Portland folk singer Anna Tivel tells stories with her songs
written by Ben Salmon | photo by Jeffrey Martin
Songs come in all shapes and sizes and styles. Some sweet. Some raw. Some deeply philosophical. Some just gibberish that sounds cool.
For Portland folk singer Anna Tivel, songs are opportunities to tell stories about people and the lives they lead—their triumphs, tragedies and all the things in between. She gathers her source material on the road, using scraps of paper and the backs of receipts, she said.
“I think I’m just drawn to people telling it like it is in an artful way—reflections of real life made into something more,” Tivel said. “It’s like a great movie that hits home because it gave voice to a feeling you know so well—gave it weight and purpose. I just think people need stories to make sense of all the mad chaos that is life.”
In her brilliant 2017 album, Small Believer, Tivel uses poetic lyrics and vivid imagery to chronicle aimlessness and ambition, desperation and redemption, long lonely drives and sleepless Saturday nights. A recurring theme is the relentless passage of time, and its attendant ruminations and regrets.
“This album feels honest to me,” Tivel said, comparing Small Believer to her previous three albums. “The songs feel more plain and dark and less flowery.”
Translation: These songs are Anna Tivel songs—well-balanced blends of acoustic guitar, the right chords, memorable melodies, immaculately crafted stories and not much else.
“I love quiet mornings,” Tivel said, “to write before my brain has a chance to let the world in.”