Although Americana singer/songwriter Michaela Anne calls Nashville home, she certainly has a special place in her heart for the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. When we last spoke, in November of 2019, just prior to her headlining show at MilkBoy, she told me that her recent sold-out Free At Noon was one of her career highlights. And when we chatted again, last month, she told me that the city has continued to provide memorable experiences over the years: “I didn’t have any personal connection to Philly, but over recent years it has become one of my favorite places because of WXPN, who have become such great friends and supporters… I was overwhelmed with how many people were there, coming to MilkBoy, for my first headlining show.” Since the end of lockdown, Anne has played numerous local shows, including a date opening for Joe Pug at World Café Live in January, a night at Ardmore Music Hall opening for Milk Carton Kids this April, and an extra special, extra friendly festival appearance last summer: “XPoNential Fest was one of my first shows back since the pandemic and having a baby.”
Since her MilkBoy appearance in December of 2019, Michaela Anne has seemingly been through even more trials and tribulations than most: sobriety, pregnancy and the birth of her first child, a stroke that nearly killed her mother, and, of course, a global pandemic. She tells me that these things not only shook her everyday life in a profound way, but also her musical career: “I feel like my life is very different from what it was in 2019. It’s heavier, harder, a lot more responsibility and heartache from what I’ve been through with my mom, the pandemic, and my career. When it felt like my career was finally building some steam and then, with the pandemic, when things just stopped and that was taken away.” However, far from bitter, or even downtrodden, she appears to be more than happy with the place in which those experiences have put her: “Life doesn’t feel as light and easy-breezy and, ‘Let’s go out to bars!’ That’s not my life anymore. But it also feels deeper and more meaningful and soulful than it ever did before.”
This June Michaela Anne released Oh To Be That Free, her fourth LP and second on Yep Roc. Written prior to the pandemic and her personal traumas, Oh To Be That Free works as a seamless follow-up to 2019’s critically acclaimed Desert Dove, and the album has already received a great amount of praise, with The Recording Academy commenting, “Combined with its cosmic country influences, indie-folk storytelling, sprawling swells of strings, and catchy pop melodies, Oh To Be That Free is an album full of cathartic, complex reflections on all life that emerges triumphant in the face of adversity,” and All Music calling it, “A rich eleven-song set that delicately delves into tender, vulnerable themes like motherhood, self-sabotage, and gratitude.” And Michaela herself tells me that she feels as though OTBTF pushes a little harder and a little farther than Desert Dove: “This record feels a lot more vulnerable than my last record and I think I have fans who can see themselves in it. That’s what I would hope.”
Oh To Be That Free was recorded at home, during Michaela’s first trimester, with a plethora of her best musical friends, most notably husband/producer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron Shafer-Haiss, and one of our very favorite Nashville dwellers, Madi Diaz, who she tells me serves as a dream collaborator: “We were friends first and then started writing together. I love working with Madi and I just think she’s brilliant… I take it to her and she like takes a scalpel to the core of the songs in a really emotional way.” And when I ask her about some of her all-time favorite music, she does admit that, like the artists of PHILTHY MAG, it tends to be fairly female-centric. “It’s a lot of women. I’m a big fan of female voices,” she says, going on to cite Lucinda Williams’ self-titled LP, Emmylou Harris’ Luxury Liner, Shania Twain’s The Woman in Me, and Waxahatchee’s Saint Cloud as some of her all-time favorite albums.
Later this week Michaela Anne kicks off a batch of tour dates that will have her headlining The Lounge at World Café Live on Wednesday, September 28th. And she tells me that she’s very excited to be back in this part of the country: “I’m looking forward to getting back out to the East Coast and seeing places like New York and Philly.” She also tells me that, after playing mostly solo shows since the pandemic, she’s anxious for fans to hear her songs in a bigger and more dynamic manner: “I’m excited to finally be able to get onstage with four other musicians and playing a rock band setting… I’m going to be bringing the same setup I had for my last headlining Philly show. It’s a five-piece band, with guitar and keys.” She says that, in addition to Oh To Be That Free, fans can also expect to hear a lot from her previous LP: “We’ll be playing a lot from Desert Haze, which we didn’t really get to tour much, because of the pandemic.” And, unlike many singer/songwriters, who enjoy a subdued live environment, Michaela Anne tells me that she actually prefers playing in more Rock N’ Roll settings, of which she is playing a handful on this run.
“I love playing rock clubs. I love a smaller rock club, like MilkBoy. I love to play for a room full of people, standing shoulder-to-shoulder. It’s such an incredible feeling. It’s a high I cannot explain, that connection you make with an audience like that… as long as the people are quiet [laughs].”
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