Los Angeles isn’t the never-ending traffic slog that people may imagine when they visualize the City of Angels. It’s a breathtaking metropolis surrounded by mountains, hugged by the ocean on one side and the desert on the other. Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Anna Vogelzang embraces the wild and weird terrain of LA in her latest video for the title track to her forthcoming LP Beacon.
“This video was a love letter to LA, ” Vogelzang explains. “Abby beautifully caught these glimpses of moving through my neighborhood, the night sky, the feeling of driving with the windows down in Highland Park. This whole album was written to the backdrop of the city, and I wanted something that created a visual testament to that.” Vogelzang beautifully captures the feeling of creating a nest, a quiet space in the middle of a chaos. While watching the video, I paused and leaned in at times to see if she had added nature sounds: rustling leaves, a chickens burr, a child’s footsteps. The sounds weren’t there, but the music perfectly captured the magic on screen.
“Beacon” is a song for those brave enough to move to Los Angeles, but even more so, it’s a song for those who are willing to dig a little deeper into the soul of the city, to find those secret streets and hidden highways that lead out into the lush beauty that is California.
Watch AudioFemme’s exclusive premiere of “Beacon” and read our full interview with Anna below.
AF: You can play guitar, ukulele, baritone ukulele, banjo, and kalimba…When did you first take an interest in music and what led you to these instruments in particular?
AV: I grew up in a house full of music; my parents both sing and play – my mom professionally – and almost all of my extended family members are musical, too. So I don’t really remember first taking an interest – I’ve always loved to sing, and started playing piano when I was four. I switched to guitar when I was a teenager since it seemed like the songs I liked were all played on guitar, and that it was an easier instrument to teach myself (hah!). Really, the instruments were always just ways to support my writing, and singing – I wanted something to accompany my words and melodies, and so whatever worked, stuck. Now I’ve moved through that and have really been learning more about guitar, appreciating the different avenues you can take with it, trying to become a better instrumentalist. I’d say at this point it’s my main instrument for sure.
AF: Beacon is your 7th studio release. Has your writing process changed at all from your first EP?
AV: I’m so glad that it has – if I was still writing the way I was when I was 18, I’d be worried for myself! So many things have changed over those years – learning about the studio, learning what I want from different sounds, my taste in music, which directly affects the music I make… the list goes on. I’m at a point now where writing is an exercise, a muscle that I try to keep in shape, and the best songs are the ones that make it to the album. When I was starting out, every song was a diary entry, and each one got equal attention at shows and in the studio – every song was a precious gem and needed its moment in the sun. Now, the ones that I share are from the top of a mountain of songs that most people won’t really get to hear. I’m much more selective, because there are so many more songs now – because I’m not just waiting for the muse to strike. I’m putting in the work.
AF: When you initially moved to Los Angeles, you started a Salon series with your friend and guitarist Adam Levy; that series ended up moving to The Bootleg Theatre. What an incredible venue to perform at! Can you tell us a bit about the process of bootstrapping the series and how it landed at The Bootleg?
AV: Yes! So Salon actually began as a songwriting group that met at my house. Adam Levy and I co-hosted other songwriters once a week and we all tried to bring a new piece of writing to be workshopped. It was great for our output – once we got in a groove, a song a week became the norm. Bringing those songs to our friends at Salon helped us to figure out if it was just an idea, or something worth working on further, and helped us to dive into the editing process. Every song on this new album went through that group of people, which feels extraordinarily lucky.
We decided to bring it to the public and pitched our idea to the Bootleg, who were happy to host us for a month long residency – the team at the Bootleg is amazing, and we wouldn’t have wanted to do it anywhere else in town. Adam and I featured four different songwriters every week, and then had surprise guests each play a song in the middle of the evening. Some weeks there were 11 songwriters on stage by the end of the night. We shared new songs and talked about the writing process with each other on stage – it was really a dream show. We had so much fun.
AF: You’re a mom now (as am I). Living with a toddler has many unique challenges. How do you carve out time for music? And has your writing process changed dramatically?
AV: Ohhhh yes. GO TEAM MOM! It’s pretty crazy, isn’t it?! I cannot do it without help. Usually, if I’m not momming, I’m working on my business while my fella or family members or sitters watch my kiddo. Unfortunately “working on my business” usually means emails and promotion and merch fulfillment instead of creative work. What’s worked for me in the last two years is carving out time for my creative work the same way I do for the rest of my work. So if I have a sitter for four hours, I work for three and write for one. The days of waiting for the muse to hit are long gone – so in that sense, yes, my writing process was forced to change. But thanks to the accountability and routine of Salon, it had already gotten into that new rhythm before I had a baby, so it wasn’t too much of a shift.
AF: What currently gets you up in the morning (other than your little)? Books, music, food?
AV: Right now it feels like I am just barreling through this season of transition as the album comes out. I wish I’d been reading more. I feel like my version of books right now are my favorite newsletters: my friend Marlee Grace; my friend Sarah at Modern Women; I am obsessed with empowerment/magic/horoscope newsletters. They give me a little oomph in the morning. I’m loving my friend Madison Cunningham’s new record, and my friend Rosie Tucker just dropped a single called “Ambrosia” that I’ve loved hearing live forever – I’m so glad it’s out. Jamie Drake’s new album is gorgeous. I can’t wait to hear AO Gerber’s new album whenever that comes out down the line, and this month I’ve been going back into the Mirah archives, who is a forever-favorite of mine and listening to all of my old favorite songs over again.
AF: You work with Girls Rock LA Camp, an institution we’re big fans of here at AudioFemme. You yourself struggled with guitar at first (hand strength is the bane of my existence). How do you encourage girls who get frustrated at the plateau?
AV: I love Rock Camp so much. The thing about camp is that we don’t usually hit that plateau stage, luckily. You’re all so focused on the goal of the showcase at the end of the week, that it’s really just figuring out how to empower the camper with whatever tools they need to feel great about the getting on stage in four days and play something that works for that song, that moment. With longer term students I’ve had (who are mostly at the college level), I use that same camp framework and create short term goals. If they’ve gotten to a point where they can pass but can’t progress, if you will, a lot of times we’ll find one thing that’s really challenging (a new time signature, fingerpicking versus strumming, playing a specific lick) and just work on that, one foot in front of the other. I try to give myself the same assignment, too – a lot of times the best way to achieve that is through covers, which makes it a funner process for everyone.
AF: You’re going on tour in October. What should fans expect from an Anna Vogelzang show?
AV: My album release show in LA on the 4th is going to be full band, which I can’t wait for. We’re going to play the whole album front to back – so it will sound like the album, I hope! I tend to chat a lot at shows… not too much, but you can’t avoid catching some feelings, you know? On my Midwest and East Coast runs, I’m going to be solo, which I’m also super excited for – bringing these songs to folks the way they were written, in their most vulnerable state. Plus, that way I get to experiment with pedals, textures, an affected vocal mic – in order to recreate some of the ambiance of the album. I can’t wait to hit the road… I guess people should expect a good hang and honest songwriting. And lots of La Croix.