Wow it’s Wednesday already, I must have missed a day. Anyways we are back at it and excited to be here. Before we get into it I just want to speak on Jay-Z and Samsung releasing his new album to a million people who didn’t even know they had bought the album, that’s because Samsung has bought it for them via a special “Magna Carta Holy Grail” app. All details aside I just want to commend Jay-Z for thinking out the box and showing that in the digital age musicians can release albums on various formats. The possibilities here are endless and very exciting! Today I am excited to have a pianist/singer/songwriter by the name of Annika Vitolo from Brooklyn, NY. Annika has blown me away with her album ‘Affinity’ which is out now. This album is one where you grab a bottle of Merlot and press play and relax. Come join me as Annika speaks on being a mom & wife, learning to play the piano, what Brooklyn means to her, and much more!
Stoli: Where are we talking from today and how is your summer going so far?
Annika: We’re talking from the Jersey Shore today! My summer is going great. Enjoying seeing more of friends and family, traveling, and starting as many mornings without alarm clocks as I can before Labor Day!
Stoli: Tomorrow is July 4th. What does that holiday mean to you and how do you see America as it is today?
Annika: For me every July 4th brings a renewed sense of patriotism. This year has been especially tragic for our country, with widespread natural disasters and unprecedented acts of violence. But to see how people came together to support one another in times of suffering made me especially proud to be an American. How I see our nation today as opposed to when I was growing up is that the digital age, smartphones, and the explosion of social media have given us so many new ways to feel more connected to one another, extending beyond the scope of just friends and family. For example in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy I was struck by the pages popping up on Facebook organizing grassroots clean-up efforts for communities, streamlining donations of money and resources, and relaying stories of peoples’ hardships. It’s a wonderful opportunity to feel more connected having so much at your fingertips and being able to touch someone through something as simple as leaving a few kind words of encouragement via a Facebook post for those struggling with a tragic event.
Stoli: At what age did you learn the piano and when did music become more than just a hobby for you?
Annika: I began piano lessons at age 4 and had years of formal classical training. While I enjoyed playing piano, I had no interest in songwriting. Over time as things got busier with career and family, music had ceased to be an active part of my life for many years. But all that changed in 2008 when my Dad was suddenly diagnosed with terminal cancer. It caused a tsunami of sadness and emotional overflow that pushed me headfirst to the piano. I wrote and I wrote and it was truly a blessing for me that through the tragedy of my Dad’s illness and passing, I discovered gifts in me that lay dormant all those years.
“The Lesson” – Annika Vitolo
Stoli: You do vocals, piano, & lyrics for your music. What is the advantage to being a solo musician?
Annika: Having a band would be extremely cool! But in reality being a solo musician is a better fit for my lifestyle. I’m a busy wife and Mom of three with a demanding job in healthcare and a hectic, ever-changing schedule. Finding (and paying!) other musicians to learn my material, and schedule rehearsals and gigs everyone can agree on is a daunting task! Also much of my music is highly piano-driven, emotionally intense, and rather intimate. Performing solo acoustic versions of my songs enable me to deliver them more powerfully and expressively with just me and my instrument. Often it’s the pauses between the words that say the most, and not having to keep in time with other musicians allows for a freedom to convey the song as I’m feeling it.
Stoli: I am listening to “Affinity” now as we speak. How long were you working on that album and where can readers grab a copy?
Annika: “Affinity” is a 15 track album and spans songs written from 2009 through 2012. My producer is Dean Bohana of Rockgarden Studio in Brooklyn NY, and I’m very grateful for his incredible talent and immeasurable contribution to this album. Physical CDs are available at CDBaby and digital downloads of the album or individual singles from “Affinity” are available on iTunes and other major online sites. Direct links to those can be found at AnnikaVitolo.com
Stoli: I love your song “Lost Time.” What does that song mean to you and what inspired you to write that?
Annika: Thanks! That song is among my personal favorites. The frenetic build in the bridge really conveys the emotional intensity of the words. “Lost Time” is a story about falling hard and fast for someone, and the yearning to make up for lost time. It was inspired by me being in a particularly somber mood that day, which often is my breeding ground for song ideas. I was home cleaning a shelf and lifted a beautiful hourglass I loved and had for years. It fell out of my hands and shattered. As I knelt to pick up the pieces the sand rushed through my fingers, and I started to cry. Then my head filled with the words “I’m falling, I’m falling down, like the sand in an hourglass. I’m falling, I’m falling, as you’re slipping though my hands…” I knew I had a song here and its title would be “Lost Time”. The rest of the words came later. Sometimes, like in this case, I’ll have a title first and then afterwards build a whole story around it.
Stoli: When it comes to writing songs, do the lyrics or music come first and what kind of mood do you write best in?
Annika: Sometimes lyrics come first and other times the music. But what would often spook me is when a song with nearly fully developed lyrics and music would suddenly play in my head out of the blue, when I had no desire to write and seemingly no active part of the thought process to create it! Now I know it’s just my subconscious doing its thing. Like some highly detailed dreams we become aware of upon waking and think “where did THAT come from?”, we accept we’ll probably never know, it just is what it is I don’t filter what comes out. It comes out for a reason and I let it. As to what kind of mood I write best in, it is most definitely a melancholy mood!
Stoli: I really enjoy your Youtube channel http://www.youtube.com/user/AnkV19. How did you get into making your own music videos and how important is creating the visual aspect to your music?
Annika: I got into making my own music videos with my song “Streets of Brooklyn” which I initially released on iTunes as a single in 2010. At the time I wasn’t interested in live performing and had no real online presence, so few heard the song. But I felt others might enjoy it and wished it had more opportunity for exposure. The story is of a Brooklyn girl returning to her hometown streets in search of the love she left behind years earlier, but it really was a love song to Brooklyn itself. It seemed to me that a visual would drive home the message of this song beautifully. I wanted to show people the city I loved and missed, not just sing about it , so I decided to make a photo montage music video. I utilized not only iconic images of bridges and well known places, but photos that captured the essence and character of the Brooklyn I remember – sneakers hanging on telephone lines, kids playing in the rush of water from a fire hydrant, a Mister Softee ice cream truck (you get the idea!) The video really exploded on YouTube and Facebook and even led to radio airplay and invitations to perform. Its exposure garnered comments online from around the world. I was floored! I came to love making homemade music videos, and it felt like such a natural extension of the creative process of songwriting. It’s also a fun way to increase the potential reach of my music as it tends to hold peoples’ attention more than standard live performance videos, and more viewers seem to want to share it. I’ve since made other videos for some of my more intense songs such as “Fix Me”, “The Lesson”, and my latest video “Carry On” which was inspired by the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. The addition of imagery helps to make those songs that much more moving and visceral.
Stoli: I love the piano. What is it about the piano that drew you in and what piano brand do you use?
Annika: I don’t know what it is about the piano that drew me in, it’s just all I’ve ever known for as far back as my memory goes. I’ve tried to play guitar but I suck! In my opinion the piano is the most reactive and expressive of instruments. I perform on a Yamaha P95 keyboard which I highly recommend for its weighted 88 keys, natural feel, and great sound. At home I have a Roland KR-777 digital baby grand which I do most of my composing on. It’s at least 10 years old but it’s beautiful and I love it. I had the same upright piano from age 4 till sometime in my 30s when I traded it in for this Roland. I was in tears parting with it! There were a lot of memories in those keys. I pounded on them, caressed them, cried on them. I get very attached to my pianos!
Stoli: What is it about living in Brooklyn, NY that has helped shape you as a musician and what music venues do you attend & play there?
Annika: My parents were big supporters of the arts and growing up they’d take me to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, concerts in the parks, shows in NYC, and dance performances. But I was most moved as a youngster by the lone musician on the subway platform. There was something mesmerizing to me about the beauty it, juxtaposed upon a dank concrete slab of a stage and a seemingly unresponsive crowd. I was captivated. What I attribute to being raised in Brooklyn is an inner confidence….a resilience. A feeling of “this is who I am, this is where I’m from” and no feeling of wanting to be like or sound like anyone else. I’ve had some criticism my music isn’t “mainstream enough” and doesn’t sound “contemporary enough”. And to that I say “Fuhgettabout it! It is uniquely me. Great if you like it, fine if you don’t.” I haven’t played many well-known Brooklyn venues but have enjoyed shows at the Brooklyn Bowl and Knitting Factory. I’ve found more opportunities in NYC to play in places like Pianos and The Bitter End which seem particularly well-suited to the solo singer/songwriter/pianist.
Stoli: What is coming up for Annika Vitolo and where you @ online?
Annika: I’ve kept my summer gig schedule light and am working on some instrumentals for various projects. I’ve also been working with my team on potential opportunities for TV/film placements as well as pitching of some unreleased demos to other artists and publishers. My online links are below. Thank you SO much for the opportunity to be interviewed by your awesome magazine!