Analogue Music | Brooke Annibale

Brooke Annibale

By Matt Conner

A hard reset was needed.

When Brooke Annibale was forced to set it all aside, just like the rest of us, during a global pandemic, it turned out to be the hard reset she'd been searching for —even as it was also difficult to endure. Years of the rinse/repeat cycle of writing and recording and touring and promoting had given way to exhaustion and a loss of perspective. On the other side of it all, Annibale now says she's filled with gratitude and inspiration, ready for the road ahead.

Annibale's newest album, Better By Now, is a multi-layered look at her experiences from the last few years, including a delayed marriage and mental health issues. It's also as striking as anything she's written to date. We recently asked Annibale to tell us more about this new LP and what lessons she's learned from the last few years of a shaken music industry.

Analogue: With the new record and as you’re picking things back up, I’m wondering if this all feels different than before we were all sheltering-in-place?

Brooke Annibale: It’s not that if feel different, but I feel it more intensely, but the first thing that comes to mind is gratitude. We had this time where we couldn’t connect in person and music experienced together is the best, right? So anytime I get to play a show, I’m super grateful that it happened. I definitely had some time before the pandemic when I felt exhausted and wondered how much I could do this, how much more I could be vulnerable.

Now I look at it as an opportunity every time to feel that connection. Obviously, it doesn’t always go great, but it’s an interesting thing. I was just off the road for a week or so and we were having this really strange soundcheck. It was like an SNL skit was unfolding, but I was like, ‘I’m just enjoying every second of this. It’s weird, but we’re here and we’re doing this.’ [Laughs]

Analogue: You’ve been at this for some time, so did you need a sort of hard reset?

Brooke: Yeah, I felt like I was trying to reset myself in 2019 to be ready to go in 2020. I had a lot of things planned and was ready to dive back in, or so I thought. Then this was a second forced reset but I realized, ‘Oh, this is what a real reset is.’

Analogue: How much did you worry about getting going again?

Brooke: I think we’re still trying to figure that out. During everything shutting down, I was worried that all of the venues I play will not be in business in anymore. I mean, they couldn’t have any business at all. Fortunately, most are still around and now the struggle is that everyone wants to play shows and so it’s hard to book one. You want to book a show but five others are in line for the same night. [Laughs] So it’s trying to find balance in the new world. I don’t even want to call it a post-pandemic world since it’s still affecting things, so it’s just the new world.

Analogue: How many of the songs from Better By Now are from this season?

Brooke: Maybe all of them. Lemme think. [Pause] Y’know, there’s maybe one or two songs on here that I was starting to play live at the beginning of 2020, but the rest of them are out of that time at home. It was hard to be creative for a long time with all of the news bombarding us, but after a while, I found the space in my brain to work on these songs. So 90 percent of this was during that year or so.

Analogue: Is that your normal M.O. to road test a song before recording a permanent version?

Brooke: Sometimes, yeah. Sometimes it’s good to play them in front of an audience and figure out what sort of works in that setting, because it works so much better than playing it at home on your computer. [Laughs] But most of these songs, I didn’t play for anyone until we were recording them.

Analogue: Yeah that’s what I wondered when you said that. I wondered if it changed the way you were forced to write and record and if that brought something new.

Brooke: It felt a little weird, but there are always a couple of songs I don’t share until I’ve recorded them. So in a way, it forced me to my demoing state a lot more. I have a mini home studio that I just focused on the songs a lot more before going into the studio or in front of people.

Better By Now cover art
Better By Now cover art

Analogue: So what was the cutting room floor like on this one?

Brooke: I often feel like I don’t write a lot of extra songs, but it’s mostly that I’ll start a song and I’ll know it’s just not it. Then I move on. So I have these pieces of songs and not as many, ‘Oh, I have 30 songs to choose from on this record.’ Usually, it’s 15-16 that I have presentable and I’ll choose 10-11.

Analogue: Were you worried about what it would be like to play these songs out?

Brooke: I feel like this record is such a spectrum of emotions that I don’t know if I was focused on, ‘Oh what will this song feel like when I have to perform it?’ It was more like, ‘How do I get through this time?’ I feel like a lot of stuff I was focusing on was my mental health and figuring things out and trying to be better on a day-to-day basis when you’re up against all these external things.

The other thing I thought of when you asked that was that I was supposed to get married in 2020. We had to postpone our wedding, so I had started some songs or ideas of songs about falling in love with my wife and this brought us into this moment together even more. We were dreaming of what our wedding day would be like because we couldn’t even picture having our family over for dinner.

So it’s really an interesting spectrum of falling in love and mental health issues and everything in between. It’s all of your internal emotions and workings together. [Laughs]

Analogue: Is this the most personal release because of that?

Brooke: I started writing songs 20 years ago when I was a teenager to process teenage emotions and as it keeps going, I keep processing my emotions this way. So every record has that deeply personal part about it. But I feel like the longer that I keep doing it, the more focused in on tackling different things that I get. So I don’t know. It’s hard to say.

VISIT: Brooke Annibale

Photo: Shervin Lainez