On her third album, I saw first light, out today on Father/Daughter Records, Anna McClellan continues investigating the impulses that push us forward and hold us back, often at the same time.
“I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how we are all reliant on each other, and pulled into each other, and the lineage of songwriting,” McClellan says from her Omaha, Nebraska apartment. “I strive to put music out that views the world through my personal lens. I think that’s the point of art.”
“I call the album I saw first light because during the recording, we were staying up all night a lot—witnessing dawn. I was thinking of that time of day and beyond the dawn, the metaphor of first light, or the awakening. It’s an addictive subject and references how I think as a human. There are several awakenings that have happened to me; then I fall asleep again, and then I really wake up. It’s like a cycle. I feel like my art often comes from a place of holding back, so I’m striving more and more to let go into the light.”
The jittery dance between consciousness and the temptation to embrace oblivion is a frequent subject in McClellan’s songs. They tango together in the album opener “Con S Sewer,” a dreamy plea for connection highlighted by McClellan’s soft vocals. She dances around the rhythm, her words drifting into the space between thought and expression.
“Pace of the Universe” is a slow ballad with a subtle melody full of subliminal grace. McClellan has an uncanny knack for turns of phrase and melodies that haunt you after a single listen. Elements of folk, rock, Latin music, and pop are spun together into a sound that’s all her own.
“I don’t relate to the terms folk, rock or most genres,” McClellan says. “There’s a German term ‘dichterliebe,’ that loosely translates as the love of putting poetry to music. I like that.”
The record was made before the current pandemic hit. McClellan worked on crafting the songs for two years, before cutting them with a group of friends during two weeks of intense sessions.
“I had the songs and the vision, but the arrangements were collaborative. My friend Ryan McKeever was my co-producer and engineer. I feel like he’s my musical spouse. We play on each other’s records and in each other’s bands. The bare bones were done live—drums, bass and my guitar or keyboards, whatever my lead instrument was. Then we did a lot of overdubs of vocals, lead guitar, percussion, sax, vocal harmonies, and strings.
Another friend, Megan Siebe, plays all kinds of stringed instruments and can build a classical quartet out of the air. It’s very cool to watch. It was all done in our home studios, if you can call ’em studios. They’re just rooms with gear in them. We wanted it to sound like a band, playing live. I was a little worried before we started. I had to trust that everyone would be present in the process, but once we started it was amazing. I’ve never been so excited and present in the moment before. It was really dynamic.”
Pick up a copy here.