Intimate Annavox talks music and Milwaukee ties

Anna Fritz is a Milwaukee native who studied classical cello at UW-Madison before moving out to the Pacific Northwest, where she hooked up David Gerritsen and David Waingarten to form Annavox, an unusual trio that uses two guitars, cello and voice to create passionate, intimate music. The group released its first CD, "All Day Breathing," last year, and we caught up with Fritz to see what's up with Annavox.

OMC: Anna, we know that you are from Milwaukee, but what about your bandmates?

AF: David Waingarten is from Rochester, New York, and David Gerritsen is from Salt Lake City. The three of us met a couple years ago when I was visiting Portland. DW had just moved here, David G. had been here for awhile and both had become active in a very vibrant spoken word scene at a coffee shop in southeast Portland. I was doing a lot of performance poetry at the time and connected with them when I went to check out the open mic at Mojo's Coffee Den. After a brief stint in New York City I decided to make Portland my home and make music with these guys. That's the brief version of the story anyway.

OMC: How did you wind up out in the Pacific Northwest?

AF: I'd been travelling around the U.S. in a VW bus having adventures, playing music and writing. When the bus broke down and I didn't have the money to fix it I ended up back in Milwaukee at my parents' house with no idea of what to do next. I ended up getting pretty depressed and frustrated, so a friend of mine in Portland invited me to come stay with her and check out this part of the country. The two months that I spent here were a pretty magical time. I fell deeply in love with this land -- the lush green and the wet air. And it seemed that everyone I met was open and eager to create. Everyone was full of ideas and wanted to work on projects together.

OMC: Do you get back to Milwaukee often? Will the band be playing here anytime soon?

AF: I come back to visit two or three times a year. I have a huge network of loving friends and family in Milwaukee and there's much that I love about the city. I have yet to get the band out there, though. We're in the beginning stages of planning a tour for the fall. Now that the album is finished, we're able to put our energy in that direction. I'm sure we'll play in Milwaukee when we come east. I'm so excited to bring my music back to my hometown.

OMC: What is the significance of the title of your disc, "All Day Breathing?"

AF: Well, I'm not sure I can speak for the band on this one. We all seem to have our own interpretations of the words we put out there. For me, it's kind of a reminder of centeredness -- drawing my attention back to my breath. It's about trying to be in the now with each breath as I live my life and as I play music. It's also a reminder of our interconnectedness -- the whole world breathing. It's about embracing the hugeness of life and doing it one small moment at a time. The title is also a reference to track 10 on the album "Breath to Be." DW wrote the lyrics to that one and I'd be really curious to hear what the title of the record means to him.

OMC: The music inside is very low-key and often melancholic. From where do you draw your inspiration?

AF: Oh boy....once again, speaking for myself, not the whole band. I studied with Uri Vardi, the professor of cello at UW-Madison, for a couple years. The passion that he encouraged me to put into my playing has had a great impact on my relationship with the cello, as has listening to cellist Lynn Harrell and, in a whole different genre, Michael Summer of the Turtle Island String Quartet. The cello is a mournful instrument and that's part of why I love it. Gutsy and melodramatic. I think that the voice of the cello, its timbre, has a big impact on the kind of music that we create.

I also grew up listening to a lot of folk music and have always loved the intimacy of a person with a guitar singing their stories. I think there's a lot of homage paid to that genre in everything I write. I also have a lot of anger and sadness about the state of the world: the creation of a global monoculture through corporate control, crazed nationalism begetting horrific violence, the absence of love and compassion in the way most of us live our lives and make decisions. Since I've chosen music as my vehicle for helping to change this tide, all of the emotion that I have about injustice gets poured into my writing and my playing, whether I'm writing a song about civil war in Angola, a weepy heartbreak song or playing a Bach suite.

OMC: The band has an unusual instrumentation. Was that planned? How does that instrumentation interact with the process of songwriting?

AF: There was a battle for a long time about whether or not we needed drums! We still talk about it, but I think we're pretty happy with what we're doing with the two guitars, the cello and our three voices. That instrumentation came about simply because those are the instruments we play best. It IS an unusual combination, but I've never been phased much by doing something out of the ordinary.

I'm not sure what to say about how it influences our songwriting. This is the first band I've ever been in and the first time I've had songwriting partners. Before this I was strictly a classical musician. It does happen that the two guitarists bring more ideas for songs to the group than I do and I chalk this up to the difficulty that I have in writing for the band on the cello. Since it's not a chord-based instrument, it's difficult to envision the chord structure of a song with it. The songs that I do bring to the group are ones that I've written on guitar. I hand that part over to the guitarists and let them build on it while I write a cello part. That process has worked so far, but I'm trying to find ways to use the cello as my primary writing tool since I'm so much more capable on it than the guitar.

OMC: Where can Milwaukeeans get a copy of "All Day Breathing?"

AF: Right now, the best thing to do is to go to our Web site, www.annavox.com. Since we released the album independently on our own record label, we don't have great distribution yet. We're working on it.

OMC: The obvious closer: what's next for Annavox?

AF: Well, we're writing a lot of new material. I think that our music is getting more sophisticated and interesting. We're eager to record again, but we're also really excited to get on the road and play a lot of shows. If you know anyone who has a van they want to donate, let us know! Right now we're playing about four times a month in Portland, writing new music and working on planning a tour of the eastern half of the country for the fall. With that being our major focus right now, I don't imagine us getting back into the studio until next spring.

Annavox plays Sat., Feb. 8 at Onopa Brewing, 735 E. Center St., at 10:30 p.m., cover is $5, and Sun., Feb. 9 at Alverno College's Pipeline, 3390 S. 43rd St., at 7:30 p.m., $5.

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