Name: Anna Yarbrough
Occupation: Pianist, composer and owner at Rhodium Publishing
Current Release: Single "Murmur" part of Mediterraneo - Lady Blunt Collection
Recommendation: Mary Oliver’s Long Life is just spectacular. A true piece of art—incredible writing and beautifully introspective. As for artwork, I am endlessly fascinated by Chiaroscuro paintings, particularly by the Old Masters. It’s really tough to pick one piece of work, maybe Rembrandt’s “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee”. I have so much respect for artists that have dedicated their life to mastery; the constant pursuit of improvement and the sublime.
Website/Contact: Stay up to date with Anna's music and projects at her website annayarbrough.com
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
Like many people, I began writing in little spurts. As a child I’d compose melodies on the piano, but it certainly wasn’t anything particularly developed or intentional. I probably wrote my first fragments of a song as a young teenager, but again, it was more of a casual interest in that form of expression. I began seriously composing and songwriting in my late teens and early twenties, in conjunction with studying at various university institutions. I had no concrete plans for a career in either composing or songwriting; this came later when I moved from Australia to the United States. The later move to Nashville, in particular, was the point when I decided I was never going to do anything else. In some ways, that was my experience from the start, but I was infatuated with music early on and never imagined doing anything else. My early influences include too many composers to name, but they were resolutely classical. I took piano lessons at a young age and I performed in orchestras as a violinist from childhood. I found music to be so compelling that it was something of a no-brainer that I’d be permanently involved.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I can still hear all of my childhood passions and influences in my work. The melodic focus and minimalism of Einaudi, the color palette and textures of Debussy, the drama of Chopin and Rachmaninoff. I can’t say that I ever copied anyone’s way of composing, but I think my output has been the synthesis of all the music I have loved. I absorbed the sound, and in turn it has colored my work. Sometimes I have to intentionally break out of what has become habitual for me in terms of writing style, but more often than not the combination of my influences has led to some interesting ideas.
What were your main compositional- and production-challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
In the beginning, production was definitely my greatest challenge. I went from knowing absolutely nothing about production to recording and engineering my own work in about six months. I learned quickly as I absolutely devoured every resource I could find on the internet, but I remember it being such a painful and frustrating process! I don’t think I had any particular compositional challenges—I’ve always been pretty structured in the way I compose, and everything has always just pieced itself together but there was definitely a development in terms of what I would record. I started with extremely basic work and focused on getting the mood right. I’d like to think my artist work is ever evolving, and more interesting. I suppose it is an amalgamation of the more minimal contemporary style and more unique elements from a variety of influences. I’m still chasing that perfect recording. I’ve recently replaced a lot of my gear, and it feels like an unending battle to get the sound I want. I’m always in pursuit of that perfect marriage of a great performance and flawless recording.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first ‘studio’ was nothing more than a keyboard and a MIDI cable. Until 2015 any recording or composing I had done had always been in someone else’s studio. At this point I slowly started to acquire gear and learn more about the technology side of music. These days, my own studio is still simple but includes key pieces of gear that I use consistently: an upright piano, electric stage piano, JBL monitors, Focusrite interface, Neumann mics for the piano, AT2035 for vocals, and a large mixing desk with my iMac and various controllers. For anything else, I make use of different studios in New York City where I now live.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology is indispensable, especially when it comes to capturing a great recording, I much prefer to capture a live performance instead of something ‘in the box’. I do use virtual instruments from time-to-time. This is mostly for electronic-based work or secondary instrumentation. Technology has really opened up a whole new world of possibilities for composer, but as for the recording process as a whole, I’m an analog girl at heart!
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
My compositional process is most often completed with no tools in sight—I’m old-school in that I like pen and paper, and still write scores when I’m fleshing out an idea. Once it’s done, I’ll focus on getting a great performance while recording. Then the relationship with technology starts to progress. Sometimes I’ll mix and master my own work, but I prefer to outsource that if the project allows.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I really love collaborating, but this has actually been a difficult area for me. For years I struggled to find the right collaboration partners, and I think there’s something to be said for picking your people carefully. It can be hard to find like-minded people with the same drive. My collaboration partners are all remote! Nne of us will start a project in some way or other and file-share. Then the next person will add a layer. This might only happen once, or it might go back and forth until the project is complete. I think having the right people that you can trust creatively helps the whole thing flow quicker and makes it a smooth process.