INTO THE BRIGHT LIGHTS: “I kind of like to think that I’m a slow-burning person,” said rising country artist Michaela Anne in a recent phone interview. “I knew I was a musician from the time I was a toddler. I felt music deeply, but the whole idea of being a professional musician, I was very slow to come around to. I grew up in a military family; I didn’t know this life existed as an option.”
The Brooklyn-raised, Nashville-based singer/songwriter, who plays SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.) on Monday, June 27, at 7:30 p.m., has been compared favorably to legends such as Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt. But though her gifts are obvious, Anne’s worked gradually to put them on full display. This year’s album pronounces a new, more confident chapter in her musical career. Following 2014’s introspective Ease My Mind, 2016’s Bright Lights and the Fame shows the classic country-inspired artist stepping out into the spotlight a little more assertively. The more she has come into her own, the more she is “trying to express the power of knowing myself,” she said. “I’m less shy and more comfortable in life with being bolder, and therefore I feel like musically if you really want to make a statement, you’ve got to put it all out there. It’s really challenging to make a living doing this, so you kind of have to risk it all in many ways.”
The touring life, with the misbalanced rise and fall of hectic hustle and mundane inaction, of lots of people and lots of alone time, has “been a process for me to gain my footing,” she said, but things have evened out since she moved down south. Anne moved down to Nashville to escape the “claustrophobic” corridors of N.Y.C. Though in Nashville genre battle lines are sometimes quite firmly drawn between old and new, rootsy and poppy, with a tinge of celebrity-seeking haunting some of the bigger stages, Anne has felt right at home with her fellow music-makers and the more intimate indie venues. “It’s really incredible how small it is and how connected it feels,” she said. “It’s such a small community, and it’s great getting to be at a bar and a party or jam with people that have been your heroes, like Dave Rawlings or Gillian Welch.”
In a time when country music is more diverse than ever, with musicians seeking to push the genre into unexplored territories, Anne has preferred to take the lyrical and compositional roads more often traveled, one trodden before by the elders and masters of the form. With a sequined shirt that could have been worn by Porter Wagoner, she’s championing a lightly modernized take on tried-and-true methods, and raising country Cain the way the best barroom troubadours would. Songs such as “Liquor Up” and “Won’t Go Down” are big, rollicking numbers, and she admitted the party starters are often harder to write than the heartbreakers. “The songs about going out and having a good time, those songs can be the most challenging. I’ll hear a good, fun George Strait song — I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to write that because I’ll be trying to dig deeper and deeper,” she said.
Anne’s not trying to reinvent any wheels or branch out a new micro-genre but to sing the torch songs country artists have been burning for decades. For her, meditations on long-standing human struggles are the songs that speak strongest. “I really just focus on the songwriting and writing good songs that people connect to, songs on the same experiences and emotions that human beings have been having for hundreds and hundreds of years,” she said. “A good love song never gets old.”
But though the cycle of finding some fame in the bright lights has had its ups and downs, stops and starts, it seems as if Anne is finding a sure footing, and loving every moment. “I hope I get to keep doing what I’m doing forever,” she said.