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Indie Minded Interview: Annabel Lee

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We recently had a chance to sit down with Boston-based indie alt-pop singer-songwriter, Annabel Lee (aka: Sarah Borrello). We chatted about seedy bars, the Boston music scene, her new EP, and more.

Huge thanks to Annabel Lee for taking some time out of her schedule to answer our questions. Sit back and get to know Annabel Lee!

Indie Minded: For those who may not be familiar with Annabel Lee, tell us a little about yourself and your sound.

Annabel Lee: Hi! thank you so much for interviewing me today. I’m Annabel Lee. I’m a singer-songwriter out of Boston. I’ve been touring and putting out records for the past eight years, but I recently changed my name (formerly Sarah Borrello) so this, Annabel Lee, is an alter ego and an extremely fresh start at it all. I guess I’d like to think my music is delicate and dark, lyrically heavier than a pop song but definitely delivered a pop spirit if that makes any sense..

IM: What should people expect when they come to a live show?

AL: You can expect some moody, aggressive stuff going on. maybe a few cheeky moments too 😉

IM: You’re from Boston, the indie scene is alive and kickin’ in Boston, but do you still find it difficult to get people to come out to live shows?

AL: Yes Yes. I feel like Boston just hasn’t really accepted me yet, whereas other places I’ve visited like New York or Wisconsin, vibe to the music and are totally okay with spending money to get into a show and buy music from little old me. I’ve had a few great shows here, I guess maybe every other person in Boston is a musician from Berkley or wherever… and everyone’s always asking “hey dude you coming to the show?” – I can see how that could get annoying… but seriously dude, are you coming to the show? haha

IM: As a female performer in this industry, how did you fare in the days of playing seedy dive bars back in your early years?

AL: Well I’ve learned over the years that it’s better to just show the boys what you can do before they can ask you any questions or smile at you (not to say all the men I’ve played with were condescending totally not the case). It’s kind of just better to put it out there. I know that I might eventually be sexualized and sold as a packaged piece of meat, if I get a large career, but in knowing that I’ve just decided to work hard on being comfortable in my skin, confident in my ability musically, and deciding to learn about the awful business instead of just complaining about how awful it is all the time. The fact of the matter is I want in.

IM: Amanda Palmer seemed to take you under her wing earlier on in your career, taking you along with her on a short tour, how was that experience?

AL That was a pretty crazy whirlwind. I thought it was my ticket out, to be honest. I was green…young… overly hopeful. Amanda was generous and shared her beautiful fans with me. A lot of them still come to shows and it blows my mind that they remember me. There were nights where I only played one song but people still remembered. The opportunities with her meant a lot to me. That experience was my first time feeling that “I could get used to this” feeling. Sold out rooms every night. After parties with spanish wine at beautiful estates. The shows were all incredibly intimate and personal somehow, even the big ones.

IM: Who are some of your musical influences?

AL: Always changing. But Fiona Apple, Fleetwood Mac, Susanne Sundfor, Fever Ray, Nirvana, James Blake, Cold War Kids, Beck, Peter Gabriel, The Kills,The B52s, Amy Winehouse, The Rolling Stones, Lana Del Rey, ZZ Ward, Sia, Garbage, Johnny Cash, Purity Ring, Cat Power, Blondie, The Clash, Bob Dylan, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Broods, Neutral Milk Hotel, Lorde, Nine Inch Nails, Carol King, Hole,The Weeknd.. and I also study whats on Top 40 pretty diligently. Trying to stay current but that’s mostly just learning that “formula” that’s so undeniable. Most of it sucks and makes me feel gross, but some of it I get.

IM: What got you started in music?

AL: My mom put me in classical piano lessons at age four, and that was it. I was always obsessed with writing poetry. But with music, I was addicted by about 12 years old and knew at that point that it was “my thing.” Got broken up with when I was 13 by an Elvis impersonator (don’t worry he was 14), and started to sing and play guitar because I felt that would be the best revenge for whatever reason. The rest is just a ton of practice, more toxic relationships, stories I’ve read, and life experiences.

IM: Do you have an opinion on what’s going on right now with streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music?

AL: Nope. I just hate the internet and I still have piles of CDs in my car. My opinion is that they can keep their fancy invisible/virtual stuff as long as I can still have my CDs and open the liner notes and read along and look at the pictures.

IM: Ha, ha – though I personally love digital releases, I do miss that smell that liner notes had. Siiiigh…. Anyway, What has been your biggest challenge when it comes to the music business?

AL: Choosing which one of my selves I’m going to brand and market, and confidence in myself in general.

IM: If you could play with any musician or band (dead or alive), who would it be?

AL: That’s really hard. I guess a solo piano set opening for Amy Winehouse or a full band set opening for Nirvana.

IM: Good choices! What is your writing process like? Does the music come first or the vocals?

AL: Usually it’s the music and one vocal line of lyrics. or just a written first line.

IM: What can we expect from you for the rest of 2015 into 2016?

AL: It’s looking like a very busy year. I’ll be finished the PREY EP this winter and hopefully having a release. I have some pretty cool secret stuff going on too. 🙂 Can’t tell you yet. But I’ll be leaving town for a little while.

IM: So secretive!! Hopefully you’ll give us a heads up when it’s time to share news! Guilty pleasure (music-wise) – everyone’s got one, who’s yours?

AL: Oh my God, I have way too many. I don’t know if I’m even guilty haha. I love Rihanna.

IM: How important do you find social media and engaging with your fans to be? Are you active on social media?

AL: It’s hugely important these days. I pray that someday I won’t have to manage it all myself because Facebook makes me severely depressed some days. It’s overwhelming and just one vapid or ignorant comment after another. Or other musicians I follow soaring beyond me making me jealous. Just petty stuff. I’m hoping the whole system crashes so that people are forced to look around, talk, maybe read and do stuff. I’m sick of the whole damn thing. But I have to admit it’s helped me and my music reach some pretty awesome people around the world, so for that I’m thankful.

IM: What do you think your “biggest break” or “greatest opportunity” has been so far in your musical journey?

AL: I think I’m about to have that moment in the next few months actually. But, thus far I guess being asked to speak at MassArt about my experiences to the new students from my major “Studio for Interrelated Media,” was a pretty big honor. It took me four years to make friends in college. It felt like a war to me and was mentally challenging. But finally feeling that acceptance and being able to speak to aspiring artists trying to make it was a bigger honor personally than all of the biggest shows I’ve played.

IM: Before we let you go, who’ve YOU been listening to lately?

MY FRIENDS! 🙂

Huge thanks to Annabel Lee again for sitting down with us! I’ve had the pleasure of seeing Sarah Borrello live at the New England Music Awards, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Annabel Lee has to bring us in the future!

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