For Portland, Oregon songwriter Anna Tivel, the open road is more than a way to bring her songs to new places, it’s also a near-endless source of stories. On her new album, Small Believer (out September, 29th on Fluff & Gravy) Tivel taps into the stories she hears every night, after every show. “When you’re touring,” Tivel explains, “you’re naked onstage each time. You’re doing this vulnerable thing in front of strangers and it encourages people to open up themselves.” You’ll see it after one of Tivel’s shows, a young woman who steels up the courage to go up and speak to her. Something in a song has touched this person and her story comes tumbling out, tears streaming down her face. It’s powerful to watch, and a testament to the intimate connection between the songwriter and the audience. For Tivel, herself a naturally soft-spoken introvert, perhaps people see in her the struggle they see in themselves to be heard in such a noisy world.
Listen in full to Small Believer below:
The songs on Small Believer were written while Tivel was touring, but also in-between shifts at the odd waitressing job, or driving Meals on Wheels in her spare time. She has an extraordinarily keen eye for recasting the images she sees into song, so that a homeless man drawing comfort each day while sitting and watching a building go up, brick by brick, becomes the song “Riverside Hotel.” A chance conversation with a neighbour, also a waitress, who makes an empty promise becomes “Last Cigarette.” Each image or moment that burned itself into Tivel’s memories become a launching pad for a larger story that she spins into song. And each song of Tivel’s is full of blazing moments that go on to implant themselves into her audience, touching each person. It’s a turning cycle, a spinning wheel of time, movement, and stories that define Tivel’s passage.
To make Small Believer, Anna Tivel drew on her close community of friends and collaborators in Portland, starting with Austin Nevins (Josh Ritter, Della Mae), who produced the album. Nevins shared a deep love for the kind of quiet stories Tivel loves to tell. Nevins brought together Portland collaborators to make the understated accompaniment that pervades the album: slow-driving fiddles, accordions, electric guitars moving beneath and supporting Tivel’s soft words. Released on Fluff & Gravy Records, label-head John Shepski has long championed Anna’s music along with other great, unheralded Northwest songwriters across genres.
Even in Americana as a genre today, people tend to forget that the best songwriters are great storytellers, and the best storytellers source their material from what they observe around themselves. The best songs don’t need to be complex or virtuosic, they just need to mean something to someone. That’s how they last.
Small Believer is out September 29th via Fluff & Gravy: http://www.fluffandgravy.com/store/anna-tivel-small-believer/
Photo Credit: Jeffrey Martin