Monday, September 10, 2012

Pheaturing Anna Coogan

Hey, kids, welcome to the Phile on a Monday. How are you?  Let's start with some Foghat news, shall we? in Portland said police shut down an Oregon motorcycle rally following a confrontation between biker groups. Redmond officers, with the assistance of sheriff's deputies, state police, and Bend police shut down the rally, threatening anyone who stayed with trespassing citations and forcing the cancelation of a closing concert by the classic rock group Foghat. Thousands of bikers attended the rally, which began Friday. Hmmmm... A biker brawl, a county fair, a bunch of cops and Foghat? Sounds like an old 80's movie.  Did you hear there are reports that nine of the hotels being used for politicians at the Democratic National Convention had bedbugs? When asked what it’s like to have to deal with thousands of ruthless bloodsuckers, the bedbugs were like, “Eh, it’s okay.”  Over the weekend, a chef in Minnesota created the world’s largest bacon cheeseburger, weighing in at over 2,000 pounds. And if you want to hear what it tasted like, you’ll just have to wait until I interview Chris Christie.  So, on the Phile today First Lady Michelle Obama is going to be here. She received praise for the speech she gave at the Democratic National Convention. Everyone was impressed. Even Fox News called it "not the worst."  I did not know this, but President Obama's speech at the DNC was moved inside to the Time Warner Arena. You could tell it's Time Warner because Obama gave the speech two weeks from Friday, between the hours of 12 and 4.  A farmer in Germany accidentally planted a crop of marijuana after thinking that he was growing sunflowers. The farmer said he was really surprised that the cops actually bought that story.  The Yankees have blown a 10-game lead in the standings, and are now tied for first place. You can tell they're depressed. Today, five of their players tested positive for Häagen-Dazs.  Did you kids see the V.M.A.'s the other night? V.M.A. stands for video music awards. They were held in downtown Los Angeles at the Staples Center, because what says rock 'n' roll like an office supply superstore? One year Kid Rock and Tommy Lee got into a huge fistfight at the V.M.A.'s. I don't remember what the fight was about. I think it was they differed over how the Pythagorean Theorem is the basis for major key scales.  Well, I love my PT Cruiser, but if I could have any car in the world I would choose this...

The other day I went to Starbucks unlike my sister who goes there everyday... anyway, I went to Starbucks and I was surprised with the design they have on their cups.

Well, tomorrow is September 11th, and eleven years since the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center. I was surprised there is an inspirational poster, and I don't quite get it.

Okay, and now for some sad news...

Dorothy McGuire 
Feb 13, 1928 - Sept 7, 2012
Sincerely dead.

Alright, so, recently I have been getting all kinda Democratic folk on the Phile... for some reason Republicans are staying away. This is the first time I have a member of the Democratic party but is not a politician so to speak. She is the wife of the 44th and incumbent President of the United States, Barack Obama, and the first African-American First Lady of the United States. Please welcome to the Phile... First Lady Michelle Obama.

Me: Hello, Michelle, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Michelle: Hello, Jason, I am good. I had an amazing week.

Me: So, I have to say, well done on your speech at the DNC. How did it feel? How did the President feel?

Michelle: Barack and I energy up there.

Me: From all the people in the room? Man, I wish I was there. Now what happens after the DNC for you and the President?

Michelle: Now we can't let that energy fade.

Me: Michelle, this must be a stressful time for you. In about 60 or so days, voters will decide who gets to serve in the White House for the next four years.

Michelle: Yes, so every single one of us has got to pull together to finish strong. I know you feel the urgency.

Me: I don't feel it, but underdstand it. I had other members of the Democratic party talkjing about the grassroots supporters. Since the DNC, how are they doing?

Michelle: Already this week, supporters have made more than 500,000 grassroots donations to build this campaign.

Me: Wow, that's pretty good.

Michelle: If you're fired up, Jason, let's keep it going. Let's see how many people we can get to show their support by the end of the day.

Me: I don't know if or how many of my readers chipped in, to either partty, but I am sure one or two of them will help.

Michelle: I am sure your readers stand with Barack.

Me: I was told to ask you what your husband has that the other side doesn't, Michelle. What does he have?

Michelle: I am glad you asked. He has more than 3 million grassroots supporters like you... and together we're going to win this election the right way.

Me: The election is the day after my son's birthday, it's on November 6th, right? On the 7th, what do you hope will happen?

Michelle: I hope we can wake knowing that we did everything we could to help us deliver on the full promise of the next four years.

Me: Thank you, Michelle. Say hello to the President for me and your girls. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to be here on this little blog thing.

Michelle: Thank you, Jason.

Me: First Lady Michelle Obama, everybody! On Wednesday's extra entry this week I think Bill Clinton is gonna be here as well.

Okay, now it's time to announce the 24th artist to be pheatured in the P.P.A.G. He is Stephen "Zomboy" Harris from Blue Butter, his own graphic arts company, and this is one of his pieces...

Stephen will be a guest on the Phile in a few weeks.

Today's pheatured guest is a singer-songwriter from America I think. Her new album "The Wasted Ocean" is now available on iTunes and she will be next appearing tonight at House Concert Bruhl in Germany. I think I got that right. Please welcome to the Phile... Anna Coogan.

Me: Hey there, Anna, welcome to the Phile. How are you?

Anna: Thanks! I’m doing well! Exhausted but enjoying some excellent coffee, which is basically my favorite thing in the world. Hope you are doing well.

Me: Yep, I am. You're American, right, but play a lot in Europe. Do you do more European shows then American shows?

Anna: Yes, by a long shot. Although just released “The Wasted Ocean” in the US, and have quiet a few shows around the country. I just got back from a trip to the Midwest, and am currently in the NYC area playing, and will be out in the Northwest in February… so I guess it’s starting to even out.

Me: Where have you played overseas, Anna?

Anna: I’ve played in Ireland, Scotland, England, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. And Alaska, which feels like a foreign country.

Me: With all those places, you must have a favorite gig you played. Where was it?

Anna: Tough question! I’ve played a lot of shows I love and also some shows that I don’t love. For some reason, I have played some amazing shows in Glasgow, Scotland. A highlight was a set I did at the Celtic Connections Festival last year, opening for banjo player Alison Brown... amazing theater, awesome crowd, good hotel, and a steak dinner. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Me: Anna, where are you living now?

Anna: I just moved from Seattle, WA to Ithaca, NY.

Me: It is peaceful where you live? Do you like the outdoors?

Anna: It is really peaceful here... I’m finally settling in. From our house, we can walk to coffee shops and Lake Cayuga and basically everything Ithaca has to offer. I love the outdoors, and Ithaca looks a lot like where I grew up in Vermont. We spent a fair amount of time wandering through the woods surrounding the town with our dog, Juno.

Me: Before you became a country singer, didn't you start out as an opera singer?

Anna: Sure did!

Me: What music did you grow up listening to? Country, opera, rock?

Anna: The one music I did NOT grow up listening to was country... I didn’t discover that until later in life. Other than that, it was all Beatles, 1960’s folk, opera, classical, and once I became a teenage, top 40.

Me: How did you choose to record country records then?

Anna: After I gave up opera, I was living in a musical void. I swore all of it off for good, and was miserable. Lucky for me, I had a hip roommate with an excellent record collection. He introduced me to all sort of music... among them Damien Jurado, the Shins, and Alison Krauss. I loved what Alison was doing so much I picked up my guitar (which I had kicking around from high school) and within weeks was going to open mics, singing country songs. 10 years later, here I am.

Me: You studied opera in Austria, right? Don't they have any opera schools in America?

Anna: They definitely have opera schools in America. I ended up getting connected to the school in Austria through a teacher of mine, and was accepted and went. I was never much for agonizing about school choices.

Me: I knew a girl from Austria once but never went. I heard it's beautiful. When you were over there in school, and toured did you do a lot of sightseeing? 

Anna: When I’m on tour I rarely have time to sight see... we just see a lot of highway. When I was living over there for school I was able to travel quite a bit... I went to Slovenia and Italy and Norway spent a lot of time in the Alps, waist deep in snow.

Me: I dunno what language they even speak over there. Is it Austrian?

Anna: That would make sense. They speak German, but a heavily dialected version, which is more or less Austrian. In school we spoke “High German”, which is a lot easier to understand!

Me: Did you learn to sing in English?

Anna: In opera you generally learn to sing in Italian first, then German, then English and maybe French. It was actually a real transition to singing in American English. Took me a while to figure out my inflection.

Me: Okay, let's talk about your music, Anna. I downloaded your latest CD "The Wasted Ocean" from iTunes and it put me to sleep. HA! Just kidding. It is a very relaxing album though, which is not a bad thing. Do you like to write the slower songs?

Anna: Slower songs seem to come more easily to me than upbeat songs, but I definitely don’t set out to write things slow. If anything, I’m really trying to challenge myself to write some more upbeaters. These songs all came to me in the same 3 week period, and they are all mostly inspired by the ocean, so I had a lot of that rolling, lullaby like sound. I do like things to be sort of ethereal. Maybe the next record will be really rollicking.

Me: This is your second solo album in two years I think. Did you pretty much record the album's back to back?

Anna: I recorded “The Nocturnal Among Us” in August of 2009, and “The Wasted Ocean” in winter of 2011, so not exactly back to back. But I have basically been touring them non-stop, so it feels like a lot!

Me: You used to be in a band called Anna Coogan and the north19, I think. North should be in lower case, right? What does north19 stand for?

Anna: Yes! I’m not sure why we decided to make the north lower case. It seemed important at the time. But North 19 is a highway out on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State that we used to drive all the time to go to shows. It’s a beautiful road, and it was my first ever band, so I still love the memories... of the road and the band!

Me: What happened to the north19? Did they all break up, leaving you to be a solo artist?

Anna: We went our separate ways in 2007, after the release of our second record, “Sleepwalker.” Band breakups are heartbreaking, no two ways about it. But like most break ups, it is for best. It just takes a while to see that. I miss those guys.

Me: Do you prefer being a solo artist, or with a band?

Anna: Being in a band is like being in a marriage. It takes a lot of compromise and effort to make it work and my 25 year old self wasn’t really up to the task. I enjoy being solo because I really can be in charge of my career and where I go and what I do, but I really miss the camaraderie and sense of shared experience you get from being in a band. I remember when we first heard our record on the radio, we all went out to a bar and celebrated with a pitcher each. Ouch, but what fun!

Me: You do have some kind of band, or partnership, right? Who is in your current band?

Anna: Now I often tour as a duo (with Italian Daniele Fiaschi). We aren’t able to communicate all that well, given the language barrier, but somehow we make it work and generally have a great time doing it. Daniele is one of the best musicians I have ever met. I also work a lot with north19 drummer Eric Hastings, who lives in Rhode Island. Someday, we’ll all play as a full band! Someday…

Me: Do they help you with the song writing or do you do all that alone?

Anna: I usually write the songs alone but get lots of helpful feedback from the guys. Each person adds their own part, so the end result is really collaborative.

 Me: Okay, back to "The Wasted Ocean". I take it you like the ocean, which I don't. There's a few songs on the CD with water or ocean theme. Is "The Wasted Ocean" a concept album?

Anna: Yes, it is a concept record, more or less. I sat down, in February 2011 and listened to a million songs from the maritime tradition, thinking I would record them for a cover record. Instead, I was inspired to write my own songs in the old tradition. I have spent a lot of time on water in my life... first as a whitewater kayaker, then as a fisheries biologist, so I really do love being around it. Mostly I’ve been around freshwater though, so there is some creative license!

Me: Where did the album name come from, Anna? I don't know much about a wasted ocean, but I have been wasted in an ocean.

Anna: Often times in the old sea shanties there are references to “the wild ocean” or “the weary ocean” or “the wasteful ocean.” I loved the sound of “The Wasted Ocean” and had it in my head for a few years before I made the record.

Me: I have to ask you about the artwork for the album. Who did the drawing? It kinda ties up the whole thing nicely.

Anna: The drawing is by M. Chava Evans, a Baltimore based illustrator.

Me: Did you come up with the idea for the artwork?

Anna: We worked together to create it, but it is really all her. I just sort of rambled on about streamers and boats and dreams and loneliness and she came up with this awesome image.

Me: Anna, thanks so much for being on the Phile. Please come back when your next album comes out. Do you wanna plug your websites and social networks? 

Anna: You can find it all at and

Me: Thanks, Anna, take care, and I wish you continued success.

Anna: Thanks for letting me be a part of your killer blog!

There you go, another entry wasted. LOL. Just kidding, that was a really good entry I think. Thanks to First Lady Michelle Obama and Anna Coogan. The Phile will be back this Wednesday for an extra entry with Morgan Geer from Drunken Prayer and hopefully Bill Clinton. Then next Sunday it's Kate Taylor from Dead Fingers and on Monday jazz singer Kat Parra. So, spread the word, not the turd. Don't let snakes and alligators bite you. Bye, love you, bye.

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