You’re never too old to play with a Rainbow Brite tape recorder. At least that’s what 21-year-old singer/songwriter Anna Nalick proved when she recorded her songs on one. ‘It was actually this little tape recorder with rainbow buttons and a Rainbow Brite sticker. It was very exciting because I loved that recorder. So that was what I made my demos on – not that I sent that to record companies! I just recorded it so that I had a memory of all the stuff that I had been doing, and then I wanted to see how far I could go with it all,’ recalled Nalick.
As it turned out, Nalick was able to go pretty far with these rough demos. After recording these demos, the tapes made their way into the hands of some producers, who liked what they heard. They worked with Nalick to produce a better quality demos, to pitch to record labels. Soon after, Nalick was signed to Columbia Records, subsequently released her debut album Wreck of the Day, and now has a hit single, ‘Breathe (2 AM)’.
Currently on tour with the Wallflowers, and about to hit the road with Howie Day, Nalick has a packed schedule but is enjoying her life as a touring musician. ‘Right now I’m looking at all the options for the future, and it seems like I have a lot of things open to me,’ said Nalick. ‘I’m having a good time, and I feel like I’ve been exceptionally lucky at this point.’
Nalick is comfortable in her position as a performer now, but songwriting was her initial passion. Singing had never been at the forefront of her mind – her goal was to simply write songs, and even then it was more of a hobby. ‘I never wrote any music with the idea that I wanted to make it big,’ Nalick said. ‘I was a songwriter before I was a singer, and I just wanted to see what I could do with it. I wrote songs, and still write songs, more for my own pleasure or my own sanity sometimes. I’m just lucky that people like them and are interested.’
When singing finally crossed her mind, Nalick hopped on the stage, and hasn’t looked back since. She still keeps songwriting at the forefront though, writing personal songs but with a universal appeal. Her main goal is to create songs where people can take what they want from them. Nalick never wants people to feel as if she is telling them what to think. She describes her album, Wreck of the Day, as a collection of songs that resemble those little things that go wrong during each day, but which only make you stronger for the next day’s obstacle. And each of those songs stem from that certain something in her life that she was experiencing – whether it was optimistic or something that scared her -and how she came out of it a better person.
Her songs vary because, as she explains, humans don’t feel the same thing all the time, so songs should reflect on those human emotions. For example, a song like ‘Citadel’ which states ‘What if I fall? What if I don’t? What if I never make it home?,’ Nalick explained as something everyone has felt at one point . ‘You’re afraid to jump in with both feet sometimes and you want to just hide under your blankets, but for the most part you have to jump in or you’re never going to grow as a person.’
It is the commonness in people that drives Nalick’s songwriting, and makes her music so relatable to her audiences. For such a young songwriter, she says she has already learned a great deal through just the craft of songwriting and communicating her music to crowds. ‘I’ve learned that I absolutely have no need to be intimidated by anybody,’ she said. ‘I’ve found that every single person in the world, no matter who you are or your experiences, has been in or out of love or felt insecure at some point, so there’s no need to be intimidated by anybody, because music has to be able to relate to people on a very different level. Part of that comes from not giving away too much about what the song means to me, because I know people listen to them and relate them to their own lives, and then in that way I can make a really strong connection.’ That ideal in itself presents the makings of a great songwriter – a person who abstains from the selfishness too often presented in songwriting, and instead creates lucid music that can appeal to any listener.
Nalick’s advice to aspiring songwriters is to simply never stop writing. However, she cautions those getting involved in the business aspect of music, stating that it is incredibly important to learn what you are getting in to. She once had gotten into some contracts (prior to signing with Columbia) that she wished she hadn’t signed. She said that it’s important to protect your songs and your music, because ‘if you are giving away your baby, you want to make sure it’s safe.’
When it comes to her songwriting, Nalick said that she doesn’t have a method to the madness – melodies and lyrics just pop into her head and she writes them down. ‘Sometimes I’ll fall asleep with my notebook next to me on my bed, and I’ll wake up and finish songs,’ she said, and then gets excited when talking about the end of that process. ‘It’s always an amazing feeling to finish a song, and the first time I play a song all the way through after I’ve finished it is such a thrill. And then to see people sing my songs back to me in concert – to know that I’ve been able to make a connection to so many people that I might not ever meet, is one of my favorite experiences.’
Although Nalick has had her ups and downs, she has made it through all her obstacles, and has an excellent album to prove it. She has learned about the hardships of the music business and the viciousness of some of those who hold the contracts, and even the tiring aspect of touring. ‘It’s a way harder job than what it looks like in the movies!’ she said with a laugh. ‘Sometimes a job is just a job, but underneath it all, I get to write music and I get to play music. [As a result] I think I have the best job in the world. I get to do what I like.’ That is something that can be appreciated by music listeners of every background, and we can be happy that this is the job that was meant for Anna Nalick.
Things just keep looking up for this bright young singer-songwriter, even in the whirlwind of the music industry. ‘It’s such a fast-paced industry that sometimes I feel it’s hard to catch up, but I always make it,’ she said. The fast-paced life seems suitable for Nalick though, because as I talk to her on the phone she’s racing back to her hotel by foot, ‘at lightening speed,’ only to grab her things and head back to the venue where she will perform a show that night.
So what would the (pre-music business) Anna that recorded songs on her old Rainbow Brite tape recorder be doing now?
‘She’d probably go and take a nap!’ Nalick said, slightly out of breath. Though she has better recordings now, she says she’s still the same Anna, despite the fact that everyone told her she’d change with success. ‘As I look back on the last few years of my life, I realize that everything else has changed around me and I’m still the same.’ It is that same Anna that has presented to the world an inspiring collection of songs, and the music industry is fortunate that she took out that tape recorder years ago to capture them.
Nicole Roberge is a freelance music/entertainment journalist. She can be contacted at [email protected]