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A Conversation with Annie Gallup      

PM: Annie, how would you describe yourself artistically, and what it is you do?

AG: I would describe it by playing a song. In terms of other things, how do you describe what you do in a certain medium? It takes all those notes to explain it.

PM: It does, really. But since our world calls for one, if there were a short tag that you might use for yourself, what might it be?

AG: I had fun coming up with Beat Poet Songwriter.

PM: I like that one a lot. Would you explain that description a little for our readers?

AG: I want it to imply poetry, but not in an intellectual or academic sense, you know? And to have more fun with it, than to say I was a poet.

PM: Your lyrics are very poetic on the one hand. But there's also an offhanded humor to them...

AG: I think it's a literary tradition that I'm coming from. I've been teaching songwriting at workshops. On occasion, I've been teaching songwriting to writers: poets, story tellers, novelists. I realized that what I'm doing with songwriting is more along the lines of how the literary arts approach writing than it is along the lines pursued by many songwriters. The craft that I bring to it doesn't apply as much to traditional songcraft as it does to crafting that is traditionally literary.

PM: I agree. How long has the poetic, or the beat poetic, approach been an element or even a lynchpin in what you're doing?

AG: I actually started writing talking blues when I was a teenager. I had that Woody Guthrie "Talking Blues" song, and I loved it. I learned it from Sing Out! magazine, the little blue songbook.

PM: Would you say, then, that the beat poetic approach has been in play since the teenage talking blues?

AG: In play, yes, and that's a good word for it. I have a background that's very diverse in all the arts, and there's an overlap that's unintentional. If you don't draw a line, they all overlap.

PM: What various arts?

AG: As soon as I could walk, I was taking dance classes. So I was dancing till I was through college, ballet and modern. I studied it seriously. And I studied visual arts as well. Had I graduated, my major would have been metalsmithing. I was doing little sculptural things in precious metals and precious stones.

PM: So, visual arts and dance. Something else as well?

AG: Creative writing. There wasn't a line where one stopped and another began. I had a lot of permission to explore, especially since I was songwriting just for myself, in my room, and I never played them for anybody. I got to play around with a lot of things that I probably wouldn't have had the liberty to do had I thought that I had to play them for somebody.

PM: Did you, in those early days, ever intend to play them for anyone?

AG: No. I did it because it was how I survived high school, you know?

PM: Who were you listening to in those early years of surviving high school?

AG: Hmm...a lot of Doc Watson, Mississippi John Hurt, and Dave Van Ronk, because they were in the public library.

PM: But all the other girls were listening to Joni Mitchell and Janis Ian.

AG: Oh I was listening to Joni, but not Janis. I should have been though, she's great. The other girls, no, they were all listening to the Rolling Stones. I really imprinted on John Hurt. What Mick Jagger is to most people, he is to me.

PM: Yeah. Well, they have similar lips, for one thing.

AG: There's a real sexy thing going on.

PM: Swerve, on Prime CD, is your fifth record. Where and how did your recording career begin?

AG: In Seattle, I started doing a demo recording in 1993, at David Lang's studio. Around that time, Bruce Pasco discovered me at an open mic, it was one of those moments that you live for. Where a guy comes over to your table and shakes your hand. He gives you his card, and asks you to give him a call. You look down at the card when he's gone, and it says "Bruce J. Pasco, Producer."

PM: And he was a musician as well?

AG: He was one of the original Washington Squares. He burnt out after eight years on the road, and moved to the West Coast and reinvented himself as a producer. He was 36 when he died in 1994.

PM: Let's cover his untimely death.

AG: He wanted to work with me, he liked what he heard. To my mind, he heard me play about ten minutes after I got worth listening to. He thought he knew what to do with my music. He knew it was quirky and unusual, but he thought he had the connections to do something with it. So he talked me into working with him, which wasn't easy. I had that built-in distrust of things that come too easily. We went in the studio and recorded three songs. He got a great room, great musicians, and did a lot of the guitar himself. He was a versatile, interesting and expert guitarist. Just before we mixed, when all the tracks were done, he suddenly became ill, and he never recovered. It was viral encephalitis.

PM: And how much longer did he live?

AG: Once it attacked him, he never regained consciousness. And it was two weeks later when they unplugged all the machines that were keeping him alive.

PM: Diabolical.

AG: It was so sudden, and so tragic. It was really powerful for me for him to have given me so much of the best and the last that he had. So I ran with that, all the energy that he left me. I finished the record myself at David Lang's studio, and put it out as Cause and Effect. The three songs I did with Bruce Pasco are on that record.

PM: And you were left, at that point, without a label. And you set to booking yourself a five month tour around the country. A brand new artist, no agent and no label, and you simply began your career.

AG: Almost based on the trust that what Bruce Pasco saw was real. And before I went on the road, I'd had a day job, so I had a little cushion to sustain me. I moved into a 15 foot travel trailer in a sheep pasture on Bainbridge Island.

PM: Where is Bainbridge Island?

AG: It's across the Puget Sound from Seattle. I had a friend there that let me live in her pasture. My expenses were really really low, and I spent the first couple of months booking myself around the country.

PM: It's kind of amazing, when you consider how many people today have made their first record. And the thing you proceeded to do after your first record was to book yourself a five month tour. You assumed that you could do that, did it, and that's what you've been doing ever since. With or without label support, with or without a booking agent.

AG: It wasn't like "Now is the time." It was just a question of the door being open, and my financial condition was right, I had a little money put aside, a new truck, and low overhead.      continue

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