By Emma Swift.
Australian songwriter Anne McCue grew up on Sydney’s outskirts, made a name for herself as a musician in Melbourne, learned how to rock and roll in Los Angeles and now resides in Nashville, Tennessee. A brilliant guitar player and sweet-voiced singer, championed by no less than Lucinda Williams, she’s one of a significant number of Aussies who have found a home in Music City USA.
When did you first come to Nashville and what were your first impressions?
I think it was 2001 or maybe 2000. I had just finished my first album, ‘Amazing Ordinary Things’ and was doing a promotional tour. I stayed with Sherry Rich and Rick Plant, which was lovely – they were so hospitable and generous. I had a show at The Basement and only a few people showed up. After I played, Lucinda Williams came up to me and introduced herself. We went to see Neko Case play at 12th & Porter that night, I remember – and Lucinda invited me to be her supporting act on her next tour. So my first impression of Nashville? Pretty great!
When did you decide to make this your U.S. base?
Well that was about seven years ago. My manager lived here and she convinced me to come over and consider basing myself here. It was a lot less expensive than L.A. and the green trees were a nice change. The main lure for me was that it is a better base for touring. You can drive to a lot more cities – such as New York and Austin. However, it was like a different country to California, so it took a while to adjust. For a start, there are no waves in Tennessee!
What are the pros/cons compared to your first US base – Los Angeles?
Well I miss the ocean a lot but I don’t miss the traffic! So for every down side, there is an up side. I think in L.A. you can get lost more easily and you can get distracted more easily. Also, Nashville is really focused on music whereas L.A. is a showbiz town – a little more superficial overall. This superficiality has the benefit of people being more healthy in general – they are all slim and do yoga and eat organic food. Here, there’s 60% obesity and a lot of fatty foods – but the organic thing is slowly catching on in Nashville. They are a bit behind on some issues here such as gay rights. There are a lot of homophobes here – it’s part of the religious fabric unfortunately. But all good things take time.
You’re known for your beautiful songs and great guitar playing, who do you admire musically and why?
Well thanks! My heroes come from all walks of music and all eras. Bach, Mendelssohn, Satie, Debussy, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Lightning Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Lucinda Williams, Leonard Cohen – the list is long. Doug Pettibone and Russ Pahl are two of my favourite musicans. It’s great melodies, great lyrics, great tone, great feel – it all adds up to an emotion that moves me, makes me feel something meaningful, beautiful, makes me feel better and more alive and that life is worth living.
When you were growing up on the outskirts of Sydney, what inspired you to play?
When I was a little kid all I wanted to do was play the piano. I started lessons when I was eight. I loved Liberace! But home wasn’t a good practice environment for the piano so I gradually switched over to guitar. That was something I could practice away from the crowd in my own room. Sometimes I think I played due to loneliness, suburban ennui, estrangement but mostly because I loved it. Because of the Reader’s Digest Golden Treasury Of Song, I knew all the chords – jazz chords etc. – by the time I left school. It was the greatest learning tool a kid could have.
How many guitars do you own?
That’s a good question. I have a few that I love – my Les Paul, Telecaster, and my new Hanson guitars – they are beautiful. My Maton acoustic has been with me for about 20 years. The Dan Electros – 12 string, 6 string and baritone – are mainly good for recording. A lap steel and a couple of ukes. I have a few other guitars that don’t really stay in tune very long, but they can be handy for different sounds sometimes.
I know you are also inspired greatly by film as well as music and studied film at university – what film-makers do you admire/ movies inspire you?
I used to be a film junkie. When I was at university I probably watched at least 25 films a week – including the midday movie, films in class, the late movie, late late movie and late late late movie. Plus I was the film section editor of the student paper so I was reviewing several movies a week. My mother loved movies so by the time I was 12 I’d probably seen all the Hitchcock movies. I watched ‘Notorious’ 20 times.
You’ve just made a blues record in LA with Dusty Wakeman – could you tell us a little bit about that?
Yes, and I’m very grateful to my wonderful friends and fans – ‘frands’ – who contributed to the fund raising campaign to make it happen. Originally I was going to make a swampy kind of blues album but as I started listening more to my blues heroes I went further back than that and I listened to Billy Holiday again and Charlie Christian, so there is a slight jazz thing going on in there. There’s also a tango, there’s a New Orleansy tune, there’s some finger pickin’ rural country blues, and yes, it ends up with a little Albert King-ish sass and even a Stonesy feeling ballad. The history of the blues in 10 songs?? Something like that. I play electric, dobro, national, lap steel, acoustic guitar. The band is great! Dave Raven on drums, Dusty and some guests on bass, Carl Byron on keyboards – the band from my ‘Roll’ album. Jim Hoke and friends played the horns. It made me realize that blues music is a deep well from which to draw and now I see why some people spend their whole lives making blues records – there are so many different kinds of blues. I can see how I will be exploring this for the rest of my life.
You’ve been doing some extensive touring in the USA lately, which involves a lot of driving. What do you listen to when you’re on the road?
It varies. I recently found the old ipod that had been missing for years. A crazy array of stuff on there! Flamenco Arabe, Bebel Gilberto… I mostly like hearing music I haven’t heard before that is great. And I also like audio books. I recommend ‘Anam Cara: A Book Of Celtic Wisdom.’
What’s the most interesting place you have visited here?
Tough question! I’ve been to 46 states now. But I think the most interesting places are the ones you get to know best – e.g. Los Angeles. What an amazing city! So much hidden beauty. So huge and wonderful. Impossible to discover all the great places. It’s a remarkable town. Then again, I love the Smoky Mountains in East Tennessee too. So beautiful! Death Valley – now there’s a place I’d love to explore a lot more. Burning Man in Nevada – much recommended. Provincetown on Cape Cod – a magical place. The Grand Canyon in the snow on New Year’s Day – one of my highlights. The two lane blacktops and the small towns away from the freeways. Clarkesville, Mississippi! Eerie… San Francisco – a dream.
If you could jam with one musician, who would it be and why?
Well, the alive one would be Leonard Cohen. I’d just love that. He is amazing and one of my biggest heroes. I learnt a lot of his songs when I was in my early 20s. I’ve jammed a bit with Lucinda already, which was awesome. The bygone one would be Charlie Christian. I would love to sit in a room and hear him play – hear that tone and try to learn how he played like that. Well, now I mention him, I have to say Django Rheinhardt. I would try to play rhythm guitar with him if I could keep up. And because I mentioned Lucinda, I’d have to say Neil Young. I would love to play with Neil. I would love to play with all these people.
Anne McCue’s version of ‘Born To Run’ can be heard on My Name’s Bruce Too (Laughing Outlaw), a celebration by Australian artists of the songs of Bruce Springsteen.