They call Patsy Cline the Honky-Tonk Angel for a reason. She's a savior. Her songs will save you. They'll bandage your bleeding heart. Are you lonely? Down-and-out? So was she. You're not the only one. Patsy Cline could sing about sadness like it's your sadness. She had the strength to be raw with emotion in her songs. The pain and loss in her voice is real, so there's something there to take hold of. Oh, and she sounds like an angel. Ellensburg native singer-songwriter Star Anna has that same strength, the same ability to be open with emotion. Star's voice is strong, clear, and unconstrained. There's sadness there, and it's powerful. Like Patsy, Star goes down to the deepest, darkest parts of a torn-up soul, and through her songs, she reports back with pained beauty. Like Patsy (and Jesus?), Star goes there so you don't have to. Or, if you're there, she'll deliver you from that place. This is truly belted blues. And it knocks down walls.
In July, Star Anna and her band the Laughing Dogs released Alone in This Together on Rachel Flotard's Local 638 Records. It's Star's third full-length, and it's pure Americana rock 'n' roll/alt-country blues and emotion. Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready guests and is helping distribute the album. The Laughing Dogs are Justin Davis, Ty Bailie, Keith Ash, and Travis Yost. They back Star perfectly, leaving the songs open for fire or flowers. Star spoke before leaving to play the Pearl Jam 20 Festival in East Troy, Wisconsin. I was and am in awe of her.
When you sing, you have a power. You sing from a place. It seems desolate, but strong. Where does your voice come from?
It's just a matter of what I'm capable of doing. And what's comfortable for me to sing, and what feels right. I don't think about it technically.
You are badass in the same way Patsy was. What comes to mind when you think about Patsy Cline?
She's incredible. I love her voice. I love listening to her. She's not just a pretty face singing a pretty song. There's a lot of heartbreak in her voice that came through.
What makes Patsy Cline strong?
Her honesty. She went through heavy things and let that show. She didn't try to hide from what she was going through, and she used it to add power to her voice.
What makes you strong?
I would hope it's honesty. I put everything out there. I'm being myself and being as honest as I can be in my music. When I sing about things, I mean it.
Your music seems like it houses complexities on an emotional level for you. What do you do before a show?
If I can go for a walk before a show, that's always nice. Usually, it's a lot of sitting around, anxious and waiting.
Which Patsy Cline song resonates with you the most?
I'd say "Strange." What really struck a chord for me with her music was when we did this tribute show a year ago. I had gone through some rough emotional relationship stuff and was feeling pretty heartbroken. Her songs were a good vessel for me to get my emotions out. I think when you're going through those bad times, it's not when you're in it when you write the songs, but when you're coming out of it. I was still thick in it then, so it was nice to have those songs already there and full of heartbreak. I could really relate.
What are your favorite kinds of shows to do?
I like those shows where we get booked with bands that are completely different from us. We played in Portland one time with three pretty hardcore punk bands. One of the singers, a girl, was spitting into the crowd. She was super badass, ripped off her shirt. Then we get up there, and it was during our first album, which is pretty folky, alt-country. I didn't know how it was going to go. But it went well; people liked it.
You probably don't spit into the crowd when you play.
Not on purpose.
Maybe sometimes you accidentally gleek.
Can you gleek on purpose?
Yes. I just get yelled at when I do.
What is some Northwest music that you're into right now?
I always love Neko Case. Brandi Carlile is another one. It's been cool to watch her come out and do as well as she's doing. I've been enjoying the Lonely Forest. I really like John Van Deusen's voice. And Widower is another band I'm into.
What is something that people might not know about you? Take us deep inside your world.
I can fit four quarters in one nostril.
No you can't.
Yes I can. It's a great party trick, because no one ever wants the quarters back. I can also do the worm.
Can you do that with the quarters and gleek at the same time?
I would not have guessed that you can worm.
I know it's weird, but I decided to try it one day. And I can do it. I can worm.
How did "For When I Go" come together?
I'd been listening to a lot of Otis Redding. We do a cover of his song "That's How Strong My Love Is." I wanted to do something a little more simple. It's hard to break down what thoughts go into writing. It just happens. Whatever thought process I'm going through at the time sort of disappears.
What is your favorite song to play live right now? One that you might be feeling more than others?
"For When I Go" is a fun one. Vocally, I enjoy doing that one. And "High Water." We've done that one a couple different ways. We had to do a couple shows without our keyboard player, Ty. And we had to figure out how to play that one differently, because his keys are so crucial to the song. So Justin played harmonica on it, which is how we did it originally. I like being able to switch songs up. That's one of the things I admire about Bob Dylan. Dylan said, "Just because a song was recorded one way doesn't mean you always have to play it that way." I hope to do this with more songs in the future.
You live in Seattle now?
Yes, I moved to Seattle last fall.
How did you get to know Mike McCready?
Through mutual friends and being involved in a couple of benefits. He enjoyed what we did and wanted to help us get the record out.
Is he going to play with you at PJ20?
We're really hoping so.
What's Ellensburg like?
I was born and raised there, and lived there until I was 24. It's a small town, a college town. The students change every year, but the locals stay the same. I liked growing up there. You get a piece of the country. It's a friendly place.
Where do you like to play in Ellensburg when you go back?
Raw Space. It's the best. I love playing there. A good place for music in Ellensburg.