She tried to take a year off from music to work as a high school teacher, but the teaching only inspired her to write an entire new album, then successfully run a fan funding campaign and record it.
"During that year, I also wrote a score for a film, and many other songs and music projects,” notes acclaimed indie folk-pop singer-songwriter Adrienne Pierce, concluding, “Sometimes you don't get to decide to take a year off from something like music.”
The album, My Heavens, came out last month. Her fourth, it followed her 2010 album Oh Deer, as well as six EPs and two singles; her songs have been heard on dozens of movies and TV shows including Grey's Anatomy and Veronica Mars, and she has showcased everywhere from Lilith Fair to South By Southwest and The Toronto International Film Festival while touring with the likes of Ray LaMontagne, Damien Rice and Jane Siberry, who took her under her wing and brought her along as opener/merch person on several major tours.
After releasing Oh Deer, the native Canadian toured extensively in 2011 before deciding to take a break.
“I thought I’d take a year off because I wasn’t ready for the next album, and people were saying, ‘You’d be a great teacher,’” Pierce recalls. “I never taught before, but I thought, ‘That sounds fun and interesting, I’ll try that.’ I had the opportunity to teach art at a cool alternative one-on-one school and knew it would take a lot of my time being a first-time teacher, but music kept coming.”
She started teaching art, along with history and English, in December, 2011, at Fusion Academy in Pasadena.
“I loved it, but because of the subjects, I got really inspired with interesting song ideas and was writing tons of songs, in a concentrated way, on weekends,” she says. “I spent all my time during breaks doing music obsessively—more focused and specific about what I wanted to do. Then out of the blue I got asked to write the score for a film [the rom-com Wedding Chapel], and other music projects. So even though I was taking a year off from music, I was more involved with it than ever.”
Her single from last year, “It's Your Day,” was placed in international commercials for Fiat Linea and Assam Milk Tea, and she began recording My Heavens sporadically in Pasadena with her husband and co-producer Ari Shine, an Americana singer-songwriter who also played most of the instruments and taught recording arts at the same school. Then both were asked to help open a Fusion Academy in Long Island, and they moved to New York last August, recording vocals and mixing in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.
“It was supposed to be mixed during the week that we had no power and I think that affected the final mixes in a positive way--because we were so thankful to be back in the studio with heat and electricity!” Pierce says.
And whereas Oh Deer reflected many years of life in the Los Angeles area (“All this stuff was thrown in: birds in trees and parrots outside in Pasadena!”), My Heavens took less time, and was inspired by “Buddy Holly, old country music, girl groups from the 1950’s and 60’s, Peter Gabriel, Ryan Adams and the stars--the ones in the sky.”
“I made a record a while back with producer Jeff Trott [her second album Faultline] and we talked about girl groups, and ‘Leader Of The Pack’ slightly influenced my [My Heavens] song ‘If Ever,’” she says. “I just loved the sound of it, and the over-dramatic yet conversational tone, and the talking in it and addressing the audience.”
As for the school-teaching influence, she cites “Like Minds" as being inspired by topics covered in her world history and art history classes, including world religions and conceptions of the afterlife.
“Some deal more personally with one student, when they bring up a lot of issues,” she says. “Like ‘Let It Go,’ which is about letting things go and accepting things the way they are.”
She further notes “Castle Green,” a song “inspired by a beautiful old building in Pasadena that was rumored to be haunted,” and the album-closing a cappella "No Words," “a tribute to my friend and collaborator John O'Brien, who died suddenly in 2011. I tried to write a song that he would appreciate, and couldn’t bring myself to add instruments after writing the words and melody: I felt like he would have added the music if he had lived.”
My Heavens was fan-funded through Pledge Music, and self-released on Insectgirl Records.
“I have a song on my first album, Small Fires, called ‘Insectgirl,’” Pierce explains. “It is kind of a superhero underdog song, about people seeing insects--or people--as small and insignificant and yet they have been here longer than us and will be here after us and they can do amazing things. It is about feeling like people are looking down on you or thinking you are not good enough but also knowing that you will continue doing what you do no matter what. So it was this crazy song I wrote that people really liked and then I named my label after it!”
My Heavens also features stunning front and back cover paintings by artist Tricia Scott, whom Pierce found through the Etsy commerce website.
“I was originally going to use the back cover--The Huntress--as the front but then fell in love with the Jacob's Ladder painting,” she says. “I love how the two girls, who may actually be two sides of the same person, are creating their own universe.”
Pierce and Shine are now out touring North America in support of My Heavens, with Shine doing his own set in addition to supporting his wife on guitar.
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