We had the good fortune of connecting with Anna May and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Anna, how do you think about risk?
Risk seems to be inherently woven into any artist’s life. Pursuing any art thoroughly, in a wholly explorative way, brings one into more intimate space with risk or discomfort. Personally, my comfort around risk has expanded in recent years. Darkness and light can be found in risk, and in doing something differently from how you had been told might be the best way; in being further out on the edge or on the limb than may be comfortable.
During the pandemic, i felt compelled by several factors, emotional & physical, to reignite my yoga practice in a dynamic way.
Yoga brings us to direct connection with discomfort and challenge, via asanas.
As I trained my body to find ease in what was uncomfortable, I applied my acquired yogic knowledge & sought to train my art, in a new direction, towards embracing greater challenges that might have seemed untouchable to me, previously.
I pushed my body to run more miles, during this time, as well.
The pandemic was a penetrative time for anyone who lived through it. It was a radical, and probably necessary restructuring of the human paradigm, and reflected the strength of the individual.
I think about risk quite a bit, and see it as a gateway to other big stuff like, discovery, satisfaction, elation, etc. & yet risk can hold negative connotations.
With greater potential for something to go wrong, there also comes a greater chance that something magnified and amazing, might happen.
Certain risks brought me the gifts of certain lyrics .. i.e. letting myself starve a little in the morning before getting breakfast, just to remember a lyric buried in a deep dream, or, wandering into the woods a little too far, just to feel a more radical sense of isolation .. enduring horribly flawed or plagued relationships, for the sake of feeling something of a more visceral nature, examining the minuta of human nature, or confronting someone’s analysis of you .. saying no to one thing, and yes to another that might not have seemed favorable or popular; being selective and judicious.
When we are faced with something that is totally new to us, we can develop perspective more readily, compared to if we were in a familiar environment.
If one can live with the discernible risk of failure, every day,
I feel that one becomes better at defying one’s concept of failure.
You must become adept at outsmarting it and recognize that it is really just a concept.
I have felt often, as if I were writing off the page, somewhere that feels invisible or barely discernible, only to discover that, what i was defining as empty, held and brought substance to many, ultimately, in the form of lyrics or music.
Once you do something and develop a sense of comfort with it, that thing is no longer a risk but rather, something that you now do. It is yours
Our limits expand around us.
Limits, after all, are what keep us safe from harm and help us to maintain comfort within our identities and preserve us from danger. Some of us rely more heavily on limits, and others rely more heavily on risk as our fuel and power. Many of us do not like what can look like instability.
I believe that, we have limits to keep us safe, but they can become a crutch to us, if we are not careful.
I find that the really good art comes from relying on risk to a greater degree than reliance on limits, structure, or order, as a general rule. That isn’t to say that there cannot be a sense of health and balance within a structure that leans towards risk.
Risk feels so healthy for us, and satisfies our animal nature, that naturally resists being placated.
Risk seems to define itself as .. the parting with authority, and questioning of norms.
We grow in this way, if we can carve a way out of what is customary or typically understood, approaching a more individuated perspective of the world, where we find more space that is completely our own.
What happened for me after this incredibly open ended pandemic – time was ..
A questioning of my ultimate motivations, regarding how I was living and using time, and an examination of how I could invite a healthy amount of risk into my life, so that
I might better visualize my goals & elevate my progress.
I worked fiendishly harder towards specific goals. I reevaluated my purpose and intentions. I engaged in a virtual relationship that sadly fell through once we met in person. I stopped premeditated thinking and lived more presently.
I embarked on a western U.S. tour for three months that consistently took me out of my comfort zones, and away from my home and my family, and I adapted & changed my values systems for the better. I lived adjacent to a bit more mystery and splendor and did not set an end date for the journey.
I drove further and lingered longer and
I modified my habits and patterns in subtle ways as
I grew. These were all risks, that I saw myself living, every day. My mind opened. With travel, my perspective changed rapidly before I had time to reorient, and
I began to notice more, the fallability in what could feel Sheltered or insulated, and i noticed how i had often been a victim of certain limits, in the past.
It is a weighty risk to show oneself as vulnerable, because doing so will not come with guaranteed acceptance, and yet, that is the essence of art; to take us somewhere new, so, what choice do we make?
I enjoy now, more than I once did, the elements of being a musician that pertain to, added risks. I see the benefits, in better ways. There are risks involved in both performance and creative arenas, in terms of being a songwriter.
The types of confrontations that accompany performance or touring are humbling, conveying to me, my own impermanence, and the fragility of all things, in each moment. I realize, endlessly, that there is more beauty than I could ever capture, and as a result of this realization, my awareness instantly expands. There is always a way to go deeper & further.
I usually realize that I have a greater store of energy than i think I do, whenever I am pushed to take on challenges.
I am shown, the importance of valuing all elements of life, completely; choosing to understand someone or something now, rather than later. Let it be hard, because then, the hard gets easier. I have a song that ends with the lyric : jump into the wave. Don’t turn away, speaking to this theme of taking risks & gainful confrontations.
Art is in many ways about being intentional and exploratory, and about not turning away or conceding to an easy distraction.
The process requires a special brand of intense discipline, to be able to thrive creatively, write effectively and reach people, emotionally.
The risk becomes commonplace, when we live, in risk – states : driving hours to shows, to destinations where we have not ever been, we risk car trouble, accidents, falling asleep at the wheel. –
Setting up electrical equipment in all sorts of conditions; risking electrocution or whatever else .. risking judgment from audience members, and when you risk it all enough, the fear of risk disappears, and we understand, how to push ourselves further, for the sake of propelling ourselves onwards to new growth.
At this juncture, we tend to not feel scared or self conscious, anymore. The risks are huge, and are all totally worthwhile.
The difficulties are all merely uncomfortable pieces that we will live through, beyond the harrowing challenge. It is our lesson in having big faith
We are all artists by the most profound, yet probably unwritten laws of human nature,
I believe, and I see this most clearly when
I teach music to young students who may never have touched an instrument before.
The philosophical knowledge of music, joy and play are quite intrinsic to human beings. I feel that, art – instincts expand when we make the decision to surrender to the open space before us, which can present as, a rustle in the trees, or as a ray of sunshine, or something else, entirely. These are our cues to take a pause and to choose to create.
We are not always presented with adequate opportunities for the kind of expansion and reflection that art requires.
Time itself is a weight in our way,
I often find. Society can also be a Boulder – like impediment that may train us away from our truest natures, at times.
Songs and paintings rarely move at the same fast pace that society moves.
From an early age, I tended to interpret society as an overly – mobile structure that
I was skeptical about. If all was in place or in order or motion, for us to readily consume, then, where were our identities between all of that monolithic structure?
What might happen if we chose to deviate from the predestined path and extend out our own hand freely to create something that separated from the given structure and pace?
I was naturally doing this, often, in the form of poems or songs, and couldn’t understand why worlds were seeming to collide.
I noticed, as a child, that, this extending out from the herd, was the sanctuary and the salvation. That was where the art and inspiration lived, beyond reliance and conditioning; space that was unseen sometimes, by human eyes, and it was the artist’s duty to do what it needed, knowing when to step outside of pattern, in order to reach the special climates of inspiration.
Cultivating balance between the practical and philosophical,
I think, must be a lifelong process for artists. It is, for me; a persistent journey regarding finding the open spaces where we might lay ourselves down in authenticity, and commit something meaningful to a page, canvas, etc, in the midst of all doing and going.
Being an artist is an every day risk, in modern society, it seems, more and more. This is a society that I see as increasingly over – comfortable and susceptible to judgment as a weapon, rather than developed artistry & ingenuity as guiding skills that could bring us towards enhanced unity and connection.
The pandemic shone light on one of society’s big loopholes, and on the financial insecurity threats that face so many artists. We live and give to a society that largely undervalues us.
Artists are perched upon limits like insecurity & invisibility, and yet
I feel that in my own unmeasured ways, i have weighed the risks, and decide always, to take them.
Risk is where the really good art lives. When we are uncomfortable, we receive a push to go beyond ourselves or beyond where we went before. Art is our invitation to the processes of growth and truth,, while knowing that ..
Things like fear, derision, vengeance and judgment can accompany a life embroidered by risk and art.
I once told someone that, my instability and my vulnerability are the materials used to make my art.
I do not believe that .. art has to accompany some thoroughly devisive “choice”. Everyone can weave creativity into one’s daily life, no matter their professions or environments, as long as they can effectively make the choice to commit to their creativity. It is a learning to go out of one’s way, and to make a new habit to do so. We might have to Un – learn a lot in order to get there.
I have come to the conclusion, after almost thirty years on the planet that, going outside of the lines is vital to having an authentic and deeply reflective experience of living, let alone, making quality music that can mean something to other people.
Risk has been the determining factor in everything in my life that has brought me satisfaction.
I’ve risked engaging in many relationships that failed, and I’ve risked leaving, moving, coming and going, many times, and to various places. I risk judgment, and I make no sacrifice at all, as I see things.
I risked releasing music that was either too Raw, philosophical, or too slow, or not what anyone wanted to hear but, i released it anyway, and i was happy about it.
I never measure anything in terms of success and failure. Pieces of everything that we witness and absorb are hugely critical in determining, what develops us.
Measuring is futile. Risk is beautiful & essential, in my eyes. It represents, getting out to a place where there is freedom; the cliff, the wave, the sky.
I always seem to feel better about myself when i take the risk, if it is on the table, even if it is viewed as a financial or social hazard to my wellbeing. It has never been in the constitution of an artist to reflect invariability, or to keep people happy.
It can feel good to bite off more than you are able to chew, or to find yourself in over your head. That humbles us. I wish for my vulnerability to be more visible than my strength.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a songwriter and lover of lyrics. I love to explore philosophical themes, lyrically. I take inspiration primarily from jazz and folk music, and incredible folks like billie holiday, Leonard Cohen, Shawn colvin, etc.
I take a bare approach to my guitar playing, but come from a classical piano background.
I aim to create music that is unique in its emphasis on dreamscapes, spiritual expansion, and the complexity of human relationships.
With an emphasis on live performance,
I take a minimalist approach to recording and work with producer, Steve Rizzo at Stable Sound Studios in Rhode Island.
I am most proud of my recently released my fourth album in 2020; an EP entitled, Kites. I am currently working on my next full length album, which already is feeling like a big departure in terms of what I’ve released so far.
My music is ultimately intended as a form of meditation for listeners, in hopes of honoring humility and bringing about greater connection amongst people.
I love to weave my passions for healing, yoga and meditation in contemporary folk music, while exploring really three dimensional concepts.
I had to over come quite a bit of self doubt and bullying trauma before I could focus on my music career, seriously.
It was not ever easy, and I still suffer repercussions from trauma and anxiety.
Eventually, after ample exploratory time, lyrics began to form in a cohesive way, and I was ready to let others hear them.
While I sometimes consider myself very lucky in terms of the man beautiful opportunities that I’ve been afforded in my life, no, a career in music is not easy.
There are many highs and lows to become adjusted to, but, that being said, I am incredibly happy.
I’ve done quite a bit of the leg work myself, in terms of Booking, and have had tremendous support from my family.
I am just now exploring options outside of myself to better handle the demands of my career, so that I am able to first and foremost maintain creative integrity.
I would say that, I attribute quite a bit of my tenacity to the sense of doubt that people in my life seemed to have, about my ability to be successful.
That energy has always given me a great push to succeed. Seeing beyond factors such as judgment and doubt from others, and ardent self belief has been a key to finding success. My dad always told me, don’t care what other people think!
I have learned that, experiencing more externally tends to make your art much better. You can refine your response to your environment, or others, in a way.
I want to be relatable to others, emotionally, and also, very true to myself.
You just work your way into it and if you love it .. success usually finds you somehow, as a response to your passion.
Ask and you eventually shall receive
You can overcome the challenges of anything, simply by being yourself.
You are always growing and becoming more adept at what you wish go communicate.
I want the world to know peace, when they hear my music.
I want for them to find a place that represents solace, love, and healing.
My lyrics root for the underdog in any story, & fulfill
Eventually, you come to a place where a lot of the stuff that used to touch you or bother you, simply does not affect you, anymore.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I am from Connecticut, and am still relatively new to california & to la but .. I was lucky to have some good friends & family here to show me around to some amazing places, like open mics, a surf lesson, & nighttime Frisbee on the beach 🙂
I loved to explore around Venice, on my own.
This is a perfect haven for anyone who is artistic and loves supportive & nutritious foods. There are some great yoga classes at shefayoga Venice, as well.
I enjoyed spots like superba, cafe gratitude and rose cafe for dinner, & any of the coffee houses in venice have an awesome flavor. Erewhon Market may be one of my favorite grocery stores ever!
This area is also heaven in terms of gluten free and vegan restaurants! Can you tell that I am passionate about food?
On my first trip to LA many years ago, my aunt drove me through Beverly hills and we went into some of the old hotels in los angeles. Super great vibes, and inspiring to be in the heart of things for anyone pursuing something in the arts.
The energy of los angeles is very uplifting and makes me feel as if I am home, or have found my way to the right place.
I would also love to do some hiking & biking, in addition to ecstatic dance on Venice Beach, which I got to drop into for the first time over summer.
I love the coastal areas & canyons between Santa barbara and Los Angeles. There are some nice, quieter beaches that are outside of la in either direction.
In non pandemic times, i would take someone to as much live music as possible. There are many unique venues in LA, that I miss going to : El Rey theatre,
Resident, largo at the coronet, Zebulon, the mint, and so many more ..
I also would love to visit more of LA’s museums.
I am perpetually in awe of the cliffs, mountains and grandeur of Southern California. There are still many parts of LA that I have yet to explore, for myself ..
It is a magical place with an infectious, vintage sort of energy that lifts one towards their goals & aspirations.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Along with the many teachers, artists & Plentiful influence that have gifted me with good wisdom ..
The greatest lessons are love and humility, and those have come from my mother, father, and grandmother.
Thank you for giving me the best life & experience from which to take inspiration.
The fullest & most unconditional gifts and lessons have always come from you 🙏
Chelsea Mandes Mallory Olenius