Words by David C. Obenour
The commonly celebrated narrative is for a musician to outgrow their first few pop records. To advance beyond those hooks and melodies that found them an audience, evolving their music into something far more layered and beard-strokey.
But pop is not a bad word, nor is it simple.
After spending time in the psych-folk band, Quilt, Anna Fox Rochinski has found her voice on the debut album, Cherry. Fitting in all the wit and fun that only a tight pop song can contain, touching points reach back through the decades of Robyn, Beck and Madonna. Knowing her past only makes her future that much more exciting.
Off Shelf: It’s been an exceedingly odd time over the past year. How have you been holding up personally?
Anna Fox Rochinski: I’m doing okay. I cycle through the entire spectrum of human emotion pretty much every few weeks.
OS: Cherry is an amazing step out from what you had been doing in Quilt, so I wanted to explore that with a few questions. Starting off broadly, what resonates to you about pop music?
AFR: Everything! It just makes me feel better than almost anything else. You can dress any song in pop clothes and it immediately just gets fizzier and more awesome, especially with a funk element … even if the lyrics are really dark. I feel the craziest emotions of all time when I hear a perfect pop banger, and I wanted to harness that for myself. I’ve always felt this way, my childhood was very defined by loving all sorts of music but pop was a huge part of it, and I’m lucky to have been a kid in the 90s when that stuff was really gold… Madonna, Spice Girls, Robyn, Prince, dare I say Michael Jackson, too. I want to be playing this music on tour and feeling uplifted and energized every night instead of living in a murky, dark sad place that other music genres put me in.
OS: You talk about starting this project as entering into a new world. Did you initially have any hesitations – personal or projected – in wanting to create a more pop sounding record?
AFR: No way! I am so excited and it feels more authentic than anything I’ve ever done.
OS: From your first attempts at this new direction, do you remember anything that felt encouraging or exciting? Validating that this is what you wanted to be doing?
AFR: Not necessarily. I’ve just been cruising on my own vision. When I moved back to NYC, though, I felt that it was the right space to be making this music in, and I began meeting people right away who supported me. It just feels like a freer creative landscape here, versus LA, where I thought I wanted to move at first. So glad I didn’t.
OS: You also mention that you were creating this album while you were “shedding many things that were very precious to me” – how do you think this shifting footing helped to shape the album you created?
AFR: I just had a big void that needed filling, and my creativity felt more limitless because I didn’t have much holding me back anymore.
OS: While there are obvious financial downfalls, how has releasing Cherry in the midst of COVID affected your own thinking on how it will be received?
AFR: Well, the record was recorded in 2019, and I really wanted to release it in 2020, but we decided to wait until spring 2021 for the sake of the album’s reception. We were keeping our fingers crossed for there to be a new president and some kind of light at the end of the COVID tunnel by this time. And lo and behold, here we are. Far from a perfect world, but I’m glad we waited, because I feel like the lowest depths of despair and confusion have passed.
OS: Did sequencing a pop album differ from how you would consider putting a Quilt album together? Are there different dynamics that you’re keeping in mind for the listeners?
AFR: I think there are some similar sequencing strategies that you see a lot on albums, and that I like to employ in general, such as leaving the long cathartic banger for the end and beginning the record with a shorter hors d’oeuvres. And spreading out the dynamics as much as possible. And knowing that the penultimate track is sometimes a sleeper hit for the real heads. But what’s obviously different is that I didn’t have to worry about spacing out the lead singers or anything, it’s all just my voice so it was a little more about the actual song’s dynamics dictating the sequence.
OS: Are there artists you’d like to work on with remixes? Just wishlisting is fine, but including what would excite you about hearing their interpretation.
AFR: I don’t know much about remixing. But if you have Pharrell Williams’ number please have him call me, I have some ideas. [laughs] His whole career is an influence on me for sure.
OS: After releasing an album like Cherry, do you see limitations on what you would want to put out under your own name? Are there parameters or it being a self-titled solo effort, does that open up the entire field to you?
AFR: The whole thing here for me is that there are no steadfast rules, but I am also allowing myself to avoid a lot of my old musical habits. I’m really just trying to challenge myself every step of the way, and focus on my strengths while developing new skills. Like, I’ve found a way of playing guitar now that feels fresh for me. I’m also not attached to my guitar on stage like I used to be. Singing is my favorite thing and honestly always has been, and I’m finally letting that dictate a lot my creative process, and just finally letting myself sing like hell.
OS: Knowing it’s a different beast and knowing the long stretch where it just hasn’t been possible, what do you look forward to most in being able to perform these songs in front of an audience once we get to the other side of this?
AFR: I’m looking forward to discovering more about myself as a performer on stage, and feeling fully entrenched in the music, and hopefully the audience feeling that way, too. I want to get better at keeping a symbiotic thing going on between the floor and stage… I have a really naturally performative and funny side but also a reserved and controlled side, so it’s not always easy, but I’m excited to see where I can push forward into a new understanding of performing.