By Michael George Smith.
Anna Weatherup: Crossing The Sea (Independent)
Sometimes you need to take one of those missteps in your career, take on something that on paper looks great but turns out to be totally wrong, for you to clearly see just what it is you really want to achieve. For singer-songwriter Anna Weatherup, the result, albeit a long time coming, is one of the most musically ambitious, epic, locally-produced album you’ve heard in years, Crossing the Sea. Anna tells Michael George Smith the story.
“The way the songs were written, that’s the direction it was going, lots of layered vocals, big drums,” she chuckles. As it happens, she’s married to the drummer on the album, Tim Burcham. “He and I started playing around with some songs in our home studio together here in the Hunter Valley. A couple of the songs he’d composed the music and laid down drums, and that’s how the album started. That was eight to ten years ago, and I’d never co-written before and that brought out another side to my songwriting.
“In saying that, the ex-drummer from Toto, Simon Phillips, played drums on two of the tracks, the title track and ‘Streets’. Tim is a long-time fan and just had this real strong urge to contact him and I went don’t be ridiculous – as if! But he did it anyway and the next morning we had an email from Simon saying yeah, I’ll check out the songs. If I dig them I’ll play on them – and he certainly did dig them! And I wanted the record to have a bit of a Seventies feel to it. I love rock music, so I love lead guitar, so that definitely had to be there. It had to have that Old School sound, the sort of music that I grew up listening to.”
Alongside Burcham and Phillips on Crossing the Sea is multi-instrumentalist Dorian West, who produced it and played guitar, bass and some of the keyboards, as does Toby Messiter, while Ben Evans adds keyboards to one song and Anthony Brown delivers one of the guitar solos. As it happens, Burcham, West, Messiter and Brown all used to play together in ‘90s Sydney band Scary Mother.
The record opens with “The Invitation” that literally asks that you “calm your angry sea” and “sink into the endless sway”, a plea to which she returns in the title song later in the album. “What a beautiful way to open the record. I wanted the album to have segues,” she explains. “I love segues in records because I want an album to start at a certain point and finish… Crossing the Sea is designed to be listened to Track One all the way in order, and I wanted it to have a bit of a thread through it, with segues.”
Another theme explored is forgiveness. The opening song is followed by “Time Heals”, suggesting that the old saying, that it heals all wounds, is wrong, while the closing song, “I Will Wait”, makes it clear that wrongs can be forgiven – eventually. “That’s exactly how it goes, and I said that at a gig the other night – ‘This is how it goes – the album opens I’m angry, I’m pissed off!’ And then in the end I realise that life is not black and white.”
I suppose this is as good a place to mention that some readers might recall Anna as a contestant in the 2013 series of The Voice. “Passenger”, which debuted at #15 on the iTunes chart is her sonorous rebuke, her warning against and indictment of the pervasive lie that is reality television – “drowned by apathy/and drained of value/while driving through darkness/seeking the truth” – though I’m told the song was written about those health and lifestyle documentaries – that “pill for every ailment” mentality. But let’s get back to Anna.
“So we’re living in Sydney and I did The Voice. I’d always known that it wasn’t the path I wanted to go, why did I do it? I thought this might be fine, it’ll be exciting; maybe it’ll help me get recognised in the industry somehow… I don’t know. I’m a country girl from Townsville. There was no music scene up there for me so I’ve always struggled with how to get my music out there. So I did The Voice and quickly realised it was exactly what I thought it might be and I learned some really hard-core lessons. I realised I’d been focusing on the wrong things in music. I really needed to go back to the drawing board and create music and art that was true to me and stop chasing that ‘trying to make it’ mentality. And it’s been a ten year journey, from doing The Voice to now. I was a little ashamed of myself as an artist to be honest, but that’s where the journey started of Crossing the Sea.”
While Crossing the Sea isn’t exactly a concept album, there is something of that epic sweep in the music, symphonic at times, intimate at others, moody, dramatic, and there is also something of the epic novel in its exploration of ideas and feelings – and for those who are interested, Anna has pressed a limited number of CDs with a hard-cover book, complete with original handwritten lyrics and diary entries, liner notes and photos.
“That wasn’t the plan originally,” she admits. “I crowd-funded for the album and raised about twelve grand, which got me started. Then when lockdown happened, because I’d pre-sold this album, I just constantly felt this guilt that people didn’t have their copies yet, so I did my best to stay in touch with everyone and decided one night to do a live-stream to Facebook, just to update everyone and play a couple of songs. The following day I started getting these amazing messages asking me to do more. So I started live-streaming weekly. I still have people come up to me saying those live-streams got them through – and some people were sending me tips (actual money!) every week. So I thought why don’t we raise more money and do a special book for the album? I’d always wanted to do one but they’re hell expensive. But people were being super generous so I ended up doing 500 copies. It was incredible.”
Gracing the cover of both the Crossing the Sea book and the CD was created by a Ukrainian artist named Daria Hlazatova. “I was working with a local graphic artist who told me that before we start the book we need a cover, and I didn’t want to do a photo, I wanted it to be a piece of art. So we started scrolling through the Internet and found Daria on a website called Pintrest, went to her Instagram and oh my God she’s got over a hundred thousand followers – I’ll try – I don’t suppose she’s ever going to reply to me. But like Simon Phillips she messaged me back the next day, ‘I’d love to illustrate your album cover.’ So she listened to my demos and she hand drew big poster-sized image and sent it over to me… And about eight months later Ukraine was at war. She’s okay, but she regularly has to go down into a bunker or loses power. She’s a real advocate for Ukraine. I still want to work on something together with her, perhaps write a song with her to help her raise more money for the charities she supports there.”
Meanwhile, Anna Weatherup assures me the next album won’t take ten years to make. The songs are pretty much written, but she’s going “the opposite direction. So this one was really big – it was all about the instruments and the players. The next record is going to be really simple, like a Mazzy Star kind of vibe,” she chuckles. And why not indeed.
Crossing The Sea is available at: https://annaweatherup.bandcamp.com/album/crossing-the-sea