Canadian artist Ann Vriend has a lot of fans in Australia, and she's going to help them ease out of summer by playing a string of dates in a variety of locations, accompanied by the Rooster Davis Group. Just for the tour Ann will release an EP just for Australian audiences. Entitled Anybody's Different, fans will be able to buy it at her shows - dates appear after the interview - and in the meantime enjoy the single 'Real Love'.
How was your 2016?
It’s been quite a year, I think, for a lot of people – politically and we’ve lost a lot of great artists. Economically a lot of people aren’t doing as well as they had hoped and I’m definitely in that camp. For me it’s been a really busy year touring, too, so I am really behind on things like … well, everything: paperwork and organising and my inbox is terribly unattended to.
I’m sure people who email you understand that you’re often on the road and it can be hard to keep track of things like email.
Yes, but then you get off the road. And there’s such a large amount of things when you’re an independent artist and wearing a lot of hats, doing all the business side as well as the music side. You’re not trying to be rude and ignore people, but you only have twenty-four hours in the day [laughs]. You hope people understand. There’s some people I’ve heard who say, ‘I’ve got everything cleared in my inbox’ – Oh, are you serious? [Laughs] Who can do that?
I think those people have assistants they can delegate to. When you’re an independent artist you are the delegator and the delegatee.
A lot of them aren’t yes/no answers, like: ‘What’s your marketing strategy for the next five years?’ and you can’t say, ‘No’ or ‘Yes’. That’s an involved thing to answer. Or somebody says, ‘Can you give me career advice?’ Maybe, I don’t know. The things that are more involved you tend to put off because it takes a lot of thought.
It is the challenge of the two halves of what you do: your creative work, which includes playing live, and then the business side which is that more administrative thing. There’s quite a different rhythm to that, so throughout the year it probably feels a bit like you’re chopping and changing.
That’s really one of the hardest things, just wearing these different hats and being in a totally different head space doing creative stuff to doing emails that are, like, ‘What about May 16, 2018?’ and then they ask you for your tech rider. Also: ‘What’s the new title for your EP?’ That’s exactly what I’m dealing with today when I get off the phone – I have to decide on my next EP title and then book dates to go to Europe. So you’re always mixing up, but it’s what everybody has to do. I think back in the ages when there was a lot more money in music and major labels were the only way you could have the music business work, there managers and record labels did all that stuff for the artists and the artists were just purely artists. But since the internet, that has changed everything [laughs].
I’m interested in how those changes affect creative work – creative output. Part of the reason for having that structure of the business is so you can concentrate on your creative work, because it is such a different thing to do. Perhaps we’re yet to see the effects of that and maybe we won’t for a while, but I wonder if songs get shorter and albums cease to exist simply because artists won’t have time to do that many songs at once and instead they’ll just release singles.
The way people are consuming music these days – which is largely on streaming sites like Spotify, or making their own playlists on iTunes – having an album, like a group of songs presented together, seems less and less of a thing. For instance, my record label are deciding to release a single at a time rather than a whole album, not because I don’t have enough songs but because they want one song at a time to have attention and push. Because otherwise what was happening was that you’d have this album of twelve songs and they all cost an equal amount of money to record and then only one or two were the singles that were on the radio or that people would hear or that would get marketed. So you’d have these other ones that almost got forgotten and then ignored and people who were investing in them, like a record label, weren’t really getting a return on investment. That’s the business model they’re working with. But I think you’re right in that what’s happening with artists now, because they have to do so much more than before, is that, yes, there is a danger of the music suffering, either because their output isn’t as much creatively because they’re doing all this business stuff or the quality suffers, unfortunately, and not because anybody wants it to but because you only have so much energy and head space and time to work on your time and practise every day and write every day and get better.
It’s the head space and also that mental quietness out of which songs or stories can come. You need those pauses in your life to be able to do that.
Exactly. And time. As you’d know, as a writer too, you can’t say exactly how much time it’s going to take you to write something. You start it and then you might erase a lot of what you’ve written and start over, or have to come back to it and redo parts because your editor said. So when people say, ‘Can you do this by tomorrow?’ well, maybe or maybe not. It depends, when I sit down, what comes out. I can’t tell you yet.
You mentioned your EP – and that’s scheduled for release in 2017, so I imagine you’ll bring some copies with you when you come to Australia?
Technically we’re just going to get them manufactured in Australia, not wanting to bring five suitcases [laughs]. But, yes, I’m going to have that with me. I think it’s officially going to be released on January 20 in Australia and that day a new single will be coming out, and that one’s called ‘Real Love’. And two of the singles are out on the internet because it’s been released in Canada already. So that will be the third single from it but the first one that’s really being pushed in Australia.
The last time I spoke to you, you were having your album pressed in vinyl. How did that work out? Would you do vinyl again?
Definitely. It’s a ton of work, getting all the artwork organised because it’s obviously a different size than a CD. But I’m a huge vinyl lover myself – I have a big record collection and really get off on the whole vinyl thing, love going to second-hand stores and finding treasures. What’s fun about is that there’s this resurgence in vinyl going on right now. People are going back to wanting the tactile thing and having the artwork in front of them that’s not this tiny little CD thing or zero artwork where it’s digital. We always include a download card with the vinyl so people can have the best of both worlds. So it’s really fun, although it’s still a hassle because a box of vinyl is heavy – but it’s worth it. It’s a fun thing to have and it’s more lasting, in a way.
The last time you came to Australia, I don’t remember that you had the Rooster Davis Group with you – is that right?
And there’s no guitar or bass – it’s two keyboards and drums. So in terms of transporting yourselves around, does it get a bit bulky?
Yeah, it’s quite annoying – I’m not gonna lie [laughs]. There’s many days when I wish, Oh, couldn’t I just play the piccolo or just something small like a spoon? But it’s hard to sing while playing piccolo, for one thing. When I musically put things together what I was doing I wasn’t smart enough to think about the logistics of travel. The Rooster Davis Group itself is a band unto themselves as well, and I perform in it. So when they’re doing their music, which is New Orleans blues and boogie and funk, I am either a backing singer or sometimes I sing lead, but just not my own music. And then I hire that band to be my backing band to do my original music. So on this tour we’re doing some Rooster Davis shows and some Ann Vriend shows, so that’s part of the reason that I might bring them along, so we can do these two things on the same tour.
So when you do the blues festival in Goulburn, is that you as you or is that them?
Well, in that case it’s going to be a combo [laughs] – just to make things more confusing. We’ll do a couple of my songs and then a couple of theirs and sort of change it up back and forth between who’s band leader, which keeps things interesting. The music is definitely markedly different, so people will notice the difference, but it belongs in the same lineage of being part of the R&B tradition. One is older music and mine is more modern soul.
Is there a certain freedom for you when you’re a member of the Rooster Davis band and the spotlight is not on the way it is when it’s you? I’d think it’s a nice balance for you, to be able to do that.
Totally. There’s way less pressure as a support musician rather than [when] it’s my band and the focus is on me and I’m the bandleader. It is really nice. In a way I have a lot more fun doing that because there’s less pressure on me and it’s really fun music – it’s impossible to not have fun in that genre. But it is a really nice contrast. I really enjoy being able to have those two hats to wear musically.
And it’s a paradox: the pressure is on you when you’re the bandleader and it’s your material but that’s what you work for, to have that career, but at the same time it’s hard and you’re responsible for other people. So it’s good to have a break.
Exactly. If I didn’t want it, there’s no one holding a gun to my head saying, ‘You have to have it’. I do want it and it’s really rewarding, but it takes my energy when it’s your music and it’s close to your heart and being pretty vulnerable.
You’re coming out in February and March to play a range of towns and venues – how far ahead have you planned this tour?
I’m lucky in that I didn’t have to book this one myself. The woman in charge of the company who booked it did a great job. She’d never booked a tour before – her background is in merch sales – but she did a really great job. We had another guy lined up but he got really sick, unfortunately, so she had to take the reins quickly.
There’s some great clubs there and also some good towns to visit in warmer weather, like Byron Bay.
I’m looking forward to it. I used to have to do all that [booking] myself when I was in Australia and, as you can imagine, it’s a ton of work and a lot of emails and phone calls, and sometimes by the time you’re on the tour you just want to crawl into bed because you’ve been married to your laptop and phone for so long. It’s so nice to have a team there now and people who are good at what they do. I’m very lucky.
Thursday 9th February 2017
Brass Monkey, CRONULLA NSW
Friday 10th February 2017
Australian Blues Music Festival, GOULBURN NSW
Saturday 11th February 2017
Australian Blues Music Festival, GOULBURN NSW
Sunday 12th February 2017
Smiths Alternative, CANBERRA ACT
Friday 17th February 2017
Paris Cat, MELBOURNE VIC
Friday 24th February 2017
The Heritage Hotel, BULLI NSW
Saturday 25th February 2017
Venue 505, SYDNEY NSW
Thursday 2nd March 2017
Lizottes, NEWCASTLE NSW
Friday 3rd March 2017
Flow Bar, OLD BAR NSW
Saturday 4th March 2017
63 First Ave, SAWTELL NSW
Friday 10th March 2017
Nightquarter, GOLD COAST QLD
Saturday 11th March 2017
Brisbane Jazz Club, BRISBANE QLD
Sunday 12th March 2017
The Rails, BYRON BAY NSW
For more information, please visit www.annvriend.com