Beyond the Lights: Falling in Love with Nena Anderson

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“I Fall in Love Too Fast” is the new single from Nena Anderson’s debut album, Beyond the Lights, but it might as well refer to how quickly you’ll become enamored with her on first listen. Recently released to unanimous praise, the Encinitas native has fashioned a solid collection of gorgeous songs that sound like they’ve been spinning on turntables since the 60’s. And if the lead-off single somehow doesn’t do the trick, songs like “Sink or Swim” and “Daggers” will have you hopelessly hooked.

 

Maybe it’s the melodies that seem instantly familiar; or maybe it’s her voice – a sweet, tender, yet strong and soulful instrument full of both melancholy and resiliency. In an age of bombastic, belting wannabe-divas, it’s refreshing to hear a charming, understated and tasteful singer like Nena. Her new album could rightfully take it’s place as soundtrack de facto for the poor, broken-hearted souls drowning their sorrows in bourbon down at the local dive, but it could just as easily be a call-to-arms for those same folks to stand up and refuse to be miserable any longer; for every song on Beyond the Lights about a failed relationship, there seems to be one about bouncing back and moving on.

One can’t help but wonder if Anderson writes from experience – but if she does, it sounds like she’s doing quite alright. She’s been nominated for 7 San Diego Music Awards and besides her solo career with her backing band, The Mules, she also fronts the country band Brawley, and the rock outfit The Neverout. She was kind enough to answer some questions for us, between band rehearsals for her record release show at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach on September 14th with Dead Feather Moon. Take our advice and catch her in concert, and be sure to pick up Beyond the Lights at Amazon.com, nenaanderson.bandcamp.com, or at one of her shows.

 

 

When did you start singing, playing music and writing songs?

I started singing at a very early age, mostly standing on top of the picnic table in our yard, belting out Go Go’s songs. That evolved into singing in school plays and eventually a rock band in Hollywood while I was in college. While I’ve been writing songs since I was 19, I never played most of them publicly until the last few years, when I decided to learn to play guitar too.

What made you want to pursue music?

It’s always been a part of my life. It keeps me sane. There never really has a been a definitive thing that made me want to pursue music…it’s just what i do. I did make a career change a few years ago to make music my career (as opposed to working full-time and playing music). I decided it was time to put 100% of my energy towards it for a while and see what happens.

What are your influences these days? Do you listen to anything in particular; are there more recent inspirations?

Influences are all around. I’m influenced by people and their stories, or the stories I envision them to have. Musically, it’s all over the place. Most recently, I’ve been sorting through my parents’ record collection (which is now mine) and remembering stuff I had forgotten and LOVE…Ventures, Byrds, Hoyt Axton, Joni Mitchell, BB King.

Tell us about Beyond the Lights: when was it recorded and where?

Recorded in March 2011. Rhythm tracks were recorded at White Horse Recorders. Vocals and guitars at Big Fish Studios, both in San Diego CA.

Was it a quick process or did it take quite awhile to put together?

It was quick. I had already been working these songs for a nearly a year and we recorded everything as live and spontaneous as possible.

When you were writing songs for the album – did you know right away that they were going to end up on the record, and not for use in one of your other projects – or is everything you write basically fair game for whoever you play with?

It’s all fair game. Some songs I do write specifically for a project, but most of the time, they fit across genres. And I’ve tried them all with the different instrumentation and players, just to see what would stick! In the end, for the album, several songs got cut because they didn’t fit into the flow of the album as a whole. And when we recorded the record, I tried to include the best elements from my other projects into it as well.

Was there a particular sound (era, genre, specific records, etc) you were aiming for?

I wanted this album to be Americana/Roots Rock, reflecting my influences in country, jazz, blues, and rock…without being any one of those things. At the same time, I wanted a really timeless classic soulfulness to the record yet with modern production and appeal. In pre-production, I did reference a little of Lucinda Williams’ “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,” Ryan Adams and Chris Isaak for ideas and tones.

A lot of the songs on Beyond the Lights seem to be about broken relationships – or your approach to them in general – are the songs autobiographical or do you piece ideas or different thoughts together?

I do both. Often things start out autobiographical or biographical and then I develop the song around an idea or hook. Having been a vocalist long before I really delved into writing, people often think the song I’m singing is autobiographical…I try to interpret every song as if it is when I perform.

As a fan of your music, it’s easy for me to hear a song of yours and think ‘That is just a great song!” But when you were recording the album – did you have that same reaction after you were done with each song?

I am always amazed that people connect to my music or like my songs and I’m always surprised by what songs strike them the most. I’ve never felt any of my songs were ‘great’ by any means…I’ve always had a really difficult time in listening to myself recorded. Maybe that’s why I’ve performed for nearly 20 years and this is my first album! In recording Beyond the Lights, the songs did take on a new life…I give all the credit for that to my producer Mike Butler, and to the band, for adding their knowledge and talent to making these recordings exceed my expectations.

Does the title have a particular significance to you?

The album is named after one of the tracks. ‘Beyond the Lights’ refers to the idea of comfort and loneliness in the spotlight, or just as a musician or artist. In a way, most of the songs on the album were written out of sadness and comfort.

You’ve recently filmed a video for “I Fall in Love Too Fast” – and it seems to fit the mood of the song perfectly. Tell us a little bit about it; how did that come together?

I recently met director, D David Morin, at a birthday party for a mutual friend. He fell in love with the song and wanted to make a video for it. From the beginning, he completely understood the vibe of the song and how we would interpret it. We spent one day scouting in downtown LA and the following week, spent a day shooting it. It was great fun, and considering that I’m painfully camera-shy, he made everything work beautifully.

“I Fall In Love Too Fast” – NENA ANDERSON from d. david morin on Vimeo.

 

You’ve played shows around San Diego for awhile and people can see you pretty regularly at the moment – are there any favorite places to play in town (and why)?

My favorite places to play are also some of my favorite places to see bands.

1. Belly Up: Aside from it’s big stage and amazing sound system, Belly Up is my hometown venue. I even won a ‘battle of the bands’ contest there in the 90′s. They’re part of my musical family and whenever I play there, I definitely feel the love!

2. Casbah: the most fun place to play loud and have that energy from the crowd right in your face. And there’s something about the idea of knowing I’m played on the same stage as some of my punk, grunge and rock heros that makes me want to really put on a kick ass show when I hit the stage.

3. Riviera Supper Club: best jukebox, drinks, tots, and grill your own steaks. I love that the audience can relax in a booth while the band plays. It’s the kind of place that I’m comfortable playing a quiet intimate set, or rocking it out with the band.

4. Bar Pink: always an eclectic crowd! Room for dancing and I’m loving the revitalization of the North Park area.

Any stories about a particularly horrible (or great!) show that you’d like to share?

My first solo show (without a band) was both horrible and great! I opened for Raul Malo at the Belly Up for a seated show. The place was packed: full balconies, tables set out all around the dance floor and dead quiet. These people were there for a show…and I was used to the comforting ambient noise of the bar and chatter. I was terrified. When I booked the show, I hadn’t really considered that I had only been playing guitar for a short amount of time…and that usually that was with a band. One whiskey later, I stepped out on stage and literally trembling, got through the first song. Then something kicked in, and the performer in me took over. Someone said that I even cracked a few jokes, but honestly it was mostly a blur! The great part? …it was far from my best performance, but I managed to sell over 40 EP’s that night and it encouraged me to continue to work on my solo show.

If there was one artist or band you could open for, over the last 60 years – who would you choose and why?

Only one?! That’s impossible! Would it have to relate to my music? Etta James. The Clash. Willie Nelson.

Lastly, now that your record is out and the response has been stellar – what’s next for you?

Promoting Beyond the Lights, playing more shows, filming more videos, writing, and working on the next record! And working on more collaborations…

 

Please remember to visit Nena online at www.nenaanderson.com and facebook.com/nenaandersonmusic.

 

 Written By : Dustin Lothspeich

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