Singer/songwriter Anne Sumner talks about her new album “These Hours”, how she crafts her songs, her musical background, and how many cups of tea it takes to make an album…
These Hours is a remarkable achievement – a live studio album; every track recorded in a single take and comprising solely of guitar and vocal. With no studio trickery, this collection of songs is testament to rehearsing your material and the benefit live performance can have on preparing you for studio recording. The lyrics fit with the recording methods, giving the record a genuine feeling of exposure and insight. I caught up with Anne to chat about her path into writing, performing, and the making of her album.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your music. Does music run in the family, or were you inspired elsewhere?
My family are all musical in some way so I was raised with music all around me, but that was almost exclusively classical – I was left to my own devices when it came to what I chose to listen to, and my writing has been quite private on the whole. The years of musical training I had growing up gave me the skills to express myself but it’s taken a long time to narrow it down to a sound that really feels like mine. I’ve only recently been around folk music (not having had any background in it) and that’s given me a space and a tradition that my own music can fit into.
When did you first pick up a guitar and start writing your own songs?
I started writing on the piano, when I was a teenager and then after a big hiatus back in 2008. I later took up guitar with a view to gigging and have been writing with that for about four years or so.
…there’s something about songwriting that is different from both poetry and musical composition – when those lyrics suddenly appear with melodies that fit, that’s a whole distinct process of its own.
Did your passion begin with music or poetry/lyric writing?
They’re both so closely intertwined it’s hard to say, but if I look at things now I would say it’s rare that I get music or melodies without lyrics, whereas I love to write (and talk!) and will write a lot separately from my music so I guess, the words come first. I think there’s something about songwriting that is different from both poetry and musical composition – when those lyrics suddenly appear with melodies that fit, that’s a whole distinct process of its own.
…it’s that need to express something elusive and ephemeral that forces its way out into the song.
What inspires you to write lyrics? How do you go about creating your songs?
It’s usually about an emotion – either a general mood or something specific that’s tied to a certain memory or event. I try to get myself into that emotion and write from within it, and it’s that need to express something elusive and ephemeral that forces its way out into the song. I can’t really write much of anything without re-living the memory or being engaged in the emotion, but once I’m there it’s easy to find the words.
Do you sit down and write a song quickly or do you tend to hone a song over time before you consider it finished?
I’ve had it happen once or twice that a song will just write itself straight off in one go – but it’s very rare. Usually I will come up with an idea for a verse or a chorus (or even one of each!) and sketch ideas for other lines, but I will need to go away and come back to it. Sometimes I can be missing a word or a line for months (annoyingly!) until in the end the right thing turns up to complete the song. Sometimes I’ll change my mind about the structure of the song or the order of the verses, but it’s rare that I’ll un-write lyrics once they’re down.
The theme of ‘These Hours’ is how the time we spend with other people (even quite brief amounts of time) can impact us in a major way and sometimes alter the course of our lives completely.
Tell us about your album; why did you decide to collect your songs together for an album, and what are your hopes and dreams related to this project?
These Hours is a collection of “live in the studio” recordings – whole takes of just me and my guitar. I wanted to make something that reflected my experience of learning to play live, and to strip the songs back to their emotional authenticity and intimacy. The songs span about 18 months, about half of them were written before I started playing live and half afterwards, so they’re a balance between the period when I was writing introspectively for my own benefit, and when I started to write as a more direct form of communication. I wanted to write in a way that offered comfort and also offer a snapshot of my internal world, so I feel like the songs sit on the boundary between what’s internal and external and offer a channel going both ways. The theme of These Hours is how the time we spend with other people (even quite brief amounts of time) can impact us in a major way and sometimes alter the course of our lives completely. I don’t remember actively making a selection of which songs would go on the record but there is a lot of nature imagery on the album, so I suppose those songs kind of gathered themselves together.
As for hopes and dreams, I just hope people enjoy the songs! And find something honest and accessible in them.
What has the experience of making this album taught you?
So much! Mainly because it was a solo independent project, it was completely my vision and it’s not like I had a label or a band or a team pushing it forward. There are a lot of details involved in bringing a vision into reality – I learned to make decisions with no back-up, to believe in myself and my music, and how to keep things rolling at those moments when it was completely down to me whether they moved or stalled. I’ve learnt you can win people over with determination, that the support I need is always there if I’m prepared to ask for it, and that if I embrace what’s unique about me, other people will too. And also that it takes a whole LOT of cups of tea to make an album!
Where can people buy your album, or listen to samples etc? Where do people find you online generally, to follow your progress?
The album is available for download on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play and there are physical CDs (the old-fashioned kind complete with all the lyrics and some great pictures featuring trees and balloons!) available through the store at annesumnermusic.com. There’s a preview available on the website, and that links through to my Soundcloud and other social networks.
These Hours is available from the links above, and you really have to check it out!