During a time when more and more country music listeners are yearning for something more rooted in tradition, singer-songwriter Michaela Anne manages to combine modern style with plenty of old school swagger.
Anne has been earning praise for her new album, Bright Lights and the Fame. She is one of the latest artists to grow out of the burgeoning "East Nashville" scene, which represents a new generation of musicians who are bringing the influences of the great country songwriters of the 60s and 70s to the modern era. Although her latest release is filled with the rolling pedal steel and twang that is decidedly vintage Nashville at its best, Anne is a relative newcomer to the scene.
Her move to Tennessee was a change that she wanted to make for years, but could never find the right timing. From a young age, Anne dreamed of one day making the formative trek to the center of country music to face the challenge of making it amongst a crowd of wannabes. As a military brat, she was used to moving from city to city, but eventually found herself planting her roots in Brooklyn. For years, she worked on evolving her talents as a singer-songwriter and became comfortable with the city's vibrant music scene. As more and more opportunities came her way, the longtime dream of moving to Nashville seemed further than ever.
In 2014, she finally made the leap and headed to the Music City for a fresh start. Although excited to take on a new challenge, the reality of jumping out of her comfort zone was difficult to tackle.
"My confidence was a little bit shaken," she admits. "Growing up as a military kid, being the "new kid" is something very familiar to me and still very anxiety-provoking. I was a little nervous about how I would be perceived, and people would be like, 'who is this New Yorker coming down here and thinking she can play country music?'"
After a few months of finding her footing, she found herself becoming immersed in Nashville's creative community. Although many may assume that there's stiff competition between artists vying for the top of the charts, Anne says that musicians in town are usually openly rooting for each other.
"If there is any competition, you don't really see it," she explains. "Everyone is super ambitious, but also very supportive of each other, especially the female musician circles in town."
She came to Nashville during a time when independent alt-country was all the rage, thanks to artists like Sturgill Simpson. But there was also a group of female musicians who were beginning to be recognized outside of the Nashville community. Artists like Margo Price and Kelsey Waldon were making it known that there were female voices outside of the mainstream realm of country music that deserved to be heard.
"The term 'female singer-songwriter' in many circles has a negative connotation, and I think that's crap," Anne says. "There are so many talented and strong female musicians here and we're all friends. We cheer each other on. Margo [Price] hosted a girl's night and there were around 25 female singer-songwriters all just hanging out and sharing songs."
The close-knit creative community in Nashville also helped Anne develop relationships with artists she had admired since she was a young girl. Rodney Crowell, who she credits as one of her favorite artists of all time, appears on the song "Luisa." Their collaboration sparked a full-circle moment for Anne that she never expected.
"That was a total surreal dream for me," she says of the session. "When I was a kid, I loved Tim McGraw's record, A Place in the Sun. My dad got orders and our family had to move from Seattle to Italy, and I was completely heartbroken. I listened to a song on the record called 'Please Remember Me,' and I didn't even know until recently that Rodney wrote the song. I used to listen to it on repeat, thirteen years old, lying in bed, feeling so many feelings," she said with a laugh. "When I was at Rodney's house for the recording session, I saw a songwriting award for it on his wall and went, 'what?!'"
Anne draws her influences not only from classic artists like Crowell and Emmylou Harris, but 90s icons like Shania Twain. Both Harris and Twain's ability to be fearlessly feminine was something that stuck with Anne, and comes through in attitude-driven cuts like "Won't Go Down," where she defines what it means to be a woman who knows what she wants.
The track was co-written with producer Dave Brainard, who Anne met while opening for Brandy Clark in New York. Anne bonded with Brainard, who previously served in the military, over the realization of how that way of life shapes your personality and choices growing up. Anne, who says most saw her as somewhat of a "goody-two-shoes," decided to flip that narrative on its side by vocalizing the strength in taking a stand.
"It's about knowing your lines, morals and stances, which to me is an empowering thing," she explains. "That took me a long time to be comfortable with and proclaim."
Although Anne's success may seem sudden to many, it's actually been in the works for years. With two solid albums already behind her, she's worked hard to find her own sound over the past few years. Thanks to countless performances, an unbreakable drive and the wisdom of her peers, Michaela Anne has positioned herself as one of the most promising female musicians in country music today.