*The following interview was originally published in 2004 by Ocean View Press and was conducted by Rob Watts.
This summer I had the pleasure of passing a lovely and talented young musician while walking through Harvard Square. Her name was Anna Vogelzang. The sounds of her acoustic guitar and angelic voice were entrancing. I later contacted her about doing this interview and she was more than happy about doing so. So here we go. Check out the interview and her website listed below.
Rob-Before we start, how are you today?
Anna- I’m doing really well, thanks! The sun is out & it’s not too hot, which puts me in the perfect mood.
Rob- You’re currently attending Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. What is your major, and how does Pittsburgh differ from Boston?
Anna- Pittsburgh is a lot smaller than Boston — we have a lot of townships here, cool little places to hang out, which I’m still exploring. In Boston, I know exactly where I’m going. I would say the difference is in me – how well I know the cities & where I feel comfortable. I’m majoring in voice here, with concentrations in musich technology, business management, & creative writing. The curriculum is ridiculously intense, moreso than I was expecting, but it’s a true conservatory setting. Because it’s so rigorous, it leaves little time for going out or exploring the city, but I’m learning so much.
Rob-You grew up in Lexington Mass. What is the thing you miss most about Lexington while away at college?
Anna- Most definetely my family — I have four sisters, ages 23 to 2, wonderful parents, & my extended family at my high school that really pushed me through, in the music, drama, language, English, and history departments. There was such a support system there that I felt almost helpless when I got to Pittsburgh; it felt like I was entering some kind of void. Slowly but surely I found a wonderful supportive network here, too, which has made my school experience that much more meaningful.
Rob- Did you have any other musicians in your family growing up?
Anna- I grew up in church – my dad sang in the choir and my mother was a choir director and elementary school music teacher. On the side, my mother also sang opera with BLO [Boston Lyric Opera] and taught theory to high schoolers at NEC [New England Conservatory]. It was a childhood surrounded by music. I started piano lessons when I was 5 or 6, and my older sister and I would sit at the piano and sing Disney songs and showtunes in our free time. My sister and I really centered our outside of school lives on music, and I went through piano, french horn, and guitar, until I realised that all I wanted to do was sing.
Rob- When we talked the other day, you mentioned that you were a fan of bands and singers like R.E.M., Bob Dylan, Ani DiFranco and The Dresden Dolls. What is it about their music that attracts you to them?
Anna- For me, listening to music so often centers around the voice. My dad used to play R.E.M. all the time, and I adored the really strong, substantial vocals. Dylan has been a huge inspiration in songwriting, as he is for most every musician. As an artist, Ani DiFranco has done what any girl with a guitar hopes to do — made herself & her label something really wonderful, run by a woman in a man’s industry. I think she’s absolutely brilliant. The Dolls are friends of mine, which is why I think I admire them so much — I saw them before they “made it”, and the process they’ve gone through to get where they are. There is something ridiculously visceral about their music that hits me hard and that I admire so much. The vocals, the lyrics, the timing, and the stage presence all make for a really wonderful show, which is such a fun experience to be a part of.
Rob- Are there any other bands that you listen to for inspiration?
Anna- It’s almost always women who sing — Bjork, Billie Holiday, Mirah, Regina Spektor. I also have a lot of friends who perform and write music, who I love listening to, and learn alot from.
Rob- now, a couple of years ago, you were in a band, that I actually remember seeing as well, called Random Robot. Can you talk a little about how the band formed?
Anna- My friend Eric was in my math class, and it was well known that I sang — I did a’cappella, the madrigal choir, and had played a few open mics with just me & my guitar. He asked if I’d want to sing with his band sometime. So I went to a rehearsal one day. The guys had already been playing together for two years, but wanted vocals in the mix. It just worked well together, and we started to write.
Rob- Was that your first band?
Anna- It was! I had done a few things with my crappy acoustic guitar, but it was nothing substantial. It makes it feel much more “real” when other people are also invested in the project.
Rob- Random Robot went on the win the WBCN High School rumble in Boston. What did the band receive for winning this event?
Anna- Actually, we didn’t quite win. We did play finals, though, which was at the House of Blues in Harvard Square — that was a ridiculous show. A whole bunch of our friends came, and it was a stage that so many people we admired had played. We ended up getting some studio time and some gift certificates, and also we all got scholarship to the Berklee 1 Week Summer Program of our choice, which was awesome.
Rob- So at what point did you go solo?
Anna- It wasn’t actually a choice. When I got to school in Pittsburgh, it just kind of had to happen. I had started writing some songs at piano the summer before I went off to college, while I was still with Robot, but they were just little things. When I got to school I felt like I had to keep writing. It started to evolve into something bigger than I had expected, and so I put a show together with all of the new songs I had written. And then everything snowballed, and I haven’t stopped writing.
Rob- If someone is reading about you right now, and has never heard your music before, how would you describe your sound to them?
Anna- My favorite thus far has been “unavoidably soulful”, which a friend of mine said when asked to describe a show I did in New York this summer. I always try to dodge this question, because it’s hard to pinpoint yourself. I’d say jazz-funk-folk-rock. Or something along those lines.
Rob- Now this summer, I caught your act in Harvard Square. Where is your favorite place around Boston to play live? Do you have a favorite club or outdoor spot?
Anna- I love the Zeitgeist Gallery — they’re really so wonderful & supportive of local artists. It’s also a great vibe for a small little show. As for busking outdoors, I played outside of Toscinini’s in Harvard Sq. alot this summer. The spot was nice for me — I don’t use an amp, so it wasn’t too close to any other musicians who would be aural competition. It also had a nice transitional crowd, between Harvard & Central. I’m superstitious — once I find a place that works I tend to stick to it.
Rob- Do you plan on recording anytime soon?
Anna- I do! I’m going to be in the studio here at school for a few days, hopefully around January, to do an actual album. I want to get some studio stuff down so that I can start to distribute that instead of the live bootleg albums I’ve been selling at my shows.
Rob- What do you do for enjoyment when not doing the music, or college thing?
Anna- Well, that’s about all I do, lately. I love taking photographs, and exploring the city. I also drink alot of tea, so finding new spots where I can write or listen to music & have a cup of tea are always good to find.
Rob- Do you have any words of advice for up and coming musicians. Females looking to pick up a guitar?
Anna- To any women looking to play guitar, I’d say get lessons. I just started formal lessons here at school and have realised how much damage I’m already doing. I’m a strong believer in classical training in any instrument, so you know where the roots are that you’re coming from. And to book gigs! It’s so easy, and a great way to network.
Rob- Any final words to the readers before we wrap up?
Anna- There’s free downloads at http://www.theanna.com, if you’re interested in listening. And VOTE if you can! This November is going to be crucial – there’s no reason for young people not to exercize their voices.
Rob- Thanks Anna, for talking and sharing. Best of luck to you in school and with your music!
Anna- Thank you, Rob! Take care.