Alt-rock killer Queen Annabel Lee is rising from the L.A. underground scene biting down a knife as sharp as the lyrics to her song. She started out kicking it in the New England scene, where she would develop that manic, live-wire stage presence and energy that’s characterized her every step of the way. Lee seems to go Berserk and believable rumors say that she has the power to induce that savagery in the audience as well.
Her lyrics are described as “raw and unfiltered with themes surrounding womanhood, empowerment, self-reliance, and hidden strength.” Meanwhile, Lee presents herself on a razor’s edge balance between sultry and chaotic. A dangerous, anarchic combination that’s led her to pack the house at venues like The Echo, School Night, Satellite, and Hotel Cafe. Annabel has had songs featured on shows such as Mrs. Fletcher (HBO), Lucifer (Netflix), and The Rookie (ABC).
For a while now, Annabel has been building up to the monumental release of “Mother’s Hammer”, a deeply personal and introspective debut album that gets all of its power from deep within.
“Some of the stories on the album relate to being strung along by vampires in the industry. Being mistreated and taken advantage of. Fumbling around trying to fall in love and staying numb at every turn. Grieving the loss of friends, gone much too soon, and trying to see the silver linings but losing hope. Being 3,000 miles from anyone that actually knew me. It was a very dark and informative time.”
A little bit ahead of the release of her upcoming grand debut album, we got the golden opportunity to shoot some thoughtful questions to the equally thoughtful Annabel Lee. here are all the lovely things she had to say:
Disregarding talent and musical skills themselves; what would you say has been the personal trait or “thing” that has allowed you to make it to this point in your life as an artist?
I think the single most integral thing to being an artist is HAVING to be an artist. For me, it’s never really felt like I had a choice. The work feels like it crash-lands on you and you have to get it out. It’s f*cking distracting. Also, who would choose this? Haha, it’s wild. As far as a trait or thing, I guess discipline is pretty monumental. I think that’s one of my strong suits. The discipline to make work, and the discipline to not let vices or falling into self-sabotage get in the way of progress- the latter is very tricky. I guess to sum it up it’s a combination of staying passionate and letting it flow through you, and having that seriousness about it all is the combo that has gotten me to this point.
We gotta ask about the Album’s title- What gives “Mother’s Hammer” its name aside from the titular track? I mean, it sounds badass and intriguing, sure, but I suspect there’s more to it than the cool factor. Why is that song special to that degree?
“Mother’s Hammer” is my favorite song I’ve ever written. I knew the day I wrote it that something new opened in me. It’s kind of my life story in love. When I was a teenager my mother and I would ride around in her car and listen to music together. She was into everything so we’d have some pretty eclectic mix CDs. One day we were listening to this Elton John song called “The One”, which has a line in it that says “the second that the hammer hits”- speaking on what it feels like to really fall and find that big love. My mother turned to me and said “That’s exactly what it’s like!” And I never forgot it. So the song is kind of the story of me stumbling through my life trying to find that hammer hit. It also explores different kinds of love too, like the love I found for myself at one point, and the love from a mother to her child, the love that gets left behind, and then finally finding that big one. When I decided to make an album in 2020 during the writing process, after I wrote this one I felt that the title was way too strong not to be an album title, and I think the sentiment and everything the song stands for is also pretty important to me right now.
The process of getting here was a long and difficult one- You struggled with finances, a new city, addiction, heartbreak, and more. Was recording this album cathartic at all, or was it part of those uphill battles?
The writing of this album happened mostly in 2020, save for “UP”, and “LOS ANGELES”. I wrote both of those in the throes of a lot of tumultuous sh*t. But the rest of this album was all written in 2020, which was also extremely dark, but I had a lot more stability and love in my life. It was a deep catharsis because it was pretty much all I focused on that year. It was the only thing that gave me purpose day to day. Processing a lot of what had happened to me in 2018-2019, a lot of things I’d done, and recovering personally. The recording started in 2021, and it was actually a really fun experience, cathartic yes, but there was so much laughter and flow that it didn’t feel like digging up my old experiences. I sincerely looked forward to the sessions and they were always so productive. My producer Justin Glasco and I talked about a lot of personal things we were both going through during the making, and having a friendship and understanding of the person your making heavy sh*t with is so crucial. We totally nailed that part of the process. No judgements. And we had fun being like “F*ck the world” together when it came to the songs. I think it was therapeutic for both of us.
It’s always a fair question worth asking: Who do you feel has influenced your music the most?
Frida Kahlo, The B-52s, PJ Harvey, Nina Simone, The Guerilla Girls, Marina Abramović, Irving Penn, Kurt Cobain, Rihanna, Radiohead, The Kills, and the people I hang out with.
What non-musical lesson have you learned from the whole process?
I’ve learned how to trust myself and to fight for my convictions. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m making exactly what I want to make without taking other people into account. I think for other people to connect to what I make, I have to come from an honest place where there is a deep trust in my own vision. So that’s definitely something I’ve learned after years of people questioning and prodding at my creative choices.
About the recording process itself. How did you feel about it? Are you taking any practical lessons for your next album?
The process of making “Mother’s Hammer” was such a joy. We took our time, while also working extremely fast. “All of My Ghosts”, the final track, we were in our trial period and we tracked the entire thing, including vocals, in 1 session. It’s one of my favorites on the album. There are no real deadlines when you’re independent, so we worked on the album until we felt like it was truly finished. Other works I’ve released I think I just wanted to release something, and I wasn’t really thoughtful about it. I didn’t take care of myself or my voice, and sometimes I was making music that I wouldn’t even really listen to. But this time around I put so much of my focus into this, and was extremely intentional. Justin also works in a really delicate way. He’s always trying things out and is completely unafraid of experimenting with his insane vintage gear. But even in being spontaneous and trying things, he also deeply cared for the work, the lyrics, and if sounds were truly doing service to the song. I think that’s the mark of a great producer- and I think that’s something I’ll always look for when I work with producers from here on out. The consideration, and knowing that the song comes first.
When a new album is out, I like asking artists what song(s) they feel the proudest of. It’s not about picking favorites, it’s about what stands out to them in hindsight for any reason.
I love allll my children. But I did mention earlier my two favorites. I think “Mother’s Hammer” is probably my favorite, but it’s for sure a B side vibe. There’s no chorus. It’s just a story, and I f*cking that about it. I also love “All of My Ghosts”, for so many reasons. I previously mentioned how we recorded the whole thing in one day, which was the best session I’ve ever had, hands down. I think the song is one of my favorites lyrically. It’s about being constantly reminded of in your partners past relationships, and being kind of haunted by it. It was something I was going throughout a lot of the writing process for this album so that one feels pretty special to me. It’s also spooky as hell.
“Up” is an absolute banger, but it’s also a very important statement from you. You wrote this song almost in response to being told that what makes you who you are musically is “not enough” to make it. Did you feel pressured to shape your sound and image a certain way?
I think it’s pretty common for artists who are young and hungry to take too much advice. I was listening to a lot of cis white men. That’s what I was constantly surrounded by. So yes, of course, I was trying to lose weight, trying to do pop music, doing literally whatever they suggested for a long time. Producer after producer, managers, and even peers. It was always me doing a lot of listening to what everybody had to say about my work. I was confident that I could write songs until I started working with pop producers, and then I learned a new self-consciousness. I also learned how to write for pop, and formulaic vague music for sync, which is fun if you don’t let it bleed into your artist project- but at the end of the day it was not what I wanted to be making. In 2020 I tried writing a song a day for a while. And in that process, I started writing the way I did as a teenager, just the way I like to. It felt nice not to have to think about the industry or is this simple enough for people, or whatever my old thoughts were. I stopped writing the same structure all of the time, I started really digging into the verses. I was more generous than I’d ever been before. At the end of the day, without pressure, I made something that truly felt like me! So grateful to have had the solitude to do that. And I know now, that I don’t need anybody to tell me what I should be making, because I’m already making it.
With “Los Angeles” you tell us your experience with and in the City. It seems a very recurring theme for many artists, having that love-hate relationship with a place that makes or breaks them so easily. What stands out as the biggest vice you’ve encountered in the city working against its artistic population?
I think the biggest common vice for all creatives is self-doubt. Every artist I know has moments of thinking they are kidding themselves. Or comparing themselves to others. We all do it. And it’s hard to feel progress sometimes because the industry has become so invisible. Success could mean a playlist, but you’re not seeing anyone listening to your record, you’re sitting in silence looking at your Spotify app hoping that the numbers will stay solid. The pressure is immense. I became one of those yoga people this year that meditates. It keeps me from spiraling, and it’s definitely been an imperative part of my release strategy.
How do you feel about your musical growth from “MORE OF ME IN THE MONITOR, PLEASE!” until today? What’s changed the most if any?
I’ve grown so much! I’ve read more books, made more paintings, and most important of all, I’ve processed a lot of experiences. I think I was following a lot of rules when I wrote the songs on that live EP. It’s mostly pop format, and they’re fun for sure, but just very in the box. I think my album was me destroying the first box of many that I put myself in. Excited to keep expanding.
What are your short-term plans for the future, following this album?
My band and I are hitting SXSW and playing some fun showcases there, and then a week later playing a big album release show at Moroccan Lounge on 3/25! After that we’ll be hitting the road on tour… more on that later. 🙂
Photo Credit: Emma Cole Story: LADYGUNN
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