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Song-Telling Tuesday: Anna Stine and the Friction of Change

Photo by Nick Meza

“The cool thing about music is it has that universal component where people do draw their own meanings of songs. People take the meaning they want from the art.” ~Anna Stine

Songwriting

Anna Stine released her debut album, Company of Now, last October. The work has been met with critical acclaim throughout the Midwest. An album that dives into the delicate shift of being present in the middle of growth and discomfort, the collection of songs connect with themes of self-acceptance, confidence, and maturity in the suffering. It’s a mature perspective and poignant theme with depth, one in which every new listen to the songs reveal another layer.

For Anna, songwriting usually starts with a thematic symbol of sorts. For “White Chair,” it started with a chair sitting in her home. She had just had a tough conversation with her mother. Feeling guilt, confusion, and a bit of shame, she wasn’t sure who she was supposed to be versus who she was becoming. The chair became symbolic, it was always there and a solid picture in her mind. 

Typically the next stage of the process becomes a combination of poems and journal entries gathered together. A lick or melody comes to mind. Then she shifts to sitting down at the piano or guitar, recording snippets of ideas, and improvising. Anna learned in music therapy, when improvising, the frontal lobe shuts down. This allows the things which run deep in our psyche to move forward and become easily accessible. For her, sometimes it’s a fast process to write out a full song, while other songs take months, giving it space to evolve.

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Photo by Nick Meza

When writing her first album, she wasn’t sure if the songs would get shared. They were really just for her and exploring songwriting without an end intention felt important. The message that blossomed from this process is one of her own acknowledgment and acceptance of who she became. Company of Now is an album that recognizes what we leave behind when we embark on new journeys. It’s also a prime reminder to celebrate everything we gain while being present and aware. There is friction with change. But there is growth that always follows.

Growing Pains

“Growing Pains” is not about a breakup…well…not the kind you think.

Written after she moved from Ohio to Minnesota, there was a two-year process in developing this song and the breakup with her home state. She pondered about the pieces of herself she may have lost by leaving. The first line of the song-

“Look back you’ll be okay, well you’ve been here before”

is a personal reassurance that ‘you’ve done this before, and you’ll do it again.’ It’s okay to move on and it doesn’t mean you lose everything before it, but you take it with you in some way. It follows with another moving line,

“I know there’s friction in change, it’s alright”

Anna shares that we have a construct of who we are and how we interact with the world. When we’re in a certain place surrounded by comfort, we’re reimbursed and oftentimes fall into a casual reluctance to keep everything the same. When we move, we’re stripped down and it comes with this friction. We have tough questions to approach, like: Who do we want to be surrounded by? Who do we want to be? It also opens the door of uncertainty and questioning if we really know who we are. 

“My body’s feeling strange again, must just be those growing pains again

Must have gave a part of me away when I went north on that summer day.”

To Anna, that “part” she gave away was all the possibilities that could have been if she had not chosen the path to move. Being close to family, having familiarity and comfort, and pondering how she would be different when entering the early stages of adulthood if there was that comfort. She states, “I think a lot of energy gets taken away when you move to a new place. At the same time, you’re gaining a different kind of energy by forcing yourself to set outside your comfort.”

“Growing Pains” is a ‘grass is always greener’ type song. Except for most people, when they embark on an endeavor, they don’t look back and wonder. For Anna, she struggled with doubt and identity in the move. She also learned some important lessons in writing this song. “There is an importance in trusting in your own process. That you can strive to be better and still honor where you’re at. It’s okay to see areas in your life where you want to change and grow. Importance of sitting in that discomfort. Important to be uncomfortable. It means you’re doing something right.”

White Chair

As the oldest song on the album, Anna wrote this while in Ohio. It became a foreshadowing to the rest of the album’s theme. The song represents individuation- the process of separating from your parents and creating your own identity. For Anna, the process was a slow peeling away; one that involved questioning everything, like what it means to be a woman, to have freedom and autonomy.

“Who we are, who we were

don’t recognize each other anymore”

“White Chair” has always been a piano-focused song. Written quickly, she shares that it honors that pre-Minnesota version of Anna by keeping it bare-boned. She really didn’t know what the song meant when it was written. Looking back, she began to understand that growing up is hard and being conscious of how to become your own person is a challenge. We all have to decide if we should adopt generational traits and grow up in our family’s path, or create our own.

“A white chair sits in the corner all day,

Am I wrong if I stray”

The white chair represents the world and political views with which we grow up. We decide which parts of our roots we want to integrate and which ones we want to clip. She questions whether, by leaving the community in which she grew up, there will be acceptance if she’s different.

When asked what she would tell her younger self, there was a long pause before answering, “Don’t lose sight of where you come from while discovering where you are and where you want to be. You don’t have to completely cut off your roots in order to grow them back.”

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Photo by Valentin Lutsenko

Song Production

Anna’s first time in a studio was a raw and emotional experience. She had just ended a relationship a day before walking into Creation Audio. This forced her to focus on the songs and put her emotion directly back into the music. Supported by Robert Bell, who helped co-produce, co-write, and help arrange, Anna recorded for two full days with a full band. The intensity and swiftness of how quickly the band recorded the bulk of the tracks is impressive.

She then went to Europe for a month to figure out what resonated in those recordings. Coming back to record overdubs, background vocals, added piano, and guitar accents, the album was quickly mixed.

Anna shares about how odd a feeling it is, listening to it all again and hearing how it all came together. Years of writing and the formulation the songs now seem surreal with how quickly it was recorded, mixed, and finished. “Growing up happens faster than we think.”

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Photo by Nick Meza

Anna Stine will be celebrating the video release of “There I’ll Go” on Friday, June 28th at The Warming House.

The video was shot in California with Elliot Malcolm from Studio Apparatus. It’s a dream music video for Anna, one shot with drones at locations in the desert, near the ocean, and in the mountains. “Four days of shooting that were tough and vulnerable when you see yourself on camera, but it was a powerful experience,” she shares. The video tells the story of her and her van, going where she feels called, and not being afraid to go forth.

Buy tickets for this video release here and don’t miss the listening experience of The Warming House.

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