Analogue Music | Anna Tivel

Anna Tivel

By Matt Conner

Anna Tivel is accumulating.

As she "bounces around the world" touring both in the United States and abroad with songs from her latest album Outsiders, Tivel is also in the process of gathering stories and experiences, information and emotion for the next round of writing sessions once she gets home. The stations of the creative cycle weren't always so apparent to her, but writing without the adventures of playing live during a global pandemic made it clear how important it was to get out and about—even if it can be uncomfortable or exhausting, as she says.

It's a beautiful thing to have Tivel back on the road, as her songs often serve as a salve for the chaotic moments and broken places that fans end up bringing to her shows. "Outsiders look up / The night is dark but brilliant and it turns out we are not so different," she sings on the title track from her new LP. Her thoughtful approach to her songcraft is what elevates the music to such great heights.

We recently caught up with Tivel on the road as she's road-testing the new material. We spoke about songwriting surprises and pandemic gleanings and why she's glad to be gathering moments with fans once again.

Analogue: How much of the new album is making its way into the live set? All of it? Some of it?

Anna Tivel: We’re playing about half of it. We haven’t quite worked up all the songs yet. We’re playing quite a few from Outsiders and a bunch fro the last couple of albums. Then we’re doing some more touring in October and November, so I think we’ll learn the rest of the songs then. But I tour the rest of the summer alone and I’ll play the rest of those solo, too.

Analogue: You’ve said that these songs go back to just before the world shut down. Did you give thought to putting this out before now?

Anna: Yeah, for sure. It was caught in the wheels of the machine for a little while. There was a label that was going to put it out, but the pandemic shifted everybody’s funding and things like that and they had to drop it. So it didn’t have a home for a little bit and we were trying to figure out how to release it. It got stuck and felt like, ‘Oh, how are we going to do this?’ We were very fortunate to start working with Mama Bird. They just really love songs and are a very supportive part of the Portland community. It felt worth the wait to find a way to put it out that also feels like good music friends. I’m glad it worked out that way eventually.

" I definitely find a lot after making albums. It’s like looking back at your own diary and realizing you’ve been chipping away at this thing you were not understanding or wanting to explore."

Analogue: Did you go back and rework songs knowing there was a delay?

Anna: Well, through the pandemic we were mixing and mastering and that took a while with everyone’s schedules. We did some overdubs from afar with my friend Shane Leonard, who produced it. I like to also let things live as a timestamp. I never have a great urge to redo something. Once it’s alive in a raw form, I feel like, ‘Ah, that’s what it is. Moving on to new songs.’ [Laughs]

We actually recorded another one. I wrote a lot during the pandemic and went out with Shane to his house and we recorded a new album that will be out whenever that comes out. So we did this one and then I moved on in my song heart.

Analogue: Wow, so there’s a whole other project waiting in the wings?

Anna: Yeah, it’s in the mixing phase, but we made it last year—just the two of us in Shane’s garage.

Analogue: There’s a real thematic approach here on Outsiders. Is that something you just find as you look back and see there’s a throughline? Or is that more from starting with a thesis and then aiming to write about that thing?

Anna: Yeah I think the former for sure. It’s always interesting to talk about records after you’ve made them, because you get to discover what you were working through with your songwriting. I’m writing as a way to maybe figure out a pile of chaotic feelings that you’re feeling or stories you’re watching unfold. Then you have of songs that you want to record. Then way later, then you realize, ‘Oh, wow, I seem to be obsessing over this vulnerability.’ [Laughs] I definitely find a lot after making albums. It’s like looking back at your own diary and realizing you’ve been chipping away at this thing you were not understanding or wanting to explore.

Analogue: So were you surprised by Outsiders?

Anna: I’m always kind of surprised. I’m very intentional with words, but I love the act of freely writing without thinking about form or album or anything that it might become. So I do think it’s like seeing a video of some moment in your life or something. You see all these things you didn’t feel when you were living it, because you were trying to work something out. I think it’s always sort of surprising to look back and feel something you went through with your various ways of trying to express. Sometimes it can feel good but sometimes it’s painful. It can also be hopeful to look back and kind of witness yourself struggling through trying to put pieces together that make sense to you.

Analogue: Were you more prolific in the pandemic?

Anna: I’d been touring pretty hard for some years, and I love to have very isolated, very quiet writing time and don’t often get to foster that. Especially in the first year of the pandemic, as struggle some as it all was, I sunk so deep into writing as a way to work through what was happening to try to be creative through that. I loved the part of that time where I was burning up to write. Then maybe the second year I just became a puddle of Netflix and depression. [Laughs]

Analogue: [Laughs] It was that way for most of us.

Anna: It was such a wild moment of stillness. I’ve talked to a lot of people who had these moments of looking inward in a way they never had and that being really useful—and really painful. It’s asking, ‘What is a whole life?’ It’s asking which parts of this speak to my soul and which parts aren’t building this kind of humanness that I’m moving toward. It was just an interesting time to be sitting there relatively uncomfortably and jobless but also super fucking lucky to not be going underwater and all the things people were struggling with. I felt pretty lucky to just be writing through it and thinking through it.

Analogue: Hearing you say that just now and knowing you’re taking these songs overseas here shortly, does that all feel surreal?

Anna: [Laughs] It does. Touring again is all new again. I’ve always really loved it. I think sitting still for a minute solidified all the things I loved about it. It just feels good to be bouncing off the world. Every night you just show up and don’t know where you are or what it will be like, but there are people there who are willing to share their stories with you because you did this vulnerable thing in front of them and you wouldn’t have met them otherwise.

You fill up on tour. I think the pandemic made me realize how much touring fuels writing for me. You’re bouncing around the world and sometimes that’s exhausting and uncomfortable but it’s also vibrant and unexpected. Then you’re home and you have all of these colors and sounds and stories all bungled up in your mind and you have to express that as a way to understand what you just witnessed and what you’re feeling. It’s a cycle.

I think I realized after a year of writing without touring during the pandemic, I was writing the same song over and over again. I think touring is the thing that fills me up with inspiration about the world and about what I’d like to write.

VISIT: Anna Tivel