Heaton turns music spectrum into laser-sharp folk music
By Andy Argyrakis
Chicago Tribune - May 20, 2005
Anne Heaton's colorful musical history scans like a game of genre connect-the-dots.
She took classical piano lessons at 3, was raised on rock 'n' roll radio throughout adolescence and fronted alternative acts while studying philosophy and theology at Notre Dame. Upon graduation, the Chicago native ran a music program for youth living in Cabrini-Green, moved to New York to work with a Harlem gospel choir, then spent time in a Latin band and on a European tour with jazz drummer Max Roach (a veteran of Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's bands).
It's not the path most folk singers take, but for Heaton, it has all proven an inspiration--particularly when it comes to tapping her passion for songwriting.
"I always knew I wanted to be a songwriter, it just took me some time and a lot of running around to find my way," Heaton says. "It wasn't until I moved to New York that I started writing a lot more, which came pretty easily because I sure had a lot of experiences to pull from. That's when I started going to open mics and they led to me meeting a lot more people."
Heaton has had plenty of networking luck--and hard work to back it up--leading to the release of her latest disc "Give In" (Q Division Records). Aside from stripped-down guitar sounds and Heaton's husky pipes, the record features production by Mike Denneen (Aimee Mann, Guster, Fountains of Wayne).
"I was a big fan of the people he's worked with and I'd been sending him songs for about nine months," says Heaton. "When he agreed to work with us, we made the record in about three weeks and it was an amazing experience. He's a very low-key guy to work with. Instead of adding a bunch of unnecessary layers to a song, he let the songs dictate their own direction."
The record comes hot on the heels of Heaton's tour with platinum-selling artist Jewel last year--a feat made possible by her loyal and growing fan base. "I came across a contest [through the Jewel- endorsed Web site] `Soul City Cafe' where people could vote to see who'd open up her summer tour," Heaton says. "I wound up winning, opening 11 shows for her and found she is one of those women who exudes confidence on stage. That really helped me rise to the occasion."
Heaton has also opened for Jonatha Brooke, Melissa Ferrick and Dan Bern--the culmination of efforts that began when she hooked up with Big Apple session musician Frank Marotta Jr. The guitar player and multi-instrumentalist suggested they tag team on writing tunes, leading to stage time together and an eventual trip to the studio for her independent debut "Black Notebook" (Spill Records) in 2002.
Before the CD was finished, Heaton's music attracted the interest of Chicago's Sweet Pickle Music, which included Heaton's title track on the label's 2000 compilation of emerging women artists, "Big Fish Little Fish Vol. 1."
"I was immediately attracted to the song because it was very accessible, but intensely personal," says Antje, a country artist and founder of the Chicago label. "Anyone who sees her live will witness a truly heartfelt and genuine performance, and those who meet her afterward will find her to be incredibly down-to-earth."
"Give In" picks up where "Black Notebook" left off, with a candid narrative songwriting style that revolves around her emotions and daily encounters: the analysis of being blissfully in love on "Your Heart"; the uncertainties of a musician's life on "Underdog"; comparing and contrasting her birthplace and current residence in "Hey New York."
"It's not so much brooding, but I feel like this record is full of extroverted love songs," she says. "It's a statement of the ins and outs of relationships [in my life] and it deals a lot with boundaries. How far do I want to go with them and when is it OK to cross them?"
Unlike the first go-round that was self-distributed, "Give In" promises to benefit from Q Division's national reach, which will allow Heaton's songs to reach a wider audience. Meanwhile, there's already interest at college radio and from venues across America. "[Frank] and I will be staying active all summer and we'll even be bringing a band with us [in Chicago and] into the year," Heaton says.
By James Reed
Boston Globe - May 5, 2005
Singer-songwriter Anne Heaton is halfway through telling a story at the Middle East Upstairs, when suddenly she realizes just how silly and crazy it sounds. She's talking about how in order to write a song a day, she used to keep big stacks of notes for inspiration. But when she finally read the notes, sometimes she had no idea what they meant or couldn't read her own handwriting. So she burned them in her fireplace, she says. Then, in front of a full audience, she gets self-conscious and laughs nervously.
''Isn't that traumatic, or do you do that, too?" she asks aloud. The audience chuckles, and from then on, it seems Heaton has primed the crowd for her confessional tales that often lay her thoughts painstakingly bare.
Later, over baklava and red wine that makes her slightly giggly, she admits that she likes the anonymity of performing live. Does that mean she relates better to a big audience than to individuals, especially people she doesn't know that well? ''Oh, no, I love strangers," she says with wide eyes. ''I like strangers much more than anyone I know."
Heaton, who plays Club Passim Saturday and Sunday, is a New York-based musician by way of Chicago. She's a piano player and is fully aware of the inevitable comparisons to fellow ivory ticklers such as Tori Amos or Fiona Apple. Heaton will hardly be mistaken for either, however, and it's also refreshing to hear a female songwriter who doesn't remind you of Ani DiFranco. Heaton's voice has a hiccup-like quality, an instrument that fades in and out without warning and can cut one syllable into two.
Heaton has more of a pop sensibility with an affinity for strong harmonies and hook-laden arrangements. Songs from her latest album, ''Give In," usually begin with a solitary image, such as the opening lines of the title track: ''Am I strong enough/ Am I weak enough/ To know what part of this love/ I could give in to/ I could give in to you." Then the lyric devolves into a very singable chorus complete with overdubbed harmonies.
She performs with Frank Marotta Jr., a guitarist whom she met while attending City College in New York. Although they share an intimate camaraderie onstage (close harmonies, knowing glances), Heaton says they're just buddies. Besides, she's married to the man whom she followed to New York eight years ago.
Heaton says she never expected to make a living as a musician, even though she was a classically trained pianist who by 18 had decided to give it up entirely. ''Part of it was that I overly studied piano starting when I was three," she says, adding that her parents never pushed her into a being a prodigy. ''No, I just told my mom I wanted to do it, and she was so floored."
In the meantime, she was listening to everyone from Joni Mitchell to Peter Gabriel and wishing that she could touch someone the way Gabriel's lyrics had touched her. ''I wanted and needed to figure out how to approach the piano as a songwriter," she says.
She found that approach through years of eclectic training. She ran a music and arts program for youth in Chicago, and later she played piano in a Latin band. Upon moving to New York she joined a Harlem gospel choir led by John Motley; that participation led to a European tour with jazz drummer Max Roach. She's been devoted to music full-time for the past two years, during which she has opened for folks such as Jewel and Joe Pernice.
Lately, she's been concentrating on performing in New England, after realizing that the Boston area has a long history of nurturing artists such as herself. Plus, her new label, Q Division Records, is based in Brighton. ''I like performing here," she says. ''It's obviously a very good place to be if you're a singer-songwriter, so I guess somehow it makes sense to be living in New York but coming to New England often."
ANNE HEATON "Give In" Q Division
By Mike Joyce
Washington Post - Friday, April 15, 2005
Nothing would stunt singer-songwriter Anne Heaton's career faster than emotional closure in her personal life or the one she's dreamed up. Happy endings, after all, would make "Give In" a very dull disc.
Fortunately, Heaton, a Chicago-bred, classically trained pianist with a tart, tuneful voice, nearly always sounds a bit unhinged on her sophomore release, still grappling with relationships and a move to Manhattan. She writes love songs, all right, but they're often spiked with irony, anguish and ambivalence. Try this on for size, the opening verse to "Make You Sad": "Christmastime makes you confess you wanted to be mine / You lower your head the other eleven months / I can forget but for the holidays." Or check out "Hey New York," one of two live tracks on "Give In." It finds Heaton celebrating Manhattan and yet longing for Chicago at the same time: "Maybe I'll go home where people are humble and strong / And they get the best stuff like Second City and Steppenwolf / And maybe that's because they know the difference between talent and attitude / And there are rarely any breast implants / Jenny McCarthy was our only one."
With a big assist from guitarist and fellow tunesmith Frank Marotta Jr., Heaton comes up with a series of engaging pop arrangements for her lyrics -- tender, amusing, barbed and spiritual by turns. Nothing is neatly resolved, but that suits Heaton's talents just fine.