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Little AnniePhoto by Jesse Jenkins http://jessejohnjenkins.com

The art punk godmother who’s back to speak her mind

Little Annie’s extraordinary career has taken her through New York’s downtown scene in the 1970s and the UK post-punk movement in the 80s to working with Anohni in the 2000s

The story of Little Annie, like her music, is something you’ll wish you had always known about when you first hear it. Born in Yonkers, the ‘backwoods’ of New York City, it didn’t take long for the teenage Annie to make her way downtown during the 1970s. One of her first gigs was as the frontwoman of Annie & the Asexuals, an offbeat band that played at the now-legendary Max’s Kansas City, where she caught the eyes and ears of some of its most notable patrons – a few years later and Annie was a veteran downtown bohemian. A chance street encounter with Steve Ignorant from Crass led to her being invited to London for what ended up being a memorable, and quite creatively productive years-long stay, and the rest really is history.

After playing the field in the late 70s/early 80s UK music and arts scenes, working with the likes of Crass’ Penny Rimbaud and famed dub producer Adrian Sherwood, Annie finally released her first album Soul Possession in 1984. A collection of post-punk/art pop songs that are equally beautiful, strange, ahead of their time, and surprisingly mature for a debut, Soul Possession was followed by 1987’s Jackamo and 1992’s vibrant Short & Sweet. By the late 90s (following collaborations with Current 93, Nurse With Wound, Coil, The Wolfgang Press and many others), Little Annie’s songcraft and other talents had undergone various changes and developments reflecting the times, but had lost none of their mystery and allure.

After taking a break from music, pursuing other creative mediums such as painting, poetry, and writing, she made returned with 2007’s Songs From The Coalmine Canary and jazz-inspired/torch collaborative albums. In May of this year, Little Annie put out her latest full-length Trace, and as suggestive of its title, the album’s sound draws from every period and style of Annie’s more than 30 years of songwriting, bringing it full-circle (for now). “You Better Run”, the third single from Trace, fits snugly into the jazz/torch song sound that she’s grown fond of within the last ten years.

Watch the video for “You Better Run” below. We also caught up with Annie to talk about her life in Miami, her relationship with her hometown of New York, and her unbelievable career.

How did Trace come about?

Little Annie: I only write when I’ve got something to say. Why I dislike rock’n’roll so much – which I really do – is that there’s a lack of balls, a lack of courage. There are people like Warren Zevon or Lou Reed who talked about being their age – your concerns are different when you’re 17, at 27, at 37 – and now that I’m in my 50s, it makes the problems of your 30s seem like nothing. So then how do I express this all? I’ve done electronica, I’ve done dub, I’ve done soul music, I’ve done disco, and jazz, so I felt the album had to portray all that. Usually I walk away from my past once I finish a record, so this time it was more of having to look back and own it.

Tell us about “You Better Run”.

Little Annie: That was one of the earlier songs I wrote – it was about being a grown-up in a world where you never feel like one. It always feels like you’re dressed up in your mother’s shoes, playing house. Sometimes things happen, and you want to say, ‘This ain’t fair!’, and you want to put teenage angst on it and act like a kid, because no one actually gives a fuck. But you’ve got to get strong and keep strong, and work that much harder. The climb becomes steeper as we go on in the world, but the gifts are that much more true because you get through it. Nothing changes, it’s all a climb.

“Nature keeps you humble, and nature here (in Miami) is so overwhelming – it’ll beat your ass” — Little Annie

Are you involved in the arts or music scenes in Miami?

Little Annie: There’s some wickedly good stuff going on down here. The arts scene is booming, but it doesn’t have the New York pretentiousness to it yet. It has genuine enthusiasm, which is terrific. It’s hard to take things seriously when you’ve got the Atlantic Ocean pounding at you. Nature keeps you humble, and nature here is so overwhelming – it’ll beat your ass. The music is killing it down here, you’ve got the Latin, hip hop, jazz; you’ve got the Haitian influence which blows me away. Some nights you walk down the street and you’ve got an Afro-Caribbean thing going on, a Latin thing going on, and then Haitian, gospel, all at once, and I love all that, I love that sultriness, you get moments of euphoria walking around this neighborhood, it’s ultra alive, it calls to me. I might write in trumpets, but I’m a percussion-based person, and I’m always listening to the cadence of things, and this is heaven for that.

Your friend Anohni recently released a very acclaimed album. You’ve known her for quite a while now – how did you first meet?

Little Annie: She is a true friend – when I had a few years below the radar, a lot of grief, she was great during that period, keeping me informed, inviting me to things. (When we first met), she’d seen me sing and she wanted me to hear her, and said we should do something together. I saw her just before her first album, and I got chills – literally got goosebumps – and she asked me to sing one of her songs for a play. I sang ‘Rapture’ off her first album. Then 9/11 happened, and it was like, ‘Who wants to make a record?’ But I’m so glad we did it, and I have nothing but utmost love and respect. I love when people break holes in the wall; we all get lifted through.

“(Anohni) is a true friend – when I had a few years below the radar, a lot of grief, she was great during that period” — Little Annie

I’ve always been aware of the people you’ve collaborated with – David Tibet, Adrian Sherwood, Anohni, and Crass are some of my favorite artists – but is there anyone you’d like to work with that you haven’t yet?

Little Annie: I’d like to work with Terence Blanchard. I would love to work with some great hip hop artists. I also want a fucking orchestra. I still want to do my Nelson Riddle/Quincy Jones/Sinatra ‘ultimate’ thing. I’d love to work with Giorgio Moroder. All the relationships I’ve been blessed to have had have been organic. (With) Crass, I met Steve on my doorstep in New York. If I ever set out to work with those people, it wouldn’t have happened – we just happened to be there. And I’ve never worked with anybody that I don’t love; if I don’t love them when I start working with them, I love them after. I don’t know if anybody (else) can say that. I try to say ‘yes’ to most things – when I’ve said ‘no’ it’s only because I felt like I had nothing to add.