photo credit Harald Wiesleitner

Ann Klein

By TC Krentz

Musician Ann Klein is becoming the darling of New York in our humble
opinion. Her experience boasts worldly gigs & recordings with major
players like Joan Osborne, Natalie Imbruglia, Ani DiFranco, Sara Lee and
Toshi Reagon. But Ann is an interestingly noteworthy
performer/songwriter in her own right. Boston Girl Guide's TC Krentz
investigates the fascinations of NYC's Ann Klein.

BGG: The latest record Waiting for the Snow was recorded in Austria. You've also toured there. Is it unusual for you as an American to go Salzburg to record & tour with Austrian musicians? How'd this all come about?

AK: A childhood friend is married to an Austrian saxophone player. Five years ago he gave some musicians my first record; they really liked it and invited me to come tour there. I've pretty much been going every year now with the exception of the year I was playing with Sara Lee on Ani DiFranco's tour in 2000. After 9/11, they emailed me asking if I was OK. I told them "Get me out of New York!" so they offered to make a record! I went in January of this year.


BGG: Were the songs already written?

AK: For the most part. I wrote the song Safe while I was there.

BGG: We're there any songs about 9/11 on this disc?

AK: Yes, (title track) Waiting for the Snow is more about New York than 9/11. New York is an interesting place to be. We didn't know what was happening then. There was a lot of tenuous feelings amongst the people here. I couldn't write about the heroes and the loss, I don't know...that wasn't how I needed to express it all. I just wanted New York to go back to normal. When there's a blizzard in New York, it's really just the most beautiful thing you could see. And I was just wishing for that kind of blizzard. It makes everything quiet and when it finally melts away it there is a sense of clean. That was about November in NYC.

BGG: I would have assumed you wrote Theater of War about 9/11...

AK: I put that on because it was very relevant but I actually wrote that when the Gulf War was going on! And so it's all connected; it might as well have been written this year.

BGG: What makes the CD different than your last two recorded in NYC?

AK: Of course, different musicians are from a different place. That alone gives it a different flavor. The first CD is very guitar driven. I call it my Jimi Hendrix record. The second and third are a little closer. On this one, more care was taken in making this record. A lot of that has to do with the musicians over there. They really wanted to make a great piece of work. And in New York, you're always so rush and your time is so compromised. There, we were able to go into the studio 10 to 12 hours a day. It was ours. No one ever had to really to leave! (They built their studio at a club in Austria to specifically to record the project). It was very isolated, more focused. Less stressful...

BGG: How long did it take to record the 13 songs?

AK: With rehearsal, recording, mixing? About three and a half weeks.

BGG: Driving You Insane was your first record. Did you know it was going to explode and hit as big as it did?

AK: I felt there was something really special about the whole record because it happened so easily. We recorded the basic tracks in 3 days except for vocals. There's 13 songs on there so it just went down so easily!
There were a couple songs on there that were very catchy. We definitely felt like something was going on there...

BGG: Your style is varied so if you had to label your music, what would you call it?

AK: For lack of a better word, I'd say it's rock because most of it has a backbeat. But there's so many influences... as a guitarist I'm very influenced by blues, today's country. I guess I just like so much stuff! I guess it's talent but it could be a downfall.

BGG: Why?

AK: Because it's hard for people to pigeon-hole you and market you in one way. But the song Safe is like a radio hit. Then Goodbye Charade is like Radiohead & a country artist... it's very diverse. But it's all rock n roll to me as Billy Joel says... (laughs)

BGG: Let's talk about your songwriting. You songs have incredibly catchy guitar hooks. Do you have a formula for songwriting?
AK: I'll noodle around with chords and then as a challenge come up with a melody for it, that I don't think is corny! I throw out a lot of stuff because I think it's too corny! (laughs) For most writers you just go into a zone. I don't really know what the writing process is... I know with the lyrics I'll just bash around. You should see my pages- they are a mess!! I get really messy! Sometimes a simple chord progression, write lyrics... y'know. Sometimes I'll be listening to someone else's music and steal something (laughs) - now that's a good trick! But taking a chord progression, altering it a little bit; once you get started it really becomes your own.

BGG: You write quirky and unique stuff- is that on purpose?

AK: I definitely like songs with of the sense of humor. Like Cyberspace Lover is kind of funny.

BGG: You get a little tongue-in-cheek...

AK: On some of it, but it's really serious. On a lyric level it's very mixed. I just can't settle in one place...


BGG: Speaking of quirky, how did you hook up with Illuminati?

AK: I played guitar with them. I met Joe Gallant, this really talented composer, who was putting this big band together. He asked me to play in it. When he first started it was all his compositions, then later it turned into his arrangements of Grateful Dead songs.


BGG: You've also done other unusual things, like recording for Maurice Sendak on the ballet rendition of Where the Wild Things Are. How do you get in with these types of projects?

AK: The cool thing about New York is the music scene is just one degree of separation; between the classic world and the jazz world and the pop world... so I have a composer friend Randy Woolf who asked me to play on that.


BGG: Your resume as a guitarist is very impressive. What's it like to play with Joan Osborne, Kate Pierson (B52's), Sara Lee, Toshi Reagon to name a few?

AK: Each one of them is an entity to itself. The Joan Osborne thing was a really big learning experience for me. Joan is just so confident and doesn't let anything get in her way. I mean that in a really good way! She's very consistent. If someone couldn't do a gig she'd simply get a substitute. She's just always do her best - that was just such a great thing to see.

BGG: You recorded her song Match Burns Twice on this last record.

AK: Yes, we used to do that song and she never recorded it! I was like "Joan, this is a great song!"... She was like "Yeah, that's no problem, you can do it." It was my favorite song when we played together.

BGG: How about Kate Pierson from the B52's- what's she like?

AK: Kate is really fun! The cool thing was that she has one of the most recognizable voices on the planet. And the first time I was in rehearsal with her, she started singing and I had a little internal flip out. Like "it's THAT voice and I'm in the room with it!" She's such a nice person, too- really great.
We did some recordings and a bunch of gigs. We gigged with Sara Lee and used her backing band. Sara is a great great bass player. On her record there are like, 10 different guitarists on there. So I had to fake my way through all these different styles. That was a cool learning experience. That was my personal challenge. When I was with Sara, we were opening with Ani DiFranco. Half way through the tour she invited me to sit in with her band for a song. That was great- her audience is so receptive. Ani is great- a really nice person to be around. She very welcoming on-stage and off. Nice experience.


BGG: It seems like you're running with the women's music scene a bit. Is that on purpose or are you just getting sucked into it with all the players you have been hooking up with?


AK: Yeah, I guess so. Probably mostly because of Sara (Lee). Her keyboardists recommended me to the Toshi (Reagon) band. It's funny, I didn't think about it. I guess I am a humanist. I like all people that are cool. I want to play with good people and Toshi is amazing. Just great.

BGG: Was this the first time you played the Michigan Womyn's Festival?

AK: No, I was there last year. It was cool!
BGG: Is there a stigma in being a female guitarist? We're you discouraged from choosing that as your instrument?
AK: I was preety little when I started. They discouraged me in school from playing trumpet and drums in school. They really didn't know about guitar in school. It wasn't taught... it's a private thing. There were guitars in my house from my two older brothers.

BGG: From a musical family?

AK: I guess so, no one really stuck with it though. I guess I was the only one crazy enough to do this. I loved the Beatles. The Stones. As I got older, a teenager- there was the new wave thing. Like Talking Heads. So that turned my head around into another thing. That got me into the whole rhythm guitar thing, playing funky stuff. Or very angular- like Gang of Four, Robert Fripp stuff. It's not blues based, there is something angular about it. I didn't get into blues until after all that. Then I heard Stevie Ray Vaughan. Something about him just really blew me away. As I learned more about him I realized he got allot from Jimi Hendrix. So I went back and discovered Jimi Hendrix.

BGG: And now you're the female Jimi Hendrix.

AK: (laughs) I don't know about that! But I know someone said that somewhere...

BGG: You were a recipient of the MacDowell Colony Grant. What was that like?

AK: That was a great experience. Composer Randy Woolf said I should apply and see what happens. I didn't think I'd get in because they usually don't do songwriters. It's classical musicians, jazz composers... but they accepted me. I spent two months there. At any one time there are 25 artists there; 4 or 5 of composers, writers, digital artists, mixed media folks. It was interesting to be around that. Currently I am in a writers group. Most of the people are writers, journalists, not musicians. But I like being around that. Being around musicians is great too, but there is whole other world going on with writers, and the stories they are telling. It makes the lyric work more challenging. It gets me to focus on lyrics. They've become a lot more important to me in the last few records.


BGG: What's your favorite club in NY to play?


AK: Joe's Pub is really fun. I played there with Toshi. I don't know... it depends. I like a seedy bar, too! There's something about a nice seedy bar with old wood all over the place- the rooms can sound so good. As long as the people are cool, I'm content. The Cutting Room is cool.


BGG: Here's a stupid question- do you want to get signed?

AK: ATS Records in Austria currently distributes the record. I'd like to get a larger independent label over there. I'd love to keep it over there. But I'm open to do something over here. It's a hard question to answer... I'm not opposed to talking to anybody.


BGG: What is Ann Klein listening to lately?

AK: Here's what I got in the CD player- you're not gonna believe this (laughs)... Yesterday I played Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. I'm listening to Hesparian XX- middle ages and renaissance music. I'm writing for a documentary for French television. The producer gave me this to listen to. A lot of Dylan, Lucinda Williams. Magnetic Fields- I love them. It's a songwriter who put out this 3 CD set called "69 Love Songs." His writing is quirky and brilliant... and devastingly sad. They are comparing him to Cole Porter. I like Willie Nelson. I really like everything. See, now you know why my music is all over the place!

 

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