Sit down with one of BFF.fm’s top local artists of 2023, Anna Hillburg! Anna recently visited the BFF.fm studios to talk about her new album, Tired Girls. When I chatted with her on BFF.fm’s main stage, Anna explained how she started her career in Los Angeles before moving to the Bay Area, where she has spent decades playing with beloved local bands like Shannon and The Clams, The Dodos, Will Sprott, Dreamdate, Shannon Shaw and her All Star Buddy Band, and more. During this conversation, we dove deep into her eclectic sound, which is inspired by classical music, garage rock, and her professional training as a trumpet player. Join BFF.fm on the journey of Anna Hillburg’s music and ponder the not-at-all-intimidating question, “What does it mean to be a woman?”
Before your solo debut, you were involved in multiple local LA and SF bands. How do you think the bands helped you grow into the person you are now and helped develop your music?
I feel like playing in other bands is just what made me. I was going to school for classical trumpet, then I moved to the Bay Area and got into the rock scene, and I just wanted to learn everything. One of the problems with academia is that they make you focus on one thing. Like if you are studying trumpet, that's all you do, and they want you to be in the symphony or a jazz band. I wanted to sing. I wanted to learn guitar. I wanted to learn drums. So playing with other bands was really cool. I would play drums in a punk band or play bass in a country band. I would pick up every instrument. Being in other bands overall made me a very well rounded musician.
How would you say your music has really grown or changed over time since your solo debut?
I’ve definitely gotten better, like I kept at it. [Back then], I wanted to learn more instruments. I wanted to get better at songwriting. I read as many books as I could and took so many classes. I tried different things. Looking back, there was a cute innocence. I think it's good to remind yourself that it's okay to be a beginner at something.
How do you think your training with trumpet, piano, and also guitar plays into how you develop and write your music?
For a lot of my records, I wrote them on guitar. With this record, I was like, ‘I’m going full horn.’ I don’t think there’s a single song that doesn't have horns on it. I was just like, I’m really gonna lean into that part of me. But still, I would say for sure that the base of how I write is definitely on the piano and guitar. Then once you get the basic structure of a song, that’s when you start hearing other things, and that’s when you can start using the trumpet.
What are some of your inspirations or influences?
I think what you grow up with, even if it's corny, it sticks with you. When I was growing up, my parents had a record collection that was very classic rock, like Fleetwood Mac, The Beatles, and Rolling Stones. When I got older, I was really into classical music and chamber pop like The Left Banke, Love, and bands that use orchestral sounds like The Kinks. Then, you know, when I went into the indie world of San Francisco it, like, blew my mind open to so many other kinds of bands that I love, even just visually and creatively. I love Shannon and the Clams, who I played with sometimes, they are amazing.
Songwriter-wise, I would say that Fleetwood Mac – Christine McVie, especially – are an influence. I also like Joanna Newsom. She's got a weird voice and she's kind of not in the spotlight all the time, but she's just like a shredder on the harp and she makes these beautiful classical melodies. I'm trying to make things beautiful, so I'm really attracted to people that know how to create beauty with melody. Genre doesn't matter too much; whatever feels beautiful to me.
In your song “Tired Girls,” the lyrics talk about how women or young girls are raised to believe that falling in love means success in life. In your song“Girl Girl Girl,” you also talk about how it is important for women to live their own lives. What do these songs and this record mean to you as a woman?
I feel like when you are a woman, you have different eras of insecurities. I feel like it's changing now, though, and I love being a part of that. I feel like we have this model of what we should be like. For me, at least, and I don't want to speak for everyone, but when you are younger you are thinking, “Am I pretty enough?” or “Do I fit in?” and you don't realize that you have been totally robbed of your self worth. I love working with women as a teacher and musician because I think they are so cool and they have so much to offer but a lot of times society sort of just tells them to be pretty or to get a boyfriend or that their worth is in the wrong place. You never really get the chance to appreciate yourself. Especially these days with our comparison culture. We need more role models that show girls that they can do other things.
Why do you think it's so important for women, especially young women, to hear the messages you’re including in your songs?
I'm starting to realize that people need to see other people doing things to be okay with it. I know that sounds very vulnerable and insecure, but like…you need to see somebody else doing something to realize that it's possible and to have somebody to look up to. I kind of wish that I had something like that. I didn’t have a trumpet-playing, unmarried woman role model when I was growing up and I was like “I guess I’ll just have to be that.” But I’m kinda just becoming the person that I had to look up to.
Any plans on releasing new music anytime soon?
I'm in the writing stage right now. I’ve been drawn into Solange lately, so I’ve been writing some electronic, electric music but with live instruments. I'm kind of in a really experimental phase but I’ve been looking to make stuff that makes you move and has horns in it. Every weekend, I'll give myself a project. Like on Sunday, I'm just gonna write a song that sounds like Robyn’s theme song. I’m thinking about doing singles. It'd be a fun way to, like, drop a song and do a video instead of doing a full album.
As an artist, why do you think local community radio is important?
Oh my god, don’t get me started! When my album came out, I was all about the radio campaign. I feel like it’s the last frontier where people can just be like…original. Everything’s a commodity and nothing is artist-forward [anymore]. Everything has something behind it, some ulterior motive that they’re trying to sell you. It all just feels very synthetic. And radio is just the most real, raw, true form of spreading the message of art that I love. I love radio!
DJ host for End of Teens! Tune in every Wednesday morning 8-9am to hear some good music.
Show us you believe in the magic of community radio with a tax-deductible donation to BFF.fm.
Support X and show us you believe in the magic of community radio with a tax-deductible donation to BFF.fm.
Make a one-time donation to support BFF.fm programming.Donate
Make a one-time donation to support the BFF.fm podcast network.Donate
Become a Bestie, and your monthly or quarterly sustaining donation will support BFF.fm all year long!Donate & Become a Bestie
We're so thankful you share our belief in the power of community radio to bring people together.