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Let the Waves Come in Threes
Anna Dagmar
I'm my own worst critic, so at the end of the day, I have to be happy with my own material regardless of the public response. - Anna Dagmar
by Matt Mrowicki
Anna Dagmar
Anna Dagmar (Credit: Angela Jimenez)

Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter Anna Dagmar has been shaped by a musical education as eclectic as the New York music scene that she calls home. Growing up in England in a household filled with classical music, she developed her ear in much the same way as Western musical tradition itself: with Beethoven, Chopin and Debussy.

As a young girl, her pop-side was discovered in the music of Joni Mitchell and by the time of her formal education at the Eastman School of Music, her singing, piano playing and songwriting shaped her into a talented performer with a strong, unique voice. Each facet of her performance is vivid and colorful and complements each other into a compelling whole.

With her third full-length album, Let the Waves Come in Threes, Dagmar has developed an elegance and style that is warm and accessible, yet uniquely her own. Not too many artists write music that fits into the underground club and the concert hall, or that is just as inspirational to the jazz performer as the gospel choir. The fact that her sound can be this diverse and draw from so many different places, but still be accessible and enjoyable by a wide spectrum of music fans is a testament to her talent and development as a performer.

Yes, the title track is described as an "upbeat sea shanty". The album is filled with piano-driven folk/pop songs, along with almost film-score-worthy string arrangements and vocal soundscapes. Yet, the music sounds young, current and ready for the iPod. Despite all of the layering, nothing sounds overdone or excessive. The music is light and open like the crisp ocean air, supported by the steady, rolling pulse of the drifting tides.

Now, she's heading out on an extensive Summer East Coast tour to support the new album. No doubt these live shows will impress audiences as much as Dagmar's past tours, which have taken her throughout the United States, as well as overseas to Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom. Before hitting the road, she took time to speak with us about the album and where she hopes the waves will take her.

I can't recall the last time a review CD crossed my desk where the title track was described as an "upbeat sea shanty". Even though your music runs a wide range of styles, it seems off-beat even for you. How did the melody for "Let the Waves Come in Threes" come to you and what is it about that song that made you feature it as the title track for the album?

Yes, I suppose that description isn't exactly run-of-the-mill, but it seemed to suit! The song began as a piano riff - I often fiddle with those first - and then the chords evolved. I experimented with different ways to create a rolling, ocean-like rhythm on the piano. This can be a challenge, as so often in Celtic music the accompaniment is created by strummed and bowed instruments. I had been writing the poem separately, and eventually it came together with the accompaniment and lent itself to the melody.

I decided to feature "Let the Waves Come in Threes" because I felt thematically the story encompassed a lot of the sentiments embraced in other songs throughout the album. I also wanted to choose a track that would stand out and be unusual. Something that would be hard to immediately categorize and file away. I wanted the opening sounds to sweep in and grab the listener right from the start.

This is your third full-length album, since your debut with 2001's "One More Time in the Air." How do you think your songwriting has developed in the past eight years and do you feel it has gotten easier or more challenging to continue improving your music? When you've had so many songs recognized for various awards and honors, does it add pressure with new material to somehow exceed what you've done previously?

I think my songwriting has developed in that now I have more choices in front of me when I write. And I can more easily recognize it if I'm beginning to write something too similar to what I have written before. But I do miss the days of being a novice. It's easier to have a flow in writing without some of these preconceptions. I don't feel pressure, however, except to find enough time for writing. With a heavy performing schedule, I have to set aside special times to work on new music and lyrics.

I try not to dwell on things like awards except when I am preparing press materials. I'm my own worst critic, so at the end of the day, I have to be happy with my own material regardless of the public response.

You're based in Brooklyn, which has developed into a major music scene over the past several years. Do you find that living in Brooklyn has been a source of inspiration for you and does being part of that artistic community help you to develop as an artist?

Brooklyn is a wonderful place to live. I can count at least 20 musicians within a stones throw of my apartment. I wouldn't actually throw stones at them of course! (Laughs.) Being in an artistic community is very motivating. I can hear people practicing sometimes, and I can walk down the block and go to a music venue. As I get to know other people's music, I learn more about each artists' individual voice. I feel this brings me closer to the way that I personally want to sound.

You've given a lot of credit on the album to producer Ben Wittman, guitarist Marc Shulman and vocalist Theo Bleckmann. How did each of those three musicians come to work with you on the new CD and can you talk a bit about how each added to the album in ways that you might not have even realized when you started the project?

Ben Wittman was my producer and drummer of choice, as I had listened to his albums for years (such as Jonatha Brooke & The Story Angel in the House). I sought him out for professional reasons, but he has also become a great friend. After he heard my solo renditions of the songs, he spent a great deal of time planning the tracks with me, recording the elements in layers and refining the production. He was a wonderful coach when I recorded the vocals, which can be a challenging part of the process for both artist and producer. I feel the recording really has his stamp on it in terms of the clarity of sound, the variety of instrumentation from track to track, and naturally, the beauty of the drumming.

Marc Shulman has worked with Ben on countless records, and I was thrilled to have the opportunity to include him. His approach to learning the songs is extremely meticulous (he details his own charts and shows up to the session supremely prepared). When he gets behind the guitar, anything is possible - sounds you've never heard come out of the instrument! From the strangest shocking noises to the most pure and soulful melodies. I feel his solo on "Can We Be Old Friends?" is one of the absolute best. And his accompanying ideas from track to track are endlessly creative and thoughtful. On live shows as well, Marc knows exactly how to fit in, how to support the lyric and the intent of the song, and how to shine when given the spotlight.

Theo Bleckmann is my voice teacher as well, so I am especially grateful to him for his contributions to my album. One of the key elements, which I think I have discussed in a previous interview with you, Matt, is Theo's pedagogical approach to helping the student find their most essential and honest sound. You can hear on "Daydream" how closely Theo matches my voice on the final chorus, blending in with each vowel shape and nuance. He has an acute sense for words, melody, and meaning. I also feel that his atmospheric vocal loops on "Can We Be Old Friends," give the arrangement a sense of an aerial view, like something out of a film score.

Last December, you did a two-day private performance for famed photographer Annie Leibovitz in New York City. That sounds like a pretty unique opportunity. How did that gig come about and what was the occasion? How long did you perform and did you get any feedback about the performance?

It turns out that Annie Leibovitz and I have the same piano tuner! Annie had just had her piano refurbished so she hired me to perform on it, a variety of classical, jazz and a few original pieces at two different parties. She is very gracious and personable, and I had a great time playing.

The second track on "Let the Waves Come in Threes", "Amazed," was arranged for a gospel choir and performed in the United Kingdom. On the CD, it's a gentle piano ballad, so that must have been quite a radical interpretation of the song. What was it about that track that you think inspired Alex Douglas to rearrange it and did it make you think of the song differently to hear what someone else was able to do with it?

I haven't heard the recording yet from Alex Douglas' gospel choir. But I imagine that interpretation could work quite well. Even though my version is more like a Bonnie-Raitt style ballad, the chords have some gospel elements in terms of how they move and resolve. Also, the lyrics are very uplifting and spirited. I am looking forward to hearing his arrangement!

In the next couple of months, you'll be undertaking an East Coast CD release tour. What are your plans to promote the CD and what opportunities do you hope that this music will open up for you? Are there any other projects or upcoming events that you would like our readers to watch out for and how do you hope your career progresses over the next year?

I have a pretty exciting tour lined up for the summer - from clubs and coffee shops to organic farms and old school houses! There will be several live radio broadcasts and interviews along the way, and I will post information about those up on my site: www.AnnaDagmar.com.

I hope that the new CD creates opportunities for me to open for and share the stage with artists I admire. In the next year I also plan to apply to 2010 summer festivals, both in Europe and the states. Hope to see you on the road or in your town soon. Thank you so much!

[ Website: www.annadagmar.com ]

Current Anna Dagmar Tour/Radio info:

Upcoming Radio Interviews:
July 06 on WBCR in Great Barrington
July 11 on WPKN in Bridgeport, CT

Let the Waves Tour:
6.28 House Concert in Missoula, MT
7.08 Moon & River in Schenectady, NY
7.09 Muddy Cup in Saugerties, NY
7.16 Acoustic Cafe in Bridgeport, CT
7.17 Jitters Coffee House in Southington, CT
7.18 The Old Schoolhouse in Branford, CT
7.26 All Saints Church in Chelmsford, MA
7.30 House Concert in Leeds, MA
7.31 Pompanuck Farm Cambridge, NY
8.01 Java Room in Chelmsford, MA
8.03 North Star in Portland, ME
8.07 Mocha Maya's in Shelburne Falls, MA
8.15 Waterfront Tavern in M. Holyoke, MA
8.17 Bitter End in New York, NY
8.25 Rosendale Cafe in Rosendale, NY
8.28 Radio Bean in Burlington, VT
8.31 Red Door in Portsmouth, NH

Matt Mrowicki
Matt Mrowicki [[email protected]], is an Internet entrepreneur and owner of Chorus and Verse. In 2002, he founded Impression Technologies LLC (www.imprtech.com) a digital design company offering website development, graphic design, online marketing, social media and technology consulting. He has been interviewed on topics ranging from how bands can best use their websites for promoting their music to current trends in social media. He has successfully launched over 100 websites and branding projects for clients and continues to develop new online opportunities and promote effective uses of technology and online media.
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