Milwaukee first met Kansas City native Michelle Anthony via her band Capital 8, based here. When the band split, she started Stick Pony before embarking on a solo career.
Moving south to Austin, her star began to ascend thanks to two well-reviewed and well-received records -- "Stand Fall Repeat" and "frozenstarpalace" -- that led to great things, including an appearance on "Mountain Stage."
Now, after a four-year break, during which time she became a mother (twice!) and had some health problems, Anthony is back on the scene with "Tornadoes," released Nov. 2.
We asked her about the new CD and the past four years and when she expects to get back to Brew City.
OnMilwaukee.com: It's been a long time since we talked and a lot has changed. Bring us up to date on Michelle Anthony's world.
Michelle Anthony: Well, I moved to Austin in 2005, released my second album, "frozenstarpalace" in 2006, had two kids and am releasing a new album, "Tornadoes." I don't have a lot of music to show for it, but I've been busy!
OMC: Have you been working on "Tornadoes" for four years?
MA: Actually, we were working on the record off and on from 2006 up through the spring of 2010. I've had two kids since 2006, so we were obviously working around their schedules, and that made the process take longer.
We recorded bed tracks with piano, bass and drums at studios here in Austin from 2006 to 2009. I think we spent a few days here at Congress House Studios in 2006 and 2007 and a couple of days at Top Hat Studios in 2009. We did overdubs here at the home studio, and then Grant Tye and Jay O'Rourke added guitars in Jay's Garage in Chicago in 2009. Jay mixed the record in 2009.
There was no pressure for a release date. I was completely fine with taking our time to listen to the songs, re-write, rework or re-record if we needed to. I think some people may write to fit a particular style that's popular, and waiting a year or two to release it could be a problem if you miss that window. We weren't really making a record to fit in with a certain sound.
The album was mostly made out of enjoyment. I wanted to make a great record that I loved, and take all the necessary time. People had to wait on me a little bit regarding kid stuff and some traveling, and I had to wait a bit to coordinate with other musician's projects and tours.
When we were ready for mastering, Jim DeMain lost his studio in the Nashville floods two weeks before we were scheduled. He seemed like he had the perfect vibe for this particular project, and since we'd already spent three years working on the record, we wanted to wait a few more weeks to get the right person. In the end, I'm so glad we didn't rush the process.
OMC: Becoming a mother had a profound affect on you and on your songwriting, didn't it?
MA: Definitely. Shortly after the birth of my first child, I developed something called HELLP syndrome. It took months to get back to normal. I'm pretty healthy and it took not being healthy for the first time to start to feel grateful for my health, and for having a healthy child. I wanted to write songs out of gratitude.
"Tornadoes" is a song that's both about the illness I had, and also about motherhood -- both tore apart the comforts I'd known in order to make way for recognizing something beautiful. I wrote the love song "Permanent" as a love song for my son who was a baby at the time.
OMC: You put together a stellar band for the record. Tell us a bit about them. Will they work with you in live situations, too?
MA: Yes, you are right -- they are stellar! It was like a very awesome dream to work with all the players who played on this record. The fact that they did more than just dial it in, which they could have easily done, is why I feel the record is really special.
John Chipman is a talented drummer here in Austin who plays with the Band of Heathens, The Resentments, Bruce Hughes and a ton of other great acts. He was a great fit for these songs because he really listens to the songs and brings an artistic element to the drumming. The vibe on "Lights of Chicago" is really his doing, since we did that live in one or two takes in the studio and he led the way. He's played for us in Austin and is a super nice guy.
Grant Tye plays for Robbie Fulks and VanGhost in Chicago. He is nothing short of amazing, and if you made a guitar from a box and rubber bands, he'd make it sound better than most people playing a regular guitar. We used to watch him play with Robbie and always thought he was the best guitar player we'd ever seen. Through happenstance, we ended up meeting with him and working with him on the last two records and live shows.
Gerald Dowd is based in Chicago, played drums on the "Tornadoes" version of "Don't Deny," as well as on our second record, "frozenstarpalace." He's played shows with us in Milwaukee, Chicago and Austin. He is full-time with Justin Roberts, and plays with Robbie Fulks, Chris Mills and others. He's like the Wheaties for the Chicago music scene.
Scott is the glue that keeps everything together and took the lead in producing the material with me. He is really good at helping me write and doesn't want to rewrite the songs or the lyrics, but offers suggestions like, "the verses are great, but the chorus isn't quite there, try adding another line, change it up or using less words in that line." I rework, and replay and, eventually, we're happy with the final product. I never even knew he was such a good bass player 'til he started coming up with lines for this new material.
Jay O'Rourke is a mixing engineer, studio owner and great guitar player based in Chicago. He mixed the record, produced the guitars and also played a bunch of cool guitar and mandolin parts. When it came to mixing, he was really good at the long-distance back-and-forth required since I was in Austin and he was in Chicago. I know he worked hard to make sure the record sounded like I wanted it to sound. I know that may seem like "duh" to a lay person, but it's actually really hard to listen to what an artist wants, and meet them 100 percent without someone going insane in the process.
John and Scott will be playing with us at the Saxon Pub here in Austin for the CD release show in December. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we can reunite with Gerald, Grant and Jay for some gigs in Chicago, Milwaukee and the upper Midwest.
OMC: So, are you back in the saddle now? You won't make us wait another four years, will you?
MA: Yes, I'm back in the saddle. I'm working on a Christmas EP and right now I have the first song, "Snow," available for a free download on my Facebook site. I hope to have five or six tunes in a month.
OMC: When are you back in Milwaukee?
MA: I hope to be back in Milwaukee in late spring 2011. I had such a good time playing there last year with the Wooldridge Brothers and Mike Benign. Dustworks and Anjl Rodee filled in as my backing band. I do miss Milwaukee and consider it like a second hometown of mine, so it's definitely someplace we want to play.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in an episode of TV's "Party of Five," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.