Photography by Ebru Yildiz
Growing up, Anna McClellan says she believed the only path to happiness was through external validation and a highly idealized version of romantic love. After a particularly difficult break up, McClellan drove from her hometown of Omaha to Los Angeles, hoping to gain some perspective. From Los Angeles, she drove to the Southeast, and then decided to move to New York City, where she lives now. After spending hours alone on the road, McClellan realized that in order to truly find contentedness, she needed to discover self-acceptance.
McClellan’s recently released second record, Yes and No, is a product of that journey. The album's booming vocals, laid-back guitar riffs, and winding piano melodies reflect the artist's growth and autonomy. On "Flailing Orbits," McClellan triumpantly sings, "For the first time in a while, I'm not dying to see your smile/ I don't mind if our stars twinkling never intermingle again." Speaking with AdHoc over the phone, she describes the record as a “circle,” a representation of the closure she discovered while recording. Although her journey to New York is over and the record is out, McClellan’s not stopping anytime soon. To McClellan, a circle is endless. “It also never stops; it keeps going,” she says.
Yes and No is available now via Father/Daughter Records. You can catch the record release show with Navy Gangs, Veronica’s Band and Rats Mouth at Alphaville on March 8.
AdHoc: How do New York and Omaha compare to one another?
Anna McClellan: I moved once [before], back in 2015. That was the first time I moved to New York. And that time, it was a lot harder [to move]. I think the hardest part [about New York] for me is the physical way that it affected my body to be in the two different places. New York is really exhausting in that way—just trying to get around everywhere. In Omaha, you drive and it takes five minutes to get anywhere that you need to go. But [in New York], there is just so much time spent commuting. I found that really hard to adjust to. It added a lot of tension in my body.
What drove you to move?
My sister lived in New York, and she's like my best friend. So that was a huge factor. I wanted to leave Omaha. And yeah, my sister was here so I knew that I'd have support. And also, I mean, it's New York. So I wanted to see what it was all about. And, obviously, [because of] music.
You were in the band Howard, which is primarily pop music. Why did you make a folk-inspired album?
I didn't really think about it like that. It was more just, like, the other players in Howard determined how it sounded. [With my solo work], it's just me writing songs. The two players in Howard, Daniel [Ellis] and Corey [McDaniel]—I think they sort of made the sound more poppy. It was just sort of like whoever was surrounding the project influenced how the arrangement sounded. I write songs that are more based on the emotion than trying to fit into a genre.
What were you inspired by when you were making the record?
Growing up, I was always really obsessed with this idea of finding love and having a counterpart as the ideal, something that would save me from myself. And I think through being in a relationship and it not working, and then also through playing music, I found that that's not true, and that relationships can be really giving and amazing, but ultimately, you always have to deal with yourself. Societally, the way that men and women have these roles where women are submissive—I’m trying to fight against that idea.
Do you think that making music helps you feel a sense of autonomy?
Music is a way to express myself. Music makes me feel more comfortable with who I am. I feel less self-conscious having things out in the world, [things] that I want to say. So yeah, I guess that's empowerment.
When do you feel most confident?
Probably when I'm alone. Usually when I'm in my room and no one's watching me, that's when I'm really in a flow and I'm not thinking about how what I'm saying or how I’m acting is affecting how people perceive me. I think that's probably when I feel the best.
Can you tell me about the solo trip that you took before making the album? Why did you decide to drive to New York City from Omaha?
I left Omaha and drove West and went to LA. I didn't really have an idea of where I was going to go. I wanted to try and start playing shows before I'd ever toured before. And I had gotten out of this relationship and was ready to see what else was happening in the world. I also wanted to test myself.
I sort of left without a plan. There were a lot of aimless days. By the time I got to the Southeast, I decided that I was going to move to New York once the trip was over. And that sort of came through talking to my sister, and her helping me process everything.
Did you run into any problems along the way?
Not really. I had a couple of weird encounters, but nothing where I felt like my safety was in danger. And I think some of it was me being foolish. There was this one time in New Orleans...I don't even know if I want to go into the story, because it's pretty weird. Basically, I ended up on the back of this guy's motorcycle, and he gave me a tour of New Orleans.
It's hard to separate the city from the way that I was feeling at the time, but I think that New Orleans was the hardest. That was probably the most depressed I've ever been. I spent a lot of time when I was there—it was like two weeks total—not leaving the place where I was staying and sleeping all day and not knowing where to go. I didn't know anyone. And I just felt really bad. I feel like [New Orleans] is the kind of a city where if you're in a good place, it'll show you good things, and if you're in a bad place, it’ll show you bad things. I don't know, it's very...reflective of yourself, more than a lot of cities.
Do you think you gleaned inspiration or at least figured out something about yourself from that?
Yeah, so much. God, it was really amazing. I spent a lot of time by myself, and I had a lot of time to contemplate my values, what I want, why I want to make art, and who I want to be as a person. I feel like I spent a lot of time figuring out the way that I want to live my life. After spending so much time alone, I also realized that I don't have to [isolate myself]. I can be with people if I want to. And that was a really big thing for me.
Driving is really cathartic for me. When I have a lot of thoughts in my head or when I'm feeling down, sometimes I'll just drive. Do you feel the same way?
I think it started out like that. I really like the idea of moving through space and just running away. I had lots of time to think, and I started talking to myself a lot. Then, by the end, I started to feel crazy. I started to lose touch with reality. Yeah, it started to get unhealthy by the end, for sure.
Do you think making music is cathartic for you in the same way that driving is?
I don't know. I think by the end of the trip, I was really tired and I just wanted to feel comfortable and stationary for a little while. It definitely took a little time to adjust and recuperate afterwards. Yeah. I feel like I'm always absorbing information around me to put into music. And that process is one of the only constants.
Does music make you feel at peace?
It helps me understand where I'm coming from in the world, and what my priorities are. I don't know if I ever really feel at peace. I'm still trying to figure that out. But music gives me a sense of purpose and helps me feel like I have something to do.
Was there any particular time when you were creating this record where it felt like things were coming together?
I think by the end, when I had seven of the nine songs done, I was sort of in a better and more stable place emotionally. Everything started to feel very cohesive to me. By the end, looking at them, I was like, "Yeah! This is a thing. This is a thing that I've been wanting to say and get out there." The record feels like a circle to me; [that’s something that] I love about it.
Why do you say a circle?
I don't know. I guess because it's closed. When I think about it, it's very tight. And obviously it's not perfect, but it feels like it all comes back to together. A lot of the songs touch on similar themes, and there's different lines that are used similarly in different songs. A circle's line is continuous. There's no gap in it. It also never stops; it keeps going.
What are you most excited about?
I'm really excited for the record to be out in the world. I think I'll feel really good once I can say that the record has been released, and then I can start to move on from it and keep seeing what else to do.