When asked about the track, Aaron Sternick (producer) said, “To me, “California Dreams” felt like THE SINGLE the moment I heard it. It’s got the big bright chorus, themes of hope with a dark undercurrent, and waves of lush melody. In my own eleventh-hour dark night of the soul I completely re-orchestrated the song a week before deadline – to keep the water metaphors going I had to pull some seaweed to catch a pearl.”
With that being said, we were given the wonderful opportunity to interview Annie Maxwell. Check it out below along with her new single!
How did you get into the electronic soul genre?
I have always loved soul music. Growing up my parents would play a lot of Temptations and Al Greene and so that has always been what I gravitate towards. In college I was exposed to a lot more electronic and experimental music which intrigued me and challenged my previous conceptions of harmonious and “good” music. Soul music hits my heart but well-engineered synths feel like bubbles in the brain. I knew that I wanted to combine these elements and make a collection that had raw emotional integrity under a glossy, head-bopping veneer. I went into the project knowing that I wanted to write songs that made for good driving music.
What inspired “California Dreams”?
I spent my summers in Sacramento visiting family. My aunt and uncle had this large beautiful garden full of roses and a giant eucalyptus tree. It’s cliche, but in my mind it was a simpler time. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gone back to see friends, and a few years ago I had the opportunity to drive down the PCH with a group of college kids raising money for a squash program (the sport not the vegetable). California has been a vacation, a refuge, a home, a challenge, and a fantasy. All the things. I think that the state has its own special place in greater American mythology, too. Each time I’ve gone back I measure myself against the vibe of that place; how much have I changed? How much have stayed the same? Really, it’s a song about being in a familiar paradise, an Eden, yet inexplicably feeling profoundly uncomfortable.
Who are your musical and non-musical influences?
I grew up playing classical violin so I think that has deeply influenced how I think about song and melodic structure. A lot of Vivaldi and Mozart. I think my first concert was to go see the virtuoso Itzhak Perlman. Of course soul and neo-soul– Al Greene, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin etc. etc. One of my older brother’s listened to a lot of East Coast Hip-Hop and I wanted to be cool like him so I absorbed a lot of his tastes (The Roots, Mos Def, Outkast to name a few). I learned how to play guitar at a summer camp when I was a tween but came home and became more proficient by learning many John Mayer songs because I liked that his pop tunes were built on jazz chord progressions. There are so many more influences: a capella (I was in a group in college), the sounds of nature, the esoteric. This is a hard question… music is an extension of life, I feel like all of experience is an influence.
Any upcoming tour dates?
Which comes first, music or lyrics?
It usually starts with a crappy melody on the voice recording app in my phone. Sometimes there are words, sometimes not. I have the most ideas while I’m driving or walking around.
Tell us some of the ups and downs you have had with working on your debut album.
– It took a really long time (over 3 years). It was a combination of having no idea what I was doing, working sporadically, dealing with challenging/draining mental health issues, and finding time between my schedule and Aaron’s (producer’s) schedule.
– It was creatively challenging and at times lacked direction. It’s one thing to write a song but it’s another to work with someone else and have it blossom into something beyond the stripped down chord progressions. Sometimes I felt like it was impossible to translate the song I was trying to write into something cohesive and likable. Some of the tracks had 5 or 6 distinct versions before we found an arrangement that stuck. Some days I would come into the studio and had no motivation, or my voice sounded like sh*t, or I couldn’t hit the notes on a song that I had no trouble singing the week before. Learning how to get clarity about my vision and then communicating what that was took a lot of time.
– I wore hoop earrings the first time vocals were recorded… Basically we tracked all of the vocals over the course of many months and realized after the fact that my hoop earrings were making these tiny clackity-clacks against the headphones throughout the entire thing. We went back and had to re-record a lot, which was incredibly frustrating. I felt really dumb for making such a novice mistake.
Some Great Things:
– I met a good friend! Aaron and I met after I posted an ad on Craigslist. We agreed to work on one song together and see how things went; we were both looking to improve and explore our music/recording skills. Before working with Aaron I seldom shared my songs with anyone, but he took my ideas seriously and gave me a comfortable space to explore them at my own pace. Aaron also kept things organized and on time and taught me that it’s okay (and necessary) to provide some structure to the creative process. We’ve since been around one another through lots of personal changes and ups and downs.
– I finished a major project! Sounds a bit pathetic, but I hadn’t actually completed a meaningful self-directed project since, maybe, ever. It felt really good to make a decision about doing something difficult and follow through. I didn’t think I could do it and here we are.
– The album documents a really challenging time in my life. I was dealing with serious anxiety and depression and at times had trouble taking care of myself. Creating something pleasing and cohesive out of the muck helped me make better sense of things, or at the very least helped me feel like something good came out of the crap. It was confidence-boosting.
– The process was low-budget. I am extremely lucky… Aaron had been renting a tiny triangular studio which used to be sandwiched between two giant warehouse (the warehouses have now been demolished in the name of gentrification) so I didn’t have to pay for studio time and we could come and go whenever we pleased.
What is the one thing you always need in the studio?
Something to drink. Also, towards the end of the recording process we lit incense a lot in search of ~vibes~. In hindsight, smoke is probably not a great thing for the voice.
Describe Annie Maxwell in three words.
Soulful, sweet, dissatisfied
What can we expect in the future from Annie Maxwell?
Not sure, but I’d like to write more songs that are less ego-centric and more transpersonal or even from different POV. Still in search of a good stage name so maybe no ‘Annie Maxwell’ in the future at all.
What is the one thing you would like people to take away from your music?
Anything– I’m just stoked that people are willing to give it a listen :).