by Marisa Torrieri Bloom
When the pandemic hit the NYC metro area, lots of families hunkered down, and a few lucky ones ventured out — transplanting from two-bedroom apartments and brownstones to more bucolic parts of the country to experience a new kind of “remote learning.” Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, guitarist and indie Americana artist Annie Keating was one of the lucky ones. And in April 2020, she bid farewell to the city, and — along with her wife and kids — traded her beloved borough for Bristol County, Massachusetts, until the end of the summer.
What emerged from that challenging period was a fresh perspective and new material: Annie’s latest record, Bristol County Tides, is an emotional, 15-track journey, evoking nostalgia (“Hank’s Saloon”), grit (“Third Street”), and longing for change (“Marigold”) during uncertain times. Hands down, it’s the best record for road trips in summer ’21.
“The creativity and connections born out of pandemic isolation combined with the beauty of the Bristol County tides and environs shaped and inspired these fifteen songs,” Annie tells Rockmommy. “Something deep in me woke up during this time. I think you can feel it in the songs.”
We recently caught up with Annie to talk about her latest batch of tunes, family life back in Brooklyn, and playing out.
Rockmommy: Hi Annie! I love your record! Did all these songs come together during the pandemic?
Annie Keating: Thank you and yes, all 15 songs were born April through October, most in Bristol County, Massachusetts. Only the last few (Goodbye, Shades of Blue and Lucky 13) were penned back in Brooklyn when we returned from 5 months away in late August, 2020.
Rockmommy: I’m particularly fond of “Hank’s Saloon” because it was place in Brooklyn, and I relate to trying to stay sober. 🙂 How did that song come about?
Annie Keating: That’s a fun song and it was a pleasure to write. Yes, Hank’s Saloon was indeed a beloved dive bar in Brooklyn that I played various times. It had a great vibe. You walked in and didn’t want the night to end. Anyway, soon after arriving in Bristol County, Massachusetts, and making new friends, one of them shared an old country music playlist with me, featuring songs by Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson and other greats. The playlist had tons of songs I’d never heard that were just fun, good time old country tunes, and it made me want to try writing a song like that — a summertime song that’ll make you smile.
So, I found myself starting with the lines, “I don’t want to stay sober, I don’t want to be good. I’m tired of being measured doing all that I should. If you want you can find me at hanks saloon, if you’d like to get happy today drinks start at noon.”
From there it was easy to see where the song was going, “Like that summertime evening you don’t want to end, that’s the way I feel whenever we spend time trading stories, drinking cold beer in the hot sun – you make me feel like summer has just begun.”
Rockmommy: So for this record, how was the PHYSICAL writing process different than that of previous albums, given what was going on in the world and your family’s relocation?
Annie Keating: The physical process was different in that, although I always write from an emotional place, these songs were deeply rooted in an uncertain, transformative but also an inspired time. The creativity and connections born out of pandemic isolation combined with the beauty of the Bristol County tides and environs shaped and inspired these fifteen songs. Something deep in me woke up during this time. I think you can feel it in the songs. There’s a physical yearning, vulnerability, joy and sadness that comes through on this album more than any other I’ve written — like you can feel the emotional journey and identify with it through your own transformative experiences. My dog learned to swim, my boy learned to fish, and the city girl in me gave way to the country, captivated by the river and the tides high and low. I bought a boat and learned to navigate it through the channels where the fresh water meets the salty sea. I found unexpected kindness and connections in a time of isolation.
Rockmommy: What about the emotional process? A lot of trauma was happening in the world in 2020, some that’s continuing into 2021!
Annie Keating: I answered some of that in the last questions I guess but yes, like other artists, songs written during this complicated emotional time couldn’t help but reflect the pandemic experience.
The song “Half Mast” for example, was one of the first songs I wrote in April and you can feel the collective shock and pain of the dark, early COVID days. We were all pretty much on lockdown and you can hear the sadness in the lyrics, “Time is moving slow, thoughts are racing fast nowhere to go, flag’s at half-mast. Monday brought the sun, Tuesday came the rain, Wednesday I just lost track of the days. World turned upside down, we go on just the same, as things fall apart, we carry on. Days they still start with the sun.”
There’s something about that idea of flags being stuck at Half Mast everywhere that felt just right for that time. We were all in our own kind of mourning and captivity in those early days of the pandemic. Writing these songs was part of the emotional process of navigating what was happening in the world.
Rockmommy: How are things now? Have you returned to Brooklyn? What about your family?
Annie Keating: Things are good. It feels good to be home and so great to see Brooklyn opening up, eating at my favorite restaurants again (I went to my first movie with my 18-year-old daughter, “Summer of Soul” [in June] and it was AMAZING!). I’m so grateful that my kids — ages 14 and 18 — are both doing well and resilient despite the deeply challenging last year. My daughter is going off to college soon, my son starting high school and I’m just so thankful that they’re both able to live life, be with their friends again and … experience all in-person joys! Remote learning was no fun.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.