The word “creative” gets slung around a lot these days. It’s devolved from its form as an adjective, a describing word, to a noun that’s slapped on the resumés of anyone who appreciates art. A “creative,” we’ve seemed to subconsciously agree, is anyone who’s willing to think a bit broader in order to make (or sell) something. And yet, somehow, the word as we’re using it cheapens the entire idea of creating—“creatives” produce things for corporations and businesses to get ahead personally. There’s no art for art’s sake, or art for the sake of commenting, or art for any sake besides getting ahead implied.
In the process of making “creative” into a more user-friendly word, we’ve cheapened it as well as the entire process of creating from something done for art’s sake to a commodity we can shop out to potential employers.
If there was a way to remove that sort of connotation from the word, we could then use it to describe Annabel Allum. The Guildford musician is not a “creative,” but someone who creates and experiments in more realms than just music—she also dabbles in fashion and designs her own merch, all of which doesn’t stem from a necessarily commercial drive but a desire for all her work to “mean” more to her audience and followers.
And if you’ve any doubts that Allum can make good music, one listen to her new single “Rich Backgrounds” will obliterate all of your preconceived notions. A departure from her more lo-fi debut EP Absent, the gritty “Rich Backgrounds” (released 2/24/17 via Killing Moon Records) is a tear on affluent, entitled attitudes in the music industry, on all the kids with bands you knew in college whose parents consistently paid for the instruments they ruined (not because they were imitating Sid Vicious, but because they didn’t care for them properly). It’s a clever, sarcastic anthem that showcases Allum’s versatility and redeems what rock n’ roll really means—it makes you want to throw back a few drinks and throw a few choice expletives at the complacent creature that “rock” has become, afraid (or just not motivated enough) to criticize anything anymore.
Listen: “Rich Backgrounds” – Annabel Allum
With “Rich Backgrounds” reaching over 17,000 Spotify listens in a little over a month and an appearance at SXSW, it’s clear that Allum is a rising force, if not a force to be reckoned with. And yet she’s completely down-to-earth and open about her work in a way that’s just as refreshing as her angst in “Rich Backgrounds.” Atwood Magazine had the pleasure of catching up with Annabel Allum during her visit to the States for SXSW, who filled us in on “Rich Backgrounds,” SXSW, indie alien films, and why it means more to make things yourself.
MEET ANNABEL ALLUMAtwood Magazine: Hey, Annabel! How are you?
Annabel Allum: Good! I’m just, like, enjoying the sun at the moment. It’s so hot here.
You’re in Austin still? Texas?
Annabel: I’m in Oklahoma! [laughs]. Just here for a few days.
Where in Oklahoma?
Annabel: I don’t actually know…I’m just visiting friends and then I’m going back to Texas in a few days. So yeah.
That’s cool. It’s supposed to be warm over there now.
Annabel: Like, in England, we’re wearing seven layers and our coats. And it just, it hurts, the weather hurts. [laughs] But here, I’m just working on my tan.
Yeah! I live in California and it rained basically from January through February, like every other day. Which I guess is normal for most places. But in the past week, it’s been like very, very hot. I’ve been wearing shorts. It’s been weird.
Annabel: I really want to go to California!
You should! It’s nice. Alright … I’ll get started on my formal questions! ... First of all, how was SXSW? What was that whole experience like?
Annabel: Oh, gosh. It was amazing. Hectic as hell. I don’t think I’ve done so many steps in a day in my life! [laughs] Like, just running around the city. But it was incredible. I met so many amazing people. I stayed in a hostel for a bit before and I just met so many filmmakers and people there for [that]. And everyone’s just out there trying to do stuff, you know, it’s crazy, from different parts of the world. Yeah, it was really cool. Really cool. I feel really grateful to have been there, to be honest. It was awesome.
Yeah, it sounds like a really cool time! Everyone that I know of that’s gone has always been really excited about it when they came back.
Annabel: Yeah! It’s just, there’s stuff going on everywhere. You just walk down [any] different street and there’s just music and people busking. And it’s like nothing else I’ve ever experienced, really.
That’s so cool! So who was your favorite group or artist that you saw or interacted with?
Annabel: Marika Hackman. I’ve been following her for awhile, and seeing her [and her] whole band was awesome. Really cool. It’s cool to see how much she’s grown as an artist as well. When I first saw her, she was just guitar and vocals and really, really nervous and just kind of stagnant onstage. But when I saw her at South By, and she was, you know, going for it! And you can see [that] she’s just like nothing else.
Going into your music, you describe your new song 'Rich Backgrounds' as sarcastic and less of an attack on rich people than it is on rich attitudes. And it’s perfect and snarky and fun. Can you tell us a bit about the story behind the song?
Annabel: [laughs] Yeah! So I come from a town called Guildford, and the music scene there is essentially the music school. And that’s [just] what it is. And I kind of wrote this song after I’d been to one of these gigs that these kids play at. And they’re just…it’s just kind of…disrespect[ful] to their instruments and it just made me and my friends quite angry because instruments, for us, are such a valuable thing. They’re like our babies, you know. We save for months and months and months to kind of buy any sort of gear, and then these kids are just kind of chucking their guitars on the floor. I know that rock stars will do that, whatever, but it just hurt! Like, my heart hurt. [laughs] So I kind of just went home and wrote this as a joke, and that’s how it came out. I feel like the industry…at the moment is a lot of rich kids with parents that can just kind of buy their way in. And I find it [all] quite difficult, really, I find it quite hard. So that’s kind of my rebellion against that, I guess.
Watch: “Rich Backgrounds” – Annabel Allum
Definitely. I definitely understand that, for sure. And it comes across really well.
Annabel: I feel like music used to be, if you worked at it and worked at it and worked at it, you’d get somewhere. And I feel like that’s partially it [today], but it’s so overthrown by other people that can just snap their fingers and, you know, they’re touring the world and doing everything.
'Rich Backgrounds' definitely waxes a bit more punk than the songs on Absent, even more so than a song like 'Tricks.' Which just proves that your range covers a lot of genres. How would you, personally, describe your sound?
Annabel: I don’t know! It changes. I think it just is what it is. I think people can put labels on it, whatever they want. I just write a song and how it comes out is what it is. And I think, you know, I might write a reggae track tomorrow and everyone would be like, you’re a reggae artist, and I’d be like, okay! So I don’t know …The song suits the message, I think. Obviously Absent was a very emotional kind of EP, I think the songs reflected that atmospheric, low-key sort of stuff because it was just telling a story. But “Rich Backgrounds” felt like it needed to be gritty. It felt like it needed to be loud and make a point. So I guess the name of the genre is it is what it is. I don’t know.
We talk about this a lot at Atwood, but, do you feel like describing music in terms of genre is even helpful at all anymore?
Annabel: It lets people know what they’re expecting. But there’s so many people that describe themselves as “indie rock” and that can just range so much. Like, you’ve got lo-fi and then you’ve got grunge and then you’ve got all this different stuff. I think it helps people that aren’t musicians to kind of search for what they want on Spotify or whatever. But I think for people who are in the industry, I don’t think it really matters. You just listen to it, don’t you?
Good point. Can you tell us a little bit more about the video for 'Tricks'? I feel like there’s a lot of understated symbolism there, and the overall effect is pretty cool.
Annabel: Okay. So “Tricks,” essentially, is a song about gaining strength from difficult situations or difficult times. And the video kind of reflects that. It’s kind of like looking at yourself and reflecting on yourself in a way…It’s hard because it has a lot of meanings. Like, the first opening scene is me looking at myself, right, in the cinema, and then it’s kind of going into self-reflection. The video is self-reflecting, and then being like, okay, I’ve gone through all this shit and I’ve experienced all this stuff, but at the end, I’ve come out stronger. You know? And I think it’s just reflecting [that] it’s okay to be an outsider because it actually brings different ideas and brings a different outlook on life which inevitably gives you something that other people may not have. So it’s just about looking at things a bit more positively in your own mind.
Watch: “Tricks” – Annabel Allum
Switching gears, tying music and a musician’s aesthetics too much together can sometimes be a little tenuous. But, your look is totally awesome! Your Instagram feed is pretty poppin’, even though you only have a few songs out there. How do you, as a musician, feel that social media has helped you grow? Or, I guess a better way to put it would be, how do you view social media in relation to your music?
Annabel: Thank you! I think it’s been hugely valuable to me. I think it’s another form of self-expression, especially Instagram. I’ve been able to reach people and collaborate with people that I never ever would have had the chance to before. And I love fashion in itself, I feel like that’s another opportunity to express myself. And as a musician, yeah! I played a hometown show in January and I had this girl from Belgium fly over and see me. She came all the way by herself just because she kind of followed me on social media for some time! And that was quite a moment. And she’s like my friend now, we took her out on the town and stuff. It’s been hugely valuable. I think it’s great. I think it’s cool.
That is so cool! I wish I had random people from Belgium wanting to be my friend on Instagram. So is that how you came to get endorsements and work with companies like Cheap Monday and Bastian Classics? I know you design your own merch, is there sort of a link there?
Annabel: Firstly, yeah, that’s how I got endorsed and stuff. I have a couple friends that are really into the blogging world, fashion blogging, and that is, like, a crazy industry! I don’t entirely understand it. Like one of my friends has been jetted off to Tokyo to work for Google, and then she’s just got to post about it on Instagram. It’s crazy [laughs]. So yeah, I guess that’s how those endorsements came about. They send me stuff and I promote it [laughs], so there’s that. And as far as designing my own merch and things, I think I just want to be able to connect with people on the closest level that I possibly can. And I think if I’m putting my time and effort into doing something, it feels more close. Firstly, I don’t have the money to pay someone to make a T-shirt for me. Also, I kind of don’t really like the idea of someone else doing it. Like, I tie-dyed them myself and I guess I’m a bit of a control freak, but I just like doing things, I like being crazy in every way that I can. And giving someone actually, like, my time rather than just an item of clothing, that feels—I find it hard accepting money anyway—but if I can give someone something, I guess it makes it a bit more justifiable.
Yeah, it’s definitely a lot more special if you’ve worked on the entire design yourself!
Annabel: I’d like to think so. I just enjoy being crazy and silly, doing as many things as I can.
Speaking of doing as many things as you can, your music also appears in the indie film Spaceship. How did that happen?
Annabel: That was such a crazy story! So I was walking down the street, and this lady came up to me and she was like, yo, do you want to audition for this film? Like, based on just the way I looked, basically. It was weird. I think they were just looking for young people. So I did it, we did this little video, and they asked me weird questions about aliens. And then after that the director got in touch, a guy called Alex Taylor—amazing guy—and he said, let’s get a drink, and so I was like, cool, sounds good. So we just had a beer and chatted about life, and that’s when I told him I was a musician. He told me to send him some stuff. And then I went to another audition after that [where] I had to like read some lines, and then they were like, yeah, cool, you’re gonna be in it. And then Alex was basically like, okay, we’re gonna use your songs, and I was like, what? [laughs] So I sent him some songs over, the full high-definition [versions], of the ones he liked. … Then one day I was on set and he was like, bring your guitar, you’re going to sing now [laughs]. And there’s a scene in it where I’m just singing one of my songs to a load of passed-out partygoers. So the whole Spaceship thing was one thing after the other. I thought I was just going to maybe be an extra in a film and then it turned out to not be that at all … I’ve made really good friends from that as well. Tallulah Haddon, who’s one of the leading roles, she’s a really good friend of mine now. So yeah. Weird story! [laughs]
That is really cool! That’s unreal.
Annabel: Yeah, I think it proved my point of just saying yes to things because it was a complete example of domino effect, do you know what I mean? I was with friends and they got asked to audition as well and they were just like, no!, but I was just like, fuck it! [laughs].
It’s okay to be an outsider because it actually brings different ideas and brings a different outlook on life which inevitably gives you something that other people may not have.
So you’ve played with Blaenavon and are set to open for Palace on their UK tour. What’s been you’re favorite venue you’ve played to date and where are you most excited to play next?
Annabel: Probably KOKO in Camden. That was [the] most surreal venue ever. I went there a lot when I was thirteen and fourteen [and] just started seeing live music. And it’s basically like an old theater, so it’s got like all those things on the side that people [can] peer out and it’s three levels and crazy. That was the most surreal because when I stood on the stage there, I never thought I’d be [doing that] sort of thing [pauses]. Excited to play next? I don’t know. I’d like to do like some record stores, I’d really like to do that. Just go and play for people in shops. I like coffee shops as well, [they’re] intimate. But I’ve got a band now as well so I don’t know. Everywhere! [laughs]
Everywhere! Go everywhere … So what’s next for you? You’re clearly pretty busy!
Annabel: What’s next for me? I’m gonna get back and gonna rehearse lots with the band. We might have another single coming out in a few weeks, who knows? I’ve got a video coming out. But yeah! Basically just, I’m trying to just keep going with everything. I think the main thing is just keep writing and just keep doing stuff. But yeah, I’ve got the video for “Rich Backgrounds” coming out.
Awesome! Well, Annabel, thanks so much for your time! It's been really cool getting to talk to you.
Annabel: Yeah, thanks for having me! It’s awesome. Have a wonderful day! Lots of love.
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cover © Rob Blackham