What's Really Going On: Brooke Annibale brings her questioning progressive-pop to Ann Arbor for a free show at The Ark


Brooke Annibale

Photo by Alyssa Gafkjen

Songs on Brooke Annibale’s new album, Hold to the Light, express desire for something that may or may not be there and then both yearn and hesitate to reveal those feelings. Throughout, lyrics question what is really going on and wrestle with admitting reality, voicing thoughts, and letting it all be. With synth, electronics, and both acoustic and electric guitars, Hold to the Light wonders about and wanders among the complexities and feelings between two people. 

Annibale is a singer-songwriter and guitarist originally from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Following her indie-acoustic focus, Annibale is evolving to write and play pop-progressive music. 

The Ark will host Annibale for a third time in a free show Tuesday, July 23, at 8 p.m. with donations of nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers. Pulp interviewed Annibale for her appearance in town. 

Q: Your new album, Hold to the Light, is described as a departure from your previous work. In your view, how is it different?
A: It’s funny you know, it is a bit of a departure, but for me, it feels like a pretty natural one -- one that blends well with my past work. When I started writing this record, I was writing more with acoustic guitar, just like my previous record. The songs were leaning toward the folkier side of my writing. Then somewhere throughout the writing process for the record, I started leaning into more of my pop and indie influences and writing with my electric guitar. So the process of recording for me was kind of like, how can I meld these two worlds of my writing together? How do I put a song like “Collided” on a record with a song like “Underneath”? The solution was pretty simple for me: both of these songs can still be stripped back down to just me and a guitar and stand alone. That’s important to me. But the layers we put on top weave the songs together on the record; we experimented with synth sounds and really just tried to take each individual song where it wanted to go.

Q: Lyrics on Hold to the Light are very compelling, such as the lines in the title track, “tell me what you see / when you hold to the light / what you held so tightly.” Where do you find inspiration for your lyrics?
A: Thank you! This specific lyric really sums up the themes of the record, hence why I chose it for the title track. Songwriting has always been a super therapeutic and personal process for me, so that involves really digging into whatever is going on in my life or around me. A lot of the same themes kept popping up in my writing for this record, which was sort of asking myself, what’s underneath the surface? And does it belong to stay there, or should we/I hold it to the light and see it for what it is? “Hold to the Light” was the last song I wrote for the record, and it just tied all that up neatly for me.

Q: You’ll play at The Ark with your band, including Mark Ramsey, keys; Seth Pierson, bass; and Dan Harding, drums. Tell us about your band and what it’s like to make music together.
A: The Ark is a special place, so I wanted to make this a special night, and I’m so excited to get these guys on the road with me for this one! I’ve always made my records elsewhere -- two in Nashville plus one in Maine -- with other musicians, and I would come back to my hometown of Pittsburgh and put together a band that could help me bring the records to life in a live setting. These guys are some of the nicest people you could meet. Seth has been playing live with me for the longest, probably close to 9 or 10 years now. Dan came along in 2014, and Mark rounded us out on keys in 2015. The positive energy and hard work that they put into each show is really inspiring for me.

Q: It sounds like your connection to music runs deep with your grandfather’s music store in Pittsburgh and your start in music at 14 with learning the guitar. Tell us about your path in music.
A: Yeah for sure. I started writing lyrics and melodies when I was a really young kid, probably in fourth grade. It didn’t really even occur to me yet that a passion for music ran in my family until I had this sudden strong urge to write songs in my teens. My grandfather, my mom’s dad, was a guitarist and taught lessons, which turned into him opening a music store, Hollowood Music & Sound, and selling instruments, etc. in the 1960s. My uncles and cousin continue to run that store today. So when I wanted to learn an instrument, guitar was just what I naturally gravitated toward. Unfortunately, my grandfather had passed a few years before I started to play, but I took lessons at our family’s shop. That quickly turned into me writing songs and performing at school talent shows and coffee shops. Once I discovered songwriting and music, that was kind of it for me -- I knew I wanted to do it forever. Soon I moved to Nashville for college, studying the music business, and meeting a ton of people I would eventually make music with. It’s been 10 years since I graduated from college, and I’ve just been making music the whole time for my living. I feel really grateful to do what I do and really proud of my family history that lead me here.

Q: What’s on your playlist to listen to next?
A: A few artists on my new music playlist right now are The National, Local Natives, Cayucas, and Ingrid Michaelson. One of my favorite albums of the year so far is Foxwarren by Andy Shauf’s band. I really need to sit down and listen to the newest record from Big Thief. A favorite of mine for a long time, Sarah Jaffe, is really resonating with me right now, too.

Q: What do you like to do when you aren’t playing music?
A: I live in Providence, Rhode Island now so I like exploring New England and getting to know it better -- whether it’s going to the beach or on a bike trail or finding a good taco. I love to spend time with my family back in Pittsburgh, too. Once it’s the fall again, I get pretty into watching hockey. Also, I’ve been eager to get back into photography so maybe that’s next!

Q: Hold to the Light came out in 2018, and you are touring this year. What are you working on now?  
A: I’ve been slowly building my home studio since the beginning of the year and just got into the swing of recording some stuff at home. I’ll have a couple of home-recorded acoustic versions of songs to share soon. I also recently got a drum kit which I’ve always wanted to do, so playing around with that and learning a little bit each day is my goal right now. Among all that, it’s definitely time to dig into writing some new songs.

Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.

The Ark hosts Brooke Annibale in a free show Tuesday, July 23, at 8 pm with donations of nonperishables accepted for Food Gatherers.