Although she’s the daughter of Alan Menken, the pianist, musical theater and film composer best known for the beloved Disney films such as Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Little Mermaid, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Pocahontas and others, the New York-born Anna Rose, spent a number of years in Los Angeles, CA before returning to New York to make it as a singer/songwriter. With the release of her critically well-received Anna Rose EP and her debut full-length, Nomad, Menken initially developed a reputation for a couple of things – a sort of girlish, youthful and innocent appearance, but an underlying toughness that only comes from hard-fought and hard-won experience. Her forthcoming sophomore effort, Behold A Pale Horse is more than a sonic departure from her debut, it reveals Menken’s personal and artistic growth. After hearing the album, you get the sense of Menken being a complex, interesting woman – the sort of woman who can kick ass and take names, while being seductive, tough while being sensitive, wizened through experience, and yet youthful, and almost innocent.
Anna Rose will be playing two NYC-area sets – February 6th at Sullivan Hall and March 5th at Arlene’s Grocery. And she’s been confirmed to play during this year’s Canadian Music Week in the beautiful city of Toronto, ON. I had the opportunity to speak to Menken about the forthcoming album, her famous father, and a few other subjects. Check out the Q&A below.
WRH: Anna, you come from a very artistic background – your father is the Oscar-winning Disney composer Alan Menken and your mother Janis was a dancer. How has that influenced your artistic endeavors? Have you ever felt as though you have to live up to your father’s success and reputation? Have you been compared to your father?
AR: My parents have always been incredibly supportive of my decisions as a musician. They believed in me when I wasn’t even ready to believe in myself. That kind of emotional support has been invaluable, and nothing makes me happier than seeing my parents and my sister in the audience at a gig.
In regards to my dad, he and I are very close and it’s been hard not to feel like I have to live up to his success, but realistically we do very different things and are different kinds of artists. What I do as a performer is nothing like what he does as a composer. That’s not to say that I’ll never cross into composing for film or theater and that he isn’t a badass performer, because he really is, but it’s unhealthy to compare myself to him, just like it’s unhealthy for any person to judge themselves against someone else. Everyone has their own path and their own definition of success. If I go down that road, I spiral into this super-competitive beast of a person. It’s really not enjoyable! At the same time, my dad and I do share demos of what we’re working on with each other, share opinions, etc., and there’s no one I’d rather listen to music with than him.
WRH: Who are your influences?
AR: That’s such a difficult question for me because I find that my influences are constantly changing, but there are basics that I always come back to as a listener. Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Doors, Fleetwood Mac, Son House, Muddy Waters…rock ‘n’ roll and blues are my foundation, I guess. While making Behold A Pale Horse, I was listening to a lot of the Kills, Jack White (solo, White Stripes, [the] Raconteurs, [the] Dead Weather), Nick Cave, Bruce Springsteen, the Pretenders, the Runaways…this is the kind of stuff I can talk about forever. Fuck talking about my own music!
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
AR: Awesome tainted with a little bit of epic.
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
AR: Hmm…ok right now I’m on a Hendrix Blues kick (you know that album? has a live version of “Hear My Train A ‘Comin’”? fucking unbelievable), Zeppelin[’s] Houses of the Holy, I’m just digging into the new Cat Power album, Sun…I’m going to send you a spotify playlistthat you can share with this interview if you want, that has a lot of stuff I’m listening to right now.
WRH: Your forthcoming album, Behold a Pale Horse is a quite a change from your debut Nomad – Nomad is more of a traditional, sensitive, singer/songwriter album while Pale Horse strikes me as this super sexy, sweaty bluesy album. How did that come about? Was it a conscious decision or was it more of an organic situation where it happened over the course of time?
AR: It was a process that began even before Nomad was released, actually. If you look at live videos of us playing once Nomad was out, you can see we’re playing those songs much heaver than on the album. Once I started writing Pale Horse, whatever fear I had of being entirely within rock ‘n roll was gone. It just felt like I found my “sound”. Kevin Salem, my co-writer on a lot of the songs and my producer, had a lot to do with that. He really helped me let go of whatever sophomore album nerves I was feeling.
WRH: I’ve also noticed that on Pale Horse, the material seems as though it comes from a more personal place. How much of your own experiences influenced the album? How much of a role did your move back to NYC from LA influencing the new album?
AR: I think I try to write from a variety of perspectives, get into a character of some kind to write a certain way sometimes, but it’s always filtered through my own personality and experiences, so I suppose I’m always in there somewhere. Coming back to New York certainly played a role. I feel like it lifted the veil in some way.
WRH: You’ve written or co-written the songs on the album. How did the process work for you? Did you have an idea of lyrics first, followed by the music? And how did it feel to be singing and writing lyrics that were completely your own?
AR: It was definitely a challenge for me to co-write for the first time. I wrote everything for Nomad on my own, so the experience of working outside of my own little bubble was entirely foreign. In terms of singing my own lyrics, I’ve always done that, so actually it was the opposite! Every once in a while when we were recording, I would sing a phrase and then remember that Kevin and I had changed a word or a melody line and it would feel really bizarre. Co-writing really taught me a lot, though. It just helped me expand as a writer and now I love having someone to bounce an idea off of. Whatever shred of shyness I had left is officially gone.
WRH: What advice would you give to other indie artists trying to make a career with their art? Do you have any advice for women who are trying to make it in music?
AR: Play as many shows as you can. Play all the time. Get out from behind the computer.
If you’re a member of Spotify, you can check out Anna Rose’s impressive playlist of music she’s been listening to lately here: