WORDS: MAX FRIEDLICH '17
IMAGE: ROWAN HYLAND '17 and ISAAC SCHNEIDER '16
One knee tucked into her chest, and the other brushing against the chair upholstery, Anna Schwab scrutinizes her music. As we listen to her new single “Sideline” in her bedroom at 71 Lawn Avenue and sip freshly brewed Throat Coat, her eyes are fixed on something I can’t see.. On her unmoving face, I can see the flipping of every switch, the adjustment of every level, the tweaking of every line. Even now with the song completed, Schwab listens with the intensity of an artist still creating.
As her voice reverberates through the speaker, it floods the room with noise, the tiny bedroom suddenly clustered with synth. Her sound is prodigious yet profoundly grounding, an intimacy pervasive throughout this part-club-banger-part-singer-songwriter-ballad Schwab has crafted with mixing assistance from Eric Poretsky ’18. Her new project Ives is certainly electronic music, but if her first single is any indication, trying to put her new music into the box of genre is a major mistake. In my notes on my initial listen, I wrote down “full of magical holes, I am profoundly aware of my chair.” The beat almost stutters, coming out of syncopation, falling down like a child tumbling off a jungle gym only to learn to pick themselves back up again.
All of this is to say that the song is really fucking good.
I’ve always liked Schwab’s music. I listened to her EP The Charade maybe a dozen times through when it came out last year, and I was always glad to catch a show of hers on campus. On the Charade, Schwab’s voice pines for connection. Her voice is weathered and mature for her age, soothing in its tendency for melancholy yet massive in its emotional forthrightness. You almost forget the instruments are there.
There have always been campus bands that people hype up, talking about them like they could be the next MGMT or the next LE1f. My freshman year, my friend Alex and I did not miss a single Novelty Daughter show. I was (and still am) convinced that I’d be able to brag about those shows one day, gloating that I saw her perform before she got huge. I now feel Anna Schwab and her band Ives belong in that same stratosphere. Several weeks later, I am still in awe of this track.
Schwab’s been making music from a young age, but I was shocked to learn that her foray into electronic music came with little formal instruction. “I’ve always wanted to make electronic music,” says Schwab, shrugging. “This summer was the first time I really sat down and learned it. I was listening to a lot of Yeezus when I made this song.” I bring up Novelty Daughter and other female-identifying electronic musicians on campus, and she continues “Faith was a major inspiration for me. I read an interview with her where she talked about teaching herself Abelton, and sometimes you just need someone to tell you can start from scratch.”
Schwab notes that she’s gotten incredulous responses from male musicians when she speaks about making electronic music.
“I told this guy I was making electronic music, and he said, “ ‘Oh cool, you have a great voice. Who is producing it?’ I’m sure a lot of those people don’t even realize what they’re saying. It’s just ignorance. I read a Bjork article where she says that as a woman if you mention any sort of help you’ve gotten there’s an assumption that they helped way more. Kanye gets a ton of credit, and he has a huge team helping him. There’s a very particular set of assumptions people seem to have about women and electronic music.”
Unsurprisingly, the music scene at Wesleyan only mimics this. "It’s super male dominated. It’s a real shame. I see a lot of women in rock bands which is obviously awesome but at least for me I felt like I couldn’t branch out and do electronic music for example.”
I ask about her process, still marveling at how someone my age can make something this- well, for lack of a better word- cool. “I always write the lyrics last. Always.” One refrain in particular stands out to me. Schwab croons, “You fell asleep with the lights on,” the effect on her vocal somehow making her sound even more human than if it was unaffected.
Multiple times in our conversation, Schwab expressed admiration for being immersered in a community of other artists, her peers and friends. The track isn’t effortless. It’s years of work, hours of focus, too many nights of falling asleep above the covers. Clearly, Schwab has natural talent, but it is the relentlessness in her eyes, her toes dancing ever so slightly on the varnished wood floor, that sets her apart. This is someone who is pushing themselves, any neurosis or competitive nature masked by a genuine talent for listening, be it to music or to the person sitting across from her.
It’s always cool to look like you’re not trying. Schwab gives this track everything, and she can’t help but show it.