The album art for “Desert Dove,” the upcoming record from Americana artist and newly-minted Yep Roc Records act Michaela Anne, has an energy that is distinctly feminine.
The album cover is a photo of the Nashville-based musician sporting a floral outfit, hoop earrings and a pair of cowgirl boots, hair teased high as she sits back in front of a pink-tinged background, staring calmly and firmly at the camera.
“It does feel very feminine to me — but hopefully still very relatable to all genders — [and] grapples with a lot of questions about life, relationships, growing up from my own perspective as a young woman,” Michaela Anne said.
“Desert Dove,” which will be Michaela Anne’s first release with the Hillsborough-based Yep Roc Records, is preceded by two other albums, 2014’s “Ease My Mind” and 2016’s “Bright Lights and the Fame.”
In both of these earlier records, her wistful vocals and twangy nods at classic country are endearing and enjoyable. But her new single, “By Our Design” — which debuted on June 12 as a first release from “Desert Dove” — is something different, more personal.
“You wake up first, put the kettle on and pour me a cup of coffee//Two cats in a Southern ranch we’re making a little family,” the song begins.
The lyrics are simple and honest, refusing to shy away from emotion, or from the realities of the singer-songwriter’s life as both a traveling musician and a wife of musician-producer Aaron Shafer-Haiss. It’s is so intimate that it almost feels a bit invasive, as if the listener is peeking into a private world and listening to something sung for loved ones sitting at the kitchen table.
“I wrote the song for my husband and myself,” Michaela Anne said. “We are both musicians and that lifestyle can feel very unstable, rootless, insecure.... it has a lot of challenges and it’s particularly challenging to keep a relationship together. It's also incredibly rewarding, exciting, fulfilling and I constantly reflect on the choices we make in life and our perceived ideas of how we ‘should’ live. This song is sort of a reminder to keep on.”
The track also changes it up sound-wise, with Michaela Anne’s signature ethereal vocals accompanied by new, dreamy, Western-y strings arranged and played by Kristin Weber. This same sonar shift — one that mixes classic country and Western sounds with more contemporary, indie rock elements — is something that the singer said will be present on the rest of her upcoming record, as well.
“I felt like I pushed myself to write more, to be more honest, get out of my comfort zone, try some sounds that maybe weren't as predictable,” she said. “Before we recorded, I said I wanted to make a record that made me feel the way the best Patty Loveless or early Shania Twain records felt — accessible, catchy, womanly, emotional — but also with a hint of the vibe of some of my favorite current day [artists] like Rayland Baxter, War on Drugs or Tame Impala.”
Michaela Anne’s musical interests vary across genre from country to hip-hop to pop, and her training was varied, too. This eclectic mix of inspirations and experiences provide the artist with a smorgasbord of sounds to draw from for her new record.
The artist’s top musical influences include Emmylou Harris and Linda Rondstadt — both of whom she has been compared to by Rolling Stone magazine — as well as Lucinda Williams, Linda Ronstadt, Patty Griffin, Neil Young, Twain, the Dixie Chicks and Otis Redding, but her favorites also extend into other genres.
“We have a pretty big vinyl collection at home so I love sitting in my living room listening to everything from Judy Garland Live at Carnegie Hall to Whitney Houston — yes I wanna dance with somebody on vinyl — to Oscar Peterson or the Flying Burrito Brothers” she said.
Aside from spinning vinyl, Michaela Anne also has a collection of other peaceful pastimes when she isn't on the road performing — reading, exercising, weeding her garden and “being home and sitting on [her] front porch drinking coffee.”
But while her hobbies are those of a homebody, Michaela Anne is a performer at her core.
Her father was a Submarine Captain in the U.S. Navy and his job kept the family on their feet, and the artist said she grew up in several places including Washington state, California and Italy.
“I started performing pretty young but because I moved around a lot, my experiences with music were extremely varied depending on what was available wherever we lived at the time and I was interested in a lot of different stuff,” Michaela Anne said. “I was into musical theater, jazz band, I played flute and violin, choral music, classical lessons, talent shows, dance productions, pop and country....you name it.”
Now, she’s coming off of a May European tour where part of the shows were with Mandolin Orange, and is already gearing up to perform again at the Kraken in Chapel Hill, Durham’s Festival for the Eno and a host of other U.S. venues.
“Sometimes I think I like performing better than writing,” she said. “I'm not someone who is constantly writing. It takes a lot of energy for me and I often have to work hard to rid myself of distractions. I love performing and connecting with people through storytelling.”
Billy Maupin, Yep Roc Records’ general manager, said that those at the label first heard about Michaela Anne from her manager, who also manages the Chapel Hill-based Mandolin Orange, a well-known Yep Roc act.
Yep Roc announced the signing of the singer on May 16.
“She was attractive to us a label because she’s a triple threat — an outstanding singer, songwriter and performer,” Maupin said. “She’s engaging and gives off a real star quality.”
While Michaela Anne is not based in North Carolina, her recent tour with Mandolin Orange, upcoming Triangle-area performances and the location of Yep Roc have all given the artist a new connection to the state.
“I think I've only played in [Orange County] one time so I'm looking forward to coming back and building some history in the area,” she said. “The little bit I have been through was enough for me to text my husband and see if he'd want to move to Chapel Hill next.”
During a time when Michaela Anne is pulling together a myriad of her influences and experiences to release a new record, Maupin said that visiting a new state could be an opportunity for growth for the artist.
“As an artist, I think Michaela Anne is employing lots of different means of writing records,” he said. “It’s exciting to us when an artist doesn’t want to make the same record over and over. North Carolina is a good place to grow and I think, especially with her connection to Mandolin Orange, Michaela Anne will be warmly accepted here.”
The release of “Desert Dove” marks a more personal iteration of songwriting for Michaela Anne — one that deals with a career as a female musician, life on the road and maintaining relationships — and a more expansive and varied sound that combines the twang that listeners have come to expect from the soulful songstress with new sounds of indie rock.
Moving forward, the artist said she’s waiting to see what changes will accompany her work after “Desert Dove” has been released.
“I think the older I get as an artist, the more I feel I have nothing to lose and the more I value fearlessness as an artist,” she said. “I'm curious to see how I'll feel for the next record, but I do think creating evokes change so maybe the act of creating consistently does keep you in constant growth.”
Her new album, “Desert Dove,” will be released on Sept. 27 and is available for pre-order on pink vinyl at www.michaelaanne.com/.