Amy Annelle: Back in the Saddle and Singing on Three Billboards by JAMES PRESTRIDGEJanuary 29, 2018 1 Commenton Amy Annelle: Back in the Saddle and Singing on Three Billboards Q: What has music brought to your life and why do you love performing? A: MUSIC is a vessel that takes us to some place universal. I love performing because I feel most alive and open, and I enjoy the way different elements combine and interact to create a performance: energy, emotion, surrender, physicality, technique, material, with the audience being a fellow conduit and capacitor. Q: When did you realise you wanted to be a singer and what inspired you? A: IT took me a while to find the courage to write and sing. I was an artistic child in a large family with no other artists, so I just languished for a while. Then I taught myself guitar when I was nineteen; I wrote my first song and discovered something. Writing songs, or arranging someone else’s song, is the place to be. There’ are helpers, there are all the voices who have come before, resonating with you in the larger whole. It is akin to the dream state where we all are fluent in the language of allegory and metaphor, of tone and texture and inflection. It is the joy of moving between worlds. Q: I read that you spent a lot of your career on the road working odd jobs and even sleeping rough. What was that lifestyle like and how did it help shape you as a performer? A: IT is something most musicians have to do. Working odd jobs as a means to an end, a way to stay afloat and alive until the next gig or tour. Picking up odd jobs does not require much of a person, beyond completing a task reliably. So while part of me was washing the dishes, or emptying trash cans, or painting a barn, the rest of me could be immersed in music. I would come up with enough cash to put out the next record, or leave for the next tour, and be on my way again. Q: Did that way of living inspire your song writing? A: I WRITE all the time. Even when I became very ill and was forced to stay in one place, I was writing lyrics and finding songs that I wanted to learn – and filing them away for later. I try and keep a channel open for words and music, and trust that it will come through when I i’s meant to do so. Q: Do you have any stories you can share of life on the roads? A: I STAYED awhile in a trailer park in a little desert town in Southeast Oregon, writing and cooking at a restaurant. The days had a rhythm: the dogs would get up and move every so often to stay in the shade, the deer came down from the mountain at sunset, the air raid sirens would go off at noon every weekday. Some miners who were living rough in the Oregon backcountry came to the restaurant, and they invited me to visit their sunstone mine. I did, and it was one of the most beautiful lonesome spots you could imagine, high atop a fault block mountain, with antelope and wild horses and caves, a hundred miles from anywhere. Drawing a map of places and people, and observing cultural shifts on a continent-wide scale. Like touring in America after 9/11, when businesses all over the country put “Never Forget” on their signs out of respect for the victims. But after a while the businesses started wanting to use the signs again…there was an awkward moment where it was both: “Never Forget” and “Marlboro Box, $2.99” on the same sign. Q: You were hit by serious health issues in 2010. Can you tell us about that time and how you are currently doing? A: I HAVE endometriosis, which is a poorly understood, progressive genetic disease that can cause severe pain and fatigue, and affect multiple organ systems. There is no cure, only ways to try and manage symptoms which can range from mild to debilitating. After numerous treatments and surgeries, and years of being quite ill, I found an advocacy group called Nancy’s Nook for Endometriosis Education. Through the group, I was able to find a good specialist and have excision surgery in 2017. I have recovered to the point where I was recently able to play my first show in five years. And with any luck I will continue to be able to play. Q: Your wonderful cover of Townes Van Zandts’ Buckskin Stallion Blues appears in the final scenes of the highly-acclaimed film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. How has that been going? A: I AM thrilled that my music plays a small part in Mildred’s story, and to see the film doing so well. Townes’ beautiful original version of the song plays earlier in the film. A whole new audience is discovering my music after seeing “Three Billboards”. The fact that the screenplay was written eight years ago, yet resonates so powerfully and imperfectly with our current state of affairs, is a testament to Martin McDonagh’s sensitivity and prescience as a writer.” - James Prestridge

Close Up Culture

Singer-songwriter Amy Annelle taking stage after five years battling endometriosis Singer-songwriter Amy Annelle takes the stage after five years of fighting 'through the fire' For all its expressions of rage - the Molotov cocktails, the crotch kicks, the venomous dialogue - the film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" also is a meditation on redemption. Following the fury, the movie that's become an awards-season darling quietly concludes with potential violence deferred, at least temporarily. During the film's final five minutes, director Martin McDonagh syncs this quieter spell to the sound of Amy Annelle's voice, which blows like the wind through Townes Van Zandt's song "Buckskin Stallion Blues." The effect of the song on the scene is mesmerizing - both hopeful and haunting, conveying both weariness and wonder. These contrasting forces could also describe Annelle's career, which was full of music and motion until it wasn't. She'll take the stage in Houston this Friday at McGonigel's Mucky Duck for her first performance in over five years, after fighting a debilitating illness that pulled her off the road and tethered her to her Austin home. As surgical procedure followed surgical procedure, she also found herself struggling to make new music. But she's working on a new set of songs that should be released this year. "It's been a long time," she says. "I've been through the fire." Like cracks on a frozen pond Annelle says she grew up in a "sort of middle-class Chicago family with little interest in art or folk music." She started playing music there, gathering with a few like-minded artists and playing in old warehouses and industrial spaces. She left Chicago at 26 and headed west, landing in Portland, where she started recording as The Places as well as under her own name. She later settled outside Austin, where she lives today. There she's made several recordings of her own and also appeared with well-known outsider roots acts such as Bill Callahan and Okkervil River. For lack of a better term, Annelle makes folk music. It's often spacious and spare with instrumentation. Her voice spreads through songs like cracks on the surface of a frozen pond, both chilly and beautiful. Her songs have an elusive quality that makes them feel both like mysterious found field recordings and also energized and modern. Her approach to interpreting and singing lyrics makes her a sympathetic interpreter of others' work, so a Ray Davies cover and an original song flow together without discernible distinction. She treats songs much like she treats destinations. Annelle feels a pull from the less traversed places. She named her record label High Plains Sigh "because when I was traveling through the high plains of the United States, I was utterly beguiled by the beauty there, the stillness and the emptiness. There's still history there: stories and tragedies. I think it's an under-appreciated part of our fabric as a country. It felt kind of the same as the way I made music. I felt like there were still great mysteries out there. That's what I try to return to. I'm more inspired by things that don't necessarily make sense. Outliers, things that feel like secret treasures waiting to be discovered. Finding connections there." Annelle wrote and recorded regularly into the 2000s. Everything changed in 2010. She underwent emergency surgery that year, the result of Stage IV endometriosis, which had been attacking her abdominal organs without being diagnosed. The condition occurs when tissue similar to the endometrium, which lines the uterus, grows on other organs in the pelvic region. Diagnosis didn't bring relief. She describes "long stretches of time where nothing would help, nothing would get better." In fact, things got worse. Annelle suffered complications with both her nervous system and immune system. "I realized my body is a vessel for creating and singing," she says. "And it was wreaking havoc on my entire life." She was "at absolute rock bottom" when she found an endometriosis advocacy group on Nancy's Nook that suggested traditional treatment of the disease was outdated. One in 10 women suffers from the condition, though Casey Berna - who created a support and advocacy group through - says "there's a real lack of awareness about endometriosis in the medical community despite its prevalence." Berna says for years women suffering from the condition were told they had low pain thresholds. Confirmation of the disease can be found only through laparoscopic surgery, so often treatment was pharmaceutical or came in the form of practices like hormone therapy and, she says, "if all else fails, a hysterectomy." Excision surgery is thought to be the best practice but, Berna points out, "It's very complicated. An excision surgeon will go through every organ that could be implicated and meticulously remove the disease. Unfortunately, most OB/GYN doctors aren't trained in this surgery. So advocates are trying to create a culture of referral, where women can find the right specialist." Annelle says, "With me, it was raging in my body for so long without being diagnosed and treated. Women need better treatment, and they need it sooner. This illness wasn't well understood, and it gets slipped under the rug until it becomes debilitating." Unable to tour, Annelle tried to keep writing and made some quiet - even by her whispery standards - recordings just to share with the closest of fans who were part of an old mailing list. One, fittingly, was titled "Surgery." Born of an inability to wander, the album teems with movement: trains pass, rivers flow, tumbleweeds tumble. "Being homebound for such a long stretch of time was difficult and different," she says. "But there were lessons in there I needed to learn as well. Sometimes you can't be moving all the time. It's important to feel grounded to a place as well. That freaked me out at first. But there's another aspect to the movement. I think I was restless and found some demons that I hadn't looked in the eye yet. There's this idea that if you keep moving you stay one step ahead of that stuff. But I couldn't do that anymore." Every year earned over her career "Buckskin Stallion Blues" is among Van Zandt's later work, first appearing in 1987. In it, the storied Texas songwriter charts the paths of two lovers whose directions lead away from one another. "If I had a buckskin stallion/I'd tame him down and ride away," it goes. "If I had a flying schooner/I'd sail into the light of day. If I had your love forever/Sail into the light of day." The diminutive "if" shoulders a great deal of weight in the song. But Van Zandt makes it just aspirational enough to avoid fatalism. Though the placement of Annelle's version of the song in "Three Billboards" isn't likely to bear life-changing riches, it should draw some well-deserved attention to a writer and interpreter who'd been quiet for too long. Among my favorite of Annelle's recordings is a home demo she made of the Elton John standard "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." John's song - with words by his lyricist, Bernie Taupin - conveys a desire to escape one's comfortable and affluent setting for some pastoral return. It's not a perfect fit for the crooked contours of Annelle's path, but the conveyed hope to get back to some simple existence resonates, especially given her story. Throughout the song, the rise and fall of her voice follows John's original map, but she offers a ghostly hushed quality in place of his bombast. "This girl's too young to be singing the blues," she sings. She recorded the song before her health turned, and released it after; a flare to fans to let them know she was still there. "It's been a long process," she says. At first I think Annelle refers to her medical condition. But then she says, "My first recording came about 20 years ago. I created this world based entirely around music. Doing what I had to do to keep my head above water. I worked the odd jobs, and I did without a lot of things that I guess some people consider necessities, like having a home. I didn't have a family. I had the songs instead.” - Andrew Dansby

Houston Chronicle, 2018

Texas Songwriter Amy Annelle makes a Lullaby for Social Distancing. The past few months will undoubtedly inspire years of song, fiction, film and other storytelling art. A few artists have already found ways to put the pandemic down in their creative thoughts. Austin-based singer-songwriter Amy Annelle is among them with a new single, ”Distance Lullaby (Stay Away, Stay Alive)”. I last heard from Annelle about two years ago. She was about to make her first Houston appearance in five years, an absence prompted by a long and painful struggle with endometriosis. Her return coincided with a lovely little break for her music: Her recording of Townes Van Zandt’s “Buckskin Stallion Blues” played prominently over the final few minutes of the much-lauded film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” She started “Distance Lullaby” just days into Austin’s shelter-in-place order and a few weeks after the South By Southwest Music Conference was canceled. “When South by Southwest canceled, that’s when I knew the bottom was dropping out,” she says. “That’s when I knew how seriously this was going to be affecting everyone. Not just me, as a musician, and not just other musicians I know. But everyone.” Annelle says she often uses songwriting “to cope,” and this song was no exception. felt scared,” she says. “And for me, songwriting can be a way of processing and approaching things I don’t have the words to explain in a normal conversation. So I wrote it down at a time of fear and a time of not knowing. It felt like a way of reaching out and trying to say things that might bring somebody some comfort.” Like Annelle’s other work, “Distance Lullaby” works a seam of dark, spacious and almost ambient folk music. She wrote it with a few contributions by her partner John Alan Kennedy, a Houston musician fluent in a vast swath of innovative and progressive music. Paul Brainard adds a mournful steel guitar to the song, which references being “locked in for days, with no end in sight.” The song speaks both to the isolation of quarantine, and the necessity of pausing one’s doings for a greater good. Though the music industry has been decimated as its gig economy has frozen, Annelle is donating all sales of the single to the SIMS Foundation, a nonprofit that is providing mental health services and support to musicians and music industry professionals during the pandemic. Annelle says SIMS “helped me tremendously” when she was in the worst throes of her illness. “Whether it’s a chronic illness or mental illness, they’re there to get musicians through difficult times.” Suffice to say: These are difficult times. “The community isn’t just hurting financially,” she says. “People are hurting because we’re losing that interconnectivity. We’re very lucky to be able to produce music during this time. And I’m an introvert; so this isn’t the end of the world to me. But a lot of people in music need to come together in some way to feel better.” Annelle recorded a second song for the B-side of the single. She went with “Thirteen,” a beloved melancholy ballad the late Alex Chilton wrote for Big Star that was released in 1972. “It seems to be how I work: I wrote a new song and that jolts another song into my consciousness,” Annelle says. “I’ve been loving it for years, and it really just brings me some comfort.”” - Andrew Dansby

Houston Chronicle, 2020

The haunting voice of Amy Annelle will keep you up at night. The mind wanders down some dark corridors, and her song just may be the soundtrack to that unsettling journey. Annelle has taken her music on the road since 1999, captivating audiences with her distinctive otherworldly vocals. This is no ordinary folk singer. She has an instinct for remaining true to roots music while taking it into a different dimension, echoing in the memory long after she’s stopped playing. ” - Laurie Gallardo

Texas Music Matters

As a talent, Annelle is as formidable as she is approachable, something that people were learning at Googie’s; her voice could and is about to be described as high and lonesome. Like most of our best artists, though, she’s way too complex to be summed up easily. One reason she stands out so distinctly from the forests of folks with an acoustic guitar is that she really connects to the past—and can translate it to the right now. When she covered Jackson Frank’s “Blues Run the Game” toward the end of her set, the whole question of “singer or song?” became beautifully muddled; Amy and Jackson were both there, and it was almost worth crying over” - Mike Wolf

TimeOut New York

Movie buffs may not have heard the name Amy Annelle, but they’ve surely heard this endo warrior sing. The 46-year-old folk musician’s haunting cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Buckskin Stallion Blues” was featured in the final scene of the Oscar-nominated film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. “It’s been an honor for my music to be part of this powerful film,” Annelle tells The Blossom exclusively. “It has a message that’s really resonating with the social justice movements that are taking place right now.” The indie drama follows Mildred (Frances McDormand) as she seeks justice for the sexual assault and murder of her daughter. Annelle's song plays during the final scene of the film when Mildred and the anti-hero, Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), venture into the unknown to seek out justice once and for all. It's a poetic fit considering Annelle’s own brave endometriosis journey. She was diagnosed with Stage IV Endometriosis at the age of 39 after spending her, “young adult life blasting through pain." Living life on the road as a budding musician, and one with endo, came with more problems. “I was on the road, I was playing shows, even though I was in so much pain that I couldn’t stand up. I was trying to work at the studio when my body was shutting down, so having to hide these symptoms from the people around me, who were mostly men, was really frightening.” Annelle says she wants the world to know that endo is not just a disease of bad periods. Having endo, “took a really heavy toll on my body, my spirit, my mind, my relationships, and my career.” Her voice tells a story in “Buckskin Stallion Blues” and her own music is equally as visceral. Not surprisingly, Annelle credits endometriosis as her muse. “I think that having an undiagnosed chronic illness, it just creates this kind of fog of silence around certain parts of ourselves as women and we think a sense of knowing something is wrong, asking for help without being seen or heard is very lonely. So I think my music does deal pretty frankly with lonesome places.”” - Alexandra Stovicek


‎2010 PORTLAND FOLK FESTIVAL: "...this inaugural event has some mighty heft behind it with three founders—Slim Moon, Amanda Stark, Chantelle Hylton Simmons—who have a combined lifetime of local music servitude under their respective belts.  It's nearly impossible to narrow down this list of performers, but here are our top picks:Longtime Portlanders surely recognize the voice of one Amy Annelle, a former local singer who traveled east a few years back, eventually settling in Texas. In her first return in quite some time, Annelle... is armed with a fancy new disc, The Cimarron Banks, of frail folk numbers, each held tenderly together with her wondrous voice and nimble melodies. She'll be collaborating with the Portland Cello Project during their Woody Guthrie tribute, then embarking for a pair of not-to-be-missed solo sets as well.” - Ezra Ace Caraeff

Portland Mercury

...there was no end to the genres crossed during the festival’s three days, and Amy Annelle's mix of traditionals, country covers and panhandle-inspired originals were a much-welcome opportunity to just sit back and listen to some folk musicVisit link for live recording of the show.”

The Flat Response

Yesterday morning I woke to a soft rain in a Maine barn. And by tonight, I'll be all the way to Oregon. Presently, I plan to take two deep breaths." So goes the unconventional newsletter of folk singer Amy Annelle, who spent the greater part of last month navigating Portland and playing shows like a Woody Guthrie tribute at the Mission Theater, the Portland Folk Festival and the Holocene Festival. But Austin's prodigal daughter has returned, announcing that she and select guests will christen Ruta Maya's new back bar with performances every Wednesday. The opening of a folk-friendly back bar bodes well. This evening Annelle's guest is Sarah Hennies of Weird Weeds, who will accompany her "with improvised percussion." Annelle's latest album is called "The Cimarron Banks" and was released earlier this summer. ”

The Austinist

The Portland Cello Project hosts a tribute to Woody Guthrie, with special guest collaborators Peter Yarrow, Dan Bern, Rebecca Gates, Laura Gibson & Amy Annelle....singing Guthrie’s ballad “Belle Starr,” written about the famed “Bandit Queen.”..she has her own interpretation of them and of the events and of Ms. Starr. That’s called “the Folk Tradition.” And that’s what this Festival is all about. The cellos, mournfully appropriate, kept to plucking and subtle bowing as the waltz tempo framed Anelle’s telling of Guthrie’s story.” - Tom D'Antoni

Oregon Music News

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