Brooke Annibale

15 Nov

I’ve mentioned on the site before my admiration for singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale, however since I’m the only writer, it’s nice to hear from someone new once in awhile. It’s even better when that person is a fan of said musician being talked about. A fantastic writer, Brian Palmer, contacted me in regards to our mutual love for Brooke Annibale and I was ecstatic when he approached me about doing a cameo for the site. Without further ado, here is one talent interviewing another:

Pittsburgh-based singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale makes one hell of an impression on you if you aren’t expecting it. Choosing her words with care, Annibale answers questions with a refreshing honesty and even a bit of awe as though she can’t quite believe someone wants to interview her about anything. But, there is much to talk about. Her latest release, Silence Worth Breaking, is one of 2011’s best releases in any genre, particularly in the acoustic folk-pop genre her album is typically associated with. Brooke spoke with me recently about what it was like recording the album, how it compared with her previous experiences and what inspires her to make the music she makes.

Brian Palmer: I’m curious, I see more and more that there are a lot of independent artists coming out of Belmont University where you went to school, and I’m curious to know what your experience there was like within the music culture. Did you develop any friendships or relationships with some of the other musicians there?

Brooke Annibale: There’s definitely a lot of music going on at Belmont whether you’re a music major or not. I wasn’t a music major, actually—I was music business—but yeah there were a ton of songwriters and different people doing all kinds of different music there. I definitely made some friends that were Belmont students whether they were doing music or working in the engineering or production side of things so, I’m trying to think if there are any specific people that are doing stuff right now that I knew from Belmont…but I’m blanking! (Both laugh.)

BP: No worries! Maybe the names will come back to you later! So when you were writing and recording the material for Silence Worth Breaking, were there any particular artists you were drawing inspiration from or were really just digging at that time?

BA: Well, I wrote the record over a couple of years. I’d say the oldest song on it was maybe two or three years old, but some of the newer stuff was only a couple months old, so it’s hard to say what I was being influenced by over such a large span of time like that. I know that during that fall before I recorded the record (in 2010) I was listening to Mumford & Sons a lot just because that’s when I had just discovered them.

BP: Oh yeah. They’re good.

BA: It’s funny trying to think now about what I was listening to a year ago. I was listening to The Weepies’ new record last year around this time. I remember because I bought it before I went on a little mini-tour and listened to it a bunch. And I actually just saw them play a couple days ago and that was really good. Yeah, I don’t know. It’s like a really crazy playlist of things that I have on iTunes that I listen to, but for the most part the singer-songwriter/folk kind of sound was what I was sort of drawn to in the last couple years.

BP: All right. So do you think Silence Worth Breaking could exist as it does now if you hadn’t made the choice to leave Pittsburgh to go study at Belmont University and subsequently learned all that you learned there? Even from just the music business side of things and any relationships you developed with people while you were there, do you think the album could have become what it has become?

BA: I think from a business standpoint definitely not. I don’t think…I don’t even know if I would have heard of Paul (Moak, the producer), I probably wouldn’t have been following the Nashville music scene as much as I was, and just the fact that I knew someone at the studio (The Smoakstack) probably if I had just emailed them on my own without knowing anyone might have taken months or if ever to get the attention of Paul or something like that. But from a business standpoint I don’t think it could have happened like that.

As far as from like forming the songs and my development as a writer, I think my time at Belmont really changed me a lot because there are so many people doing music at Belmont in so many different ways that you are just constantly being influenced by new things and hearing new things. It’s a really good environment to be in, I think.

BP: Nice. I was listening to an earlier album of yours, The In Between, and I was noticing that Silence Worth Breaking feels a bit different from that release. Silence feels like it more fully embraces the acoustic folk pop sound, whereas with the other record there are hints of jazz and bluesy overtones, and it just seems like you were even trying to play more with your voice on that record, hit different pitches and the like, and I’m just curious: the switch in the musical and vocal tone of the records, was this intentional or was it simply a result of the Silence recording sessions or…?

BA: I definitely think as I’ve progressed that what I was influenced by was definitely different between the two albums, but I sort of felt like The In Between was the more bluesy side of my songwriting because that’s what I was into then and that’s what sounded good to me when I’d sit down with my guitar. And there definitely was a big difference between the way I recorded that album and the way I recorded Silence Worth Breaking. It wasn’t an intentional change I don’t think, it just sort of was a shift in my influences and the music I really wanted to be making, you know? I wanted to focus more on those newer influences.

BP: Yeah, that makes sense.

BA: My first album that I released in high school (Memories in Melody) I’d say was probably more just like…that was just whatever came out of me as a teenager in high school, and those songs I recorded were pretty popish. And then I sort of moved into that bluesier vein and then into a folkier vein, so it didn’t really happen on purpose. It just sort of happened that way.

BP: So it’s more of a natural progression as opposed to, “Well, the last one was pretty bluesy so now we have to do one that’s more acoustic folk,” and then the next time out it’s gonna be, “Now I’ve got to start spitting rhymes and…(Brooke laughs)…dropping the beats and all that.”

BA: Oh man. Yeah, definitely not. It was just like what I said, whatever was coming out of me at the time, whatever sounded good to me when I played the guitar and just trying to find those new notes on the guitar and new melodies that inspire me. It was just the progression, I guess.

BP: Cool. What was the genesis of Silence Worth Breaking? How did you know you were ready to start making a new CD?

BA: Well, it had been a couple of years since I’d released The In Between, and I was really itching to have something new to represent myself by. I had had a couple of songs in the making for a while and I’d started writing more heavily in the year leading up to the recording of the album and so I just knew it was time to make a new one. I really had no idea how I was gonna do it until I checked out Paul’s studio, and then I hooked up with his manager and talked it out and knew that that was where I wanted to do it. So it kind of all happened instantly once I realized that that was where and how I wanted to make the record. So after I set that up I kept working on the songs for a couple months, just sort of fine-tuning them and thinking which ones would get on the record.

BP: Now you mention fine-tuning your songs. What is your writing process like? Do you ever bounce new material off friends or a trusted group of listeners? Do you road-test the songs much?

BA: I definitely had played some of them at shows before the record came out. Some of them were more brand new and I hadn’t, but yeah, it’s always nice to be able to play them for a live audience and see…not just how they respond to them but how I feel performing them, to feel if they’re ready or if it feels like something’s missing. I think that earlier in my songwriting process I used to just write a song and not really think about it again, it was just done, but now I’m doing a little bit more of analyzing and re-writing things, just trying to tweak the lyrics just right. And the album title, Silence Worth Breaking, is actually a song that didn’t make it on the record because I didn’t think it was ready yet (Laughs.). Paul and I sort of decided between two songs and that one didn’t make the cut, and that’s just because I didn’t feel like I was finished writing that song yet, so I’m still working on that song. But that concept still fit really well with this record even though that song wasn’t on there, so maybe that will be a single next year or something (Laughs.).

BP: I was curious about where that title came from. I recently spoke with Jon Foreman from Switchfoot about their new album Vice Verses and he talked about how the title track had actually been written during the Hello Hurricane sessions but that it definitely had not fit with the material on that record so it just took a few years for it to pop on one of their releases.

BA: Absolutely. I understand that.

BP: There’s this overarching theme of relational connectivity on Silence Worth Breaking.

BA: Right.

BP: The neat thing is that it’s not just in your more traditional forms like romantic relationships and things like that, but there’s even a sort of relational connectivity between enemies, people who are on opposite ends of the spectrum. Was this theme something you were shooting for from the beginning?

BA: I wouldn’t say it was intentional, like I didn’t set out to give the album that exact theme. I think that’s just really what inspires me a lot, interaction between people. Whether it’s me and someone else, or, like you said, enemies and opponents in the world in general. That’s why I thought the title Silence Worth Breaking fit the record because I didn’t mean silence worth breaking in the musical sense. I guess I could have called the album Difficult Conversations Worth Having, but that wouldn’t have been as fun (Both laugh.). But yeah, that wasn’t an intentional thing at all but I liked how the album sort of formed together that way, that it was all very relational. That’s how I’ve always written my music is by relating to other people and trying to have those lyrics connect with other peoples’ experiences, you know?

BP: Sure. And sort of related to all of this, I feel like there’s another theme present as well. There’s this kind of tension between what was and what is, and even in some cases between what is and what could be?

BA: Mm-hm. Right.

BP: So how much of this is personal and how much is just observational?

BA: Let me think…I feel like I have to look at the album as though I don’t know what songs are on it, but I have to look at it to remind myself. I definitely think that each song has a piece of myself in it, you know? A little piece of my own experience, but I always feel like my job as a writer is taking that experience and broadening it and just making it almost more observational or drawing in from other influences, and finding what would drive the song, emotionally, for someone else too.

BP: Right, that makes sense. Do you strive to look at some of those difficult situations, so that tension between opposing views can be brought to the foreground in a song?

BA: It’s hard to say that it’s an intentional thing because sometimes I’ll start writing a song based off of one line and just see where it goes. Like specifically, “The Way it Was,” I started with that first verse in the beginning and based off of that, just being in a place and feeling like, “Okay, my past is here but now it’s a different time, it’s a different present.” It’s so hard to analyze my own writing process. You challenge me to do this!

BP: Sweet! I’ve noticed you’re doing a variety of shows here and there over the coming months, so congrats on that.

BA: Thanks!

BP: Are you trying to set up any mini tours or anything like that?

BA: That’s definitely a goal of mine is doing a much more widespread tour instead of just sort of weekend gigs and trips here and there. I’m always looking for someone who wants to team up and do something like that. A couple days ago I got an email from someone at a university in Washington state about playing a show out there, so getting out to the West Coast for the first time would be great. And I’m trying to plan out like ten-day tours for next spring instead of just random gigs and weekend shows, so we’ll see.

BP: Hopefully that will work out. Maybe you can use some of your connections from your time in Nashville to help facilitate something like that.

BA: Yeah, definitely. I think there are a lot of people who are trying to get out and on the road and team up with other artists, so that could work out. I guess we’ll see!

Here is “Under Streetlights” from Brooke’s most recent release, Silence Worth Breaking.

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