Durham’s Anna Rose Beck didn’t know she could sing for most of her life; good thing she finally figured it out

by Jordan Lawrence

reblogged from The Independent Weekly

Finally ready to swim: Anna Rose Beck spent a lifetime convincing herself she couldn't sing before she realized she was wrong.

Photo by Leigh Moose of Side Yard Studios Photography
 
The most striking thing about Durham songwriter Anna Rose Beck is her voice. Light and crisp, it moves with resilience and lands with the calming effervescence of a seaside breeze, bearing weight without strain. Her voice seems so pure and effortless that it’s hard to understand how it wasn’t always there, or at least how she didn’t always trust it.
 
A few years ago, Beck didn’t even think she could sing.”I honestly wasn’t musical,” she explains, her blue-green eyes sparkling in the late May sun while she reclines on a patio in the Sarah P. Duke Gardens. “I wasn’t an obvious musical child.”
 
As kids, she and the other young members of her extended family put on informal performances for the adults. One cousin had an amazing voice and always took the lead. Beck would try, but she never had it. Her family consoled her, telling her that singing just wasn’t her thing and that was OK. Rather, they enrolled her in ballet, the first in a series of organized distractions. During high school in Austin, Texas, she swam, wrote for the student newspaper and played cello. None of it stuck. She drifted through school, making grades good enough to get her into Duke University. Still, outside of classwork, she never found her rudder.
 
At Duke, she settled into a biomedical engineering major, looking for a challenge that would work toward her aspiration to go to medical school. The course load was dense with math and science, leaving no room to take something that provided creative fulfillment. On a lark the summer before her senior year, she and a roommate decided to learn the guitar. The roommate soon let the pastime go. But after three years of college, Beck had finally found her way back to singing—as it turns out, her passion.
 
“It was just this thing that I immediately became addicted to,” she remembers. “I had never had anything like that before. I had been in all these activities as a kid, and I did them. But I never really loved them. This was the first thing that I sort of fell into and was like, ‘Oh my God, I want to spend all my time doing this.’ It was something about the challenge of creating a beautiful song, because it was hard for me at first. I think that’s what made it addicting.”
 
Three years later, her obsession has produced its first formal expression: The Weathermaker is a concise seven-song set that puts Beck’s talents out front. Her dreamy picking and resonant vocals are buoyed by conservative yet rewarding full-band arrangements. Cool washes of pedal steel, hushed prickles of piano and skittering drums fill the space, lending her songs both grace and immediacy. The band lifts her hypnotic melodies and imagery-rich lyricism in a way that suggests the work of a seasoned songwriter with a favorable record deal. But this is a self-release from a first-timer who gathered a recording budget by building a page on the popular fundraising website Kickstarter.
 
The record attests to how far Beck has come since 2008.  Inspired by a YouTube clip of Bob Dylan playing “Mr. Tambourine Man” at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival, she began learning his songs during the fall of her senior year.  She picked along to Dylan’s words, recording herself on her iPhone in an effort to work on her voice.
 
“I was a horrible singer when I started,” she says, shaking her head bashfully. “I got into recording myself, and then I would listen back to it and be horrified about how it sounded versus what I thought it sounded like.”  After about six months, she gained confidence in her voice and instrumental ability. She signed up for her first open mic at Durham’s Broad Street Cafe, preparing two Dylan songs and an additional cover. She’d learned to be satisfied with herself while playing alone at home; on a stage in front of a crowd, she encountered paralyzing stage fright.
 
“I don’t think I got through the actual song,” she recalls. “I got all shaky, and my voice got all shaky. It was really—it was traumatic. But for some reason I’m a masochist and decided to keep going back over and over again. It took me forever to get over it.”  
 
Beck began penning her own songs at the same time. Again, she lets go of a heavy sigh, explaining that it took her those months to attain a solid enough grasp on song mechanics to begin writing her own material.  The account of her musical trajectory is filled with these moments of exasperation, always relating back to the amount of time it took for her to get past some hurdle in learning her craft. It’s a trait that could easily be mistaken for impatience and self-importance; for Beck, it’s the opposite. As with her vocal frustrations, she’s continually more self-critical than self-satisfied. She zeroes in on an area of improvement and won’t rest until she’s turned an apparent weakness into a strength. This mix of patience and awareness—knowing how to work, and for how long—is what makes Beck’s debut so strong. Three years ago, she had no confidence in her voice; now it’s the calling card of a talented and confident young performer.
 
The Weathermaker isn’t bashful about the process that made it possible. The second track, simply titled “The Minor Chord Song,” is the first song Beck completed. More than just a fitting gesture, it’s a well-rendered tale of heartbreak that speaks to her songwriting talent. Set to the simplest of strums, the song is propelled by a plodding country bass line and gussied with simple cello flourishes. It hangs on the image of Beck folding a T-shirt inherited from a lost love, memories and images flitting through her mind as she lays her metaphor to rest in a dresser drawer.”Now I write this song/ Wondering where I’ve gone wrong,” she sings. “Oh, let these minor chords sing me to sleep/ Please.”
 
Filled with the possibility of what a few chords and some words can fix, “Minor Chord” is as much about a young songwriter taking stock of her own odes as it is about a girl getting over a boy. Emotions, and the way they are controlled by outside forces, is a theme that runs through this record. She probes the way images and mementos make her feel, hoping to induce similar feelings in her audience.
 
For Beck, the best songs do unexpected things to people—singer included.”Each song has a certain feeling that you can’t necessarily just put into words, which in my mind is why you write a song about it,” she says. “There are some songs where you listen to them and you’re like, ‘I feel weird and sad and nostalgic, but I don’t know why.’ And it’s just because the song is that good.”

THE WEATHERMAKER ALBUM RELEASE PARTY: THURSDAY, JUNE 2 AT CASBAH

Here are the dete’s, y’all:

8:30 pm
Arielle Bryant, “red-haired and violent” songstress from Raleigh, will open the night with her soulful, poetry-driven melodies & fierce guitar licks

9 pm
Wind & Willow, adorable husband and wife folk duo from Raleigh, will play their lutes, autoharps, dulcimers, guitars, glockenspiels, and more!
http://reverbnation.com/windandwillow

9:30 pm
Then I’ll play! Joining me onstage to add sparkle will be James Hines (bass), Rob Cantrell (drums), Sabina Barton (keys), Elana Mie Scheiner (cello), Shana Tucker on cello (http://reverbnation.com/shanatucker), Jim Kremidas on pedal steel guitar…and more special guests to be announced soon!

10:30 pm – 12
DESSERT RECEPTION & CD SIGNING

CUPCAKES! NEED I SAY MORE?

TICKETS are $8 in advance (purchase link below) and $10 at the door. And….
***ADMISSION GETS YOU A FREE COPY OF THE ALBUM***

Purchase tickets in advance here:
https://www.etix.com/ticket/online/performanceSearch.jsp?performance_id=1467513&cobrand=casbahdurham

AND PREVIEW THE ALBUM AT MY REVERBNATION PAGE:

WHEEEEEE

ALL I EVER WANTED

(a new song by me)

take me back
back to the beginning when this all started
when we first met
back at the beginning when our eyes kissed
strung out and wild
we stayed up all night countin stars
as we lay upon our backs
and all i ever wanted
was to look at you and have you look back
and all i ever wanted was for puzzle pieces
of you and me to match
i wished on stars
blew out birthday candles and dandelions
i blinked and here you are
back at the beginning and our eyes kissed
walking on a wire
i stay up all night wondering
how somethin this good
could happen to me
and all i ever wanted….
take me down
to the secret places we used to hide
the memories all around
and i’m back at the beginning when our eyes kiss
and i cant help but smile
just like every time
not for long
when i blink again, you’ll be gone
and all i ever wanted…
and all i ever wanted….

Album Release Party Announced!

Good news, y’all!  My album release will be held at Casbah in Durham, North Carolina on June 2 at 8 pm.  I’ll have a full band (cello, bass, drums, keys, & more) backing me, and Arielle Bryant, fiery poetess/singer/songwriter from Raleigh, will open… as will a second special guest, which is super secret!  You can find out more information about the show and purchase advance tickets here.

AND… you can stream songs from my record for free right here.

My response to the hypebot.com article I was quoted in…

http://www.hypebot.com/hypebot/2011/04/the-diy-musician-when-artists-become-the-product.html

I’d like to set the record straight here on the issues covered in this post. When William interviewed me, I was under the assumption that this article was going to cover how I, as a DIY artist, use online tools to my advantage. I would first like to say that ReverbNation, CD Baby, Facebook band pages, and the like provide an amazing set of tools, either for free, or for what, in my opinion, are very reasonable prices for the services they provide. All of ReverbNation’s basic features are completely free, and artists are only charged around $5 a month for the more advanced features that they themselves elect to sign up for. I have an enormous respect for these companies and the people behind the scenes brainstorming and creating brand new tools that allow artists to connect with listeners in ways that are more personal and more instantaneous than has ever been possible. Which is why I chose to intern at ReverbNation for about three months this past fall – I wanted to be part of the action.

My time spent working at ReverbNation, as well as my experience as a VERY new-to-the-industry musician, as well as simple common sense, have all taught me that simply creating accounts on these websites and then expecting them to somehow magically garner attention and allow me to rise to fame is completely ridiculous [insert big fat DUH]. I agree with everyone who has posted to say that these sites are simply tools – valuable ones – that, if used in proactive and creative new ways, coupled with traditional grass roots efforts and live performances – can reap enormous benefits.

To me, raising $2100 on my Kickstarter project for my first album was a huge success – my original goal was only $800. For that I can only give a huge thanks to the folks at ReverbNation – the site to which I primarily referred potential Kickstarter backers – for giving me the ability to post music that folks can stream easily and for free. They also helped me to spread word of the Kickstarter project by leveraging the email addresses I’ve collected through their free mailing list feature. Those tools, in addition to my connections with people on Facebook and YouTube, helped me to achieve something that I never would have thought possible a year ago. (And when Gruger says I “invested heavily” in YouTube and other online tools, I assume he is referring to the time investment – not monetary investment – because I have spent relatively little or no money on each of these sites.)

I am lucky in that I had the means to spend more than $2000 on the recording and production of my first record – what Gruger refers to as being “in the red” – but what was, in my opinion, a necessary investment needed to take my musical career to the next level. (And as an aside, a quality record could have easily been produced for less than $2000).

My main point is that the object at this point in my career is not to be making money. It is to be making connections and developing a reputation for making good music. And far from “exploiting” me, websites like ReverbNation, CDBaby, Facebook, etc. are allowing me to do that. So to them, I really can only say a big “thank you.”