Today we’d like to introduce you to Amy Annelle.
Hi Amy, thanks for sharing your story with us. To start, maybe you can tell our readers some of your backstory.
I’m a songwriter, recording artist, performer and photographer. My body of work spans twenty-five years and consists of ten full-length albums, three singles and a number of appearances on compilations in the US and abroad… My photos have appeared in media such as the LA Times and The Wire Magazine. I am best known for my version of Townes Van Zandt’s song ‘Buckskin Stallion Blues’, which appears in the final scenes of the Academy Award-winning film ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’.
When I was a teenager, I found a guitar in the closet and taught myself how to play it with the David Bowie songbook. I didn’t write my first song until I was 23. Once I started writing songs, though, I couldn’t stop. They just kept flowing through me. I learned how to be in bands in my birthplace of Chicago in the mid-nineties. There were miles and miles of empty warehouses and you could rent a corner of one for a hundred bucks a month and play as loud as you want.
I hit the road in 1997, feeling more at home there than in any one place. I spent some time in Portland, Oregon, where I began to perform and make records with other young musicians who had also washed ashore in that dreamy, rainy town, looking to invent themselves. Back then it was a small scene and everybody supported each other. There were gigs and small studios where anybody could make music. I released my first album, ‘The Autopilot Knows You Best’, in 2000, under the moniker “The Places”. I used a band name because of the sexism I encountered in trying to book tours. In those days, if you were a woman, clubs often assumed that you sounded a certain way and wouldn’t give you a show. (I dropped the moniker and have used ‘Amy Annelle’ since 2007).
I spent more and more time on the road, playing shows and living rough. I worked odd jobs to stay afloat and wrote about the people, places, music and history around me. I released many albums that were critically acclaimed during this time. I have worked in recording studios in California, Portland, New England, Chicago and here in Austin. I would describe my sound as one that balances curiosity and exploration with a reverence for America’s restless, divergent musical past. I guess I fall somewhere at a very creative and free intersection of Americana, folk, and singer-songwriter genres. I write my own songs and also am an interpreter of other songwriters’ work. When I ‘cover’ a song, I love it and try to get inside of it as if it were my own.
I have never had a steady ‘band’, instead I’ve worked solo and with small folk and experimental ensembles. I’ve played everywhere from house concerts and small clubs to New York City’s Town Hall and even made it to Hollywood’s Big Screen. My version of the great Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Buckskin Stallion Blues’ plays during the resolution of the film ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’. The film won 5 Academy Awards and 7 Golden Globes and introduced my music to a truly global audience.
The hard part of my story is my struggle with Stage IV endometriosis and UCTD, an auto-immune disease. Both illnesses take years of suffering and confusion before getting a diagnosis. For my whole young adult life, I pushed through pain and exhaustion and so many difficult symptoms until they became debilitating around ten years ago. I spent many years unable to perform or record, though I did continue to quietly write songs. I had five abdominal surgeries during that time but did not get any better. It was a time of much despair and sadness. I did release a small covers album during this time to raise money for a surgery, appropriately titled “Surgery’. I recorded it on my couch during a rainstorm in 2015. It was the second limited-edition covers album I released that featured handmade artwork. I also did some national advocacy work for endometriosis awareness. I ultimately had a more radical surgery in 2019 that allowed me enough of a reprieve that I am able to perform and record again, although I am still living with an auto-immune disease and Long Covid, that I have to manage with a lot of self-care.
I was just getting back on the scene when Covid hit. So I went online like many musicians, just to stay sane and feel a little bit more connected to my fans. Once it becomes safe to travel, I hope to tour again, but in more supported way than when I was an intrepid young independent van-dwelling songwriter. I live now in the Montopolis neighborhood of SE Austin and am just beginning to play live again. I am writing a lot of songs and plan to release my first studio album in 12 years in 2022.
Believe it or not, I just turned 51.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
The greatest obstacle is that there are more talented musicians in the world than there are industry resources to support them. So you have to hustle. In the early days, here were times when I felt so vulnerable, playing a show in a new town where it felt like nobody was listening, doing promotion on a library computer while I was on the road, or working three sh*tty jobs to raise enough money to release an album. Those albums would go on to appear on Top Ten lists and I would almost always get good previews for my shows, though. Working hard without knowing the outcome–It’s what musicians do in order to stay afloat.
Despite being super careful, I got Covid early in the pandemic when there were no vaccines yet. After several months, I had not recovered and am now diagnosed with Long Covid, along with an autoimmune disease. For me, Self Care is literally about survival.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
My songs, photographs and essays bear witness to decades of lucid, heart-worn journeys—ranging freely from the wilderness of Oklahoma’s High Plains to America’s crumbling concrete interiors, from subway busking to the stage of New York’s Town Hall and even Hollywood’s big screen. I hope they might serve as an ephemeral map of our collective emotional core.
I am known for my warm, ethereal singing voice and original songs, as well as the talent I have for singing the songs of other songwriters as if they were my own.
I’m most proud that my version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘Buckskin Stallion Blues’–which had been released on a tiny tribute album in Europe in the early 2010s–was discovered by the filmmaker Martin McDonagh. He used it during the final five minutes of the film, during which the main characters Mildred (Francis McDormand) and Dixon (Sam Rockwell) decide whether they will travel to Idaho to find her daughter’s killer. This all happened when I was quite ill, so it made the honor even more surreal.
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: amyannelle.bandcamp.com also www.highplainssigh.com
- Instagram: @amy_annelle
- Facebook: Amy Annelle :: Music and Photography
- Youtube: “Amy Annelle” channel
- Other: Spotify “Amy Annelle”
All photos by Amy Annelle; except photo 3 by Laura Freeman
May 11, 2022 at 11:17 am
Nice concise interview. Great to get her story. I found Amy after seeing the film. She’s is on my “follow” list. Look forward to more of her music.