CHAMBERSBURG – “Tired of the humdrum of everyday life, and the lack of time to pursue creativity, she laid down her day job and picked up the guitar to take her art on the road.”
This is how indie folk musician Anna p.s.’s story begins (as it is told on her Facebook page), and on December 28, that road brought her to Chambersburg for a performance at GearHouse Brewing Company (253 Grant St.).
Anna has just concluded the New England leg of her tour, and after the performance at the GearHouse she will hop back in her car and drive to Indiana for a New Year’s Eve gig.
From there, a significant portion of her 2020 will be spent trekking west into hitherto uncharted territory in search of new adventures (and fans).
But for Anna, Chambersburg is not just a rest stop on the Turnpike or Interstate 81 (as it is for much of the world), it is also home.
Or close to it.
Anna currently lives in Indiana (the state, not the town in Pennsylvania), but she grew up in Greencastle and spent her formative years in Chambersburg. She left the area for school at seventeen, and she has been in motion pretty much ever since.
Anna describes herself as a “traveling musician,” and the “traveling” and the “musician” are distributed in equal portions: her music supports her travel, and her travel supports her music.
“I’ve been touring – or more constantly on the road – this year than I have ever before,” she says. “I’ve been on the road since July 23 with the exception of three weeks in November and a couple days at home in October. I’ve just been going for almost six months.”
“If I was traveling for fun, I don’t think I could justify it, but I’m like, ‘I’m working.’ And I get to see all of these national parks and hike in these great places.”
But the freedom of the road can also take a toll.
Anna describes the New England expedition as “financially difficult.” There were, of course, high points, but she’s learned some valuable lessons.
“I don’t get hotels,” she explains. “I sleep in my car if I don’t have a place to sleep, which is fine. It’s very comfortable. It’s set up for sleeping.”
Spending a New England winter in a car may sound rough “but it’s better than Kansas in summer, though. It’s like 95 degrees at two in the morning and just doesn’t cool down.”
And being a traveler, Anna’s eyes are already on what’s next: “I’ll make up for it in January and February. I think that’s how the arts go. It’s feast or famine.”
Fortunately for Chambersburgers, the same highways that make the area ideal for global distribution centers also bring Anna back to southern Pennsylvania from time-to-time on a comet-like orbit.
“Chambersburg is the main place that I hung out. Post-high school, when I would come back and hang out with friends, most of my friends live in the Chambersburg area.”
The audience for her GearHouse performance includes family members (“It’s always weird to play for family members. I don’t think it will ever not be.”) and a musician named Tony Eckenrode.
“For ‘Umbrella’ (2016), I recorded everything myself,” says Anna. “For ‘In the Void’ (2019), my friend Tony and I recorded in his bedroom studio. He’s from Chambersburg. He’s probably my longest time musician friend and the best guitar player I know.”
“He had never actually mixed an album before, so this was a new thing for both of us,” she continues. “We co-produced it. He added a bunch of instrumentation and some of his ideas.”
For Anna to trust her music to anyone else is saying a lot. She’s been a solo act since departing her previous band Shiny Shiny Black, and the DIY ethos has shaped nearly every aspect of her brand.
Anna p.s. simply doesn’t need outside contributors. She plays guitar, flute, foot percussion and vocals – sometimes all at the same time through the use of looping pedals. She even harmonizes with her own vocals.
Too often, performers who use loops in live settings end up turning the performance into a gimmick by adding loop after loop, winking at the audience as they take their hands away from the guitar and the music continues as if by magic. The result becomes more of a juggling act than a musical performance.
But Anna’s use of loops is nearly seamless and always in service of the song. Unless you are watching her feet hit the pedals, it can be very difficult to tell when the loops begin and end.
It should come as no surprise that with “In the Void” Anna p.s. has crafted a perfect collection of songs for driving.
Whether you are counting exit signs as you drive headlong into a new chapter of your life or you are watching a small town that you will likely never see again shrink in the rearview mirror, “In the Void” imbues every moment of the trip with a cinematic weight.
Independent filmmakers looking to add depth to their films with a thoughtful, emotional soundtrack could certainly do worse.
On Anna’s Facebook page there is a color-coded map of the continental map of the United States with green dots indicating places that she has played before (and continues to play) and a series of blue dots speckling the western states indicating venues that will be new to her.
“Up until mid-last year, I was only booking shows around people and places that I knew and just gradually decided to expand from there,” she says of her westward expansion.
“I had never been to the Pacific northwest and had been wanting to go and I was scheduling my return Kansas and Colorado tour anyway, so I was like, ‘Well, while I’m here in Colorado, I’ll go visit my friends in Park City, Utah. While I’m there, I’ll go to northern California and up the coast and back across Montana and Idaho. I don’t know when I actually made a decision. I don’t recall that. It just seemed like a good next thing to do. I also have friends that I haven’t seen since they moved out there, so I’m excited to visit.”
And with new venues in new towns comes the challenge of planting new seeds for when she returns on subsequent tours.
“I’ve had people come into venues and be like, ‘You’re awesome! More people should have been here,’ but nobody knows who I am. They don’t have any reason to have been here. I’m not upset about having a bad crowd if I’m playing in new places.”
From her road warrior itinerary to building a fan-base from scratch, Anna has never shied away from the labor of her art, and her advice to those who might follow in her footsteps is equal parts “make your dream a reality” optimism and “you have to put in the time” realism.
“Don’t quit your day job yet, but you can do anything,” she says. “Anyone can do anything. You just get up and make time for it. And you have time. You just might think you don’t. Schedule your computer or your phone to not let you on Facebook from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. and just sit down and write or draw or whatever.”
Chambersburgers don’t have to wait too long before the road brings Anna p.s. back through town. The Northwest tour is the big thing for 2020, but she will be back in the area at the end of May and beginning of June.
“I’m currently booking it, so it’s not all there yet,” she says. “So if someone wants to book me….”
[Main image caption: Indie folk musician Anna p.s. performs at GearHouse Brewing Company in Chambersburg on December 28.]