Voices Carry: Annie Capps Shares Stories of Vulnerability and Courage on “How Can I Say This?” Album
Annie Capps doesn’t hesitate to reveal her authentic self—both past and present—on her latest album, How Can I Say This?
The Chelsea folk singer-songwriter embraces both vulnerability and courage across the album’s dozen reflective tracks, which revisit pivotal life lessons about forgiveness, family, and growth.
“I think we’re always vulnerable, and I don’t want to take anything away from people who aren’t willing to go where I went,” said Capps about her first solo release. (She usually writes, records, and performs with husband and longtime musical partner Rod Capps.)
“Just the act of standing up in front of people and singing a song, whether it’s your own or not, is a very vulnerable situation. That’s brave, and I commend anybody who does it or tries it.”
Collectively, those thoughts merge into an overarching love letter Capps writes to her younger self throughout How Can I Say This? Forthright lyrics and demonstrative Americana-folk-jazz instrumentation provide an emotive setting as she excavates deeply buried experiences.
“There’s a very deliberate sequence, and once I found it, it made perfect sense to me,” said Capps, who’s inspired by Aimee Mann, Pat Benatar, and Chrissie Hynde.
“I don’t know if I have a hit on this record. I just have a record that tells a story told by me that goes on a journey, and I would love for people to sit and listen to it from beginning to end.”
Her journey starts with the troubled opener, “My Eden,” which explores a young girl’s spiritual struggle with understanding original sin and overcoming temptation.
Acoustic guitar and strings frame that conflict as she sings, “But deliver my soul, this heart was hell-bent / On trying to make love not trying to prevent / A future that would look so different / Cause there was an apple and there was a serpent.”
“You could summarize this as a young girl’s search for love from everybody—the neighbors, boys, and certainly from my father who didn’t ever feel present—and someone who’s always seeking that approval,” said Capps, who was raised in a strict Catholic family.
“I think you can zip through this record and find that thread … forgiveness is a big thread. It’s something that you learn as little girls on their knees begging for forgiveness. I’m a little kid, and I’m being told to confess my sins.”
Next, Capps trades negative self-talk for self-love on the intimate title track as gentle acoustic guitar, piano, and strings comfort her.
She sings, “You are the voice I’ve been holding on to / Now I need you to leave me alone / Losing myself in this longing for you / My power has been overthrown / How can I say this without breaking your heart.”
“A lot of the voices we have in our heads all come from somewhere, like your mom telling you to sit up straight, your father telling you you’re not good enough, and society telling you your body isn’t right,” Capps said.
“It also comes out of the song ‘Learning’ because the stuff that we absorb—those external voices—become our internal narrative, and that dialogue is not helpful. [But] I love how it became the title track because it also speaks to all the other songs.”
Capps tackles more personal challenges on the cathartic family tale “My Father’s House,” which chronicles tearing down her late father’s home and processing painful childhood memories associated with his alcoholism.
Forlorn electric guitar, organ, and violin echo her grief as she sings, “It’s over now / Seems so small as it tumbles earthbound / I forage forgiveness / Neath the shattered walls of madness scattered all around.”
“‘My Father’s House’ was one of the earlier songs that I had written, and it was a prompt as part of a songwriting group. I like to paint pictures with my songs as much as I can … and sometimes there are songs that are very specific like [this] one,” Capps said.
“At the time, the house [my late father] and his widow had lived in for 40 years, he’d been gone and she’d been living there … was the home where the family hung out. The person that she’d sold it to sold it to somebody else, and they were knocking it down.”
After leaving the wreckage of “My Father’s House” in the past, Capps shifts to the promise of the future on “Crowded.” This anthemic track celebrates the solidarity and connection women experience when they open themselves up to one another.
Hopeful acoustic guitar, violin, banjo, and percussion surround Capps as she sings, “On a planet full of people who have different ways of seeing what they know / What I know is when I’m sending up my flare, there’s always someone who’s been there (to say), ‘You’re not alone.’”
“I’ve had women say they can relate to every song on the record. There’s nothing more heartening than that. If it’s just one song, it’s great. But if somebody can say, ‘That was my life,’ [then] that’s really special,” said Capps, who enlisted 19 women artists to sing backup as part of the track’s “Crowded Chorus.”
“And as a songwriter and performer all these years, I’ve experienced that with people saying those things. There’s a power in sharing yourself with others.”
Capps channeled that collective mindset throughout the writing and recording process for How Can I Say This?, which includes collaborations with over 40 local, national, and international women musicians.
She started writing tracks for the album in 2020 and shared them with songwriting peers as well as Nashville-based writer/songwriter Whit Hill.
“I’m always writing and fine-tuning things, and I had lots of songwriting angels that belonged to a lot of songwriting groups,” said Capps.
“This was early on, and it was before I started recording and was just sending songs to people to play on them. [Whit] gave me some really good feedback, just asked the right questions, and prompted some edits that I’m so happy that I made.”
By September 2021, Capps was ready to record tracks for How Can I Say This? with engineers Cynthea Kelley and Maggie Heeren at Kalamazoo’s La Luna Recording Studio. She recorded most of the album remotely with the exception of a few electric guitar and drums parts done at the studio.
“I started with Cynthea, and most of the tracking I did at the studio was with her. When she moved [to Nashville], she handed me over to Maggie,” she said. “Maggie was amazing, and Cynthea was lovely and great. I was just blown away by everything [they] did.”
Along with Kelley and Heeren, Capps also collaborated with a host of women musicians, including The Accidentals’ Sav Buist (violin and viola) and Katie Larson (cello), Erin Zindle (violin), Emily Slomovits (violin) Judy Insley (mandolin), Suzie Vinnick (bass) Cheryl Prashker (drums), Annie Bacon (vocals), Kitty Donohoe (vocals), and others.
“There are all kinds of names on this record, including names in my community. ‘Crowded’ was a great vehicle for getting a whole lot more women to help, but it still wasn’t enough,” she said.
“There are a handful of people who came through and saved the day and others who I crossed paths with along the way.”
Capps will cross paths with other artists for some upcoming live shows, including “My Folky Valentine” night on February 14 at The Ark with Rod Capps, Jenny and Robin Bienemann, and Ruth and Max Bloomquist. The annual Valentine’s Day show spotlights married or partnered couples who make music together.
She’ll also perform with a Badass Band of Women comprised of Fay Burns (guitar), Katelynn Corll (electric bass), Telisha Williams (acoustic bass), Carolyn Koebel (drums, percussion), Annie Bacon (vocals), and Cori Somers (violin) March 11 at Livonia’s Trinity House.
“I’m really excited because these are women that I didn’t know … it continues to grow beyond my scope of friends,” Capps said.
Outside of live shows, Capps has started recording her next album with Rod Capps and their bandmates, Jason Dennie, Daniel “Ozzie” Andrews, and Michael Shimmin, at Ann Arbor’s Big Sky Recording.
“This new album is probably going to be a bit more electric than some of our others,” she said. “I’ve written two songs in the last couple of weeks, and I’m like, ‘Where did those come from?’”
Lori Stratton is a library technician, writer for Pulp, and writer and editor of strattonsetlist.com.
Annie Capps performs February 14 at The Ark, 316 S. Main St. in Ann Arbor, with Rod Capps, Jenny and Robin Bienemann, and Ruth and Max Bloomquist for “My Folky Valentine.” She also performs March 11 at Trinity House, 38840 Six Mile Road in Livonia, with a Badass Band of Women.