Annie Dressner has released her best album to date with Coffee at the Corner Bar (September 4th), an album Paste recently called, “low key one of the best pop releases of 2020.”
The album includes a cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “The Book of Love” and a co-write with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf. Produced by Dressner’s husband, Paul Goodwin (an accomplished singer-songwriter in his own right), and mixed by Louie Lino (Resonate Music, Nada Surf) in Austin, Texas, the new album is a collection of beautiful, nostalgic indie-folk songs about romance, grief, and self-reflection — from opening track “Nyack” recounting childhood visits to the upstate New York village, to “Pretend,” a musing on a failed romance in Hamburg, Germany where she lived as a 22-year-old au pair, to “Losing You” which unpacks the grief she felt over the loss of her mother — Dressner documents a vibrant life filled to the brim with enriching experiences, and shares these deeply introspective stories through brutally honest yet accessible songs.
Hi there, welcome to VENTS! How have you been?
Hello! Thank you so much! I have been good! I spend most of my time with my two young kids and have been working hard to promote my new album!
Can you talk to us more about your song “Midnight Bus”?
Of course! Matthew Caws (of Nada Surf) and I co-wrote this song. Weirdly, Matthew and I are both from NYC but met in Cambridge, UK where we both live. My husband, Paul Goodwin and I were at a local pub and met Matthew there – we bonded over missing delicious NYC bagels.
Many years ago we decided to try to write a song (spoiler alert: it’s ‘Midnight Bus’) and we finished it this year!
Did any event, in particular, inspire you to write this song?
Both being New Yorkers, we were reminiscing about our individual experiences at night in NYC. Serendipitously, we had both encountered guys standing on the sidewalk at night with telescopes, offering views to passersby. (Matthew’s experience was outside a venue in Iowa while on tour, but still, what are the chances?)
Can you tell me about the inspiration behind the title Coffee at the Corner Bar?
Absolutely! The title is actually a lyric from my song Pretend, which is about a time in my life when I lived in Hamburg, Germany as an au pair. If you listen to the song you can catch a glimpse of some of my experiences there – but the ‘corner bar’ is actually Haus 73 in Hamburg. Funnily, a radio station in Hamburg picked up the song not knowing that it was about there – so maybe, just maybe, it captured a little part of it.
How was the recording and writing process?
I did not really set out to write an album, but I realized after writing the songs “Nyack”and “Dogwood” that I wanted to. I had almost enough songs that went together congruently, wrote a few more… and Voila! – the album appeared! My husband, Paul Goodwin, (a singer-songwriter in his own right) agreed to produce the album for me, and I am seriously glad that he did!
Over the course of about nine months, we only saw each other when getting the kids ready for school, meals, bathtime, or bedtime and between the hours of 8 PM – 11 PM when we would record while our children slept. When we were not recording during those hours, Paul was editing and working like mad. We don’t have a proper recording studio at home, so Paul would sit in our office/music room and I would record in the laundry room. Turns out having a lot of hanging clothes does wonders for acoustics!
To make it even more magical, Louie Lino (Resonate Music in Austin, TX & Nada Surf), mixed and mastered it.
How did the process of putting together this album differ from your previous releases?
I have never set out to ‘record an album.’ I write songs – I write songs for myself and for my own enjoyment. With my first album, Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names, I had written a number of songs I wanted to record. My friend Anthony Rizzo and I recorded that album in his apartment in Queens. I think he did a fabulous job, and when I listen to that record, I can picture exactly who I was at that time of my life. That record is very special to me, not because it is the first one I made but because I had a lot of big moments during the process of writing it, and the record helped me to get through them.
The next project that I did was to record an EP called East Twenties. As I had started to gig more, I wanted to create a recording that reflected my solo live performances better than the full band in my first album.I basically wanted East Twenties to sound like more polished versions of my demos. I don’t think I give the EP enough credit as it’s so wee, but I’m also proud of it. Paul and I also recorded that in our house.
Next, I released a single called “Don’t Feel The Same“ which I wrote with Tim Gordine. We actually met on Soundcloud and after vetting each other decided to meet. Thankfully we were both normal and we decided to try to write a song together. We wrote and recorded this single in a day. I think it’s a really fun song!
Lastly, my previous release, Broken Into Pieces, was an entirely different thing. I did not record it in a house and I did not have songs. Long story short, I was put in touch with the producer, Nigel Stoner (Thea Gilmore) and he was generous enough to listen to a demo of mine called “Fades Away/“ Nigel liked the song as well as my first album and encouraged me to continue to write more songs. At this point, I had a 14-month-old and had about eight hours to myself a week. I spent those eight hours writing. I actually amazed myself that I was able to write songs in a very determined way. After writing the songs over a few months, I went up to Manchester, England, and recorded the album in the course of about 15 days at Airtight Studios. I loved the experience and I love the album that we made.
Like I mentioned previously, it’s really fun for me to listen back to my songs (no, I don’t do it often) – because it truly is like revisiting my diary. Most of my songs are autobiographical and it’s fun to hear how I felt about certain things through my music. As I’ve performed the songs, the meanings can sometimes change for me – but when I listen back to the original recordings, I always can remember the intent.
What role does Cambridge play in your music?
My husband was on the Cambridge music scene way before I met him and moved here. Paul introduced me to some of his friends and they were kind to me and helped me to book gigs. So in that way, it was integral. Some of my closest friends are musicians that I have met here in Cambridge, including my friend Polly Paulusma whom I just went on a tour with pre-COVID.
What aspect of your life did you get to explore on this record?
I get to say how I truly feel through songs. When I write songs, I usually press record and play and sing at the same time and then I see what comes out. There are times that I am not certain how I feel about something until a song comes up. Sometimes I’ll start to cry as I write, and other times, songs will take twists and turns and remind me of memories that I had forgotten about.
So in short, I get to explore myself in a non-judgemental way, and I allow myself to be honest.
Where else did you find the inspiration for the songs and lyrics?
I mostly find inspiration from my own life, however, I used current events and news to shape the songs “Numbers” and “Morning,” for example.
How has the pandemic affected you?
This is a big question to answer. First of all, I don’t even know how it has affected me fully yet. Short term, I am very tired. I spent the majority of my time with my kids and making sure that they are happy. I am realizing how important and nice it is to get to spend this time with them and my husband – I know how fleeting it all is, so I am hoping to make the most out of it. On the other hand, I feel incredibly frustrated, homesick for my family back in New York and I miss everything that we used to be able to do. I am also grateful that we have so much, and I don’t take that for granted. This situation is less than ideal, but I am currently sitting in my warm house, typing on my Apple computer eating olives. Things could be worse.
What else is happening next in Annie’s world?
Currently, I am trying to write more music for my next release. I also would like to do a special edition vinyl for the ten year anniversary of Strangers Who Knew Each Other’s Names — stay tuned as there will certainly be more news on this.
As far as live gigs, I have four booked, but I am calling it the ‘Will This Actually Happen? Tour” – so, we shall see.
For now, I am expecting this year to be filled with lots of homeschooling and keeping kids happy – so that is my main priority. I will be writing though and hope to make another recording in due course — but I’m not in any particular rush. I want it to be good – and so I’ll have to see if the songs come.
Check out the video for “Midnight Bus” with Matthew Caws of Nada Surf