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On Cathartic Songwriting, Music Education & Digging Deep for Lyrical Expression
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Just as the stirring sounds of four-part melodies soothe the senses into security, the tones and lyrical themes on Annie and The Beekeepers’ My Bonneville creep into the listener’s subconscious. What may at first seem dark or morose cathartically calms the soul of songwriter Annie Lynch.
Lynch attended Berklee College of Music in Boston directly after high school, giving up a scholarship to UMass Amherst to network with the people she describes as one of the best reasons to attend a prestigious music college as opposed to a state university. When it comes to networking and building a community, the individuals one meets make the difference, much like the idea that if one wants a career in politics, pursuing education at Harvard or Yale is a good idea. Lynch describes her Berklee experience as emotional, one where she learned to collaborate through music.
“I’m sure in subtle ways I use my formal education, [like] in chart writing, but what I use more is the personal experience of collaborating and communicating with other musicians. It’s more of an emotional experience,” says Lynch.
“One of the greatest things about Berklee is that the people you meet are really amazing musicians who are 100% sure that music is going to be their life. They don’t have a fallback plan, and that’s really inspiring and motivating to be around.”
Americana blends boldly with dark, plodding themes throughout Annie and The Beekeeepers’ latest release, My Bonneville. The music falls away in the introduction to “In the Water,” quietly humming a heartbeat-like pulse while Lynch sings, “Some days I get lost out there, out there where the river only takes water it’s handed…so I’m gonna run down there so I can find my face in the water,” and then cascading vocal harmonies rise above conjured images of misty lakes and tall grass. This idea of feeling lost “out there” in the music scene translates emphatically to all those who desire to create, as well as get lost in, music where they can find themselves.
Much of the content of My Bonneville focuses on coming to terms with one’s self and how to best make a life out of what one loves to do. Just as Neil Young recently reminded fans with his renditions of songs including “Clementine” and “Gallows Pole” on Americana, Annie and The Beekeepers tinge their world with boldly shaded blends of Americana.
The idea of seeing yourself as nature sees you, in a state where you see that nature can only take what it’s handed and that’s what you’ll get back is an idea that gels well with the overall theme of My Bonneville. “You have control over your life, but you have to take the cards you’re handed and that makes you who you are,” Lynch says.
A defining moment in many people’s lives happened to Annie Lynch on her 15th birthday. The tragedy of September 11, 2001, shook the nation while Lynch had just started writing songs about the things most 15-year-olds write: love, friendships and the like. She admits she hadn’t even heard the word terrorist before and couldn’t quite fit the news into her experience. “I think that September 11 took many people time to process, and it affected the country in a way that we’re still processing,” Lynch says.
The spark of interest generated about the world at age 15 translates to the introspective bug many from the previous generation felt after Kurt Cobain’s death. Lynch may not yet consciously realize the impact on her songwriting as she wades through the emotions of pursuing her life, but the themes display a deep understanding of the importance of community.
The band, known as The Beekeepers, serves as a continual reminder to both its members as well as listeners of the importance of community and staying true to what feels natural. In forming the first line-up of the backing band, Lynch describes the rehearsals with friends chatting and catching up. The topic of bees came up, and she and her friends discussed the parallels between bee and human civilizations. At the time, Lynch says she was reading When the Drummers Were Women by Layne Redmond.
“There’s a lot to be said for the parallels of bee and human civilizations and the importance of community and the importance of nature,” Lynch says. “It felt like a really good reminder for us on the importance of staying true to what feels natural for you.”
Lynch says the Beekeepers from the first album and EP went off in different directions while she played solo gigs for a year or so. Finding the current line up “just kind of happened to come together when it needed to.”
Perhaps the most outstanding track on My Bonneville, “A Light At The End,” speaks directly to the themes and personal issues Lynch dealt with in coming to terms with her life as a career musician. “It’s a super personal song,” she says. “I wrote that song when I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with my career. I think a lot of musicians reach a point in their life – as they’re reaching adulthood – and think, ‘Wait, what am I doing?’”
Lynch says she wrote the song right in the middle of the process of deciding that, yes, she wanted to pursue a career as a musician.
The beauty of the songwriting process for Lynch comes intuitively as her technical knowledge of music aides her while she feels her way through the creative process. When she lets go and questions her own life, a beauty arises from within in a medium that fans can easily relate to and empathize with. “I usually come up with a melody first. I’ll play along with the guitar first and develop a melody and I’ll use words or say things that come to mind,” Lynch says. “I’ll just play and sing and see what comes of it, and take the verse or chorus and tweak it to fit. I do it all at once, but I really love playing with melodies.” Lynch argues that what sounds dark and moody or even somber to one listener may feel contemplative and reflective to her. My Bonneville strikes as a serene and peaceful collection of songs with overtones of the fears inside each of us: failure, dying, and losing out. The opening track, “Wake Up Mama,” sets off a gloomy feeling with its lyric: “She comes down from the upstairs, running fast, running scared. ‘Wake up Mama, wake up Pa, there’s a ghost up there living in my bed.’”
Lynch qualifies her moody music as reflective and that works well in consideration of her thoughts on music as a natural process in itself. Lynch says “A Light At The End” is “a really intense song, but to me it’s optimistic in some ways, because it’s a process to get you out of that hole.”
“That’s what music is and always has been to me: complete catharsis. There’s no other way of describing what creating music is to me.”
The title track feels like one of the only outwardly happy songs, with its airy quality and energetic rhythm. “My Bonneville” quaintly compares Lynch’s first car to a girl’s first love. The chorus, “You were always good to me; I never had it better before,” recounts the idea that Lynch never had a car before, and this idea extends metaphorically to first love. The literal meaning behind the driver’s side door being broken in Lynch’s first car work perfectly to assign double-meaning to the need to climb out of a bad relationship. Lynch says “My Bonneville” is about “nostalgia and looking back on the part of your life that may have been messy, awkward or embarrassing, which is what my Bonneville was. It was this big ugly car that was falling apart and that’s what I was driving around as a 16-year-old girl.” She says that, in terms of the theme of the album itself, “My Bonneville” felt like “the most direct approach.”
Perspective, experience and digging one’s way through life all contribute to Annie Lynch’s songwriting and the four-part harmonies emanating from her Beekeepers’ echo, set against the insights of a community coming into its own.
photos by Jen Painter