Interview: Michaela Anne’s ‘Desert Dove’ Revels in the Freedom of Having ‘Nothing to Lose’
"It's not an insanely experimental record or anything like that, but, yeah, it was definitely a moment of pushing myself out of my comfort zone," Michaela Anne notes of her new record, Desert Dove, out Friday (Sept. 27) via Yep Roc Records. To make the album, Anne traveled from Nashville to San Clemente, Calif., carving out a space where she could focus solely on music.
"It was a really privileged opportunity, because to get to go and spend three weeks living and working in one place -- not coming home and dealing with, 'Oh, I need to feed my cats, clean the house,' that sort of stuff -- was really awesome," Anne explains, adding that, nonetheless, the album-making process didn't come without its risks: "I was totally independent when I was making that record. Nobody was backing it. It was basically just me deciding everything, and running up a lot of credit cards."
Of course, there were moments when the singer-songwriter worried that taking that chance on herself -- and her music -- might not pay off. "Oh my God, every day!" she says with a laugh.
"I'm gambling on myself all the time," Anne continues. "You know, it's so easy to doubt yourself, and so easy to believe the idea that you're being impractical or silly. So, every day, [I was] questioning it and being stressed out, but there was just this driving force. It was like, 'This is what I have to do, so I have to do it no matter what.' Luckily, it worked out."
Anne is far from the first artist to strike a delicate balance between creative projects and limited financial resources. While working on Desert Dove, she found -- like many musicians before her -- that what that kind of gamble lacks in practicality, it makes up for in artistic freedom.
"Someone recently asked me -- they were noting that this record sonically sounds different than my previous record, and they asked me what gave me the freedom to do that," she recalls. "I said, 'I literally had nothing to lose.' Nobody was asking me to deliver a record or influence what I was making. So, yeah, with the risk, there's a lot of freedom."
That freedom took the singer in what may be, to listeners of her recent past work, some unexpected directions. Songs such as "If I Wanted Your Opinion" have a distinctly '90s country, Shania Twain-esque flair -- not exactly par for the course for a typical California country-inflected Americana artist. That kind of country has held a place in Anne's heart since a young age, but as a jazz student living in New York City, she began her career far from anything resembling a country music community.
"I've kind of always been around very intellectually-based musicians who make, for lack of a better word, kind of high-brow music," she explains. "I've always felt like a bit of a fraud in that world.
"I mean, I remember being in college and hearing people just constantly be like, 'Country music is trash,' and I was 19 years old and living in New York City, so my whole identity was kind of upended," Anne admits. "Like, 'Oh, this is high art. I guess I just don't know what good music is.' And I remember listening to some of the stuff I was told to listen to and not feeling anything, and my determination was, 'I guess I just don't like music anymore.'"
As she settles more comfortably into who she is as an artist -- and as she becomes more comfortable taking chances on herself, even in the face of self-doubt and credit card debt -- Anne finds it easier to return to a style of music that she's always loved, but long ago dismissed as a kind of "junk food."
"It feels really good to like what you like!" she says, cracking up. "It seems silly how hard that can be sometimes. But yeah, I'm a big Shania Twain fan. I'm a big Dixie Chicks fan. I'm not afraid to say that anymore."
Not only is she not afraid to say it, she's not afraid to play it, either. Desert Dove isn't a complete redirection into pop-country, of course, but the project leans more toward feel-good, tempo-driven country than anything Anne has ever released before.
"My song "If I Wanted Your Opinion" -- I feel like that's my inner true self that's been afraid to come out, for whatever reason," she says. "A couple songs, like "I'm Not the Fire," are some of the more uptempo, pop-country driven. And when I say pop-country, it's on my terms, like, '90s pop-country.
"But I can't imagine myself making that song two records ago," she adds.
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