Anna Shoemaker’s Past, Present, and Future Selves Act As Her Guardian Angels As She Grows and Reflects

Anna Shoemaker walks a thin line between graceful and edgy as she takes to the Sultan Room stage for the first full band performance since the release of her latest EP, Hey Anna. There’s something effortless about Anna’s movement on stage, sauntering from stage left to stage right, gripping the mic stand, desperate to be heard. She falls to her knees in emphasis of her pointed lyrics, picks herself back up with ease, and tosses her short hair messily back and forth, just for it to fall perfectly back into place. She’s emotive in a way that feels like her whole life has led to this moment, likely because it has. 

I got the chance to catch up with Anna a few days leading up to the show and the conversation was true to her form, following the same abstract, emboldened, and reflective lines of thought heard throughout the EP. Anna has a way of making people feel seen by offering her own vulnerability as a start mark to find common ground. “I think the coolest thing you can be is really passionate about something. I feel like as somebody who is really passionate about music, I am able to connect with somebody who is super passionate about cars because I know they have a passion.”

She’s quick to note her recognition that knowing your passion is a gift. Anna has known she wanted to be a musician since she was a kid. She learned guitar by teaching herself Taylor Swift songs and changing melodies until she had her own songs.

“All I wanted was to be Britney Spears or in the Spice Girls or Sheryl Crow. I was obsessed.”

She spends a lot of time with her younger self at the front of her mind, nurturing the dreams she set at a young age that she finally gets to live out. Still, she catches herself calloused to her own successes. “It’s weird now I sell out a show or I do really great stuff and afterwards I’m beating myself up over it. And I have to be like what is ‘wrong with you!’ It makes no sense, as kids that would never happen.” 

I experience what she’s describing with increased frequency as I grow up too, so I offer Anna the perspective that it may just be the evolution of our expectations and the access we have that allows us to compare ourselves. She’s in complete agreement. “The comparison stuff is crazy, especially with women, it’s just insane. I try to just do my own thing, because otherwise it’s too anxiety-inducing.” 

There’s a maturity in Anna’s diction that can only come from breaking down enough and learning how to rewrite yourself. Anna assures me that this air of confidence hasn’t always been natural. “During the “Everything is Embarrassing” era [in 2019], I felt like I had no control over anything. I didn’t know what I wanted.” She counters, “No, I knew what I wanted. I knew how I wanted to get there. Everything was embarrassing and everything was stressful and I was terrified to do what I’m doing. But I think that getting older is recognizing feelings and knowing you’re not going to die.”

She’s playful in the way she explains it, because she knows I’m familiar with the sensation she’s talking about. “When you’re younger and you experience depression or anxiety, or somebody’s not treating you well, if you don’t have experience with it you don’t know that this too shall pass. So now if I experience something there’s that perspective and I’m like, ‘oh in a week I’ll be fine, or maybe I’m just tired.’”

Anna put out her EP Everything is Embarrassing in 2019 and followed it up with her debut album Everything is Fine (I’m Only on Fire) in 2022. There’s a heightened awareness of self between these two projects which comes from time and distance from the subject matter, the classic cure-all. Still, Anna felt there were lingering feelings she didn’t get to clear on Everything is Fine. “There was a way that I wanted my album to sound that I feel like I was really able to finish off in this EP. There was a lot of darkness or darker feelings that I wanted to get out of my system before the next step.”

It’s evident in the scorched edges and darker themes of Hey Anna that Anna isn’t looking to make pop songs akin to the ones she grew up on but she hasn’t always had the voice or position to make the music she wants to make. “I think [the darkness] comes from not listening so much to how people want you to be as a woman in the music industry. There were so many people in my ears being like ‘this is a pop hit, you have to do this or that’ and that for me has always been hard because I’m such a people pleaser in my soul. I want people to feel heard and listened to, especially if they’re on my team. I want to be able to trust them but for this, I had to trust my gut.”

Hey Anna” is a reflective piece in which Anna airs some of her grievances with past lovers, falters in her hard stance to stay away from old flames, and explores how her toxic relationships affect those closest to her. Her desire with this project was to look at things as they are. “This EP was a lot of looking back and confronting memories. Taking a lot of emotion out of things and looking at what actually happened.”

The majority of the EP came together in a collaboration between Anna and Constantine Anastasakis (Blonder). Anna wrote “I Think I” and decided it was time to put something together. She brought in Blonder to help create the remaining songs. “We wrote probably 20 songs and picked four to put with “I think I.” It came together really effortlessly which was not the case with [Everything is Fine]. With my album, it felt a lot more like where I was in my life, which was disjointed.”

The standout track on this EP, “Holly,” offers insight into what it’s like to have to advocate for your toxic relationship to friends. “I went through a relationship where I was constantly losing credibility with my friends, sister, and mom. I would call them and be like ‘it’s really fine now.’ The next day I called sobbing, ‘I hate him! I hate him!’’’ The song is a means of holding your partner accountable because you already told your friends and family that things were better. She speaks about this position with levity, something you can only do if you’ve spent the time reflecting on where you were. We joke about how much effort these type of relationships take. “It’s exhausting to be juggling all of that and having to put on a brave face for your friend.”

The creative direction of this project is a bit inverted from the subject matter. While the EP itself sounds dark and cynical, the visual imagery throughout the project follows Anna adorned in fluffy, white angel wings. Anna knows it’s an interesting dichotomy but it’s messaging she wants to carry with her.  “We wanted a symbol. I wanted everything to be very pointed in the videos. The angel wings are consistent. At one point I dig them up, insinuating that at one point I bury them. At one point I burn them. At one point there are just feathers on the floor. For me, that symbolizes that no matter what stage your wings are in or what state your confidence is in, you’re still here.

Life still moves forward whether you’re good or not.” It’s a really lovely sentiment that, coincidentally, we both inherited from our grandmothers. “My grandma always loves angels. She has angels in her car.” This ideology seems to be powerful for Anna. She’s able to keep her focus forward because she has the knowledge that there’s someone or something with a higher vantage point looking out for her. 

There’s solace in knowing you’re not alone. “It’s not necessarily that somebody else is there, but you’re protected by the past and the future versions of yourself. You go through shit to make sure in the future you don’t have to make the same mistakes. You are your own protector in a way. It’s an instinct, which is really cool. And all of that comes from past experiences.” 

Up on the Sultan Room stage, you can see all of Anna’s angels taking form. There’s young Anna teaching herself how to be a rockstar. There’s confused Anna in Philly figuring out how to make her dreams come true. There’s heartbroken Anna trying to put meaning to all the pain. And there’s future Anna, knowing how everything works out. All of them reflect out to the full room as present Anna belts the final “I think I loved you for awhile” and the crowd erupts, chanting for one more song. 

Hey Anna is out now.

Photo by Erica Snyder.

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