Former lovers of Anna Haas, beware. You may turn on the radio soon and hear a song that sounds a little too familiar. The 27 year old singer-songwriter from Nasvhille, Tennessee, whose album, Crazy Is, will be released later this month, admits readily many songs are inspired by old relationships.
The creation of Crazy Is was instigated by a period of time in which Haas experienced a great deal of loss and turned to music as an outlet. While she now identifies Crazy Is as an album of self-empowerment, she did not intend to write it with a specific theme in mind. Instead, she said, she found the common theme after completing the songs. The album features songs written during the past five or six years, when several close relatives passed away and some meaningful relationships came to an end.
“That was the catalyst of this record,” Haas said. “I was grieving so much and so confused and the only thing I could do was make art. Making this album wasn’t such a decision or a choice, but something that naturally had to happen, coming out of me. I had all of these songs I wanted to document in the most perfect way that they can be. There’s this thread of loss and pain and loneliness, but really the message of the record is finding ways to overcome that pain and loss and finding yourself whole, coming out of it all.
“A lot of inspiration behind recording those songs and writing them is that I can’t wait for the person who broke my heart to hear this,” Haas continued. “As I was recording it and trying to make it sound awesome, All I could think was ‘I can’t wait I want to put this in the mail. I want them to listen to this song, because this is all I have to say. It’s my way, years after the fact, of saying what I couldn’t say in the moment.
One song Haas described as an “angsty breakup song,” is “Maypole,” which was inspired by an unfaithful lover. Haas, utilizing her experience in directing theater and dance, framed the video around the concept of a man playing with life-size female dolls. (Click here for a free download of “Maypole” from iTunes.)
“There’s a real parallel between this man playing with these women and a child playing with these dolls,” she said. “He’s strewing them about when he gets bored and picking the up when he wants them again.”
Many have commented on the music video on YouTube, calling it creepy or inspired by Tim Burton; Haas loves hearing these comments. Others – mostly men – have said the song is “cool,” “happy” and “sexy.”
“I had someone say that and I said, ‘Did you listen to the lyrics?’” Haas said. “I said, ‘I’m calling you out but you haven’t broken me.’”
Crazy Is is not intended solely as Haas’ way of getting the last word in with her exes. She also honors the memory of her relatives in the songs, particularly “Find Your Home,” which she believes is what her grandmother would have wanted to say to her.
Along with its personal message, Haas also hopes Crazy Is will serve as a voice of support and inspiration for young women today. She said it encourages young women to embrace their identities and, if they are artists, use them as means for creation.
Honing in on her own experience, Haas said she thinks young women need to hear affirmation for not being involved in romantic relationships.
“I think women need to hear it’s ok to be alone if you haven’t found the right person who emphasizes who you are and is proud of who you are and enhances who you are,” she said. “I think a lot of women are more concerned with the idea of being in a relationship, or the image, and letting their entire life go by settling. Being alone is a scary thing that people don’t like to hear.”
While Haas seeks to empower women with her music, she has observed the recent trend in culture to disempower women and affirm their traditional gender roles. She said she hopes to discourage that with her music.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t want to empower women to embrace their sexuality. That’s definitely an undertone of my music,” she said. “I’m not encouraging women to go out and sleep around, but I don’t think enough women embrace their sexuality, even if they have it and they’re dying to.”
Reflecting on the recent debate about birth control, Haas said, “There is often this underlying fear that men have of women gaining too much control of their lives…this is definitely an example of desperation in a changing world, to keep women held down.”
Recording an album without the association of a major label in the male-dominated music industry, Haas said she witnessed a great deal of surprise from people. She raised money through Kickstarter, because, she said, she didn’t want anyone to exercise control over her creativity.
Another aspect of Crazy Is that Haas said surprises people is that she plays and writes her own music and accompanies herself on the piano.
“I get the feeling that a lot of people don’t expect me to be the writer behind the music,” she said, elaborating on why many women in the industry do not play instruments at their concerts. “There’s this idea that women pop stars are just a voice and a face and dance and shake their asses,” she said. “I think it’s just as sexy to sit at a piano. We live in a world with so much lip synching and auto-tuning…where is the line between being an artist and a musician?”
Haas, who attended Emerson College, has a degree in theater with an emphasis in musical theater and a secondary emphasis in directing. She credits much of her current success to her education in performing, saying, “So many things I learned studying theater apply really powerfully to life and also to music and art as a whole…I love bringing the theatrical inspiration while still going down this pop rock path. I’m really just taking the pieces of who I am, and this is what my music has become.”
Haas mentioned a director who she worked with at Emerson who would ask her, “What do you want? What does the character want? Go towards what you want, and go away from what you don’t want.” She said her decision to make this album was inspired by asking herself that question and deciding to go in the direction that was pulling her the most.
But Haas hopes the theater is in her future, mentioning Reno Sweeney from Anything Goes as one of the roles she would like to play the most, and giving Sally Bowles from Cabaret the top honor.
“I don’t feel like I’ve left the theater behind me at all,” she said. “I feel like I’ve brought it with me in so many ways….If I ever got to play Sally Bowles, I would die,” she added. “She’s such a complex and fascinating character.”
“Complex and fascinating” could be used to describe Haas’ music as well, and the kind of image she hopes to promote.
“I hope to be the kind of woman and artist that women look up to and trust, so we can have that conversation they aren’t comfortable having with their parents,” she said. “I think this whole birth control thing is so f***ed up and it makes me angrier than I can express. One of the themes of my record is the idea of being natural and being real.
“It is interesting to me that there is this push to put women back into these very domestic roles,” she added. “I’ve never abided by that. I’m happy because of it and I’m free because of it, and I’m not ashamed of it.”
Anna Haas will celebrate the release of “Crazy Is” on Sunday, May 20 at 7 PM at Mercury Lounge (217 E Houston St). Tickets are $10 in advance, $12 at the door. Click here to purchase them.
E-mail TheTheatreSource@gmail.com to win free admission and plus one to the release show, a signed copy of Crazy Is, and a show poster!