Little Orange Room Sessions is a one-take, one-shot, “living-room”-style performance video series recorded in Eugene, Oregon. Each two-song session is recorded in the 125 square feet that I use for mixing, producing, and sometimes even recording entire albums. Little Orange Room Sessions grew out of my crazy love of music and mixing, a growing curiosity about film and cameras, and a deep-seated passion for performance and the art of song.
Session #16: Anna Tivel
Anna Tivel is a prolific, award-winning, and critically acclaimed singer/songwriter based out of Portland, Oregon. NPR calls her latest album The Question one of the most ambitious folk records of 2019 and has received praise from notable publications such as Paste Magazine, Billboard, and Rolling Stone. She is the recent winner of the No Depression Singer-Songwriter Award as well as the 2019 ASCAP Foundation Sammy Cahn Award. You can catch Anna and Jeffrey Martin streaming “Live From the Shack” every Sunday @ 5pm pst via her Facebook page and listen to her new duo project (also with Jeffrey Martin) Songs For The Moon, which is exclusively on Bandcamp (link at bottom). Her Little Orange Room Session features a new and unreleased song called “The Dial” and “Alleyway” from her 2017 album Small Believer. Anna graciously answered some questions via email all the way back in early March while she was in Europe for a tour that was inevitably cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
*In light of the recent Coronavirus pandemic I decided it would be appropriate to include Venmo and Paypal information (with consent of the artist) for any fans/viewers who would like to leave a tip. Our hard working songwriters and musicians are taking quite a hit right now and any little bit helps. Thank you.
LORS: You’re a very prolific writer (Prolific AF, as the kids are calling it). Like I feel like you might write a song before you finish these interview questions. What does that process look like for you? Are you constantly taking notes throughout the day…conversations you’re hearing/things you’re seeing/people you’re meeting/etc?
AT: I’ve always been happiest watching the world go by from some corner table/park bench/apartment window. Everything so often feels wildly loud and colorful and full of argumentative yelling and violence and hurt and joy and I guess before I wrote songs I never had anywhere to process all of it and I felt like a permanently shaken soda. Writing feels like a way to explore the things I see and feel and hope for and rail against, a way to tell the stories that move me and try to make them connect with the hearts of other people.
Seems like I just kind of need to do it, a (slightly obsessive and not always in a healthy way but sometimes quite enjoyable) compulsion, like if I have time alone, truly alone, that’s just what I want to be doing. I take little notes and write bits of poems and images often, or record half verses on the phone, and all that stuff just feels like fuel for the times I really get to hole up with a stretch of true solitude and sift through a buildup of sound and color and emotion. Like emptying the dishwasher or something. It fills up with layers of porcelain and food scraps and filth and then it slowly gets shined up to find the bits that matter and then when everything is ready, you get to empty it out and sort it into stacks and it feels so good.
LORS: You spent time in February recording the follow up to 2019’s The Question. Is there anything you can tell us about that? Anything your fans might find exciting about this new album? Release plans?
AT: This new record was a total joy to work on and we still have a bit to do before it’s finished, but the raw bones are all there. It’ll probably come out between Feb and April of next year. It’s the same wonderful group of friends who were part of the last one. I would make a record every week with them if I could. We did it all live to tape in this great dusty magic studio in Rock Island, IL, just holed up for a week, lived together in a little house and walked three miles to the studio every morning after putting dinner in a crockpot for later. Shane Leonard produced it and played his beautiful maniac percussion all over. Recording with them feels so free and generous and creative. No one had really heard the songs and we definitely had never played them together, just sort of went at it with full hearts and big ears and tried to capture the right emotional landscape without being hung up on getting a perfect take, always just going for the most honest emotion. So far we laid down 14 songs, not quite sure whether to put all of them on a record or take a few for something down the line.
LORS: It seems like you’ve been touring non-stop. How would you rank performing, writing, and recording? What brings you the most satisfaction? What challenges you the most?
AT: That’s so hard. Writing, touring, and recording all fill up such different parts of the inner tangle. For me, writing is for sure the thing that feeds everything else. If I’m not working on something or thinking about working on something, all of the other things fall apart and some kind of shit storm domino effect begins and I question everything that I every was and ever will be. It’s rather insane. Taking a fresh song out on tour is the best feeling, brings all the other songs back to life and I feel like a writer first and foremost which I’ve learned is super important to my general sense of balance. I just love words and I love the feeling of finally saying something the way I meant it and getting the chance to share that with people in hopes that they’ve felt a similar struggle/love/anger/hope/story/etc.
Touring is full of adventure and social wonder and discomfort and beauty and connection and greasy food and bad sleep and deep late night conversations with generous strangers. I love it so much and it is so dang hard on the body and there’s a balance to time on tour and time at home that I’ve been searching for forever and will likely never find. Feels like tour is the time that I’m most alive and awake, ears open and heart open and trying with all my might to see and hear people honestly. And then I get full to the brim with all of those different stories and towns and French fries and there’s nothing that can save me but some time at home staring at a wall and taking three hour walks and eating only arugula and apples and scribbling poems on random envelopes and getting freaked out when the mailman says hello and I’ve forgotten how to relate to humans.
Recording feels like the culmination of these things, like a year or two of gathering experiences, of listening hard to people all over the country then trying to reflect bits of the things they share and the things happening in my guts. And then just a week or two spent trying to capture those written story/poem/songs in a sonic landscape that gives them some extra life. The recording part is magic because it invites other voices and it just feels so good to be creative with people you love.
LORS: Guy Clark sings, “Some days you write the song / some days the song writes you.” Which line best describes you?
AT: Guy Clark is someone I come back to again and again to remember that the bare bones truth is the important heart of every song and without it you’re sunk. I resonate with both parts of this line. Songwriting is such a wild mystery and I love not having a clue how an idea thread will turn out at completion. Sometimes it feels so clear and direct, the thing you’re trying to say and the path to the good truth kernel. Sometimes you write and write around in a million circles, chipping away at a thing until it either reveals itself or it doesn’t and you have to throw it over your shoulder in the songbone graveyard. Sometimes it feels like someone else wrote the thing and you just happened to be there and have a pen and an open heart. Sometimes you write ten shitty songs for every one that comes out feeling like something real. Guy Clark really knew how to say it plain.
LORS: Any music you’re listening to (old or new) that I should put in my ear holes? Or any good books you’re currently reading or just finished?
AT: I just finished Paradise by Toni Morrison and it was as shiningly beautiful as everything else I’ve read by her. I try to read or reread at least one or two things by her a year, there’s something about her language that just feels like a spellbinding long form song and I just can’t even fathom that a human has existed who wrote those words. Also just reread a book of short stories by Annie Proulx who I come back to again and again as well for her sparse, unforgiving honest storytelling where everyone usually dies or gets maimed. Ha. Not really, but close to.
And George Saunders. Man. That guy is a mad language scientist and I’ve been heading down his short story worm hole lately.
As far as music goes, I’m on a constant hunt for new and old things. I’ve been revisiting a lot of Tom Waits lately, Orphans and Brawlers and Blue Valentine especially. And Chip Taylor, who I just discovered on a random internet music hunt but who has been around forever writing some deeply amazing songs. His newest few records feel like the winding journal entries of an older man who has seen things very clearly and felt a lot of love.