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Artist Feature: Brooke Annibale

Brooke Annibale Performing
Photo Credits: Matt Dayak (@412matt)

In today’s artist feature, we’re talking to singer-songwriter Brooke Annibale! Having been featured everywhere from from NPR to Stereogum, Brooke’s pensive, heartfelt songwriting is complemented by the dreamy sonic landscapes she uses as a backdrop to tell her stories. Her latest single What If You is out now.

Hi Brooke! Thank you so much for taking the time so sit down with us! We hope you’re doing well, and congrats on the new single! For those of our readers not yet familiar with your work, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you’ve been working on recently?

Sure, yeah! I’m a guitar playing singer-songwriter, originally from Pittsburgh, PA. Currently, I live in a little coastal town in Rhode Island with my wife and two dogs. My music doesn’t necessarily fit snugly into any single genre, but drifts into the worlds of indie/pop/folk/singer-songwriter/etc. Recently, I’ve been working away on releasing some new music that I worked on over the past few years.

Back to your latest single, “What If You” — it’s such a great track! I always love songs like this one that are simple at the core, and you could strip them back to just a vocal and guitar, and it would still have the same punch, but are filled out with keys and synths and harmonies so nicely to create a much richer sound. Can you tell us more about the new single, and what inspired it? How did this one come together?

Thank you, yeah – that’s always what I’m going for… a song that no matter what we do to it production wise, it can still be stripped down to just me and my guitar. This song came together days before going into the studio. I had pulled the chorus out of another song I was writing. The tempo of that song was too slow, and this chorus wanted to move a little more. So, unusually, I started with the chorus and built the rest of the song around that.

It started with the concept of unrequited love, but took me in some unexpected directions within that… like wrestling with my music career, and how hard it is to maintain, especially these past few years. I was struggling to create, to feel as connected to the process as I used to. I was afraid to put myself out there. That verse evolved into a metaphor for unrequited love. I had loved making music so much, what if I could get back to that place and really feel it all again.

This song is also about taking chances, you know… What if we got on the plane? What if we just said the thing we’d never said? What would life look like then? I started writing the verses with an Akai MPK Mini MIDI keyboard and root notes and acoustic guitar on the choruses. When I took it to the studio, it evolved into this dreamy-pop tune that just really felt perfect.

We heard you have a few shows coming up this summer too! Are you excited to be playing in front of live audiences again? How have the overall vibes been at your recent shows?

Absolutely. While I’ve still had a bunch of shows cancelled this year, I’m so grateful every time I get to step on stage. I think that perspective changes the whole experience. I think maybe the audience feels that too, just the excitement and appreciation for getting to connect this way again.

Brooke Annibale Performing
Photo Credits: Mike Smith

Anything you’re doing differently now in your shows compared to before the pandemic started?

Well, yes! I’ve got some new gear that I’ve acquired over the past few years that have not only influenced my songwriting, but then of course my performing. I believe we’re about to get into some gear talk, yeah?

Correct! We’d love to get a tour of your rig! Can you walk us through your pedalboard? What amps and guitars are in your rotation these days?

So my guitar lineup has been the same steady two guitars for years. I’ve got my butterscotch blonde American-made Fender Telecaster (2006/7) and my Martin OM-35 (2006). I have other guitars, but these are the ones that I tour with, etc.

Brooke Annibale Pedalboard — Strymon Iridium and Ola

My pedalboard was also quite consistent until this last year. I’ve now got the Strymon Iridium, which has totally blown my mind. Before the Iridium, I was consistently using my Fender Blues Junior. For a few gigs on the West Coast, I flew with my Yamaha THR in my suitcase, and it actually sounded really great on stage… but now I can just plug into my Iridium and get any amp tone I desire, right in that little box. Love it.

I also use it when I’m writing to plug it directly into my interface and record. I generally have it on Round with Cab C, which gives me a nice, clean, warm sound that I’m used to with my Fender Blues Jr. I always fine tune the EQ and Room knobs to whatever room I’m playing in. I also like to switch it over to the Punch amp setting with cab A when I want a bit more grit.

I also replaced my old Mr. Black Supermoon reverb pedal and my EarthQuaker Disaster Transporter Jr. delay pedal (both of which I loved) with the all-in-one EarthQuaker Dispatch Master. I dig it, though, I’ll probably add another delay pedal at some point. The delay effect is integral on several songs from my 2018 record, Hold to the Light. And my other fun addition is the Strymon Ola chorus/vibrato pedal, which I got as a 2020 Christmas gift, and it immediately inspired new songs. I love using the Multi setting, with the speed around 11 and the depth around 1. Backing it all up is the Strymon Ojai power supply. So yeah, I’ve been heavily influenced by Strymon lately.

Can you tell us more about what your songwriting process in general looks like? As a singer/songwriter, do you start with a musical framework you can lay lyrics over, or the other way around? When working on the musical side of things, do you usually collaborate with your live band, or do you typically present them with the finished product?

It definitely varies on the songwriting approach. I mostly start with a chord progression or a melody that’s in my head, and then letting that lead me. I sing a lot of stream-of-consciousness type lyrics until something starts to make some sort of sense as a direction for the meaning of the song. Though when I was younger it was much the opposite – I would start with lyrics and find the music to go with.

I write primarily alone with my guitar or my little MIDI keyboard as the musical foundation, but love building up demos and writing other parts for the song as I go. That always helps inspire more from the words too, I think. Sometimes I’ve collaborated with my keyboard player Mark Ramsey on parts for songs that we play live before I’ve recorded them, like with my song “Home Again”. But most of the time I write a few parts and sketch out a demo to take to the studio, and then the studio is usually the first point of collaboration for me.

Who are some of your biggest influences in your songwriting, as well as your guitar playing?

Honestly, I feel like have a lot more little influences than a couple of big ones, but if I were to name a few…. Elliot Smith – been listening to him since I was a teenager, and he’s always inspired me.

Andy Shauf – feels like every time I listen to him, I want to go write a song.

Couple other artists that frequently inspire me: Feist, Margaret Glaspy, Sylvan Esso, Big Thief, Villagers, The National… ahh, the list goes on and on.

Your debut album, Silence Worth Breaking, came out back in 2011. What have been some of your musical highlights since then? Any noteworthy shows or bucket list things you’ve gotten to be a part of?

Hearing my music on TV shows like Grey’s Anatomy, twice! I mean, any time my music has been used in a TV show, it’s a really exciting moment for me. One of my favorite movies/movie scenes is that moment in That Thing You Do! when they all hear their song on the radio and go running down the street. It feels a little like that.

Hearing my music on the radio is fun too… a couple of years back I recorded a session for XM and sat in the car with my mom and nephew and listened to it premiere. Pretty cool. I’ve had a couple of really memorable shows – opening for Iron & Wine in NH; playing a holiday show in my hometown at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh, this absolutely beautiful theater where all the musicals are performed; opening for Rufus Wainwright a couple of days after the 2016 election – the emotion in the room was just electric and cathartic.

Brooke Annibale Performing
Photo Credits: Matt Dayak (@412matt)

What have been some of the biggest changes you’ve noticed in your songwriting across the years, and what do you think it’ll look like within the next few years?

One big change, at least with my lyrical approach, is that I wrote a lot of my earlier songs while I was a closeted person. I would write about what I was going through, but wouldn’t really quite say the whole thing. Now that I’m out, and married my wife last year, I feel so much more comfortable and confident, and I think that’s reflected in my writing. I’ve even revisited some experiences I never wrote about in the past. I tend to write at my desk, recording into Logic as I go to make sure I catch any idea that comes up. Then, once I’ve written the song, I try performing it in a live setting to see how it feels. In the future, I’d like to try the reverse – writing while set up for a live rehearsal and see what feels really good coming through the speakers. I think that would be a fun way to let live performance influence the recording rather than the other way around.

Something that never changes for me is I’m always looking to connect with people through the song. If I’m playing the song just me and my guitar, and the audience can connect with it, then I’ve achieved my goal.

Many thanks to Brooke for taking the time to chat with us today! Brooke’s latest single “What If You” is out now. Listen to it on your preferred streaming service here. Check out her upcoming live performance dates on her site here as well.

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