Though singer/songwriter Brooke Annibale hails from Pittsburgh, she did a tour of duty in Nashville before returning home last year. Those contrasting environs are both present in her work. Indeed, she’s both a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, to borrow the old Osmond analysis. Her new album, The Simple Fear, signals her breaking of the writer’s block that hit after her 2013 release, the Word in Your Eyes EP. And it finds Annibale in fine form.
Though they aren’t musicians, your family has worked in and around music for a couple of generations. Are you one of those people who had no real choice in the matter — you just music was it for you from early on?
My parents weren’t musicians, but my maternal grandfather was a guitarist and always encouraged me to learn guitar or drums, which I was interested in as a kid. It took until I was a teenager to take a real interest in learning guitar. I started learning guitar specifically to write songs. Since I started, there hasn’t been anything else I’ve wanted to do with my life more than play music. So I guess you could say it was just “it” for me, but no one was pushing me into it.
You spent some time in Nashville, but moved back to Pittsburgh last year. What’s the music scene like there?
The Pittsburgh scene is much more condensed than the Nashville music scene, for sure, but still very interesting and strong. The Pittsburgh scene has several really great bands and singer/songwriters that I’ve enjoyed collaborating with and playing shows with. There’s anything from the danceable indie-pop band Donora — who are on the same Pittsburgh-originated label as Wiz Khalifa — to great folk acts like Judith Avers and the Early Mays. Because of the scene’s size, everyone pretty much knows everyone else, which creates a great community and a lot of collaboration.
Writer’s block aside, do you write better — or more — when you’re happy or sad? Or do you approach it as a job and power through?
My instinct is to answer “sad,” but honestly it’s when I’m going through a lot of changes or some sort of situation that takes a lot of processing. I’ve always used songwriting and music as a therapeutic processing method for whatever I’m going through at the time. Sometimes it’s all about inspiration, and sometimes it is about approaching it like a job. But even when I approach it like a job, I have to keep my head in a place where I’m writing from honest emotions.
What’s the first truly good song you remember writing? And, at what point do you know a song’s good?
I wrote a song when I was 15 or 16 called “Go Unnoticed” and, while I wouldn’t really consider it my best work now, I still occasionally get an email or message about that song. People tell me they heard it a long time ago and can’t find their copy of it and ask how they can get it. It astonishes me a bit that people have held onto their connection to a song I wrote over 10 years ago.
Now, I think I know a song I’m writing is good when either it gets stuck in my own head or I just want to keep playing it. Also, I have to connect with it emotionally in some way or else I’ll get bored with it. Then I’ll start playing those songs live, and can usually tell from how they come out in front of a live audience if they will hold up in the long run.
You seem to bend and blend genres in your work. Do you think we’re getting to a point where labels mean and matter less? Or will we always need descriptors to help us out?
I think most people want to define what they are hearing in some way. If people have just heard me, they want to tell me who or what I sound like and, if people haven’t heard me yet, they want to know who I sound like. So, I do think it’s important, to a certain extent. It definitely gets people interested in hearing your music if they sort of know what to expect and already enjoy those references. Whether that’s a vocal or style reference, it gives people something to relate to before they’ve even heard my music.