"I also sorta feel like I’m filling out a profile on a dating website" We chat with Anna Vaus
Following the release of her California Kid EP in 2018, Anna Vaus was named as one of CMT Next Women of Country's Class of 2019. So it's been a whirlwind 12 months for her. We're big fans of the EP so wanted to catch up with her, find out more about AV, and talk about anything and everything.
Hey Anna, how the devil are you?
Hey Max! I am so excited about this interview. I really appreciate you being interested enough in my music to want to know more, ha!
So, couple of easy questions to start gently… what have you been up to today?
Honestly, today has been an easy start to the morning. It’s about 11am here in Nashville so I’ve been up for a few hours. I’ve started this new thing where I get up early (mostly so I can get coffee into my body sooner) but this morning I worked out, grabbed coffee with a friend, and am getting ready to write a song today which I somehow am lucky enough to call my day job!
And where are you right now?
I’m currently at my publishing company in Nashville - Black River Entertainment. I spend a good part of my time here writing songs and drinking their coffee. And at this point you’re probably noticing a theme with everything I do: coffee.
Please introduce yourself to our lovely readers?
Hi guys! I’m Anna Vaus. Some people call me The California Kid and my cat Harry calls me “mom” but to most of my friends I’m “AV.” I grew up in Southern California but currently live in Nashville, TN. I also sorta feel like I’m filling out a profile on a dating website so I’ll just let you know now that I do, in fact, enjoy long walks on the beach and am always up for sushi. Also, I’m a country artist. That’s probably the most important thing. Clearly I’m really nailing this whole interview thing, currently.
Tell us a bit about you, what’s your first memory of playing music?
I don’t think I’ve ever been asked this question before so I really am digging deep into the depths of my memory here, but I think my first memory of playing music would be writing songs as a kid. At the time I was somehow pretty convinced that I wrote 'Bless the Broken Road' (which is actually written by Marcus Hummon, Jeff Hanna, and Bobby Boyd). The melody and the lyrics popped into my head one day and I remember thinking, “Ok…. this is pretty awesome right? I think I’m killing it as a 6-year-old songwriter.” And then of course, one day my family and I were watching American Idol and all of a sudden someone is performing my song and they’re saying it’s by Rascal Flatts? A devastating realization as a young songwriter. With all sarcasm and copyright infringement aside, I spent a lot of time writing lyrics into my diary and crafting melodies as a young kid.
What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time?
ALL. DIFFERENT. KINDS. Most of the time I find myself listening to John Mayer (Heavier Things is my favorite record of his), Randy Newman, Glen Campbell, or The Beach Boys. Currently though, I’m in love with Kacey Musgraves’ new record Golden Hour.
Your EP, The California Kid, came out late last summer, what can you tell me about it?
It did! It’s insane to me that we’re coming up on a year of those songs existing in the world. I would like to think that The California Kid EP is an amalgamation of where I was raised, the music I’m inspired by, and the whole ‘figuring out life as an adult in my late teens and early twenties’ thing. It’s wild to release a group of songs that feels like opening my diary to people and saying “Let me read this out loud for you.” So that’s what I can tell you about the EP, it’s my diary. Every one of the songs on the record is the truth and nothing but the truth (for better or for worse!).
I love the opening track, ‘Day Job’, the roots rock, and fast pace is a great way to kick it off, what can you tell us about that song?
Thank you for saying that! I wanted to, in the nicest way, punch people in the face with the first track. When I first wrote 'Day Job', it started as somewhat of a swampy, slower song (the breakdown in the last chorus is a bit of a nod to that) but it grew into what is now a fast-paced song because that’s what felt like served the lyrics in the best way. I wanted to run around the stage singing “I oughta get a day job!”
I’ve gotta be honest, the whole EP is great, but I really like the interlude too. How come you put that on there? Where did it come from?
I seriously appreciate that! That means a lot because we spent a lot of time making sure that the entire EP was cohesive lyrically and sonically. I’m such a sucker for interludes (see The Theme from the Search for Everything by John Mayer!!!) and I really wanted the EP to feel like it was a soundtrack to a day in California. My favorite scenic drive ever is The 67 Interstate which runs through my hometown, so I literally wanted people to feel like they could get into their cars and feel like they were driving down that road by turning on the interlude.
Studio wise, I have to give all credit to the musicians who played on the record and dreamed up the parts on the interlude. Rachel Loy, Derek Wells, Jerry Roe, Carl Miner, and David Dorne. We basically told them to jam through the end of 'Mama’s Eyes, Daddy’s Habits' and all of a sudden we had a soundtrack to my hometown. Watching those musicians play together is like watching a team of NFL players on the field. Incredibly talented, incredibly professional.
How do you go about writing (and then choosing) what songs to cut for the EP?
For The California Kid EP, it was a matter choosing from every song I’d ever written because I had never released anything prior to it. But in my mind, writing songs for my artist project is just about showing up and writing what is in the room with whoever is in the room. When it comes to choosing, I feel like there’s a few questions that I subconciously ask myself: is this song me? Can I imagine a music video? Does this song feel good when I play it alone in my room on my guitar?
What’s the key to writing a damn good song?
I’ll let you know when I find out!!!
What have you got planned next, is there a full album on the horizon in 2019?
I’m in the middle of writing a lot and playing a lot of shows. I feel like the best way to describe the current phase of life that I’m in is to say that I’m working on sharpening the tools in the toolbox right now. Every show that I play and every song that I write is more closely defining what I want the next phase of life and music to look like.
You’ve got a great logo, love the cactus and mountains, what’s the story to that?
Geez, thank you! You’ve been very kind to me with these questions. So the logo is actually something that I designed a little over a year ago. It’s basically just my hometown in a graphic design. I wanted it to embody the things that I love about California: the stars, the mountains, the drought tolerant plant life. It’s been fun to get to create in more ways than one through my artistry. I’m getting to be way more creative than I ever thought I would get to be. Writing songs, designing my website, my logo, show posters… in my mind, it’s a really fun way to show people more of who I am through my art.
I love hearing about US towns (my dad lives in Cottonwood AZ), so what can you tell me about your hometown?
Shoutout to the Southwest corner of the USA (and tell your dad I say hi!) My hometown of Poway, California is one of the coolest places on this planet and I may be biased but… it’s a not so small - small town in the sense that there are 50,000 people that live there but you also pass people riding their horses on the side of the road on your way to school. Poway is set right up against the mountains so there’s a lot of hiking to do while you’re there and you’re about 15 minutes from the beach so there’s a whole lot of good happening everywhere. A few of my favorite things to do while I’m home: pick fresh oranges from the orchard (SO MANY ORANGE TREES IN CALIFORNIA) and make fresh squeezed orange juice, paddle board, hike, and get a California burrito from El Ranchito Taco Shop. We spent a lot of time at “The Taco Shop”, as we call it, eating California burritos. You’re gonna need to make a trip to Poway and try it.
What’s coming up for you in 2019?
2019! Can’t quite wrap my mind around the fact that it’s 2019, first of all. Second, I’m really excited about a lot of things. I’ve been doing a residency at Blake Shelton’s honky-tonk, Ole Red, and we’ve got a few more shows to finish out the residency that I can’t wait to play. Another thing coming up that I can barely contain my excitement about is the fact that I get to open for Willie Nelson at the end of May. WHAT. I’m so grateful to Willie and his team for allowing me to come out and open up a few shows for him. I’m going to have to mentally prepare my emotions for those.
You’re aprt of CMTs Next Women of Country this year, what does that mean to you?
To be included in the new class of CMT’s Next Women of Country is sort of unreal. I am such an admirer of Leslie Fram at CMT and the passion she has for working with artists. I’ve never met someone who is more willing to pour heart and soul and time into young artists so to be included in something that Leslie and the rest of the CMT family is pioneering is pretty incredible.
And what does it involve?
One word I would use to describe what the Next Women of Country involves is the word community. During CMA Awards week, the new class of women are inducted and get to play for the Nashville community as well as the fellow Next Women of Country. It’s such a welcoming event and I feel like I’ve met so many people, both men and women, because of that event. The CMA week Next Women of Country event is a platform for new female artists to introduce themselves to the community and start to get to know each other better. Since the event last November, I’ve gotten to connect with and write with so many of the NWOC and it’s involved me so much more in the community than I could have imagined it would.
Obviously there’s a lot of talk about equality in general at the moment, what’s your experience of being treated differently as a woman in your industry?
You know, what comes to mind for me would probably be the conversations that happen in my own brain. I have been very fortunate to be guided by some incredible people through my few years in the industry thus far. People like Tiffany Dunn, my attorney, and cowriters like Scott Stepakoff have always encouraged me to dream. Gender has never been a discussion in meetings with my team and I recognize that not all people have that luxury. However, in my own brain I can tend to let my own voice get the best of me. Just recently, I was watching a video of Queen playing live. I thought to myself, “Man… I wish that I could command a stage the way that Queen or Bruce Springsteen or etc does.” And I realized that I absolutely can. I believe that regardless of gender, we each have the opportunity to wildly succeed. I don’t think I should be given an opportunity just because I’m a woman and I don’t think I should be denied an opportunity just because I’m a woman. In a weird way, I want to earn both my wins and my losses because of the work that I put into what I do. That was quite the digression but I think I got my point across. Ha, can you tell I ramble!?
Have you noticed a difference at all in the last 12 or so months?
Yes! I think I’m just learning how to shut the voice down in my head that says I can’t do something. That voice doesn’t know a thing and it’s a waste of time to listen to it! So just being cognicent of that.
Who inspires you?
I love this question and I want to answer it with 25 different people’s names but I’m going to limit myself to three. My grandmother, Randy Newman, and Sally Williams!
If you could recommend one artist to hear this week, who would it be?
Brandy Clark. So GOOD.
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
Favorite sad song.
Finally, how do you take your coffee?
Easy. Black. Sometimes with a lil cream if I’m feeling fancy. :)
To find out more about Anna, including her tour dates, you gotta visit her very cool website. You should also check out her socials.