Interview with Anne McCue: An Aussie at Home in East Nashville

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Australia has been a great source for popular music over the past decade. While Keith Urban has been topping the country charts and Kasey Chambers has been an Americana-format stalwart, one lady has proven to be a powerhouse both as a guitarist and singer over the past few years. Anne McCue has created a strong buzz in Nashville with her six-string prowess, and has gained accolades from well-known performers such as songstress Lucinda Williams.

Since moving to East Nashville, Anne has been a go-to person for her work on electric, acoustic, and lap steel guitars. She has found a home in that district of Tennessee’s capital, and she is constantly honing her skills in the many clubs and studios throughout the city.

Anne was born in Sydney but her family soon moved to Campbelltown. “Sydney had a very vibrant music scene in those days. Lots of bands and they used to come and play in Campbelltown too. That was when bands like Midnight Oil and Hunters & Collectors were just starting out. It wasn’t until they legalized gambling in pubs in the late ’90s that the live music scene died down.” She started out playing piano, following after her older sisters. She would later pick up a nylon-string guitar that was available at her church and played it until it feel apart. “Then my brother came home with an electric guitar and that was it. I was probably 14 or 15 when I started playing guitar. It was an SG copy.”

Her guitar-playing influences became as varied as a rainbow color scheme, from the personal to the out-of-the-ordinary. “It starts at home I think, with my brother Mark and his friend Jack Dunn. I liked the guitar playing in Nick Cave’s bands and also Dave Gilmour. Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt are still the best in my opinion. I’ve played quite a few Hendrix tunes in my time. And then I like Nick Drake. Anything emotional that’s not too slick sounding.”

While working on her Film Studies degree at St. Patrick’s College and University of Technology, Sydney, Anne formed the alternative music band Vertigo. “I really wanted to play in a band but I was very shy. Vertigo was formed with my best friend from school on bass and a girl called Alison on drums. I often wish we had stayed together. Maybe we would have been something. It’s those band that start in school that end up being the best – Stones, Beatles, U2, etc.”

After graduating in 1988, Anne moved to Melbourne and soon joined the all-female rock band Girl Monstar. The band received a lot of recognition in Australia, with two Number One hits on the independent charts. Girl Monstar disbanded in 1993, and Anne began performing as a solo act. “I didn’t have much of a choice after the band broke up but it was very hard for me to play solo. I was used to the electric guitar and the loud band. I had the worst stagefright. I would be nervous for days before a show. I must have been a masochist to go on! It took me years to get comfortable with that. As I have said, I was very shy and quite socially inept so it was hard for me to meet other people in the music scene.”

During this time, Anne did some extensive touring outside of Australia, including Vietnam. “I mostly played in Ho Chi Minh City. This was the best thing for my playing and to focus on music. I played six nights a week in all different kinds of places – upscale hotels, bars, boats and French cafés. It was a lot of parties for ex-pats from all over the world and was a fun time. But mostly it was good because I was playing so much and learning lots of new songs and writing songs, too. I would never have been able to get that many gigs in Melbourne.” She would record her first solo project, the self-released Laughing EP in 1996, which was followed by her joining the all-female trio Eden AKA.

Eden AKA got Anne her first true recognition stateside. The band was signed to Columbia and performed on the Lilith Fair Tour in 1998 and 1999, which led to her relocating to Los Angeles. “We had a fabulous time on the Lilith Fair. I had never planned on coming to the States but as soon as I landed I loved it. There was something about L.A. that was liberating. A lot of dreamers go there and you don’t have to be ashamed of your dreams as you often do in everyday life. It was a place of writers and musicians and actors. I loved it.”

Anne recorded her first major-label solo album Amazing Ordinary Things, and was soon touring on her own, including the stint with Lucinda Williams. “It’s always great to play to Lucinda’s audience – they are so discerning – a mixture of intellect and good times. She is a such a wonderful artist, you can’t go wrong there. We played some great venues to lots of people. It was fantastic.” Lucinda was so impressed with Anne’s performance that she included an Anne McCue cut on her Starbuck’s Artists Choice compilation.

Anne’s recording work continued with a live album, followed by the 2004 release of Roll. The cut “Stupid” from that album was included in the Time-Life Collection 4 Decades of Folk Rock. Around the time of the 2006 release of her album Koala Motel, Anne moved from Los Angeles to Nashville. “The East Nashville scene is terrific – thousands of musicians. It’s a nice place to be, you’re not an outsider because you are a musician, instead you are a key element. I love that. It’s also just a naturally beautiful place – vibrant, green.”

Anne’s guitar work is not only impressive on her solo work, but has appeared on a number of other artists’ albums, including with Michelle Shocked and Tracey Bunn. Anne has performed with Tony Joe White as well as Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. She also produced Bunn’s By The Wayside album, which shows that Ms. McCue is equally as talented behind the mixing board. She is also putting her film degree knowledge to work by directing and editing videos of her own songs as well as for Amelia White and Yeah No Yeah. “To me it’s all the same process really. We make videos now with very little money so it’s about coming up with good ideas more than anything. And that goes with music – how can I make something different? I’m not a big fan of copycats.”

Despite her extensive talent as a guitarist, her choice of equipment is a bit left-of-established. “My favorite guitar is my Hanson Gatto. It’s the first time I’ve had a guitar with a Bigsby and I love it. Following close behind is my Hanson Cigno which has P90 pick-ups. I’ve been a humbucker girl for years so it’s interesting to play those. I also play acoustic and I have a lap steel – it’s a Morrell – not expensive. I’ve had my Maton acoustic for 25 years, it will probably fall apart soon. I hope to get an old Gibson when it does. I dabble with pedal steel but that will take a while. My amp was made by Phil Jamison of Matchless. We call it the McGregor because it has a Tartan covering. I also have a Kustom Coupe and a Fender Blues Junior which I might trade in for a Pro. I’d really like to get a Princeton.” So what does she look for in a guitar or amplifier? “It’s really simple – I have to like the sound. I’m not a person who analyses the wood or the speaker brands. I’d rather have a unique sound than just sound like everyone else. I look for character.”

Never to sit still for a moment, there are a number of projects on Anne’s current calendar. She is in the studio recording another solo album, this time with a 1930s/40s vibe, due out in June 2014. The album is being produced by Dusty Wakeman (who also produced Roll). She is also producing a Nashville duo called Stevens/Layne. “I also have an idea for a cartoon. I have all of the songs already and hope to publish a children’s book as well!”

~ Matt Merta

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