Prizm News / September 1, 2018 / By Gregg Shapiro
‘It’s important to me to tell personal stories,’ the lesbian singer/songwriter says. Her latest album is full of them.
By Gregg Shapiro
Cleveland-bred and Nashville-based singer/ songwriter Anne E. DeChant has the kind of soul- stirring voice that is as well-suited to rock and country as it is to emotional ballads. Her new six- song EP, “Lost in Kentucky,” effortlessly covers all those bases, sometimes even in the same song.
“What Do You Care” is a timely statement about the political and religious opportunists who traffic in intolerance toward our community: “The boys in the Statehouse are stirring the pot/They make you believe I’m something I’m not.” The equally powerful “Dance With Your Demons” has the potential to become a recovery anthem.
And DJs at country radio stations would be foolish to ignore tunes such as “Train Song” and the title track, which are custom-made for their fans.
Being based in Nashville and originally from Cleveland, I can see how it would be easy to get lost in Kentucky…
… which is the title of your latest album. Is this a route you travel on a regular basis?
Have you figured out all of the shortcuts and best ways to go?
Apparently not [laughs]. A couple of weeks ago, I was driving through and I noticed that it was getting hairy on I-65. I got off in Munfordville (about half-way between Louisville and the Tennessee line) and drove the back roads through Bonnieville, population 250.
If you look on the liner notes, you will see a thank you to the people of those two places. I rode back roads and we went past the Dollar General, the Bacon Creek Tavern, the church where the preacher who is referenced in the song “Lost in Kentucky” told me “what’s important to you” is important to him. I know some of the back roads and the backwoods for sure.
Speaking of Kentucky, it’s not a state known for its welcoming attitude to LGBT folks, from County Clerk Kim Davis refusing to issue same- sex marriage licenses to Mitch McConnell’s antics in D.C. The song “What Do You Care” sounds like your way of fitting politics into your work.
Politics, to me, is a lot of things, but part of it is regard for human beings.
In what I do, which is to write and perform, it’s important to me to tell personal stories. A lot of times from the first person, which is the case with “What Do You Care,” so that people are getting a glimpse into a person’s life so that they might have empathy. If you don’t understand someone, then I don’t think the chances for empathy are very high.
With my songs I attempt to tell a personal story so that it opens the door to understanding, empathy and change.
I recently interviewed gay singer/songwriter Steve Grand about his new album, “Not the End of Me,” in which he addresses his road to recovery. Other artists, including Nicole Atkins and Nina Diaz (of Girl in a Coma), deal with similar themes in recent albums. To me, your song, “Dance With Your Demons,” is in the same camp.
It was co-written Robert Wolf and E. Marlowe. When I wrote it with them, since then—and until I decided to record it at the urging of my partner—I didn’t consider it particularly about me. As I began to perform it and prepare to perform it, it occurred to me that in many ways it is about me.
I’ve not been in the throes of addiction like the woman in the song, but the second verse of the song where I talk about having this voice that “lives inside my head/It tells me I’m not good enough, I’m not pretty, I’m a mess,” that’s certainly personal to me.
You start performing when you are in your 20s and suddenly you’re being handed free beer everywhere you go while you’re working. People often ask me why musicians and artists have a propensity to addiction. I don’t know the full answer to that. I think it’s a lot of things, but one of them is that you’re in a culture where it’s absolutely OK to drink while you’re working.
You kind of dive into it in your early 20s. It’s a party, and you’re on a high because of what you do. It’s a consequence of the job to be able to control that. I’d say I faced some of that. I think everybody danced with their demons. Whether or not they dance them out the door is their own thing.
I hope, with this song, to recognize that we have demons. I recently heard a quote that goes, “If a thing is not acknowledged, it cannot be healed.” I believe “Dance With Your Demons” is an acknowledgement of addiction or demons being present in life, therefore an opportunity to heal.
I love the exhilaration of “Train Song.”
I do too!
How did that song come to be?
I was in Ontario and there’s a train that runs through a small town called Bolsover. I heard it coming. You’re in wide-open space there, and the sound coming and then zipping past me and moving on into the distance was particularly striking.
It occurred to me that when I watch or hear a train, I’m taken to the past or into the future, but rarely the present. That’s kind of what inspired it. I was at my mom’s house and I had my ukulele, which I’d started playing, and the sun was coming up and I started thinking about the train. I wrote it on ukulele, so very sparse.
It brought up lots of memories; heartache from a breakup, and “I shoulda leaned in for that kiss” was an opportunity that I blew [laughs].
From trains to airplanes, I was wondering if you would mind saying a few words about what has become your signature song, “Girls and Airplanes.”
First of all, you should know that I do not like to fly!
I don’t either! I haven’t been on a plane since 1995.
Oh, my goodness! I’ve been trying really hard to avoid them.
I was at a show near Chattanooga last year. (This guy who was a pilot) had on his sunglasses and a leather jacket. He handed me his card and said, “I do private rides. You’re welcome to come aboard.” I said, “Thank you very much and no thank you!”
It’s funny because this song has given me lots of gifts. I was just interested in the iconic Rosie the Riveter graphic. I thought, “I kind of know what this is about, but I probably should know.” I researched the image online and found out about the WASPs, the Women’s Army Service Pilots (of World War II).
I was so intrigued, being a woman who’s always been aware of women having to do double the work to be recognized, to be respected, to be paid well, to move up as far as they can go. That was a primary example of women in our country trying to do just that. Years later, along comes Billie Jean King, who said, “Hey, we’re not getting paid an 11th of what men in tennis are being paid.” It spawned a lot of movement, which we really need to keep working on.
Since the release of your first album, “Effort of the Spin,” 22 years ago, you have maintained your career as an indie artist. Please say something about the challenges and rewards of being independent.
Well… I’m thinking I’ve driven 1,300 miles in the last week. You get yourself up and you go. You promote. You try to delegate and offset some of your work. That’s a challenge because you don’t have the backing of a label, so you are trying to use every ounce of genuine, respectful, loving connection that you’ve made with people and ask for their help.
You’re not able to offer a lot of money to them, but they’re happy to do it if you’ve created a good relationship. After all these years, I’m starting to see that more and more. I’m not the kind of person who walks into a room and says, “I need to know that person.” I just see someone and think, “They look nice, I think I’ll talk to them.”
It’s strange to say, but I’m a little bit shy that way. When I’m put in a position to market and create relationships, that’s when I become shy. It’s so easy for me to perform, get off stage and talk to people one-on-one at my merch table. I love them. I can look them in the eye.
But when I have to hustle, market to advance my career, that’s not so easy.
As an artist with a long history of live performance, what can people attending your shows expect from your upcoming tour dates?
They can expect that I’m going to kick their asses [laughs].
I’m going to give them the best of me on that day. I’m going to talk to them with my songs. My job is to reach out to them and say, “This is my life, this is your life, this is our night. Let’s rock and roll!”
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Anne E. DeChant has opened for Melissa Etheridge, Indigo Girls, Joan Jett, Joan Armatrading and others. She has played Olivia Cruises, Lilith Fair and was a featured act at the 2014 Gay Games in Cleveland.
She grew up in Avon Lake.
Anne E. DeChant will be back in Ohio for a show at the Holland Theatre in Bellefontaine on Wednesday, Oct. 10. Tickets are available through her website.