by Geno Thackara
Everything is connected for Anna Spackman. Words are inseparable from poems, poems are inseparable from music, and music is inseparable from life. This past April’s album House on the Sea is the culmination of a few years that have taken her from the urban west coast to farms in the South before landing back in her native Pennsylvania. Her songs are mostly rooted in folk, but pieces of all those places are in there somewhere.
“I grew up in PA on my grandparents’ farm and spent most of my childhood/teenage years exploring the woods and playing guitar outside, so that will always be an essential part of me and my concept of home,” she says. Adult life in Portland, Oregon subsequently included exploring live poetry, playing music for the seriously ill, studying psychology and simply soaking in everything such a vibrant artistic community has to offer.
“Portland was the first place I got to start over somewhere new,” she continues. “I definitely came into my own as a performer there and brought that confidence and joy with me back to PA – usually at the Steel City Coffeehouse in Phoenixville, one of my favorite places on earth.”
For an interesting contrast, working with World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms then brought her to North Carolina and Tennessee this past autumn. “It was challenging and dirty and absolutely therapeutic,” Spackman says about the experience. “I wrote a lot of poetry about watching life grow, die and become something else. I was sometimes painfully aware of the parts of me I had shed by leaving Portland, and the album was emerging. Most of the songs had been written by that point, but it conceptually fell into place when I could step back and piece together the story.”
Around this time she discovered Sukie Colgrave’s book Uniting Heaven and Earth, which explores ideas of counterparts like yin and yang. As a result, “it’s a very introspective and concept-heavy album… My hope is that I can help people to recognize themselves as inherently plural and make peace between the parts of them in conflict.”
House on the Sea embodies those ideas in more ways than one. She explains, “My dad suggested doing a double album, and when I started playing with that idea, the songs naturally grouped themselves into those two different energies. The masculine consciousness – the ego – felt very strong in the songs on the first disc (the ‘house’), which moves towards self-differentiation and action. The ‘sea’ disc is its opposite, a pull towards the dissolving of boundaries and the mysteries of the subconscious. A lot of the ‘sea’ songs were ones that I wrote without really being aware of writing them – they just kind of floated out as they are.”
It seems appropriate enough that she credits her own counterpart for helping making the album what it is: “My brother Donnie is a yang to my yin, if you will. He is my drummer, bassist, keyboardist, producer and best friend. He doesn’t just play where I tell him to play, but brings his own thoughts and perspectives to each song. His instincts and energy have been invaluable.”
With further help from a couple other good friends and relatives, the process has shaped a rich set of songs with a lot of depth to discover – much like the subconscious beneath the things we’re aware of, or the sea under its surface.
You can catch Anna Spackman at Powers Park on June 21st as part of the Make Music Philly Festival. Or if you’d prefer something a bit different, there’s an event called Speak It! Sing It!, which is (what else?) a performance combining music and poetry, at South Street’s Evil Eye Cafe on the 25th.