Anne McCue – Up from Australia
Anne McCue calls it a “strange journey,” as she retraces her path from arts school graduate in Sydney, Australia, to singer-songwriter, guitarist and recording artist in Los Angeles. “But if you put yourself on a path,” she says, “things are bound to come to you, and send you in different directions.”
The first in the series of steppingstones that took McCue to her destination was a classified ad in a music street press newspaper in Melbourne, Australia, which read, “Wanted: Wild Women For Rock ‘n’ Roll Band.”
At the time, McCue was musical director for a highbrow theater company, and had developed a taste for avant garde underground bands such as Einsturzende Neubaten and the Birthday Party. Secretly, though, “I always wanted to be in a rock band,” she confesses in retrospect.
So McCue answered the ad, which was recruiting for Girl Monstar, a trashy, Runaways-style group that went on to tour Australia with the Ramones and the Buzzcocks. (One of her bandmates, incidentally, was Sherry Rich, who now lives in Nashville and has a solo album out soon, produced by ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett.)
Although Girl Monstar’s orientation leaned too close to the mainstream for McCue’s tastes, she remembers it as a fun gig. “I enjoyed playing in a band, and I just loved playing guitar,” she says. “It ended up taking over my whole life.”
When Girl Monstar broke up after five years, McCue found herself temporarily at a loss. “It’s like after a divorce,” she remarks. “You have to find new friends, and work out who you want to be.”
She’d started showcasing her already remarkable guitar skills at blues jams in Melbourne’s pubs. One night she was approached by a man with a ticket to Vietnam for a multi-skilled guitar player. McCue jumped at the opportunity and subsequently found herself in a Ho Chi Minh bar called Apocalypse Now, playing in a power-rock trio with two other expat Australians, doing Pearl Jam, AC/DC and Nirvana covers. Before long, she’d also joined a jazz band, and started adding Lucinda Williams tunes and her own originals to their repertoire of standards.
The nightly experience of performing in front of tourists, far removed from any music industry expectations, was liberating for McCue. “It didn’t matter what I played,” she says, “because it wasn’t like I was in a peer group or a scene. When I got back, I was more focused on what I wanted to do.”
Once McCue found that focus, industry interest in her music came thick and fast. A Canadian label offered her a solo deal; almost simultaneously, Eden a.k.a, the Crosby Stills & Nash-styled folk band she’d joined (“because I needed the money”), were signed to Columbia.
Eden a.k.a. moved to Los Angeles to make an album that got shelved in the wake of a label shakeup — a scenario McCue describes as “heartbreaking,” though common enough. “There’s a lot of people in L.A. whose records haven’t come out,” she observes. “I don’t know where they go — some storeroom somewhere. It’s really sad, if you’re not allowed to record those songs again.”
McCue decided to put all her efforts into her solo career. “I’d been a sideman a lot,” she explains. “Most women who play guitar are singers, but I developed my guitar a lot more than my singing.
“For me to sing, it’s really personal and scary — especially for someone who didn’t do it growing up. The only reason I sing is because I write songs, and I want people to hear them.”
One of the first people who heard McCue’s songs made a phone call after the gig to his friend Lucinda Williams. “She came to see me in Nashville and asked me to tour with her,” McCue remembers. “I was always a big fan of Lucinda Williams. She’s one of the finest songwriters around; all writers can learn from her economy and integrity.”
McCue has just released a new album, Roll, with producer/engineer Dusty Wakeman, who has worked with Williams and many others including Dwight Yoakam. Wakeman is also now the bassist in McCue’s touring band.
“Dusty was into the philosophy of keeping it live, trying not to over-produce,” McCue says of the sessions with Wakeman. “I wanted to do the kind of recording bands do when they’re just starting out and don’t have a lot of contrivance to them.”
Roll is McCue’s first album for indie label Messenger Records, with whom she signed last year; she clearly feels right at home. “I’m a pretty slow learner,” McCue says. “I’ve worked with people I later on wished I hadn’t, and it’s taken me a while to know what I wanted to do.
“Now,” she declares softly, “I’m very particular. I want to be surrounded by people who are coming from the same planet as me. That way, there’s no need to pretend, or not tell the truth.”