Interview: Anna Oxygen

If you went to shows at DIY spaces such as Secluded Alley Works, Sit n Spin, and Double Trouble in Seattle a decade ago you may have come across a bright young woman who had her finger on the pulse of her artistic element. Anna Oxygen’s creative genius left a major impression as she influenced the multi-media interactive underground musical forthcoming in the early 2000’s for Capitol Hill, Seattle, and beyond. What a divine idea that one person could freely share thoughts lyrically, and tonally by way of keyboard synths, aerobatic routines, lots of colors, and geometric, galaxy inspired phenomena. I remember meeting her when I lived at that one apartment building above Up Records on Pine Street. A brand new apartment high rise exists there now.

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My dear friend Kitty Jensen (Secret Shop) worked with Anna at the coffee stand inside Kincoras Pub, conveniently located a crosswalk stretch from my building, and that’s how I was first introduced. When I first saw Anna, I was taken away by her bright red smile, stretch leggings, push down socks, and sailor petal hemmed mini dress. Looking back, she has such a style that was refreshingly unique amongst all the stay-pressed, polyester Levis wearing scenesters of the day. This past year I was reunited with Anna Oxygen at her show at Chop Suey, a venue dedicated to keeping the integrity of arts and culture on Capitol Hill. I was so curious to learn more about what she has been up to, and this is what I found out…

As a creative, what was a defining moment for the evolution of Anna Oxygen?

That depends on how far back you want to go. I was given an 8-track karaoke machine when I was 6. It was probably the best thing my parents could have gotten for me. It was the kind with two cassette tape decks and a microphone. I figured out that I could record my voice and then switch the tape to the other deck and then record over my vocals. I would do this over and over again harmonizing with myself  sometimes until it started to sound like one hissing continuous tone. It was an early discovery of really lo-fi multi track recording. I still was using this machine when I wrote my first Anna Oxygen songs and even put out an early cassette recorded in this way.

What are some of your fondest memories of Olympia and Seattle, and does it connect to your art?

There are really too many to capture. The through line of these memories was a sense of geographical community support. (As opposed to digital or virtual sense of community.) Both Olympia and Capitol Hill had a sense of proximity that allowed for real time interactions and community building. The communities both were integral to my art making and developing the confidence in my early twenties (late teens) to decide to make music on my own instead of wait around for someone to cultivate it for me. Radio Sloan from The Need once gave me a keyboard and told me to make up some songs and play them. This would be my first show. I invited my friend Katrina to play drums and we made up five quick songs and then played our first show ever which would become the band the Space Ballerinas.  The show was with The Need and a really early version of The Gossip. It was a vibrant and supportive world to be in.

What do you hope for your audience to go away with at an Anna Oxygen or Cloud Eye Control performance?

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Anna Oxygen and Cloud Eye Control performances are very different, but I obviously infuse a lot of Anna Oxygen into my Cloud Eye Control work.

With my solo work I can be much more sloppy and inviting. That is important to me as a performer, to give audiences access to the space and to experience the  raw and sometimes imperfect relationship of spectator to performer. It really is just a lot of people in a room together.

Cloud Eye Control is highly technological and narrative and there really isn’t much room for error. So this creates a highly aestheticized experience and in some ways much more mediated. In both works, the music an my approach to composition are deliberate. I work very intuitively and in both types of shows I want the audience to have a direct relationship to the musical  story being told.  Whether I am writing a pop song or composing music for a band to play in more complex landscapes ie., fantasy metal snow scapes, or noise synth scapes. I want the audience to be immersed and let into the world.

Tell me about Los Angeles.

I’m really in love with Los Angeles. The city is in a perpetual state of reinventing itself.  Things get turned over and exposed and then buried, then re-excavated and celebrated again. I’m currently living in Chinatown and have created a life where I can walk or take the subway to most places. I run into people on the streets and get to walk to events close by all the time. A return to geographically defined community! You can make LA whatever you want it to be, mostly because it is so huge and diverse. The cultural frequencies are polyphonic and though like any city it encounters issues with integration or isolation, it never gets stagnant.

What advice would you give other artists who have aspirations to create and perform?

I would say to really let it be part of a multifaceted landscape of who you are and to always  cultivate it regardless of the resources you have. It can be easy, especially in the binary linguistic world we live in, to think you need to have just one identity. As in I am “THIS” or THAT.  But I really think creativity and creation and performance connect to a deeper part of who we all are. Performance connects to our need for ritual and transformation and creativity to making sense of our world.

Do you have plans to play more shows the Northwest?

AO3I hope so! Though I’ve been busy with tons of projects, I haven’t released a proper Anna Oxygen album in years. I plan to go into the studio in the next few months and give it some focus. The music industry has changed so much since I started releasing records that part of the mystery has become what it means to make something and share it. It makes you reconsider the value of objects, of hand made things, of reproduction and economy. I’ve been navigating what is most important to me within these choices and considerations.

Photos provided by Anna Oxygen
1st photo by Chisa Hughes at her most recent performance in LA, 2nd and last photo by Tamala Poljak.