On June 25, Michigan-born, Los Angeles-based musician Anna Ash will release her new EP titled Fire Season, featuring songs recorded and mixed at Eli Crews’ home studio in the Catskill Mountains with her friend Eric Kuhn in November of 2020. “Even though we had taken all the necessary covid precautions,” says Ash, “I was still like, ‘Man, let’s just have our own little zones, I’ll stay in my room, you stay in yours, and Eli stays in the control room, and let’s see if we can function.’ And we did. It was really surprising actually how well we could play together without seeing each other.”
To learn more about the story behind the new EP and to get to know Ash better in general, we caught up with her for a 5 Questions feature, as well as invited her to perform something for us from Fire Season. She chose to deliver a lovely and vocally impressive song about “how destructive doing nothing can be” called “Dress Rehearsal” and shared some fun and enlightening answers to our questions, including why saying “jeez o petes” in L.A. won’t make you friends with the bartender.
5 Questions with Anna Ash by Sam Shansky
1) Could you describe your upcoming EP release, Fire Season, and tell us as much about it as possible, especially about any hardships or obstacles you had to overcome to bring it to fruition?
I recorded Fire Season this past November at Eli Crews’ home studio in the Catskill mountains with my friend Eric Kuhn. I was too financially stressed to try to record a full record, and too covid anxious to bring a full band into the studio, so I essentially recorded the B side to my record first—I chose all the tunes that didn’t feel like they required a live rock & roll band. I hired Eric because he’s a really intuitive multi-instrumentalist, and I knew I needed someone willing to travel around the studio and build the tunes with me, right there in the moment. We recorded almost everything in two days while in separate rooms, just listening to each other on headphones. Even though we had taken all the necessary covid precautions, I was still like, “Man, let’s just have our own little zones, I’ll stay in my room, you stay in yours, and Eli stays in the control room, and let’s see if we can function.” And we did. It was really surprising actually how well we could play together without seeing each other. My vocals and guitar are all live and one take, so the songs definitely feel like performances, but I think that approach made sense for them.
At the time, I was considering relocating to upstate New York, but realized it would be too financially risky to do in that moment, so I drove myself back to Los Angeles a few weeks later, and added some overdubs with players here—Rachel Mazer on clarinet, Aaron Embry on piano, and Rich Hinman on pedal steel. The only reason I felt financially capable of recording was because of my Patreon I had just started. Like most musicians this year, I felt so paralyzed by money, but knew I needed to keep working and making recordings somehow.
2) You’ve described your place of origin as being the “top knuckle of the ring finger,” referring to Michigan and its shape, which people say resembles a mitten or a hand. What other Michigander idioms can you share, and what are some L.A. oddities you’ve picked up since living there?
That’s funny, I don’t remember saying that! I have an ex who used to joke that U.P. meant upper pinkie, which I always rolled my eyes at because it is just so obviously wrong. Up until maybe eight years ago, I thought, “jeez o petes” was an American vernacular exclamation. A bartender I was working with called me out and said, “What the hell are you saying?” I was so surprised because I honestly thought everyone said it, but then when I went home and looked it up, the only textual use of the phrase I could find was from a Jim Harrison novel. So yea, I think just people from Michigan say “jeez o petes.”
I don’t think I’ve picked up any L.A. oddities. I’ve lived here for nine years, but I still very much feel like I’m from Michigan. Probably because I still visit and play shows there often, and I predict I’ll buy a house there eventually. I think L.A. has made me a lot more comfortable with fashion and self-expression, though. When I go back to Michigan, I do feel like I stick out a little, wearing high heels and red lipstick in the grocery store.
3) Fans have surely noticed your sense of style, which is elegant, to say the least. Who are some of your favorite photographers or videographers that you’ve worked with, and could you tell us who some of your fashion icons are?
Aw that’s kind of you to say! I love photoshoots and making videos, and am always so eager to meet new collaborators in that world. My dear friends Brandon Barnhart, Matthew Reamer, Andy Schlachtenhaufen and Christine Hucal have made a lot of my recent photos and videos, and I’m forever grateful to have met and worked with Maren Celest when I was in my early 20s because she taught me so much about film photography and experimentation.
I think I float around a lot in regards to fashion, and at 33, I am JUST figuring out how to dress my body in ways that are flattering, expressive and work well on camera or on stage. For the L.A. Flame photoshoot, I worked with an amazing stylist Chaine Leyendecker because I really wanted a lot of color and glamour, but lately I’ve just been wanting to wear black tank tops, jeans, and lipstick for everything. I’m not very creative when it comes to fashion, so usually I’ll buy one new piece of clothing and then that’s my outfit for six months straight.
4) How do you tolerate boredom – what are your preferred pastimes and sought-out simple pleasures?
I can’t say I feel bored very often, but I do get sucked into my phone way too often, which is a much scarier version of boredom. When I’m not feeling motivated to read or write or sing, I’ll take long walks or ride my bike up and down Mt. Washington where I live. I cook often and love playing cards and backgammon. I started making candles this past year, and it’s the first craft I’ve ever taken up. I’m not good at following recipes or directions, so the learning curve was a little long for me, but I’m finally on track to having homemade candles to sell as merchandise. I used to be better at catching myself before falling into a phone black hole so, like many of us, I’ve been trying really hard to have a few go-to mindless physical activities to pull me out of the doom scroll. I haven’t done it in a while, but I really want to get back into my stoner ballet practice. I have a roommate though, so it’s hard for me to just clock out and get lost in dance when I know someone might walk through the door at any moment and I’m just standing there in the living room, wild-eyed and blasting Debussy in my leotard.
5) Let’s say Bonnie Raitt, Gillian Welch, and EmmyLou Harris want to start a new band with you. It’s a covers-only band, and you always get to choose the songs. What are the first three songs you’re going to choose and why?
“Those Memories of You” from EmmyLou’s trio record with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. It’s my absolute favorite three-part harmony song to sing. Bonnie Raitt’s “Something to Talk About” and Gillian Welch’s “Wayside/Back in Time” come to mind fairly quickly too, but honestly this would stress me out so much to be in charge of the setlist. It’s funny, I think I’m hitting this point in my life where I’m just so tired of being in charge of myself and my career, and perhaps it’s because I’m very bad at business and marketing myself, but I’ve also been functioning in this industry in a really solitary, lonely way. I’ve never had a manager or agent, and I just started working with a label, but they’re incredibly hands-off (in a supportive way). I so desperately want someone to tell me what to do, and really want collaborators who I can just sit back and let them take the reins. But those types of people are rare, and my most successful release is a song that no one liked—the band thought it was sloppy, and contemporaries thought it was too raw to release. Every damn day I’m grateful I didn’t listen to them, but I am getting a bit weary of being the boss all the time.
Bonus: Cats or dogs and why?
Oh, dogs all day every day. I grew up with them and have been wanting to get one for years, but it’s tricky being a single person who travels. So first I think I need to get a husband, and then I can get a dog. ❤️