“Star Anna is an American original. She sings from a place of beauty that takes me to a higher place,” says Pearl Jam’s Mike McCready. Guns ‘n’ Roses/Velvet Revolver’s Duff McKagan says, “She is the real deal. She will be a talent that we can all say that we saw her when. Guaranteed.”
Star Anna’s latest, Go To Hell (Spark & Shine Records), will find you agreeing with McCready and McKagan. A dark, haunting collection of songs that capture the essence of betrayal, regret, and hope, Go To Hell delivers melodic, soaring folk-rock with an Americana heart, best described as Americana-soul, and it will penetrate right to your core.
Seattle, Washington, by way of Ellensburg, Star Anna’s Go To Hell, comprised of ten tracks, was a hard record for her to make. Her personal life was in upheaval as the record was being made; yet Star Anna persevered and came out better for it.
“There were a lot of battles going on at the time this record was being made and a lot of betrayals that I was dealing with that had been woven into my personal life as well as the life of this record,” recalls Star. “We decided to keep moving forward and make this record. The title speaks for itself.”
From the fiery opener, “For Anyone,” a keyboard-drenched soulful number that seeps melody, but also packs a punch with its deep, rich groove, through the heartbreaking, folk-pop of “Mean Kind of Love,” to album closer, “Smoke Signals,” a gritty punk rock number, Star Anna doesn’t give in, letting the emotions fly as she deals with everything life had thrown at her.
Her fourth record overall, and first (since her debut) to not feature her previous band The Laughing Dogs (Star Anna’s 2009 Crooked Path; Star Anna & The Laughing Dogs’ 2009 The Only Thing That Matters and 2011’s Alone In This Together), Go To Hell is purely cathartic for Star Anna.
“There were times I would be listening back to what we had recorded that day and it would make me teary eyed because it was exactly what I had envisioned,” she says.
“The last record was very band oriented. We were The Laughing Dogs and Alone In This Together was our band album. We had most of the songs already built going into the studio and we had a very clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish. Go To Hell was very skeletal when we went into the studio.”
Unlike Alone In This Together, with Go To Hell Star and her cohorts – co-producer Ty Bailie (keyboards/organ/piano), Julian McDonough (drums), Jacques Willis (vibraphones), Will Moore (bass), and Jeff Fielder (guitars) – went into the studio with only a few completed songs, and the others just rough ideas, and made a record.
“It’s similar to Alone In This Together in the way that it is a full band record,” she says. “The differences come in the way that it was put together and recorded. Only a few of the songs had a structure going into the studio, the rest were very bare. We would figure out how we wanted the song to go in the studio, play it a few times, and then record it. It was almost a relief to have songs in skeleton form, so we weren’t married to any one idea, which gave us a lot of freedom.”
That freedom helped Star stretch herself as a songwriter and vocalist. She didn’t play guitar on the record, she just sang, giving her a chance to focus on her voice.
“I was surprised by how I was able to push myself vocally,” she says proudly. “When the guys would say, ‘Ok, that was good, but go do it again and just let loose,’ I’d think, ‘well, fine, fuck you. I thought that was great. You’ll see. I just can’t do better.’ But, somehow I was always able to pull it out.”
She continues, “It was nice to be able to focus on just the vocals and let the rest of the guys worry about the music.”
Two big firsts for Star on Go To Hell is the inclusion of covers, including Tom Waits’ “Come On Up to The House,” and co-writing with someone that wasn’t in the band, her friend Shane Tutmarc, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter.
The song “Let Me Be,” which was co-written with Tutmarc, has some of the album’s most significant lyrics for Star.
“It was written after the first recording session in Portland, where we recorded three songs that were meant to be demos. They were the inspiration for the rest of the album,” she recalls. “It was co-written by a friend in Nashville who did not know the back story of the song and was just going off the first verse and chorus. He managed to capture the idea perfectly. The line, ‘I’m a new man looking sideways in the dark’ feels most significant to me, as it describes being stripped down to nothing. You have the freedom to become whatever you want because there is nothing left. It’s a heartbreaking place to be, but it opens up your world to rebuild.”
For all she went through to make this record, Star came out stronger, with a better direction of where not only she wanted her music to be, but also where she needed to be.
“[The album is about] balance. There is a lot of anger and loss, but there is also the other side of that. When something happens that strips you down to the bone, you can choose to only focus on the anger or you can also look around at the people who are still there, who are still trustworthy, loving and truly kind.”
That is what Go To Hell is all about. Telling off your past demons and poisoned relationships and forging ahead, picking yourself up and showing the world you’re stronger than that. Now, with a handful of songs, and a new record, Star will hit stages across the country and offer up some cathartic tunes that will help, revitalize, and inspire others, just as they did for her.