Tag Archives: Ben Brodin

Girl on Fire

August 13, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Haunting melodies float on a summer breeze. Anna McClellan is practicing on the grand piano;  her melancholy lyrics and precise keystrokes are muffled by walls of her friend’s house in the Dundee neighborhood. Step inside the house and it becomes clear: the calm singer-songwriter with oversized eyeglasses is on fire.

AnnaMcClellan2McClellan, 23, is preparing for several shows scheduled across town in the coming days and weeks. She is also preparing for a two-week, cross-country tour to California. Her destination: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a free festival on the first weekend of October at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. She is booking her own gigs for the trip there and back.

The Omaha-born musician will take the stage with another famous local singer-songwriter, Conor Oberst. One of the festival’s seven stages is called “Conor Brings Friends.”

Oberst contributed vocals to McClellan’s most successful single, “Fire Flames,” also the title of her 2015 album (Fire Flames was a cassette tape released simultaneously in digital format by Majestic Litter).

McClellan has played several times at Oberst’s Pageturners Lounge in Dundee. “He’s very supportive of a lot of people around town,” she says. “It’s nice in Omaha, because it’s such a tight-knit community of people (making music). It’s really easy to get help.”

She wrote the song “Fire Flames” in a single sitting, which McClellan says is unusual for her. The lyrics exemplify a recurring theme in her music: “It is such a universal idea to want to be a part of what’s going on, and what the world is, and also being scared of it. But knowing that even though you’re scared of it, if you don’t jump in and try to be a part of it, you won’t be satisfied.”

In conversation, her demeanor is so chill. But she’s a hustler behind the scenes. She works two jobs (one at Joslyn Art Museum, another at The Blackstone Meatball) and plays shows around town by night. She’s speaking to Omaha Magazine on her day off.

AnnaMcClellan3McClellan began studying piano at age 8 through the Omaha Conservatory of Music. She credits the tutelage of Anne Madison for inspiring her passion for piano. Playing the saxophone in jazz band, concert band, and marching band (while a student at Central High School) helped her break out of her comfort zone: “I tend toward structure, where everything’s pre-planned and you know what you are going to do. To be taken out of that comfort zone, and then pushed into solos, made me better, more daring.”

Her mother, former KETV newscaster Carol Kloss, also provided crucial encouragement. They performed together in church musicals, and Kloss included McClellan—the younger of her two daughters—in several Omaha Press Club Show performances.

McClellan first began experimenting with songwriting while studying abroad in Denmark during her junior year of high school. She was in a band called Howard after returning to Omaha, then went solo in 2013. Last year she moved to New York City for three months, working and performing, eventually catching a break to go on tour as the opener for the band Frankie Cosmos. 

Now, she’s working on a new album with Ben Brodin (the Omaha producer of Fire Flames). “We recorded new demos last Sunday for the new record,” McClellan says in July. “It’s going to be a little different. All of the songs that were in Fire Flames were written over this long period (some dating back to high school) more like a collection, but this will be more cohesive.”

“A lot of it is about relationships of two people…and romantic relationships in general, and then, fear,” she says, laughing. “I think it’s easy to get worked up over being scared, so I tend to do that a lot, even for the sake of the song.”

Visit annamcclellan.bandcamp.com for more information. Omaha Magazine

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Dream Weaver

June 17, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine.

As Orenda Fink awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, she found herself transformed into a 15-year-older version of herself.

The Kafkaesque revelation, which was triggered by the death of her beloved dog, Wilson, sent the dream-pop singer-songwriter, then 36, tumbling into existential despair.

“I didn’t really have anywhere close to an idea of a concrete framework for thinking about death—I just never really thought about it,” says Fink, now 39, who is also half of the on-again, off-again Saddle Creek Records duo Azure Ray. “You think about it all the time, but you never really think about it.”

Unbeknownst to the grieving dog mom at the time, she says, Fink’s white chihuahua-terrier mix had come to unconsciously symbolize, in a sort of Jungian slip, everything she had experienced throughout most of her 20s and 30s.

So when the arthritic, cancer-ridden Wilson—whom she named after the genius behind The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds—was eventually euthanized, Fink says, it was as if her entire adulthood had been put down, leaving Fink in a deep depression that even anti-depressants couldn’t tame.

“I feel like I died—that something in me died with him,” she says. “He was like a time capsule for all these experiences.”

Despondent, desperately clinging to any clues that could define who she was, how she fit into the cosmos, Fink did what any musician of her caliber would do: She wrote a record. But before her third solo offering, Blue Dream, could manifest, Fink would have to endure a yearlong journey into the darkest parts of her being and extract, through dream therapy, answers that she says had always been with her.

“I am walking down the street, wrangling three dogs with no leashes,” Fink writes in her dream journal just after she began therapy in 2013. “The first dog is Wilson as a puppy, the second dog is Wilson old and infirmed. The third dog, the most haunting, is Wilson as a white blur of a dog with no discernible edges or lines.”

Fink says her first vivid dream about her dog started a night or two prior to her first therapy session. Each dream thereafter included Wilson in some form or another, she says, symbolically conveying messages that she’d then decode with professional help.

“The therapy started with dreams and it ended with dreams. All we talked about were dreams throughout the course of the year,” Fink says about opting to heal her depression solely through Jungian dream therapy.

The self-described Type-A Virgo, already prone to anxiety and impatience, says she furiously wrote in her prescribed dream journal with the sense that she was communicating with her collective unconscious, or the pool of cumulative knowledge that psychiatrist Carl Jung believed (or “knew,” as Fink points out he’d say) was inherent in all of humankind.

“It was just a phenomenal process,” she says. “Because when I got it, when I understood what the message was, it was immediate sobbing, weeping—transcendent sobbing.”

During her spiritual awakening, Fink says she started writing music again, which had become an almost lost art form to her in the wake of Wilson’s death.

“All of a sudden, I had this little pile of songs that I realized were about what I had just gone through, and it was essentially the whole story,” she says.

Fink named her aural tale Blue Dream, which she released on Saddle Creek Records in 2014. The polished yet surreal eulogy to Wilson—and to her former self—plays like the soundtrack to a lost episode of David Lynch’s early-‘90s serial drama Twin Peaks.

The woeful tunes were produced by Ben Brodin (Mal Madrigal, McCarthy Trenching, Our Fox, The Mynabirds) and Fink’s husband, Todd Fink (The Faint), who says he witnessed his wife overcome much of her distress through the album-creating process and her discovery of a universal, timeless consciousness. The Faint front man says he was initially skeptical of what he calls Fink’s “prophetic dreams,” but that those days are now long gone.

“I think it makes perfect sense to look for answers in your dreams when you have a relationship with your subconscious like she does,” says Todd. “I’m just glad she found what she needed.”

With an oversaturated music-producing market, including technological advances that have facilitated the production and distribution of songs, Fink’s next battle might take place well below the apex of self-actualization on the hierarchy-of-needs pyramid. But food, shelter, and…well, a good life…won’t be hard to find as a working musician, Fink says, just so long as she can stay true to the artistry of her work and keep it “as pure as possible.”

“I guess I’m just, as hokey as it sounds,” Fink says, “a believer in the universe taking care of you, however that’s supposed to be. If I’m meant to create music and I have things to contribute, then the universe will somehow keep that going.”

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