Anna Atkinson

by Jeff Suwak

Canada's Anna Atkinson is an Artist, with a capital A. It's a qualification too often considered synonymous with "a pretentious snob," but that idea falls apart once you actually talk to her. Atkinson is as humble, polite, and thoughtful as any musician I've ever talked to. She's laughs easily and never takes herself too seriously. In short, she's a pleasure to talk to.

Atkinson's searching, surreal lyrics always seem to be clawing at the surface for something deeper. The meaning of life? Nah, that's taking it too far. But the meaning of her experiences and experience itself? Yes, that just about sums it up nicely. In all of her songs, which are largely autobiographical, there is this sense of a person asking very complex questions and refusing to settle for easy answers.

She asks, "If the water is clear, my friend, then why can't I find the end?" Then, she never fully answers the question. She doesn't answer because she doesn't even know for sure, and because she respects her audience enough to come up with its answers.
Her instrumentation, too, never settles for the easy or obvious. She's more than happy to throw in some saw or accordion, and to bend her voice into strange shapes for the kids. The experimentation never comes at the cost of sincerity or emotional accessibility, however.

I discovered Atkinson after being asked her to review her latest solo work, Sky Stacked Full. The album has really strange – and I would say ingenious – tension in it. It never becomes so overt as to be diluted by its own obviousness, but it's always there... this creeping, snaking sense that the whole damn thing is about to blow. I thought it was fantastic.

Atkinson joined me for a conversation after returning from a trip to Finland. She was as gracious as an Artist-with-a-capital-A can be.
Jeff Suwak (Songfacts): It's been a few months since Sky Stack Full was released and it seems to have been really well received. I'm just wondering how that experience has been, having that out there?

Anna Atkinson: It's good. For one thing, I'm extremely happy with the album in a way that I didn't know I could be, because I felt like the songwriting was honest and direct as I could be. I'm not continuing so much with that particular project in that particular collaboration because of a bunch of reasons, but making this album and then having it out there feels a bit more like a personal document of this particular period in my life than an album I'm going to tour a lot or play a lot of the songs from in the future, which was not the way I recorded my first record.

My first record, I was planning on touring it a lot and having that sort of launch a greater career, and I think a lot of first records are like that. But this one, it really didn't get as much of a widespread recognition, but the reviews that I did receive and the people that did listen to it really related in a way more than I've experienced before. I felt like the people that listened to it really listened carefully, so that meant so much to me, especially in light of the fact that I wasn't really sure what I made the record for, other than for my own self and to give the songs that sort of resting place or official introduction to the world or something.

So, it's been a funny experience. Very mixed but kind of positive in a lot of ways.

Songfacts: What you just said, it actually reminds me of Neil Young's "Tonight's The Night." He made that to kind of release his anguish about when his roadie died of a drug overdose and he basically said the same thing you did. He didn't even know if he wanted to release it publicly. He just made it to get those emotions out and it ended up becoming one of his most immortal albums.

Atkinson: Well, over the last couple of years because of a lot of combined experiences I've become a bit ambivalent to what it means to be a singer-songwriter and composer, and I think most artists are feeling this way, because in some ways it's much easier than it ever was to get your music out, and in some ways, it's much, much harder. If you're not independently wealthy or have a ton of industry connections from the get-go, it's extremely difficult. It seems a bit like you're screaming into a void.

But it's also possible to have these extremely meaningful connections come from making what we make. You meet strangers or you have an experience where someone writes a couple of lines about your album that you never thought that anyone would pay attention to. It's worth it.

But, yeah, it's an ambivalence that's crept into how I feel about being an artist. And I love being an artist, and in a way, it's making me really focus on the authenticity of it because there's really no point - there's not a huge payoff to not being authentic.

I guess I could be a birthday party clown or something like that. So it's good.

Songfacts: You got a grant from the Toronto Arts Council, correct?

Atkinson: Yes, I did.

Songfacts: I'm curious as to how the logistics of that work, and I'm also curious about how you think that affects the music that you make. It seems like that would give you a little more freedom.

Atkinson: Canada's amazing because we have a pretty extensive granting program at the municipal and provincial and national level. It's not a perfect system so I got a grant that basically covered half of what it costs to make the record. This is very common with most artists: If you get a grant for $10,000 or $5,0000 thousand dollars or something, it's certainly great, but it's very rare to get full coverage so that you get to really do what you want without considering finances. That being said, it's so much better than having no money from the government.

Another thing is, you apply for the grant and then usually it's about three or four months until you hear back. So, on one hand it makes you very organized, and in some ways it makes you really think about what you want to do in the application process. You have to get all your ducks in a row even if the project ends up changing a little bit.

It can shape things a little bit negatively because you do have to pick a plan and stick to it for a number of months, and if you have a few projects on the go and you aren't sure exactly which direction to go in, it makes you focus in a way that for some people doesn't work as well. But, that being said, having a good chunk of money given to you to really see a project through, and then you're under obligation to finish it and report back, it certainly lights a fire and gives you at least a head start, knowing you're not going to have to fund this 100 percent out of pocket. It's finding a lot of people through a combination of grant funding and crowd funding or finding sponsors or whatever kinds of things that people do.

With regards to artistic freedom, I do think that in Canada there are a lot of records that get made through grants and organizations that the primary objective is not to sell copies or have huge commercial success once you've made it, and I think that's really great because you're nurturing a culture where that's not the primary objective. That being said, I think a lot of artists who are making at least pop music, under the large umbrella that that is, are hoping that they will sell.

I did feel a certain amount of freedom, especially in the early stages of album making. If you have a chunk of money you just go hog-wild and spend it how you want, so I did record at a great studio with a great engineer and we really took our time. It's almost more the vote of confidence than it is the actual money that gives you a bit more mental freedom to do what you want.

Songfacts: One of the questions I really am glad to have the opportunity to ask you is about your lyrics because a lot of your words are really cryptic and I would even call them eerie at times. I'm wondering if that is something that you intentionally shoot for?

Atkinson: Well, that's something that I've kind of wondered about myself too. I write prose like essays and blog entries as well as songs. When I'm writing songs, it's almost like that automatic writing thing. I really try to be very open and let whatever words come out and then I revise them later. But, I still don't quite know where they come from. It's very much like the way people talk about writing poetry. It's as much the sound of the word as it is the meaning of the word, and it's as much the combination and rhythm of the words. I write a lot going walking or bike riding, and these kinds of funny little combinations of words or syllables will just kind of start arranging themselves in my head.

I end up being able to derive quite a lot of meaning from the words after the fact, often while I'm performing, and it takes on different meanings over time - to me personally, at least. I've no idea what it would be like for a listener. It's a type of writing that I've been finding myself more and more drawn to. The less I try to strong-arm a definite meaning from my songs, the more freedom I feel like the songs themselves have, and the more freedom I feel in the expression of the songs when I perform them. It's very strange.

So, it's not deliberately cryptic. It's the most natural thing, and it took me a lot of time to trust that process. I started writing songs when I was very young and I took a very kind of prescriptive pop songwriting approach or folk songwriting approach, I suppose, and tried to really be like: "This is a song about this and I'm going to say this." But really the songs that are on this album and the songs that I'm working on currently are much more from this kind of other place that I go to, sort of for my own well-being, like the need to process the things that don't make logical sense in the world and these words seem to help.

Songfacts: That's very interesting because I personally love a lot of the lyrics and I think about them and try to figure out exactly what they mean. It's kind of neat to know that you're not even sure what they mean.

Atkinson: Yeah, that makes the both of us. It's sort of a continual discovery, but I love the words and I love the way they feel when I say them, too. It's strange.

I want to say, though, that when I'm writing something on some level I know exactly what I'm writing about and it seems to fit. So, it's not just completely arbitrary, stream-of-consciousness words. There's some sort of logical refinement to it, I just don't fully understand it.

Songfacts: Well, that's the fun part about being creative, right?

Atkinson: Yeah, it's great. I think I really need it in my life. I'm trained as a classical musician and I got very serious about songwriting while I was still in my classical music program, and I think I really, really needed that kind of structural freedom to complement my much more structured education and discipline.

Songfacts: I heard your cover of Tom Waits' "Innocent When You Dream." Are you a fan of Waits?

Atkinson: I am a huge fan.

Songfacts: You use a lot of odd instruments, which is also a Tom Waits' trademark.

Atkinson: Yeah, my family was into a lot of Tom Waits and Randy Newman growing up, and Leonard Cohen. When I was a kid, I really disliked them. I had these little troubling reactions, even to artists like Joni Mitchell. Maybe it just affected me too strongly. I used to have these very strange, visceral reactions to music - I still do sometimes – and oftentimes they were sort of negative reactions to things, almost like the way I hated cilantro. And now they've all become these things that I really love, which is very strange.

But Tom Waits was one of those artists that one day I was like, "Oh yeah, now I get it." And "Innocent When You Dream," that whole era of Tom Waits, was one of the first things that I got into when I was starting to get more serious about songwriting. I covered quite a few of his songs and I listened sort of compulsively to the Mule Variations album for a while and then that The Early Years compilation that came out. Yep, I think I had a cassette tape that someone made for me of The Early Years.

He and I share a birthday. It was Pearl Harbor and it was Tom Waits' birthday.

Songfacts: That's a momentous day.

Atkinson: I had to reclaim it as something more positive than Pearl Harbor and then I figured that out and I was like, yay!

Songfacts: The one song on the album that felt to me pretty clear was "When We Were Young." My impression is in the video that that's actually you visiting a childhood home or something. Is that correct?

Atkinson: Yes, it is. That's my childhood home. This is kind of a crazy story. I grew up in Windsor, Ontario, which borders Detroit. My parents moved there in the '60s just shortly after they were married, right after my oldest sister was growing up. I was the youngest, born after anyone thought that was possible. They bought this house on Indian Road, which was parallel to the Ambassador Bridge, which was just a little tiny bridge in the '60s - it wasn't a major truck route or anything like that. But over the years it became, I think, the busiest border crossing between Canada and the US.

It's basically just transport trucks 24 hours a day, so by the time I was born it was quite busy in that area and my mom used to sit rocking me to sleep singing. She used to sing: "Cars and trucks are going to sleep." That was the main lullaby because you heard engine brakes day and night and it was pretty loud.

The bridge is actually owned by a dude, like one guy. But it's the biggest international border crossing in North America, I think, and it's privately owned by a guy that lives in Michigan. And he's kind of a dick. He's actually a huge dick, and he wanted to build a second span of this bridge but what that would mean is basically demolishing my neighborhood. They didn't get either a permit to demolish the neighborhood or build another span of the bridge, but they just started buying up homes in the area, and the property value was going down as the bridge was getting more busy, so it's kind of classic block-busting: they buy a bunch of homes, let them go derelict and then everybody moves out of the neighborhood.

So, once this started happening my parents decided to move – although we only moved a few blocks away – but move out of that direct neighborhood. But the interesting and extremely sad thing is that now I think pretty much all of those homes, I think it's something like 200 homes on about a four-block-long street, are just empty, boarded up, like the one you saw in the video. They're behind fences and they're sort of patrols.

But there's a huge dispute between the bridge company and the city. The city is saying you have to maintain these homes and you can't knock them down and use them for anything and the bridge is saying no, we're going to do whatever we want because we have millions and bajillions of dollars.

Anyway, we went back. My father passed away 13 years ago but my mother passed away just two years ago. That song, I wrote it sort of for her but while she was still alive and before she was ill. I don't even remember why I wrote it, exactly, but it was very direct about what it was about. She loved the song. She used to come to my shows, and she actually did a quilt – she was an artist and kind of renaissance woman. She did a whole bunch of different things and started learning the violin in her sixties. She was a very interesting, sometimes insufferable, but amazingly vibrant human being. She had a lot of struggles but did an amazing job in life as well.

So, when it was coming time to make a single for the album, this song wasn't even going to be on the album, but my mother passed away in June of 2015 and we went back into the studio in August to do the last session, and we needed one more song. I just decided, Well let's just do this song, it's probably the best time to record it. It'll be what it'll be. Maybe it's too vulnerable, maybe it's too direct. As an artist, you walk that fine line between overexposure and honest expression. I was like, "Am I just doing therapy in the vocal booth?"

But, I figured to go for it, so when it came time to choose a single and make a video, that was the first thing that popped into my mind was going and hopping the fence, wandering around my family home. I was there until I was nine. I thought it would be very cathartic, since neither of my parents are here anymore and none of my family was in town, and I have so few connections. And politically I think it could draw a bit of attention to the neighborhood with people who don't know what's going on in Windsor.

Songfacts: Are there still people living there? There's that one point where there's those kids on the street and the guy comes out with the unicycle.

Atkinson: That was this amazing thing. Most of the video was shot in that neighborhood but just a few blocks away we decided to go and just hang out and see if we could get some footage. The west end of Windsor is really interesting. It's one of the oldest settlements in Canada, so there's all these old buildings and an old courthouse. But it's also a really, really poor neighborhood and it's extremely multicultural and just kind of this funny place - I've never been anywhere quite like it. And there's also the river and giant sand piles and stuff.

So, we just went down to the river where it was the end of this little neighborhood and the beginning of the more industrial area, and my friend, George, was riding his unicycle around. My family used to do street fairs and carnivals in our old neighborhood, mostly before I was born, so I wanted to allude to that. George was just out there riding his unicycle up and down this street that we thought nobody was there and then these shirtless little boys showed up.

It was amusing though because it was so close to what I remember: these little neighborhood kids that would come round, sometimes wearing shoes, sometimes not. Who knows who they belong to.

I just felt like I'd gone back in time. So, yeah, people still live in the neighborhood. It's basically a four-block-long strip of homes that are abandoned and left to rot and then the rest of the neighborhood is still very much alive and filled with people.

Songfacts: That moment in the video is pretty awesome.

Atkinson: It's so great and it was not staged at all: they just started running behind us. We didn't even ask them to do anything, they just came out. And it was funny because it was getting close to dusk – it was probably around 9 p.m. or 8 p.m. - later than little tiny boys are playing on the streets in most towns. And we didn't even know who they belonged to and we didn't say anything to them. We didn't talk to them or anything. They just started chasing the unicycle and then more of them appeared.

It was very strange. It was a really emotional day for me, going back there and all those little funny things that I remember from my childhood. That was the last footage that we shot before it was too dark to shoot outside. Gaëlle Legrand, who shot the video, was basically running beside the unicycle and I think we all were laughing because we couldn't believe it was happening.

Songfacts: That's synchronicity right there.

Atkinson: Yeah, it was amazing. And, actually, George the unicyclist, he grew up in Windsor as well, although we didn't live there at the same time - he's many years my senior. So, for him even, it was a very cathartic experience. I've never experienced anything quite like that day, so I was very happy to have made the video.

Songfacts: I guess on the other spectrum on the album in terms of clarity is "Water," because that is a really mysterious song. It's haunting and it's kind of weird. What you were trying to get to with that one?

Atkinson: That is one of the ones that I'm most proud of on the album, actually. I started writing that song, I started playing around with it, probably about six years ago, so around the time that my first record came out. It was a period where I was trying to observe certain things in my life more deeply and go into a deeper place with certain things that I was trying to understand. Just trying to gain a better grasp of who I was.

Songfacts: The line that really gets to me is: "If the water is clear, my friend, then why can't I find the end."

Atkinson: As I was going through this process, I thought that I was going to get over something or understand something much better and then that was going to be that. I had this idea that that's the sort of spiritual journey or healing process, if you will.

I've dealt a lot with depression and anxiety in my life and mental illness is very present in my family. And going through therapy and doing all those things that I have had to do over the years to figure this stuff out and get a greater handle on my own health, it started to feel like this insurmountable thing. Like, you get past one thing and, oh look, there's another thing. And you get past that and there's another thing.

So, even though at each point there's such clarity, like water, it's unending. It doesn't matter how much clarity there is for you, it doesn't matter how much work you do, there's always more. And that's what it felt like. It felt a bit like I had gone through a very large life change. At that point, I had broken up with my long-term boyfriend, I had started working more seriously at a particular job, and I was getting ready to release my first record, and yet everything was just more confusing and more overwhelming than it ever had been before.

The song is also a lot about isolation and really craving intimacy and realizing that not everybody is ready to go there. Not everybody is ready to jump in and get into something with someone, in friendships or in romance. That's something that I have found extremely frustrating at different points in my life. It's just like feeling frustrated about connections with other humans, especially when you feel like you all were put here to help each other do things.

That song is a very good example of something that's about a lot of things. The song is on one hand about me being overwhelmed with all of this personal work but also a bit exasperated at the sometimes loneliness of that type of work, of doing that kind of personal work. Not everyone is up for it and it can be a lonely journey sometimes.

Songfacts: So, here's another song: "Snowshoe." I'm curious who is the "you" in it you're questioning in "Snowshoe"?

Atkinson: Well, this is something that I've done a lot in my life. This is why I'm not always confident with exactly who is writing my songs because I've noticed that I sometimes use "you" in reference to someone else and I know exactly who I'm referring to. But in this case, it's almost a bit like a question to myself and to others.

So, I think "you" is me or anyone and I don't really know who is this wisdom. But that's a very, very old song and I think I probably wrote it at least 10 years ago, if not longer. I was maybe 21-ish. But I wrote about a very specific experience that I had.

It was the very beginning of my songwriting time and I was on a snowshoe hike in Vancouver. It was the very first time I had ever gone snowshoeing. And it was at a time in my life where I actually had forgotten how to enjoy myself at all. I was in school full-time, I was under an incredible amount of stress, I was in a lot of shock. I don't really know how to explain that time in my life but it was really a dark time for me and I didn't know how to take a break even for one evening.

I'd gone to Vancouver from Victoria to visit my sister who was visiting a friend of hers; she didn't live in Vancouver but she was there. We went on this snowshoe and I felt, for the first time in months, this kind of presence in the moment that I had forgotten was even possible. It was the most intense healing that I'd had in my young adult life, and I was like, "Oh my God, it's so beautiful, there's snow on my face, it's cold." I was so in my body and so in that moment and breathing more deeply than I had in months and it was such a moving experience.

In that very moment I started writing the song in my head - these words came to me. The "Why shouldn't you?" thing, I sometimes think of that as some sort of older, wiser, future version of myself kind of reaching out to my sad, 20-year-old, confused, depressed self. So that's really what that song is about.

It's funny because some of my songs are very, very abstract and then some of them are actually about what they say they're about. Sometimes it's like, "Oh, it sounds that it's snowshoeing." And like: "Yeah, I was snowshoeing."

Songfacts: Yeah, literally snowshoeing.

Atkinson: I wish it was a metaphor, it's a very beautiful metaphor.

Songfacts: So, that ambition that you were talking about or that kind of fixation on productivity, was that something that had been with you your whole life, or was that something you just found yourself coming into at that stage in your life?

Atkinson: Well, this is something I've been dealing with a lot recently, is asking myself those very questions. I'm sure it will be a lifelong discovery. I was always pretty serious as a child and I still don't exactly know where that comes from. I'm sure some of it was instilled in me by my parents. I was clearly very talented when I was a kid. I think my impulse is to write and create - I started writing a play when I was eight and I used to try to write short novels and stuff but I don't think any of them survived, thankfully.

But, there was something that kicked in sort of in my late childhood, early adolescence, maybe around nine or ten, that was this seriousness and almost like an anxiety where I felt like I had to prove myself, I had to perform. I really felt like I had something to prove in a way that I didn't understand what that meant but I had a huge performance anxiety problem that kicked in around that time where I would almost lose control of my body when I would perform. Not when I sang, but when I played my violin.

I think we could do a whole interview about performance anxiety but I will say that I really didn't know how to access my actual inner strength and capabilities at that time in my life, in my early 20s, and I suffered from horrible self-esteem and so much self-doubt. At that time in my life that was probably the most intense because that was around the time that my dad was very ill or he had just died – he died in my second year of university – so I think it was just too much. I was trying to prove myself and be a good musician and be a good student and get straight As. And I was very much a perfectionist in that way and it didn't suit me well because I did decently well in school but I was not at all a happy person.

The last 10 years of my life have really been about working through that and moving towards a better sense of health. And really the main thing is reconnecting with my body. I was plagued with all kinds of physical ailments. I got sick a lot and I had tendonitis and I had all kinds of stuff that shouldn't be happening to an otherwise healthy 20-year-old. I'm in much better health now than I was then but it's been a long, long, long journey and I'm still on it, I think. I still have lots of work to do.

Songfacts: So, here's a question a little less heavy for you because I hit you with a couple of heavy ones. What is the most difficult instrument that you've learned to play?

Atkinson: Well, I guess I'd have to say the violin and viola. They're also the instruments that I've spent the most time learning. I started violin when I was five and it's sort of been my foundation for every other thing that I've done. But certainly, the thing about the violin is that you kind of sound like crap for a really long time, unless you're extremely lucky. And it's a bit like a spiritual healing journey - there's always more to be done, there's always more to be discovered.

I started very young and I worked out a lot of how I approach music practice on the violin. I used to think practicing well was playing the piece as fast as you could, as many times as you could, a bunch of times in a row. And that's how you set yourself up for panic attacks, not getting better at an instrument.

So, I'd say a huge part of my difficulties in learning instruments was just learning how to learn, because I feel like every instrument I've picked up since then has been, in comparison, very easy because I know how to learn, in a way. Accordion was a bit crazy at first, and I have by no means mastered it, but there's a lot of things going on in accordion. I feel very bad for my roommates the first year that I bought it.

One of the things that's hilarious about the accordion is that it's really hard to play quietly when you first start playing. You can play loud and louder and that's it. You don't have the nuance for the response of the bellows. It's all about your body moving through space and creating some sort of friction between different elements.

Songfacts: How about the saw?

Atkinson: The saw is an example of my extremely well-developed sense of freelancer hustle. Someone asked me if I played the saw for a paid contract and I said yes, even though I'd never touched a saw before. I signed the contract and then I bought a saw thinking, How hard can this be? It was really hard at first - just to make a sound was really hard. But, I watched a ton of YouTube videos of mostly these very sweet, bow-tied old southern gentlemen playing "Jesus Loves Me" and stuff like that.

Thankfully, because it was for a theatre production and I didn't have to use it all that much, I had a lot of occasion to practice three times a week in public. It's kind of the thing like riding a bicycle, like once you get the hang of it, it's easy. It's less complicated than you would think. I think you just need a person to show you or a bow-tied man on YouTube.

I think the foundation that I have on other instruments and in my voice has really helped me a lot. I don't play any wind instruments and I know that's a whole other thing, but if I ever got into it, it would be a really new journey. But, certainly, with string instruments or anything bowed or plucked or keyed, I'm okay with those.

For me, my greatest journey has been to remain engaged and connected in my body for doing any of these things because that's really at the center of everything we do. Whenever I have that connection I find doing anything so much easier. Very strange. Even learning a bunch of weird instruments is easy when I have that other piece.

Songfacts: What makes you decide to take on any of these other instruments?

Atkinson: Well, it's been a couple of things. I grew up in a household where there were lots of musical instruments around. We had a piano growing up and my dad had a guitar and a banjo. I didn't really play his banjo until I was a teenager, or his guitar, and part of it was that it was set up so terribly that I couldn't press down the strings. He could because he had these very strong dad hands. But I did play a lot of piano growing up. I never had lessons but that's where I started writing songs.

Part of it was just this impulse. I was obsessed from infancy, essentially. One of the very first things that my parents told me I was doing was hammering out things on the piano like in a diaper. So, I think it's always been like an impulse for me. I bought my own guitar when I was a teenager. I think it was the first thing that cost more than $10 that I bought with my own money.

I got into the accordion because my last year of university I was writing songs on guitar and a bit on viola and on piano, but I lived with a friend for summer and she had borrowed an accordion. And so, whenever she was away at work I would play her accordion and I was completely in love with this instrument and I had to buy one. When I got my student loan the following September, the very first thing I did was buy a $300 used accordion.

Sometimes in certain decisions I'm plagued with anxiety and I don't know what's the best choice, and then I have these striking moments of clarity and generally every time I've acquired a new instrument it's like, Well, of course. It's a very clear sign from somewhere. I felt that way when I got my studio monitors this year, because I'm getting into recording myself. It was like, This is the next logical step in my life, I have to buy nice studio monitors. Can I afford them? So, I guess recording is my new instrument.

Songfacts: You're going to be recording and producing your own stuff now?

Atkinson: Well, I'm at least trying it. This next record is likely to be mostly self-recorded and self-produced with some help from some people that are smarter than me in these things. But I am really enjoying the freedom of exploring that kind of thing. For one thing, it takes a lot of financial pressure off of having to get studio time.

I certainly think that there's so many good reasons to go into a studio and have an engineer because I just make so many mistakes and it's so trial and error, but I'm looking at the longer-term benefits. It's so rewarding to make my own music. It's fun and you get to experiment in ways that you wouldn't necessarily if there was another person in the room. I can make some really cheesy choice and no one needs to know that I did it because I can erase it.

Songfacts: What projects are you looking at now and in the near future?

Atkinson: That's a good question. I've been asking myself this question a lot lately. I've been sort of on a hiatus from performing. I'd say even in the last two years I've not been actively performing because I've been figuring out what's next and doing a lot of personal work and doing a lot of weightlifting and re-evaluating my freelance career as well.

Anna does Olympic-style weightlifting to stay in shape. She's written about it on her blog.
I just moved to Montreal and I'm still working in Toronto a little bit, but I'm mostly based here. So, the project I'm working on now mostly is a solo album that I'm self-producing, again with the help of skilled people. It's a collection of songs that are mostly now written and I think it's the logical continuation of Sky Stacked Full in a lot of ways. But, if anything, there's even less lyric material. The lyrics are even more concise and maybe more abstract and maybe more direct in certain ways.

I've been experimenting a lot using different synthesizers. In a way it's given me the sort of album that is almost detailing my process of becoming a more independent artist just as a person who's now in my 30s and holds that kind of maturity. There's a confidence that comes with not being 25. So, it's that and taking a little bit more control and being more direct and more honest with myself about what I want to be making and what I want to be saying. It almost feels now like a collection of very short poems that I have fleshed out with different fun sounds.

Songfacts: That's cool. You got any interesting instruments in mind? Anything new?

Atkinson: Well, I've been very much playing with vocal layers. I'm using a lot of strings again. I've been using my Novation synthesizer. I've been using Logic and I'm obsessed with the mellotron patch, especially the vocal, like the boys' choir mellotron patch.

It's funny, one of the tracks is this kind of slow groove song about feeling like you're not progressing the way you want to be, but I'm using this boys choir mellotron patch and every single time I listen back to it, it gets to me. Something about these sad little boys - I'm sure they were very happy in that moment, but they're all old and probably dead now - it just gets me every single time. So, I'm going to have to be a little bit disciplined with not just making a 100 percent mellotron boys choir record. But I love it.

Other than that, I've got a couple other little irons in the fire but that's the main one. And I'm weightlifting a lot.

August 18, 2017
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Photo: Jen Squires

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