I interviewed Anna Gebhardt of Annalibera at Greenwood Park in Des Moines during a hailstorm. Taking refuge in the outdoor shelter by the pond, we read the graffiti scrawled on its wooden posts.
“Don’t get good at what you don’t like to do.”
Our conversation that day focused on Terry Pratchett’s satirical fantasy series Discworld and Olaf Stapledon’s speculative history of the cosmos star maker to NBA teams, to silent film music (the subject of his university thesis).
Gebhardt is an adventurous and restless artist who emerged from a classical music background in 2015 with two debuts: shoegazey Regardless, I love you, where Annalibera is a quivering alt-rock trio, and the noise cassette lovewhere Annalibera is a screaming bionic animal made up of Gebhardt and his laptop.
Its sequel, the self-produced Opia (2018), where Annalibera is a flamboyant studio operation, bursts out in just about every direction – dream pop, chamber pop, jazz ballads, new wave, drone rock, impressionist jams – all anchored by Gebhardt’s expressive vocals .
Annalibera’s latest album moon bath was produced in collaboration with producer Philip Rabalais
The songs “Trouble Lights” and “Utopia Park” again plunge Gebhardt into colorful new territory: the world of electronic pop, with detours into sound collage and electronica. moon bath was released on CD by vibrant indie label Nova Labs just before the pandemic lockdown. Engulfed by the pandemic and not supported by a tour, the album has not received a digital release so far.
In September, Annalibera will perform to her biggest audience yet opening for Pavement’s reunion concerts in Denver, Kansas City and Saint Paul. Iowans who want to catch the new iteration of the project can catch them at the Maximum Ames Music Festival earlier this week, on Saturday, September 17. The current line-up of the group is Anna Gebhardt, Ryan Stier, Caleb Swank-Ferrara and Trent Derby. , and will feature Gebhardt on sax.
Our conversation follows below, condensed and edited for clarity.
NK: In a way moon bath continues the adventures of electronic music with which Annalibera began love. Did you know moon bath was going to be an electronic pop album when you were writing it? Is that why you started working with producer Philip Rabalais?
AG: I didn’t intend to write it that specific way, some ideas just needed that treatment or kind of came that way. […] With Phil, Trouble Lights was playing at Wooly’s, and I chased him as he walked to his car after the show. I told him that I had songs that I wanted to record and that with his style. He would be the perfect person to work with. He said yes. And it was a very nice experience to do moon bath with him. It’s my favourite [experience making a record] so far.
I actually saw Phil at the first concert I attended when I moved here in 2008. I drove all the way to Iowa City, to Gabe’s. I went to see Tilly and the Wall and this band opened for them called Galactic Porn who was Phil and his brother Dom. They were making computer music and hanging from the rafters.
Hanging from the rafters?
Literally. They jumped up there and climbed on it and hung and sang and everything. It was awesome, I mean, it was really good.
Were you into electronic music at the time?
Yeah yeah. I grew up listening to Madonna from the late 90s, early 2000s, for example. I was just listening to the Scissor Sisters drive here. Do you know the Scissor Sisters?
I do not think so.
Well, I mean…[plays “Filthy/Gorgeous” from her phone] And I loved Eiffel 65 when I was a kid. I listened to this album so much that I could sing everything exactly.
moon bath is more pop-inspired than your previous albums, with danceable beats and some heavy choruses, but it also resists some pop tendencies with musical left turns and traces of Annalibera’s experimental side. What is your relationship with pop music in general?
I love pop music, whenever people ask me what kind of music I play I mention pop. But it’s hard to get the message across since “pop” means a lot of different styles. […] I really like to do things that seem very balanced, like they already exist. Almost basic. It’s pop music I think.
“Kikyo II” is one of my favorite songs on the album. Is it a sequel to of love “Kikyō”? It interpolates a vocal chant from the previous song.
Yes, “Kikyo II” is pretty much the same character I wrote the first one about. We do this one during the tour.
Is there a link between love and your training in classical music? You jumped straight into the world of noise music with this album, but everything about it is well structured and it has the kind of songwriting you might hear in a classic 20th century work.
Oh cool. In fact, I was reading a book about [16th century Italian composer] Gesualdo at the time. He was a noble, creepy Italian dude in his creepy castle. Killed his wife. He made this wildly weird, very moving, very intense music. I sent loveil to the guy who wrote [the Gesualdo book I was reading] and he was like, “I don’t see any connection between Gesualdo and your music.” But he was nice, he said thank you for sharing.
Do you prefer making music alone or with other people? moon bath and Regardless, I love you the two had a collaborative process while Opia and love seem more independent.
I have a choral background, I grew up making music in church… I don’t know what to call that feeling of community or transcendence when you make music with people. I feel good playing the piano too; I love doing that. But once I left the farm, when I was a kid, I couldn’t really leave the farm unless my parents allowed me to, so the piano was really important to me at that time in my life. ..[I was more excited about making music with other people than] play by myself. But I like both.
When I started making music on my own, I was trying to get out of the prison of classical music. Opera didn’t want me. I noticed that people didn’t seem inspired when I sang that, but they seemed inspired when I sang indie or American styles.
Was opera something you wanted to do?
Not really, that was just what the program focused on. I had a great time – I mean, I had an intense time but also a great time with the Drake choral program. We were making music at a very high level. I’ve had some incredible moments playing, transcendent know-it-all-about-the-universe moments. Did you get those? It’s like, “why can’t I remember this?” when they are finished. “I knew all the answers! Where did they go ? I’ve always tried to find that by making my own music. Never found until now really. I still sing with choirs, I’ve sung with choirs quite regularly since college.
It seems that you are also interested in other arts. You made a film for love which refers to the filmmaker Jean Luc Godard Two or three things I know about her early. Your song “Sarah Lucas” is dedicated to the artist…
I will make more films; I really like that. I like Kenneth Anger, Maya Deren, that’s the kind of stuff I’d like to do more of. I’m still writing and planning films and scenes.
The “Renaissance man” doesn’t really exist anymore. You must be such a specialist. I think it’s easy to get into tunnel vision with any stuff and be like “nothing else matters”. I like visual arts, I like cinema, I try to see live theater as much as I can, I like going to the opera, I like sports. I really like watching the NBA. I think sport is an art, I get a lot out of it. […] During the pandemic, I decided I had a new big dream. I want to be a comic book writer – like in funny, not graphic novels.
Makes sense. There is humor in some of your songs, especially on Opia. Or “Love In A Recession” which when I first heard it at one of your gigs I thought it was a cover of an old John Prine country song or something like that. He has that kind of sensitivity. It starts out fun, then gets more emotional as the performance gets more intense.
Thanks. This is why with Regardless, I love you…I have a lot of distance with him now and I’m proud of it when I listen to him, but at the time it didn’t turn out the way I imagined. It’s not funny at all, all the levity isn’t there. It is very serious. But there are a lot of people who like it and that’s important to me too, the conversation that takes place after you share what you’ve done.
You mentioned a tour in Europe at the time of Regardless, I love you.
We had started playing with this woman Anne. She was going to study in Stockholm and said we should do a European tour. So we did. We played pretty much loveil material. I booked the tour myself and the routing was really, really bad. We would say, “Okay, today we go through Germany and then we go back through Germany for the next set.” You can not do this. Anyway, we did it and it was crazy. It’s a very long story, I could probably write a book about it. And that’s the only way I can really tell the story, unless we’re, like, fifty hour car rides together. I don’t even like to tell stories. There are stories and they might stand on their own, but it’s like you don’t understand the effect of what I’m saying because for two weeks right before that, the same intensity of insane stuff was happening all the time. So just the fact that I narrate this standalone part doesn’t really get the message across.
But anyway, I have to do that last cool hurrah with her. His presence in the group helped me a lot. In fact, the European tour too. People think maybe the music industry is [half women], and it looks a bit like that because there are a lot of female singers. But the lead singer is only a small part of the music industry. There’s all the players, there’s the bartenders, the promoters – everyone involved is a guy, basically. This tour was the first time I realized that when we were doing soundchecks and there were guys in my band, nobody was talking to me. So when Anne and I were doing soundchecks, the engineers were like, “Who am I supposed to talk to? Like, one of us! There’s only two of us, and we’re both female, so you gotta take your pick, man, sorry!
how do we play love live songs?
When I play this material live, I usually play solo or maybe with a guitarist. Once I did a show with Bob [Nastanovich of Pavement, at Baby’s All Right in Brooklyn], and he was on drums. I use several pedals and a microphone. It doesn’t really sound like the album; us, I play with the sounds and I play improvised versions of the songs. I am chopping and mutating the material with a sampler.
What is your personal story with Pavement?
When I was in high school, my friend put his songs on mix CDs for me. “We Dancewas a really big song for me at the time. I was listening”Cut your hair” yesterday and it was like “perfect”. I never thought I could see them live, let alone open for them.