Despite her self-imposed social media handles, Anna Wise is probably tired of people saying she lives up to her name. But it is astonishingly true for the philosophical songwriter with a sultry voice who seems older than her years. Having come into prominence for her Grammy-winning work with Kendrick Lamar, Anna now seems intent on establishing herself as a formidable creative force in her own right with her second solo album. The Feminine: Act II is a concept piece that isn’t afraid to plumb emotional depths while also kicking ass and laying beats that shake the dance floor. It also displays a great sense of humor, as songs like “Stacking That Paper” and “Some Mistakes” demonstrate. Confessional, admonishing, and seductive by turns, Wise’s versatile songwriting isn’t afraid to lay bare the contradictions at the root of our society and our interior lives, while also laughing at herself and her own complicity in the situations she chronicles. The Feminine: Act II accomplishes this while also showcasing Wise’s vocal range alongside her lyrical prowess. Stylistically borrowing from hip-hop, R&B, jazz, and funk comes naturally to her, as with almost any successful modern pop artist, but what’s striking about Anna is the assuredness of her message and the specificity of great writing. Songs like “Free From the Normal” and the literal barn-burner “Self on Fire” serve as her Declaration of Independence from the expectations of fans and critics alike, and the results speak for themselves.
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How would you describe your sound?
I wouldn’t describe it, I’d let it speak for itself.
How long have you been working on your current music project?
I worked on ACT II for 12 months.
Could you talk a little bit about your writing process?
I like to meditate on musical and lyrical themes and put together something that feels like a painting, like it could live in the room with you.
Do you have a preference when it comes to writing vs. performing?
I love them both equally. Couldn’t do one without the other. I often improvise when I perform, which is a form of writing.
Do you have a song that you particularly love? Is there a song that sticks out as your favorite amongst the songs you’ve written? If so, why that song?
I love all my songs. Some become my favorites for a time, and they often rotate. Right now, because I’m on tour and get to perform every night, the favorites are rotating with speed. I find myself pining for a chance to perform my calmer songs, specifically “Comes In.” So I’d say “Comes In” and “Balance In All” are my favorites at this moment.
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When did you begin performing? At what age/where?
I began performing at 2-years-old in the house I grew up in. I held private concerts for my stuffed animals and my full length mirror. My parents tell me I was singing full songs before I spoke words.
Tell me a little about your background and anything significant that informed you as an artist and performer? Or anything specific that prompted you to start writing and performing?
Since I was a baby, I’ve had intense, often prophetic dreams. The worlds I would visit in my sleeping life inspired me to begin writing.
What bands/musicians past and/or present inspire your current music? What about them specifically?
I think my current catalogue was partly inspired by the exquisite Jean Grae. Specifically, her usage of words and melody. Her music is so uniquely her, she has a deep message, and she’s funny as hell. I like that mix of serious and silly.
Who were your favorite bands/musicians growing up? Who did you listen to most as a teenager?
My favorite artist growing up was Lauryn Hill. I listened to her the most, like every day, all day.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
Every day is a highlight. Every opportunity is a gift. Every song is a dream.
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Could you tell me a little about your current tour/how it’s going so far/what you are excited about?
This tour is going wonderfully. I’m opening for an insanely incredible band. They go by the name of Lewis Del Mar. Many of the shows are all ages. Last night a 12-year-old boy crowd surfed and IT. WAS. AWESOME. A few young women in Cleveland, OH told me they related to every word I sang. We met after my set and they shared some stories with me that made me feel extra confident about writing the type of lyrics I do. They reminded me how needed my message is, especially for the youth. I’ve been able to improvise my set list every night and play deep cuts and covers that I enjoy. I am energized by traveling and I love meeting new people. I like to notice things that make each city uniquely itself. I feel incredibly grateful to be able to do this. I was musing the other night how nice the guys from Lewis Del Mar are, how well they treat their fans, how their music leaves me feeling energized and positive and emotional and how rare that is right now. I get to work with and tour with the best. I don’t take it for granted.
Do you have a city or venue where you particularly love performing?
Every city I’ve performed in has been magical. My fans are kind and passionate and respectful and diverse and powerful and fun to be around. I couldn’t choose one city over another. When I perform there are two things that can happen. First, I am the rebel in the room giving my energy and message to a crowd that might not have heard opinions or sounds like mine before. Second, I am amongst likeminded people who give me energy. Both are wonderful and necessary.
Do you have any friends or collaborators who have been particularly instrumental in your success or development as an artist?
Yes, my best friend Dane Orr. Up until I met him I had not felt safe to be creatively open with anyone. I had written dozens of songs alone on an acoustic guitar, but never collaborated or had anyone produce me. In past collaborative attempts, I didn’t feel as though there was space for me to be creative or present my ideas. That could have partially been my own blockages, but I think it was mostly working with boys who did not take me seriously as an artist and/or who wanted to control the direction of the writing session. Anyway, days after we met each other we created our first song together. Collaborating together was like perfect synergy, a science experiment gone right. We respect each other’s ideas and take turns producing each other. To be able to work with him every day is a gift.
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