You wouldn’t believe it when you hear her now, but at one point, singer/songwriter Anna Renee (Roberts) didn’t think she could sing. So much so that when she went to boarding school for musical theater, the level of the singers already there made her reevaluate what she wanted to do with her schooling.
“The competitive side of me got the best of me and I was like ‘well, I can compete in Shakespeare, so I’m gonna do that,’” she laughs. “So I completely stopped doing music.”
Not that her change of heart was a bad thing, as she went on to become a successful actor and writer, as well as the executive producer of the musical comedy “Destroy the Alpha Gammas.” But there was always that reminder that by not pursuing music as a solo artist, she had left something on the table she would regret later. And with acting being as frustrating a profession as there is, she eventually felt that the timing was right to give music a shot.
“I was working so hard in acting – and I’m not saying I’ll never go back – but I kept hitting a wall, and that was getting really disheartening,” she said. “And music is so exciting because this has been here all my life, and I even see elements of the past where I was living vicariously through friends and I was surrounding myself with music without even seeing how it was staring me in the face the whole time.”
The result? Singles “Guilty” and “Battle Cry,” work with Rock Mafia’s Aaron Dudley and The Voice’s Stevie Mackey, and a fresh start in an endeavor that will take her to the Cutting Room in NYC Wednesday night for a joint performance with a longtime friend from the aforementioned boarding school, Allie Shulz.
That’s a whirlwind to say the least, and if you want to be even more impressed by the Los Angeles-based artist’s high-wire act, consider that she performed for the first time as a solo artist in April. So how did that go?
“Someone came to me at the end of the show and said ‘dear, you were wonderful, but touch the microphone,’” she laughed. “I was recently told by my good friends that after every song, I would make this nervous, childish smile, like ‘ha, ha, ha, look what I just did.’ So it was definitely a learning experience, but I had so much fun. In between the fear there was a lot of joy happening. The second performance I did was with my really awesome voice coach Stevie Mackey, and one of my dance coaches watched it recently and said ‘it’s like you were letting loose in a closet in your bedroom.’”
There will be obvious growing pains, but Roberts isn’t feeling them, simply because she’s having the time of her life on stage.
“I’m so excited to perform now,” she said. “When I’m moving, all of a sudden it’s like the sounds are coming out naturally and the emotions are coming out and I’m feeling like performing is more fun and it’s freeing and it’s not this nerve-wracking thing.”
And if you don’t think acting can be applied to music, Roberts disagrees, noting that her previous experience in front of the camera has allowed her to take on different characters in her songwriting, an interesting dynamic that can make things personal, yet removed from her own life at the same time.
“I acknowledge the fact that anything that I’m writing, I see it because I recognize it in me, but at the same time when I go into that character, it’s like putting a mask on a face, and I get to explore it without having any judgment about it.
“When I go into the studio and do all these different personalities and characters, I see each song that I have as a different aspect of my personality,” she continues. “So I’m getting to explore that, and with the acting experience I have and the life experience, it allows me to approach from a more mature perspective. What I love to do is find the beauty in both the light and the dark and see if I can make it fun exploring that kind of balance.”
All the while, she’ll refer back to the lesson she learned from a teacher a long time ago.
“You just need to learn how to breathe,” he said.
Roberts dismissed the advice at the time, but these days, she realizes just how important it is. Nonetheless, she doesn’t regret the road she’s taken to get here.
“Such a simple thing that he told me made could have made such a difference much sooner, but things happen for a reason,” she said. “A lot of the stuff that I write, I wouldn’t be writing about it because I wouldn’t have had that experience. So I’m happy.”
But what if she’s asked to choose between a role in a film that will be an Academy Award frontrunner or performing her music in packed stadiums around the globe?
She doesn’t hesitate in her response.
“The stadiums and the music.”
Anna Renee and Allie Schulz play the Cutting Room in NYC on Wednesday, July 23. For tickets, click here