Interview: Anna Stine Talks Stunning Debut Album Where Folk Meets Jazz

Interview: Anna Stine Talks Stunning Debut Album Where Folk Meets Jazz

We change, we grow, we feel new things (often too hard or too much). We are never the same person we were yesterday. Anna Stine knows this. At just 25 years old, the singer-songwriter has mapped her own evolution on Company of Now, her tender debut album exploring the ways in which she’s both adapted to and struggled with change as she emerged into adulthood. The record features ten tracks meeting at the sweet spot — a beautiful intersection between acoustic folk and coffeeshop jazz.

Hailed by fans as “the indie Norah Jones,” it’s a fair assessment, but don’t forget that she's firstly Anna Stine — a wholly one-of-a-kind talent crafting her own sound, a thoughtful amalgamation of the tones and emotions that inspire her. “In many ways, this album was honoring the various pieces of my musical identity,” Anna told us during our interview. Because Company of Now is her debut album, she treats it like an “homage,” she says, to her roots (both personal and musical), experimenting across a variety of genres. She’s still growing. Right in front of our eyes (or ears, rather), Anna is creating her sound, the one that will carry her onward through her journey with music.

Company of Now opens with “Bicycle (Intro),” a brief taste of what we might expect from the rest of the record. The rattle of bicycle spokes flicker like a film reel while a tender piano rhythm comes in aiding Anna’s voice, soft but with a great strength to it. Following that emotive, almost ethereal introduction is “Growing Pains,” a percussion-heavy track featuring Anna’s airy delivery atop bass warbles and those thick slaps and shimmers of the drums. There’s a sparkle to the song, some sort of unassuming apparition floating above the sound, casting the twinkle and glimmer of sweet folk over the dreamy arrangement. Next comes “There I’ll Go,” growing quickly with an eerie urgency before moving like a slow-burn. Here we find Anna’s gritty vocals crooning over an outlaw-like rhythm section of twangy guitar strums, percussive loops, and the dark swell of countrified bass.

On “Porch Swing,” things get soft and sweet. Gorgeous vocal echos float above an unassuming indie arrangement before Anna’s voice comes in — at its best with a steady, breathy delivery. It sounds like a dream, lush and lovely in this languishing soundscape that does not run or even walk, but saunters, as if it has all the time in the world. There’s a clear French influence here, a gentle nod to the classic chanson style in terms of Anna’s phrasing, vibrato, and drawl. The middle of the album finds its title track, “Company Of Now,” a bittersweet standout. Expertly moving between a stripped-down acoustic arrangement and gentle explosions of alt-folk influence, the track grapples with goodness. “Feather” comes next, a quirky classic jazz bop tinged by tropical treatment. The lilt of Anna’s voice paired with fast-paced percussion make this a sunny addition to a heart-heavy record.

“Threshold of You” dives deep as a sultry slow-rolling love song. There’s a real camaraderie here between the instruments — the first half of the track finds the dreamy union of woozy 50s-style melody before each element joins once again to break down a searing rock arrangement, all while Anna’s voice drifts like a wisp. “White Chair” opens with a jangling piano line merging classical and jazz trills beneath robust vocals rightly wondering “Am I wrong if I stray?” On “Eyelids,” things get gritty once again with this brooding alt-folk track. There’s a new edge to Anna’s typically soft voice, this time finding a Brandi Carlile-esque kick that howls above the shadowy rock rhythms. Company of Now ends with “Atlas Hands,” a dynamic conclusion to a beautifully versatile record. The closer is a folksy singalong featuring thumping percussion, groovy guitar licks warbling in the distance, and blooms of sparkling keys, all building a rich base for Anna’s gifted voice to sing “I stand tall while the weight of the world keeps me spinning…,” a line that could, frankly, double as the description for Company of Now.

With her debut album, Anna Stine makes a remarkable foray into the indie scene. Ten tracks of jazzy folk touched by poetic candor and the kind of earnestness that stems from being all-in with one’s own soul, Company of Now is a beautifully subdued record suggesting great success for a Midwestern talent.

Listen to Company of Now below and connect with Anna Stine on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and her website. Read on for our full, exclusive interview with Anna in which we chat about the new record, music therapy, and a whole lot more.

The Music Mermaid: First, can you tell The Music Mermaid a little about yourself and your music?
Anna Stine:
I'm Anna Stine, an indie-folk artist with 25 years of living under my belt. I began my life in Knoxville Tennessee, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and am currently based in Minneapolis/St Paul, Minnesota. Each of these places hold a special place in my heart and have undoubtedly influenced the thematic material and style of my music. My music is reminiscent of a wide variety of sounds and influences including traditional folk, indie-rock, jazz, soul, and the bluesy goodness. Lately people have been referring to my style as "indie Norah Jones" — I'll take it!

TMM: You’ve held roots in both Ohio and Minnesota. What’s the music scene like out in the Midwest and how has it influenced your work at all?
AS:
I've been playing and writing music for over ten years now, but I still consider myself fairly new to the Midwest music scene. The first half of my 20s was focused mainly on building my music therapy practice while performing on the side. Now that I'm focusing more on my own musical craft, I've found the Midwest music scene to be incredibly embracing and full of talented artists who support one another, especially in the Twin Cities where you can go out any night of the week and find 5 to 10 live concerts that will literally blow you away. The raw talent mixed with the warmth of the community make it a great place to build a musical career. I'm consistently inspired by my musical peers here.

TMM: You recently released your stunning debut album, Company Of Now. What was the production process like behind this record?
AS:
I'm a firm believer in giving the process the time and space it needs to breathe — which made the production process quite a long journey. The songs took shape over the course of three years (with the exception of "White Chair") as I was leaving Ohio and building a new life in Minnesota.

In 2017, I set an intention to record the songs as a full-band album and that's when I serendipitously met Robert Bell, who produced and shared a great deal of creative genius with the project. In January 2018, we committed to weekly meetings during which we cultivated the various sounds heard throughout the album, shaped the tracks, developed arrangements, and brought the album to life. After the arrangements and track list were finalized, we teamed up with a couple of incredible studio musicians (Andrew "Diz" Gillespie on drums and Andrew Foreman on bass) and began tracking in May 2018 at Creation Audio in Minneapolis, MN with Miles Hanson. I took a brief step away in June and July to travel in Europe, and after a bit of space from the songs, we finished post-production throughout August and September.

TMM: What about the songwriting process? Are there any themes you tend to employ or feelings you hope to convey?
AS:
For me, the songwriting process is all about navigating my current challenges and contemplations through the medium of music. It often begins in the pages of my journal and then I take the free writing, short poems, and jumbled thoughts and turn them into lyrics that aim to connect my story to a larger audience.

I've never been one to just sit down and whip out a song. It's a process in every sense of the word, and the music and lyrics almost always evolve over the course of several months as I move through whatever I'm pondering. The themes that evolve tend to be centered around being present with growth and discomfort, navigating change, and self-acceptance. The inspiration I've drawn from nature and wild places inevitably interweave throughout.

TMM: We know it’s an unfair question, but forgive us for asking… which song off Company Of Now do you feel closest to and why?
AS:
Wow, tough question! My gut reaction is "White Chair.” It's the oldest song on the record and feels close to me like an old friend does — the kind you don't see often, but you remain integral to one another's journeys despite the changes you've gone through.

I wrote this song while still living in Ohio, and in many ways it seems as if it was foreshadowing, hinting at the themes that evolved in Company of Now. "White Chair" is a bit of an ode to 20 year old Anna. It was me wrestling with which parts of my roots to embrace and which to trim. The White Chair represents the people, places, and pieces of our identity that we struggle to leave behind when we embark on the journey of self-discovery. I wrote it at a time in my life when I was still fairly uncertain about who I was and who I intended to become. It's funny to look back at how that story unfolded.

TM: In addition to being a musician yourself, you’re also a music therapist. Music as catharsis is a topic we like to talk about here on The Music Mermaid -- its transformative abilities and healing powers (of which, as you know, there are many). Can you talk a little about how your own music intersects with your work in music therapy?
AS:
I'd love to talk a bit about music therapy — it's a wildly misunderstood field and I take every chance I get to advocate for its efficacy and importance.

For any readers who are unfamiliar with it, music therapy is the clinical use of evidence-based music interventions that target non-musical goals such as emotional processing, pain management, cognitive function, and motor ability (just to name a few). Board-certified music therapists work in a variety of settings, everywhere from prisons to schools to wellness centers to mental health treatment centers. I work at a hospital and specialize in medical/surgical trauma where I collaborate with the medical team and assist with our patients' treatment goals.

I got into the field of music therapy because of personal experiences with using music to navigate my own challenges. As an adolescent, I struggled with mental health conditions and songwriting was the light that kept me going. My background as a music therapist absolutely influences my approach to my own music. I've never seen my music as a "product,” but rather a "process.” I always aim to engage audiences in a way that encourages them to connect to their own stories. For me, music is all about creating a space that facilitates connection, and hopefully, some healing.

TMM: This album explores a swath of influences from drowsy jazz to pure folk to fleeting moments of rollicking rock (looking at you, “Eyelids”). How did you grow your work to accommodate so many typically warring sounds?
AS:
I think the diversity of sounds on the album can be attributed to two things: the mixture of my influences and the fact that this is my debut recording. At this stage in my career, I'm still experimenting with my style and exploring the direction I intend to go as an artist. In many ways, this album was honoring the various pieces of my musical identity. It felt important to pay homage to where I've come from and to honor the compositions that represent this part of my life.

TMM: Who are three musicians you think the world needs to hear ASAP?
AS:
Lately I've been seriously digging Madison Cunningham, Haley Heynderickx, and Adrianne Lenker's solo work, check them out!

TMM: What has been your most memorable music moment so far?
AS:
This is also a hard question! I recently finished up a little run of house concerts that held so many memorable moments. I love doing house concerts — I've always been drawn to intimate settings where I have the time and space to share the meaning behind my music.

One of the concerts was in an adorable small town north of the Twin Cities and the family who hosted it were some of the kindest individuals I've ever met. The concert took place in their adorable backyard adorned with string lights, blanket-wrapped audience members, a small fire, and a table with coffee and homemade baked goods. As if the setting wasn't already magical enough, there were geese passing overhead and singing with me throughout the performance. If you've heard my single “Growing Pains,” you know why this gave me chills! I left that concert feeling incredibly inspired, blessed, and reminded of why I'm on this journey.

The Music Mermaid: Finally, what’s next for Anna Stine?
Anna Stine:
The road ahead is filled with lots of change and excitement! Following the album release, I'll be taking a short (and much needed) breather, and then going on a Midwest tour down through Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio where I'll play a hometown album release concert on November 23. I'll be back in the Twin Cities for a couple of the winter months and then it'll be time to pack up and hit the road in my camper van!

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