If New York-based rocker Anna Rose could add a subtitle to her name, she says it would be, “Don’t Let the Name Fool You.” She couldn’t be more right. With that sweet name, the angelic blonde hair, the petite frame and unassuming smile, one might think she’s just another pretty face with a pretty voice who likes to sing pretty songs.
But that couldn’t be further from the truth. Anna Rose is a spitfire of rock and roll passion, a true guitar head who doesn’t mind getting her fingers bloody, and a mix of Jim Morrison’s sexy bravado with Brigitte Bardot’s seductive stare onstage. It’s the dichotomy of masculine and feminine, retro and modern, strong and vulnerable that makes her sophomore effort, Behold a Pale Horse, a true statement of who she is as a woman, a performer, and an artist.
“My name is very sugary, but my personality is very spicy. My mom used to call me a little ball of fire. I love hard. I hate hard. I play hard, but if you calm me down, I can be gentle. That’s what this album is. It shows the true essence of who I really am as a person, as an artist,” says the East Village New York-based 27-year-old singer/songwriter/guitarist.
And who that is exactly is a little bit of rock and roll, a little bit of blues, and a whole lot of a songwriter who is finally coming into her own and finding her true voice. “My first record, Nomad, was more of a collection of songs from a young songwriter. It was a songwriter showcase album. But on Behold a Pale Horse you really see the kind of artist I am and want to be. It’s more of an artist’s album,” she says.
Her new material is coming from a stronger, deeper, and even darker place. The CD title, and title track, Behold a Pale Horse is a phrase from the Book of Revelations, and is a representation of death. " The album is about the concept of death and what that really means to each of us individually based on our histories. For me, death is not just physically dying. It can be the death of a relationship or a friendship, the ending of an era in your life, anything like that. Death is everywhere, but so is rebirth and it's that cycle that spawned this record,” says Anna Rose. “This album might have come from a darker place, but ultimately I think helped create this stronger more empowered me. I finally feel like I know where I belong now and I know who I am more than ever before.”
Her talented family is a big part of who she is. Her father is Oscar-winning Disney composer Alan Menken and her mother, Janis, was a dedicated and celebrated dancer who donned ballet shoes until she was 8 ½ months pregnant. Not only did Anna Rose inherit her parents’ musical and dancing talent – having danced as soon as she could walk, sing as soon as she could talk, and learned piano at 2 and guitar at 5 - but she was instilled with a strong work ethic as well. And though she grew up in the house that Disney built – and even sang on demos for dad’s score to Enchanted and Tangled – Anna Rose’s musical soul leans more toward gritty, blues-drenched rock and roll from the ‘60s and ‘70s.
“As much as my dad’s known for Disney musicals, at home it was very much more rock and roll – Little Feat, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles,” she says. “And, I’m drawn toward strong females – especially as inspirations for this album – such as Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin (her dog is named Joplin), Chrissie Hynde, and Joan Jett. But there are also influences of the Stooges, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, and even back to Son House, Muddy Waters, and Buddy Guy. Yes, I’m an old soul.” (She even got to fill Iggy Pop’s shoes at a benefit for the late Ron Asheton at the Roxy in L.A. in 2010.)
Anna Rose taps into those influences beautifully on the Kevin Salem-produced Behold a Pale Horse, in which she wrote or co-wrote all of the 11 songs. “I used to write in a vacuum, just by myself. I felt like I had to do it alone,” she admits. “But Kevin really opened me up to writing with others for the first time and to opening myself up musically. He also helped me be comfortable in bringing out the rock more on this record – and this record is definitely a lot harder. I really feel like I’ve grown because of it.”
Moving back to New York after a five-year stint in Los Angeles also weighs in on this record musically and lyrically, especially on the songs “Los Angeles” and “Beautiful World.” “Los Angeles’ is all about this city that I idolized for its ‘60s/’70s Laurel Canyon music scene, which influenced Nomad. On that record, I was searching for something. I was restless,” explains Anna Rose, who wrote more on electric guitar than acoustic this time around to achieve that more rocking sound. “And ‘Beautiful World’ is about returning to New York and realizing this is where my home is, this is where that restlessness quiets. This is where my search stops.”
Though the idea of death in general, provided a focus for the album, the title track, “Behold a Pale Horse,” is actually more about one’s legacy. “I think all that matters is what you leave behind. I want to leave behind really great music that’s not just a hooky song for radio or something people can shake their ass to. I want to make music today that will allow me to keep making music tomorrow. Music that is real and authentic,” she says.
On Behold a Pale Horse, Anna Rose is certainly off to a great start on creating that musical legacy.