|ROCKWiRED iNTERViEWS ANNA MADORSKY
iMMiGRANT SONGThe Russian-born, Texas and Tennessee-raised singer-songwriter ANNA MADORSKY thinks about things too much and that is a sweet relief. Her dissections of human behavior and human existence make for exhilarating coffee talk thatíll leave you feeling dizzy and it is those very observations that MADORSKYís album INCANTATION so engaging. Any female singer with a penchant for the abstract is going to get lumped into that TORI AMOS pile but MADORSKY is an artist that stands alone. Her ethereal coo floats effortlessly over the FEIST-like march of the opener BLOOM, the steady groove of BROKEN ARTIFACTS and the breezy, wistful CHANGE. ďI just get the feeling that Iíve kind of hit on the tip of an iceberg creatively.Ē says MADORSKY of her songwriting process. ď I start having this feeling that there is something much bigger underneath so I keep going until it feels complete. As Iím writing it, it is a revelation to me. I start to recognize these certain themes and I realize early on that each song is a character.Ē
ANNA MADORSKY TALKS TO ROCKWiRED
ABOUT HER CD iNCANTATiON
TREATiNG HER SONGS AS CHARACTERS
AND APPROACHiNG LiFE ON HER OWN TERMS
iNTERViEWED BY BRiAN LUSH
ROCKWIRED spoke with ANNA MADORSKY over the phone. Here is how it went.
Where are you calling from?
My cell phone was programmed in Seattle but Iíve been in Los Angeles for years.
INCANTATION is a fascinating listen Ė especially the song GUILLOTINE which happens to be a personal favorite of mine.
Thanks! I appreciate that.
Now that all of the work that went into making this album is behind you, how do you feel about the finished work?
Iím very pleased with it. When I would listen to it in the weeks after it was done I felt like it was a full representation of the songs and the characters. In the end, I think justice was served in how it was done. I have a tremendous sense of peace about the whole thing.
How long did it take to complete?
The writing or the recording?
Letís start with the writing first and then we will segue into the recording.
Usually writing happens pretty quickly for me. The entire album tells a story so once I start nothing else exists until Iím done. The end of last year, I started writing it and then I finished around March, so it took a few months. Once the songs were finished, I knew that I had to record it right away. I just had a real sense of urgency to do so. I went to Seattle to record it and was there for about a month and a half. It went pretty quickly Ė all things considered.
You said a few seconds ago that an album for you is like telling a story. What kind of story were you trying to tell with INCANTATION?
When I start the story, I donít know the plot or what is going on. I just get the feeling that Iíve kind of hit on the tip of an iceberg creatively. I start having this feeling that there is something much bigger underneath so I keep going until it feels complete. As Iím writing it, it is a revelation to me. I start to recognize these certain themes and I realize early on that each song is a character. The first song that I started writing was GOOD IDEAS. The tone of that song was really specific and in some ways it opened up the questions for the album for myself and what was going on. The ideas of the human condition and the innate ability to see things and want things that are grand, very ideal and very big but our ability to have control over all of the factors of our lives is pretty limited. The word INCANTATION is something magical - that you can make something happen that is out of your control. There is obviously a little bit of irony in there because I donít believe that you can necessarily make that happen. That is why the word incantation is used in more of hopeful sense.
Youíre way too existential for a Saturday afternoon!
You were born in Russia and raised in Tennessee.
Texas and Tennessee.
It was interesting.
For how long did you live in Russia?
I lived there for a couple of years. Iím the youngest of two children. It was obviously my familyís culture. Whenever I tell people that, they are like ďOh, you were only there for two yearsĒ but it feels like Iíve been there my whole life a because of my family. By the time we had left Russia I was just on the verge of formulating Russian syllables. I was on the verge of speaking and when I came to America I started hearing English. I was told that I had stopped speaking all together. At first they thought there was something wrong with me. They thought I was mute. For six months I didnít do anything and I think I was just absorbing this whole other language. Six months later they had taken me to the doctor and the words that were coming out were half English and half Russian.
What brought the family to Tennessee and Texas? Was there other family there?
No. That is a really good question. It was simply an immigrant family looking for a better life. Ever since my dad was very young he had always wanted to leave Russia. It wasnít where he wanted to raise his children. Departing Russia for America was something that was years in making Ė even before I was born. My dad is a very crafty guy and when we got here he was an electrical engineer but he was also a classical musician. In that time in Houston, Texas there was a lot of engineering. There was actually a huge immigrant population in the early eighties in Houston. There, The Jewish Federation would hook immigrants up with certain jobs at certain places. Our move to America was strictly an industry-driven thing.
Did your fatherís classical background influence you.
I would say that classical music influences me a lot. It is just really moving to me. It informs a lot of my work and how I approach music. My fatherís classical music in general didnít inspire me at all. I took classical piano lessons when I was a kid but there was nothing inspiring about it. I never liked my teachers and as a result I thought ĎThis canít be what I want to do with my life.í There wasnít that connection and there was no room to be creative. It was just a very frustrating thing so music just became a very internalized thing for me. From the age of five, my dad had already started getting medical school applications for me. There was a rigid course of what was expected of me. No deviations were allowed. If creativity was going to happen, it was going to happen internally.
Now that you are already on this path, how have youíre parents come along in accepting it?
That is a fantastic question. It was a source of a lot of friction form a very young age. It is why I left my home at seventeen. My older brother is a doctor and both of my parents were engineers and Iím neither, but my brother went to a music conservatory for piano since the age of three. In m family, music is something that you can be good and accomplished at but it isnít what you do for a living. Once I had said that music was something that I had to do, it had just turned into a never ending battle with my parents. I wasnít being seventeen years old and crazy. This was truly the most basic part of who I am and I think that only in the past year I had to make a pact with them where I said that if you want to have a daughter then you have to say something nice or not say anything at all. I think now there is respect for what I do but I donít think that it is something that they would choose for me.
Youíve talked about this a little bit earlier but talk about how the songwriting process works for you.
There is not one specific way that it works. The main thing is to always have your antennae up. If your antennae is up you are going to be able to not force something to happen in only one way. I donít sit down and go ĎIíve got to have this many songs or that many songsí. Certain thoughts come into your head and you get the sense that they can be used for something so I write them down and then sit down at the piano or play the guitar and hit record. If there is something there, I will expand upon it or if not Iíll just save it. It all depends on whatís going on. As I go further along in the process, there is usually some type of core or seed to a song. Itís like two molecules coming together. There is a phrase and a melody that comes together and it creates that first tone and that is when the song has its own character and from there you know what needs to be done. Itís great that the process is kind of abstract because it opens it up. I do not consider myself a technical writer at all. To me itís more important to find the character in the song and bring it out.
What moments off of INCANTATION stand out for you the most and why?
For me there is something about the track BROKEN ARTIFACTS that really captures a certain tension or suspicion. There is a certain acknowledgement of danger in the world when it comes to survival and that is something that struck me at the time because I felt like I saw it a lot in my own life. In American society especially, we are always taught to always smile and be jovial but I didnít see people interacting in that way. I think that is how people want to come across as. Realizing that was a fascinating moment for me and itís great that that moment was successfully captured in song. The song BLOOM has this incredibly carefree feeling which is helpful to me as a person. Who cares what someone is thinking and what their expectations are of you. There is something incredibly liberating about that song. It was good for me to write. RHEA is a song that I am grateful to have written and it was wonderful to tap into that character who is so provocative. Sheís not a heroine but a villain. It is extremely liberating to give yourself permission as a writer to explore darker characters and ugly emotions. Itís an interesting thing. Itís extremely liberating. It melts some of the ice.
What would you like someone to come away with after theyíve heard this album?
Music has been the most impactful force on my life and is a totally visceral, intense experience. In all honesty, sharing it is something I'm deeply moved to do, because I know that music has the power to affect people very positively. And that possibility overrides any feelings of shyness or uneasiness I have about putting it out there. Because if it could affect someone else to feel better, feel comforted, feel less alone, feel identified with, reduce anxiety or shame, I'm very compelled to do so.