Anna St. Louis
Images and Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“I think there is more pressure playing in LA, or whatever city
you live in. Because then you know a lot of people. I think
playing in front of your family and close friends is the hardest thing.”
— Anna St. Louis
Anna St. Louis
If Only There Was A River is the first full-length studio album from Anna St. Louis, who began writing songs after moving to Los Angeles five years ago. She enlisted Kyle Thomas (King Tuff) and Kevin Morby to produce the album, which was engineered by Thomas in his home in Mount Washington, LA. The collection of eleven songs also features Justin Sullivan (Night Shop) on drums and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Hill (Pavo Pavo). Her previous release, a cassette called First Songs, was featured on NPR, Pitchfork, and Stereogum.
Kevin Morby (b. 1988) is an American musician, singer, and songwriter. Formerly known as the bass guitarist of the folk rock band Woods and frontman of The Babies, Morby began a solo career, releasing Harlem River (2013) and Still Life (2014) to positive reviews. In 2016 he released Singing Saw to widespread critical acclaim. The following year, his fourth studio album titled City Music was released. During live performances, Morby is accompanied by his backing band: Meg Duffy (guitar), Cyrus Gengras (bass), and Nick Kinsey (drums).
Waxahatchee is an American indie music project, formed in 2010 by American singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield, previously a member of P.S. Eliot. The band is named after Waxahatchee Creek in Alabama. Originally an acoustic solo project, her recordings tend to now involve a backing band and the music has increasingly more often been performed in this way. Crutchfield, as Waxahatchee, has released four albums to date: American Weekend (2012), Cerulean Salt (2013), Ivy Tripp (2015), and Out in the Storm (2017).
Kansas City-raised songwriter Anna St. Louis made a stir in the LA music scene last year with her cassette First Tapes (2017), a folk and country-tinged document of her initial explorations as a songwriter and guitarist. Now she drops her full-length debut If Only There Was A River, co-produced and released by long-time friend Kevin Morby on his Mare Records label.
Himself an established songwriter and performer, Morby remembers a young St. Louis fronting a punk band in their home town—an unexpected beginning for someone who, according to Morby, creates a gentle world “where the heart leads straight to the soul and where everything is cloaked in beautiful mystery.”
With If Only There Was A River steadily gaining fans like NPR’s All Songs Considered (which premiered the video for first single “Understand”), and a tour with Waxahatchee on the horizon, we put St. Louis and Morby together in conversation. They discuss growing up together in the Midwest, listening to their own records, and why they’re both still daunted by performing for family.
Kevin Morby: Hello! My name is Kevin Morby, and I’m here with Anna St. Louis.
Anna St. Louis: Hey! I am Anna St. Louis.
KM: This, contrary to popular belief, is your real last name.
ASL: It’s true, yeah. I was born with it.
KM: But it’s a little confusing because you come from Kansas City.
ASL: That’s true. You know that because—
KM: I also come from Kansas City. I grew up there with Anna. What is the origin of the last name St. Louis?
ASL: That’s a great question. We actually don’t know because my great, great grandfather disowned his family and he moved. He would never talk about where he moved from and that’s why he moved to Kansas City. He started working on the railroad. Then the following three generations were railroad workers. Anyway, the name is probably French-Canadian or French.
KM: Right, French. St. Louis: there’s a lot of French architecture in that city.
ASL: Yeah, I guess so.
KM: There is.
ASL: There is an arch, right.
KM: Anna, we grew up together in Kansas City.
KM: As the viewers may not know, the first time I ever saw you perform music, you were in a punk band.
“When you break it down, the origin of the worry is that your album is your permanent record. It’s out there and it’s a complete documentation of all the choices you made at that time in your life.”
— Kevin Morby
KM: How did you get started? ‘Cause you just sang—you just sang in a punk band called…
ASL: I don’t remember their name.
KM: Okay, we won’t go there, but you were in a punk band and you just sang.
KM: What was your first instrument? When did that come into play?
ASL: Yeah, at first, I just sang. Now looking back, I don’t know how I did that. That’s the most intimidating thing. I would just jump in and get into it.
KM: I know. You were really good at it too.
ASL: Thanks. I have no idea how I did that.
KS: That is a tough thing to do.
KM: To not have the security of your instruments. It’s such a safety net for me.
ASL: Totally. I didn’t start playing an instrument until I started playing the bass. I don’t know. I think I was twenty-four or twenty-three. Yeah, it’s around there.
KM: Then from the bass, the natural step up to the guitar. You had a Fender Bullet, I remember.
ASL: No, it’s a Fender Lead. I still have it. It usually hangs right there, but it’s at my sister’s house.
KM: Didn’t your sister give you the guitar?
ASL: She got it in high school. My granddad took her to a pawnshop after school, one day, and they got it. Then it just sat around for a long time, and then I started carrying it around for years. I had it before I even played it. Yeah, that’s when I eventually learned many years later.
KM: When would you say you wrote your first song that you thought you would be comfortable showing to people?
Brooke and Mike Tuley
Brooke Tuley and her husband Mike are musicians from Kansas City, Missouri. Along with Anna St. Louis they formed the garage band Bloodbirds, which was active between 2012-15. The band self-released three tapes before their debut LP Psychic Surgery in 2013, followed by MMXIII in 2015.
ASL: I don’t know. I started writing songs and guitar once I lived in LA, so in the past five years. I think when I was first learning guitar and experimenting with writing, I was sending a lot of the songs to our friends Mike and Brooke (Tuley). I think I slowly worked my way into sharing it with people.
“When the record was coming out I was getting a little freaked out. You can always look back and think, ‘I could have done this differently or better.’ Then once I let go of that stuff, it’s been really fun.”
— Anna St. Louis
KM: You did a lot of it in this room. You started recording songs in this room.
ASL: Some of them, but it was before I lived here.
KM: Right! Because you went to Iowa to record.
KM: That is great. What’s next?
ASL: About my career?
KM: Yes. Well, you just went on your first tour as a solo artist. How did you like that?
ASL: It was so fun. It was really one of the best experiences of my life. I had such a good time. I think I lucked out, It was a really great crew, I was playing with really cool musicians, and it was a beautiful time of the year. Also, just to be able to play every night and in front of new people was really fun.
KM: Before that, you were just playing a lot of shows around LA.
KM: To me, I love that the anonymity of going on tour. Obviously, people know who you are and they come to see you, but you don’t know who they are most of the time. That’s what I like the most about tours – not having to perform for anybody like your family, or your friends, or anything. Those are the times that I get the most nervous.
KM: How does playing locally compare to going on tour? What’s the big difference for you?
ASL: I feel a lot more confident, just more excited.
KM: That’s the worst thing in the world.
KM: I love my family dearly, and I love my friends dearly, but it brings up a certain type of nerves.
ASL: Yeah. My first show was just people I knew and family, which was really scary.
KM: Also with family, they will let you know. Recently, I played in Nebraska and that’s where my parents grew up. Literally, it was a reunion of friends that they hadn’t seen since high school. They invited them to the show, which is nice. I like providing that for my parents, to be kinda like the fire that they get around and talk, but it’s a lot to take on sometimes.
KM: I also feel that when you have a show in front of those people, it’s a super high reward; and when you have a bad show, you feel like shit. The good thing about family and friends is they always tell you it’s good no matter what.
ASL: Yeah, and then they still love you afterward too—hopefully.
KM: Yeah. They just…
ASL: Like, “Wow!”
KM: Your first record just came out. How does it feel to have an album out in the world for everyone else to listen to?
ASL: It feels really good. Last week, when it was coming out, I was getting a little freaked out. I think it’s really easy as you start to gain new skills and learn things about what you’re doing. You can look back and be like, “I could have done this differently or better.” I was doing a lot of that, and then I was like, “That’s nonsense; just have fun with it.” Then once I let go of that stuff, it’s been really fun.
KM: I know what you mean. Every record, there is always something that you would have changed a little bit and it’s usually something that just you would notice.
But I like it in the fact. When you break it down the origin of the worry is that it’s your permanent record. It’s out there and it’s a complete documentation of all the choices you made at that time in your life. It’s a snapshot of that.
ASL: Yeah, and just who you are and the information you have.
KM: And you’re like, “Well, there’s no changing it.” I have a thing when I release a record. I listen to the mix. I listen to it so much leading up to the release day. Then the moment it is available for everyone else, I no longer have any interest in it. It’s like giving something away.
ASL: Yeah, I definitely did that with the tape. It’s funny. With the album, I did listen to it because I streamed it the day it was out.
KM: It’s always a nice feeling to do something like that.
ASL: Yeah. It was like, “It actually sounds different in a way.” Knowing it’s out there, it is a total done thing…
KM: It’s like a package.
ASL: …and listening to it on Spotify, it had a different sound and had all of the changes that…
KS: Yeah, totally. I know exactly what you mean. It has become real like I guess it’s like going to
the movie theater and seeing a movie that you made yourself.
KM: I don’t know if I have any more questions. Let’s do a rapid-fire question.
ASL: Oh, my God! I hate those.
KM: What’s the last book you read?
ASL: Beginning to the end, it’s Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, given to me by you.
KM: Me. I gave you Lonesome Dove. What’s the last song you listened to that you didn’t play?
Ted Lucas was a fixture in the Detroit rock scene of the ‘60s and ‘70s His first group, The Spike Drivers, is often considered one of the earliest psych bands. Following that band’s collapse, Lucas paid bills doing session work with Motown Records. In 1972 he recorded a demo for Warner Brothers Records which would become Ted Lucas, released in two private editions in 1975. The album was released with artwork by the legendary Stanley Mouse, originally created for Jimi Hendrix.
ASL: I’ve been listening to Ted Lucas and the song is called “Baby Where You Are.” It’s so beautiful.
KM: Nice. I think the song is great. What is the last movie you saw?
ASL: A Star Is Born.
KM: You saw it.
KM: Wait. Did we talk about that?
ASL: We did, in a group setting, yeah.
KM: What do you think of A Star Is Born?
ASL: I liked it.
“I love the anonymity of going on tour. Obviously, people know who you are and they come to see you, but you don’t know who they are most of the time.”
— Kevin Morby
KM: Nice. I know some people who say it’s horrible and they walked out. I know some people who really own up to loving it. I know some people who say it’s bad but they could talk about it all day.
ASL: I’m always down to just escape into a movie and it was good for me for that.
KM: To me, it has the air of the Jonny Cash movie, Walk the Line, or something like that.
KM: I’m going to see it.
ASL: You check it out.
KM: I’ll check it out. Two more. What is the last television series that you watched?
ASL: The whole thing?
KM: Just the beginning episode.
ASL: I don’t want to say what it is.
KM: What is it?
Parenthood (2010-15) is an American television drama series developed by Jason Katims, creator of Friday Night Lights. The show tells of the extended Braverman clan, consisting of an older couple, their four children, and their families. One of the grandchildren depicted has Asperger syndrome. Loosely based on Ron Howard’s 1989 film of the same name, the series is the second adaptation of the film to air on television.
KM: I’ve never seen it, but it sounds like a good TV show.
ASL: I got sick a few weeks ago, and I started watching it. Now I’ve watched three seasons and I’m into it.
KM: The last question is what’s the last show you saw?
ASL: I went to Desert Daze. I saw you perform, and Cut Worms, and Hand Habits. It was great. Great performance.
KM: What are you up to tonight?
ASL: I’m playing a show.
ASL: With Night Shop, I’m playing bass.
KM: There you go. Good talking to you.
ASL: Great work here.
KM: How was that? Was it horrible?