Between thrilling arpeggios on her keyboard and stunning vocal performances, Annabel Lee lets out screams of angst just to really get the point across. The Boston native is melodic in her punk rock approach and though you can tell she’s classically trained, it’s her presence on that stage and the honesty in her music that stings the audience the most.
“I was living in my car parked outside the hotel bar, my hands are shaking. You’re breaking me, Los Angeles.”Annabel Lee stole the show at the Resident last week, and she was only the opener. She had the entire audience in chills as she switched from banging on the keyboard to an acoustic guitar for her second to last song.
As an artist, she is vulnerable. Captivating. Sexy. And imperfect. She’s patient with herself as she grows, but she wasn’t always this way.
“If I believe me, and I’m being honest – sometimes it’s not pretty, sometimes it sucks,” Annabel admits. “That’s what gets me to my artist place. If nothing else happens to me, I found my artist, you know? I found who she is and I love her.”
Annabel has been in LA for only two years, and despite the sometimes pain of the hustle, she’s wholeheartedly bloomed into an authentic artist with an ever growing fanbase. I caught up with the sultry punk queen once she was a few beers in and we talked about death, addiction, and how she became Annabel Lee.
NEXT SHOW: SCHOOL NIGHT FEB 10TH
Before the show, how were you feeling? Any thoughts you had? Were there no thoughts?
All day today I was actually feeling pretty unprepared, haha. But once I got here and I set everything up, I felt really good. I went upstairs and I had a beer, cause there’s free beer up there- came down and saw people come in…then I started feeling sad. I’ve been sad all day, man. But! I started with a song ‘Kill Em Dead’ which I wrote after the Kavanaugh trials were going on and I was personally reconciling with some issues I had in the past with men. And playing that made me feel immediately better. Just singing that song and feeling it. Just getting on stage- I felt immediately better, ready to f*cking go.
Sort of like a cathartic release for one of the many things you’ve been feeling?
Yeah! I work a day job too, so I was able to release that- feeling like “Ok. This is what I REALLY do. I’m doing my actual job now.” That was a relief. So I feel I guess..relieved! Is the word.
You’ve played so many shows, you’ve done this a million times. What is it that makes you feel unprepared and then how do you get back into the swing of feeling prepared?
Unprepared is like a weird way to say it. I know that I’m definitely going to play the songs correctly; it’s more, just getting in the zone to perform. I haven’t performed in a couple weeks so I wasn’t there mentally.
But again, it just took getting here, seeing the lights, you know. I came outside and yelled at everyone to come in when it was 8:30, “Hey! It’s time for me! So come in!” And then everyone did! So I was ready to actually be ‘on’.
Which songs tonight were brand new, and which ones felt the most fresh?
So I only played one new song tonight, it’s called ‘Make Out’. I wrote that like a month ago. It’s really sexy. It’s a very surface level song that is more fun than anything else. I like to do those songs too, to lighten the mood a little. It’s just about wanting to make out. That’s it. There’s no poetry behind the idea – haha!
And then I also played Vibrate. Vibrate is a song I wrote about my friends that have died. I lost another friend a three weeks ago. So the song felt new. It felt disturbing and hard. But I think people needed it? Maybe. Maybe it was a good thing.
I wrote Vibrate when I was 23…two of my friends passed away within the same few months. One of them was 23, one of them was 26. Both addiction related deaths. And I had never seen or experienced anything like that before…and it changed me. Because when you’re that age, you do reckless shit because you think it’s never going to be you. You’re never going to be the one that goes too far…and unfortunately, I had some friends that went too far. It’s just crazy that it happened again. And I’m sure it will happen again. Writing songs about losing people is a timeless thing to do. No matter what. So that felt new tonight, weirdly, but it’s not a new song.
I think going too far, as an artist, we all kind of tow the line. I’ve lost a lot of friends to addiction too. I feel like I can feel the gravel of that road that you’ll go on when you end up there and I can feel that gravel sometimes in my daily life. Whether its a choice im making or me seeing it in someone else before they’ve gone. Do you feel like you’ve ever been on that road? Or can you see it around you, in other artists? Or is this unknown?
Specifically with addiction, it’s something that has permeated my life. I’m not an addict – ha – but I am slightly addicted to addicts. So it’s very difficult for me…I understand it. I don’t know why, but I understand the mentality of wanting something and wanting to sabotage everything.
A lot of times, that gravel that you’re talking about for me is music. I associate myself as my music. And I think a lot of addicts associate themselves as the feeling of being high or low. Obviously, it’s different, it’s chemical; but I personally don’t see much worth in myself without music, and people that are addicts don’t see worth without their drug. I have this really strong understanding of feeling like, ‘Oh you have to. What else are you going to do?’
Recently when my most recent friend passed I started diving deep into that idea. Why do people get this way? Why do we put so much pressure on one thing in our life? I personally have been trying to not do that so much. With music, with writing, with everything…I’ve been trying to let it flow more so it doesn’t feel like: “this is YOU- YOU identify as YOU- the artist, YOU- as music.” Like I’m just a person. That’s a lot of pressure to put on something.
Do you feel like you have two identities? Annabel on stage Annabel off stage?
Sure, yea? Not really. I’m Annabel in LA, and on stage. And just all the time. But I’m Sarah everywhere else too. Annabel is just who I always wanted to be.
Does your driver’s license say Sarah? “Sarah Borrello”…Sara Barellies ruined my life.
It’s kind of a weird dichotomy. Out in LA there’s a lot of people who have these double life things. And I didn’t even believe myself at first- when I moved here I was like, I’m going to tell people Annabel is my name because it’s the name of my business. And people are going to f*cking believe me!!
What compelled you to do that?
I pretty much decided that if I’m going to commit to this, and be an artist, I’m gonna live in that person and that space. And you can call me whatever you want, but that’s who I’m going to be. And “becoming” Annabel was a cool way of actually just becoming more myself. I became a her through relocating to where people didn’t know anything about me, or who I was before. And then I realized all the things I wanted to be- and already was- through that experiment of like- moving across the country, and essentially lying to everybody, and reintroducing myself as this fresh new person. Turns out now I’m just the version of myself I wanted to be.
What makes you feel sexy?
Ahhh getting mad! Getting mad, and also knowing that I’m right. Because I have a hard time with that.
Do you feel like you make points on stage?
Yes. Yeah. I don’t do that well in my real life sometimes. But I definitely can on stage. If I’m in front of people, they have to listen to me.
It feels so real, you know? Like being a teacher. I think about it all the time. My mother is an educator, she’s actually a really incredible educator, but if I were a teacher, I’d be bullsh*t. I don’t know anything about -instert history here- but I’m gonna tell you about it, and I’m going to do it with absolute conviction. And whatever I say, you’re going to believe. Because you’re down there and I’m up here. And that happens to me on stage for some reason. Not that I’m lying on stage but you know what I mean.
Did you ever believe in yourself this way when you were Sarah?
Never. Never ever ever. Not even close.
I had such a skewed perception of what being an artist was. I thought you could just play shows and someone would be like here’s a record deal. But it’s not 1965! You know what I mean? Like some record executive is not sitting at a sh*tty bar in Boston waiting to break a band. I realized that quickly. I met a manager who was out in LA…and he was telling me all the things I was doing wrong- he was bullsh*t too…but eventually I figured out like- Okay. There are levels to this.
I can be one hundred percent myself- but I just have to sell it. I can be me, and that can be a commodity if I’m honest. If I’m myself all the time and there’s no time where I shut it off or compromise my integrity, people are never going to be like who is she?
So if I believe me, and I’m being honest – sometimes it’s not pretty, sometimes it sucks – that’s what gets me to my artist place. If nothing else happens to me, I found my artist, you know? I found who she is and I love her. So that’s cool. And that’s something I found here. Absolutely, in LA. I never would have found it if I didn’t move here.
You sing with such conviction – what kind of training have you had?
10 years of classical piano. I was in chorus in high school…but I never went to voice lessons or anything. But I always listened to music growing up. I listened to a ton of Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, a ton of Aerosmith, Nirvana, U2 – anything my parents gave me, even if I didn’t like it, I figured if they did that it was “good”. And I would listen to all these artists and try to figure out what the hell they were doing.
When I was 13 and I used to go in front of the full length mirror in my dining room- I would scream/sing really loud into it. And my aunt lived next door – we have the Italian family where everyone kinda lives next to each other – so my aunt called the house and she was like “Are you ok???” Thinking someone was attacking me or something…Still sing the same way as I did then. Haha
What is something that you want people to take from you, what do you hope that they hear?
I hope that they feel empowered. They’re allowed to be a little bit cagey and unhinged. I also hope that they wanna… 😉
*cacophony of woo’s* Thank you Sarah Annabel, love!
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photographer / Ashley Maietta
story / Ariana Tibi