology of visual and written works. The printed project will incorporate works of art sourced via an open call for contributions, a curated collection of essays, and letters from both free-world artists/writers and queer prisoners
And finally, I'm also part of an independent publishing collective in the bay area called Deviant Type Press. We're in the process of editing our second publication. For more info, see devianttypepress.net/about-us/
You’ve played on some crazy-amazing bills and been part of some amazing looking performances over this past year or so. What’s it like to play shows with a lineup or team of people that you respect and love?
Getting to play on mixed-media bills that include artistic mentors and/or members of my broader community might be some of the most intoxicating moments in my life! I feel so honored when I get to participate in collective, temporal events w/ people I respect & care about.
I know you used to (still do?) make zines. How does it feel to now play venues such as zine libraries and zine fests (amongst all the other amazing venues, shows and performance spaces you’ve been at over the past few years)?
At one point in history (namely during early Riot Grrrl/ pre-internet punk era), zine culture and DIY music culture strongly relied on one another for survival. I guess I feel nostalgic for that sometimes.
In some ways I actually think of my albums as “audio zines.” They tell stories and political narratives in similar ways.
The existence of both written and recorded archives that are controlled by the communities they represent, is a vital form of activism. Zines, like independent music projects, are important venues through which we're able to share knowledge, tell our stories, critique the system, and honor our histories without relying on (or risking censorship from) corporate institutions.
Playing in zine libraries or info-shops reminds me of these connections- I love it.
You’re part of a community of people that perpetually get-shit-done, and who dream up and execute some of the most fantastic politically motivated, important projects. What drives that? And what’s it like to live that?
Hmm...what drives this? The belief that being creators of culture is a radical, subversive, important affront to the white-supremacist, capitalist hetero-patriarchy! ;)
Have you hand-stamped the album sleeves yourself?
The album covers are hand-stamped w/ letterpress ink. Lex Non Scripta created this image of me, and I had it made into a rubber stamp at the Berkeley Stamp Company. They are pressed and assembled in my bedroom, usually with a pot of coffee nearby ;)
I guess in the same ways that I am nostalgic for early Riot Grrrl distro & archive tactics, I also feel strongly about keeping a DIY ethic alive. Central to this ethic, is the encouragement of individuals and communities to share skills and resources in order to produce and distribute their art. I'm not against the mass-production of media materials, though. I recognize that sometimes it's necessary. I think it just makes sense for me to still play a role in all the components of my album making since I have the time, space and desire to personalize my work in that way.
I recently saw photos of you and others recently smashing the life out of a piano. Could you give a bit of backstory to that?
It's a secret for a gestating future project! I'll keep you posted, promise! ;)
What’s next, musically?
I don’t know! Eeee! I hope to spend some more time “with the page” in these upcoming years. I’m working on a book called Resisting Palindromes- a publication that I hope will have audio components to it...I'll keep you posted about that too!
See, hear, read more about Annah Anti-Palindrome, and the new album, here: