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In Music Commentary

Annie B. and The Vagabond Company play Shank Hall Oct. 14 in support of their new release, "Fancies of a Random Heart."

Annie B. and The Vagabond Company explore the "Fancies of a Random Heart"


For every sugary sweet pop tart the music industry gives the world, there is a woman with her guitar and an attitude inspired by rock looking to belt it out like Alanis, Joan Jett or other powerful personalities.

That attitude is exactly what Annie B. attempts to bring to the table on her latest effort and album with her talented band The Vagabond Company.

As they prepare for their album release party Oct. 14 at Shank Hall, Annie B. gives OnMilwaukee.com a detailed interview about the new music and the background of the band.

OnMilwaukee.com: How were the songs written for this album? Was it based around jam sessions or did everybody come up with different parts or ideas separately, track them, and then you all wrote around them?

Annie B.: All the band members wrote their own parts for these songs, yet all but one of these songs were written in their basic forms (chord changes and lyrics) before Annie B. and The Vagabond Company was formed. These songs were all written as I sat at home with my guitar working alone. Except, of course, "These Boots..." written by Lee Hazlewood and "Everything," written by Josh Walden, the bass player of Shut Up Marie, my Los Angeles-based project from 2000-2006.

This CD is certainly an extension of my most recent effort before "Fancies of a Random Heart," my stripped-down solo/ acoustic CD entitled "The Kiwi Cafe." Four songs are taken from "The Kiwi Cafe" ("Chase Her," "The Shining Light," "Over Me" and "No Surprise"), and I wanted a full band to record these songs, so that's what we started with in assembling songs for this CD. Then, a few other songs written at different times throughout my career were pulled in, and the most recently written songs include "Cat Girl," "Hope" and "Coffee Beans." The title "Fancies of a Random Heart" refers to how my brain works. I am a total scatter-brain, just want to have fun at any given moment, and this CD is proof! These songs come from all over the place, both temporally and stylistically, and I don't know how to control how that happens in my brain. It just happens and I have to get it out, and I don't care if people think it's all over the place. Because I'm all over the place and that's just who I am. I was never the kind of girl in the high school lunch room to hang out in just one section; I flitted all over the lunch room almost every day. I've always been the all-inclusive type, and I think it shows here on this CD. More evidence of how I incorporate variety in my work is with my local art and music interview and showcase series Milwaukee Artbeat.

OMC: At times your voice and style resemble Alanis Morissette. Has she been an influence on you or am I hearing something that's not there?

AB: Alanis is definitely a huge influence, as is No Doubt, PJ Harvey, '60s chick singers including Nancy Sinatra and Grace Slick, and even country singers. My dad always suggested I sing country music, and I guess my influences are always pushing me in different directions, so I obviously never "went country." I've always preferred to be a loud rocker-chick, leaning more toward Alanis, Ann Wilson, Grace Slick, Justine Frischmann, Melissa Etheridge and Debbie Harry. I'm a soprano, so I need to sing higher notes to get the strongest notes coming out loud and clear how I like them.

Sometimes I feel like I'm screaming, but I'm not that Shut Up Marie punk rock riot-grrl anymore. I'm right now in the process of finding my grown-up "big girl" voice, I guess, and I perhaps this CD is allowing me to start on that path a bit.

Then there's the angry chick stereotype that Alanis really brought to the forefront with her first mega-hit. I don't believe I come across as an angry chick singer, but I do love to belt it out. Can a girl be loud and a powerful force and not angry? I'm here to tell you that I can. I like to keep it light, just not when it comes to volume.

OMC: The playing on your album is very good. How did you assemble the musicians in your band?

AB: This is another all-over-the-place element we've got happening in this project. Our drummer, Dave "DJ" Johnson, is a metal drummer I met when I was playing the part of Izzy Stradlin in a Guns n' Roses tribute band back in the fall of last year. His band Cold Rold Steel opened, and we met after the show and soon thereafter decided to try and see if we could work together on an original project. I am a big fan of the hard-hitting drummers and he brings it. His biggest influences are Neil Peart and the dueling drummers Phil Collins and Chester Thompson.

I met funk bassist "Hollywood" Fred Hughlett through guitarist Todd Pearson earlier this year. Fred is amazing to work with - he hears stuff I don't, and makes sure everything is where it needs to be with that drum-bass backbone and how everything else fits in the songs. He's a bit of conductor during rehearsals, swinging his fist or bopping his head to the beat as we tighten things up. And his mantra "Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse!" got us to Summerfest and other big-league spotlights in the very short time we've been in existence as a band.

That's one of the many things we love about working together. We're not afraid to work hard, while I've historically been the only workhorse in my former bands. We don't mind rehearsing every night for weeks to get ready for a big show. That's how bands who I have always admired get the job done and done well. We enjoy rehearsing and that's how we make it work. Indeed, rehearsal can feel like work, but we all love playing so much that sometimes a five-hour rehearsal feels like 45 minutes. I'm still having just as much fun with these guys as I did when I was in my first "garage" band. We're basically three little misfits who found music and are all just grateful to be playing. We don't care as much about writing the greatest song ever as we do playing, having fun and creating something infectious.

Guitarist Camille deWinter and I worked together about two years ago on surfy-pop-punk project Sparklepussy for a bit, and it went defunct after the drummer moved. He's also pretty amazing - kind of an emo guy who loves '70s punk and he's also a guitar teacher and can play pretty much any style. He played some really tasty stuff on this CD and we're hoping to work with him again sometime, but he's not an actual band member; he was hired and is pretty busy otherwise. We're actually looking for a full-time guitarist at this time.

I also wanted to work with a producer for this CD, since most of my projects have always been self-produced or co-produced with the recording engineer, and working with a producer can really make a difference. Tony Schueller with Anton Music Productions did a smashing job on this CD. I couldn't have asked for a more talented guy who really worked hard to understand where we needed to go with the songs and took them exactly there.

OMC: Your lyrics are very simple, very kitschy. Are you more about rocking than making a statement?

AB: Of course! If you ain't having fun, you might as well jump in a lake! I typically write what comes out without too much effort, and perhaps that will change as I grow as an artist, but this CD and others that came before it is not trying to make any statements except "Let's rock out and have a good time, people!" Lots of my songs actually come without much effort at all. "Coffee Beans" just came out as I sat down at my keyboard and started bouncing out a C chord; the song was written in about 20 minutes. I've literally written several songs while in my sleep. I'd have a dream and hear a song in the dream and wake up and write that song and it ends up on a CD, like "Lay Down," which is on "The Kiwi Cafe." The first song already on the docket for our next CD was written in about 45 minutes. That's how I prefer to work. If something comes to me, I let it out and there it is. If I try too much or force a song, it's usually not as good as the effortless ones. There are exceptions to that, but generally it's the effortless songs that I enjoy writing the most, and that could change when I have more time for the songwriting part of what I do. Right now, I have to put too much work/time/energy into all the other stuff that bands need to be doing these days.

OMC: What are your plans for the band? More gigs? More recording?

AB: More of both, including plans for Europe in 2013. I'm heading there next spring to scope out what Europe may have to offer ABVC, as we were offered to play the Proces Festival in Copenhagen this year but couldn't get out there without at least two or three weeks of gigs lined up for us. We are trying to make it happen next year but since I have not started making contacts to booking agencies yet I am not putting my eggs in that basket right now. However, I am headed out there solo to perform, make contacts and get our name and music out there.

I'd like to see us booked all summer 2012 for festivals in the Midwest (and all over the U.S. if it makes sense for us) and other opportunities opening for national acts. Having this new full-length album will help with that, since bands make a big chunk of their money on merch sales. We could really use an established booking agent and manager right now, since the workload is far too heavy for myself and the guys.

Either way, I see us recording another CD in 2013. And I like that goal. This CD was done in about four months and I'd like a little break from all the frenzied craziness so we can take our time with the next CD. But I'm really happy with this CD and we've been getting lots of airplay already with "Fancies of a Random Heart."


Talkbacks

sandstorm | Oct. 13, 2011 at 9:03 a.m. (report)

can't go wrong with Martin Mull on drums!

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