Music Star Annie Moscow On The Five Things You Need To Shine In The Music Industry

An Interview With Guernslye Honoré

Guernslye Honore
Authority Magazine

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Trust yourself.

It’s been an ever-evolving life lesson for me. From my misaligned concert pianist background to so many compromised decisions and situations I’ve found myself in throughout the years, whenever I’ve trusted others more than I’ve trusted myself, it’s not without cost.

As a part of our interview series with leaders, stars, and rising stars in the music industry, we had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Annie Moscow.

“Some people are just born inspirational, and count Annie Moscow among them,” wrote Americana Highways of the Phoenix-based singer-songwriter. Moscow released her sixth studio album, “Land of Dreams,” independently on February 2, 2024, as her first solely acoustic project. The album showcases a voice that is strong and unique, both in sound and perspective, and the more minimal instrumentation strips her rich and diverse musical influences down to the essentials, exposing a perceived vulnerability mixed with hard-won wisdom gained through life experience. The new album shines a bright light on her singer-songwriter roots, where she has never been one to shy away from deeply personal and profoundly revelatory themes, and this is no exception. Moscow delivers, engages, and disarms, sometimes resolute and sometimes with the wry, subtle humor which resonates and endears her music to fans everywhere. As many an audience member has attested, no one leaves an Annie Moscow show without knowing not only more about Moscow, but more about themselves. With her gift for melody and dramatic, cinematic storytelling, her songs and performances often elicit comparisons to other dynamic pianist/cultural documentarians including Billy Joel, Laura Nyro, and Carole King. https://anniemoscow.com/

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit about your “origin story”. Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I’m originally from the East Coast, the tri-state area — New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. Both my parents loved music. My father played guitar and sang in the Cornell glee club (like Andy from “The Office”), and my mother loved classical music and Broadway shows and played her records all the time around the house.

My father was my first piano teacher when I was five. But as I got more serious, so did my teachers, including David Sokoloff and Marion Zarzaczna of The Curtis Institute. At 16, I won a youth orchestra competition and performed with the Bucks County Symphony, then went on to major in piano performance at Indiana University, presumably to become a concert pianist.

I never really wanted to be a concert pianist. What I really wanted to do was be able to play jazz or play in a rock band. I took a few jazz improv classes at IU with David Baker, and I loved it. But the bigger part of my education and all opportunities leaned classical, and I stayed the path, unsure of any other way at that time to move forward.

What inspired you to pursue a career in music, and how did your journey begin?

My two first loves were music and poetry. According to my mother, when I was three years old, I would stand in the middle of the living room and recite poetry. (Apologies to my family!)

After college, I married a professional musician, a jazz/rock keyboard player. I worked for a while as a music director for a dinner theater, but the pay was low and unreliable, and I eventually moved into office work. Pianists have amazing typing speed.

My (now ex) husband and I began writing songs together. I was primarily the lyricist at that time, and we had some success. Sarah Vaughn sang one of our songs. As did Mickey Mouse. In 1992, Kathy Sledge had a hit with “All of My Love.” In 1994, we wrote and produced a hit children’s record, “Land of the Diamond Sun,” and invitations started coming in to perform from all over the country, so we formed a duo and called ourselves Melonball. I was not one of the main musicians on the album, but in order to ride this wave of success, my husband taught me keyboard parts, I learned some harmonies, and we toured as children’s artists for the next six years.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I grew up with insecurities about my singing voice. I’ve always loved to sing, was always harmonizing with friends. I sang in all the choirs. But to my mother’s ears, if you weren’t Beverly Sills or Barbra Streisand, you didn’t rate. And then when I married my musician husband, we had a steady parade of amazing singers coming in and out of our home studio to record our song demos. Most of them were R&B singers with these amazingly powerful, flexible voices, of which I was not one of them either. I resigned myself that I was not a “real” singer.

But, over the years, I would get these little pokes, little hints that singing was something I could and should be doing. One time, I was humming to myself in a store aisle and a woman came up to tell me I had a lovely voice. There were a number of times after Melonball shows where people would compliment me on my voice, and it always surprised me, because I was just doing some harmonies and didn’t think anyone could really hear me.

Then, there was one time, early in my marriage, years before Melonball and 20 years before my first album release, when one of those amazing R&B demo singers was over at our house with a woman from her church. She said she was a prophet and offered to do a prophecy circle for us. We all held hands, and she went around the circle. At me she said, “You’re a singer, and you’re going to be singing to many people.” To which my reaction was, “Ok you’re wrong, but thank you, that was fun!”

Well, who’s getting the last laugh now. I am a late(r) bloomer, but I did finally get the message.

It has been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

After the release of my first album in 2000, “Wolves at My Door,” one of my first gigs was at Borders Books & Music. I was so excited just to be playing anywhere that the concept of editing my set or “playing to the room” never even crossed my mind. Not only that, the only songs I was prepared to play were the 12 songs from my album, including track four, “Buy the Bitch a Cadillac,” a snappy little ragtime number where the title is repeated throughout the chorus. It’s a funny song, it was my “most-requested” for a while, and it even won a Billboard award. But on that Sunday afternoon at Borders Books & Music, as I was singing my heart out on that song, my talents were not appreciated. Apparently, the intercom system was sharing my performance with the entire store, including where the children’s story hour was taking place. The events manager came over and said, “I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

I returned home, devastated. Beat myself up for a while. But friends rallied around and convinced me it was a badge of honor to be “banned in Borders,” so I quickly got over myself. But it was a tough blow at the time.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Janie Ellis. We first met over 20 years ago, and I’m still overwhelmed with gratitude every time I think of her. I was introduced to Janie through Catherine Dockendorff, my first voice teacher, and another angel on this earth whom we recently lost. Catherine was working with me on my new songs, encouraging me to perform, which I wanted to, but not without trepidation. I had never sung solo in public, and my songs were deeply personal. It felt very exposed.

Janie is a choreographer, as well as a mover and shaker in the arts community, and she was one of the first people to believe in me, so much so that I could feel it in every fiber, and she encouraged me further to believe in myself. Janie put together my first concert, my public debut. Her mother, Rachael Ellis, a renowned costume designer, designed a piece for me to wear, as well as my entire new “look.”

Throughout the years, Janie has been there for me in so many ways. In 2008, I was in the process of writing my first one-woman show while simultaneously going through a divorce. On the evening of the day I signed the papers, Janie took me out to dinner and then to Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show. To see how the pros do it.

She’s the most inspiring person I know. Whenever I’m around her, the message comes across loud and clear: we pick ourselves up and we keep moving.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I’m working on a book based around some of my music, particularly focused around the songs of my new album, “Land of Dreams.” People ask me all the time about my lyrics and the stories behind them, even what specific lines mean. I’m looking forward to a release later this year.

We are very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in music, film, and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?

  1. It’s a huge world out there. Everybody needs their stories told and shared. We all resonate with what most closely mirrors our own upbringing or cultural mindset. It can be healing, enriching, and inspiring to feel pieces of our own stories reflecting back at us, letting us know we’re not alone.
  2. When we experience the art of different cultures, we can perceive at the most basic, human level how similar we all are. Everybody laughs, loves, desires, feels fear, joy, and pain. And when we can recognize that same humanness in others, especially through art, the most potent delivery system, it bonds us across cultural barriers to help us realize, we’re all in this together.
  3. As artists and creators, when we reach out, touch, and taste different cultures, new ideas and inspirations pour in, sift through our own filters, and alchemize into something unique and new. Fusion. Afro-Caribbean music. Pineapple pizza. It’s all life feeding on the richness of itself and evolving on the shoulders of all that comes before.

As a successful music star, you’ve likely faced challenges along the way. How do you stay motivated? How do you overcome obstacles in your career?

The more I’ve learned to trust myself, the more I can feel an inner guidance of what to do next. If I need to wake up at 6:00 a.m. to write down something from a dream, or stay up till midnight to meet a deadline, I may grumble a bit, but it’s all ok because there’s always a natural motivation to do what needs to be done. Obstacles these days have become not so much “obstacles” but more walls in a maze to find the best way around and keep going. Musically, career-wise, I believe there’s a lot more to come, and I’ll just keep following my inner muse. But if I wake up tomorrow and decide it’s time to chuck it all and become a chicken farmer or something, maybe I’ll do that. It hasn’t happened yet, and I don’t anticipate it, but I’m open to whatever.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why?

1. Trust yourself.

It’s been an ever-evolving life lesson for me. From my misaligned concert pianist background to so many compromised decisions and situations I’ve found myself in throughout the years, whenever I’ve trusted others more than I’ve trusted myself, it’s not without cost.

2. You don’t have to sing like Aretha Franklin or Mariah Carey to be a viable artist.

Many of my favorite artists will never win “The Voice.” Some will, but I’ve learned to appreciate that while that kind of voice can be a wonderful puzzle piece of many elements that come together to make up a great artist, it isn’t a mandatory one. There are many successful artists with many different combinations of many different puzzle pieces, still getting their work out into the world and touching people’s lives

3. Never stop playing the guitar.

I played when I was a teenager, but let it go. A lot of singer/songwriter/pianists I know also play the guitar and can perform their songs in a variety of environments, including on a mountaintop or down by a river. Me, I can’t share a song unless there’s a piano around. And whenever I show up dragging a keyboard behind me, friends are always joking, “You need to learn the ukulele! Or the flute!” They’re right. But by this time, my songs are so piano-driven, it’s such a part of everything I do, I’m not even sure how they would translate into a non-piano arrangement. Might be fun to find out though. Any volunteers?

4. Always be yourself. Stretch when you can, but don’t go beyond the point of leaving yourself behind.

I saw a very funny bit by a comedienne who said, “Gentlemen, never be late for a date, because that’s when the glitter comes out.” She proceeded to explain that when girls are getting ready for a date, they will primp to perfection, right up to the last minute. But then for every minute her date is late, she’s back looking in that mirror, enhancing just one more little thing. A few minutes in, and out comes the glitter. And if the guy is very late, be warned, he may be showing up to Bozo the Clown.

Last week. I had a video shoot at a glossy, professional studio, and I was instructed to wear dramatic make-up and lots of face powder. I wanted to look my best for those HD cameras, possibly had too much time on my hands, and my primping efforts took me well past the glitter mark. By the time I arrived, my otherwise healthy, flowing hair had become a lacquer helmet, glitter was getting in my contact lenses, and my face creased into powdery lines every time I smiled. I haven’t seen the video yet. I hope it came out ok, but that face powder and hair spray are going in the trash.

5. Don’t eat chocolate before going onstage, or even before going out in public for that matter

I love chocolate, but whenever I eat it, I get an over-caffeinated sugar-high. I get incredibly hyper, capable of saying the wildest things — it can be funny, but with no filters at all, and then later it’s like, “OMG!” So, I try to stay off chocolate before being around my fellow human beings.

Can you share some insights into your creative process? How do you approach songwriting? How do you approach musical collaborations?

Most of my songs start with a lyric. It’s a very personal process of letting the lyric flow up and then shape itself over time. Then I’ll sit down at the piano with it and just start playing around with what comes. I experience the whole process as nurturing and growing the song. Like a beautiful plant. Editing comes last, when there’s something solid to work with, tweaking it into form. Mostly I write alone, although two of the songs on my new album are collaborations which I’m very grateful for, because in both instances, my writing partners (Rachael Nicole Gold on the title track, “Land of Dreams,” and David Landau on “To See With Me”) stretched me and these songs into wonderful, new harmonic territory.

Your music has resonated with so many fans worldwide. What do you believe sets your music apart?

Life experience. I didn’t step onto the stage as a singer-songwriter till I was in my 40s, and by that time had been living a relatively ordinary life as a suburban wife and mother. My musician husband was the one out there living the seemingly glamorous life. I was the one dealing with cul-de-sac concerns — PTA meetings, family dinners, school lunches.

After I released my first CD, what I quickly learned from people who gravitated towards my work was that I was chronicling the silent undercurrents that so many other middle-class, middle-aged people were experiencing. Regrets, fears, family dysfunction, troubled marriages. Unlike so many of my counterparts, along with those resonating life experiences I was also sitting on a hidden trove of all the necessary skills to write and sing about them. A fortuitous combination. I even had a home studio. One of the songs from my first album, “It’s all Dissipating,” is about returning to difficult family gatherings on Thanksgiving and beginning to wonder, “Why?” People have come up to me since and said they’ve made long overdue phone calls or fixed broken relationships, just because of that song.

The outpouring of positive response to my early work encouraged me to keep doing what I was doing, because, first and foremost, I love writing and performing. But, even more, it felt important. People out there were changing their lives for the better just because of something I said or was singing about, and, for the first time in my life, I felt like a valuable part of a bigger picture, and it felt good.

How do you connect with your audience?

Telling the truth. Being honest about who I am, where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, and putting it out there. My stories are their stories. Just by being open and real, that’s what people pick up on and resonate to.

Ok, here’s a funny story. I was singing one of my new songs the other day, “Who Will I Be Good For Now.” The first line of that song is, “Mommy, mommy look at me, I’m up here on the high dive.” After the show, a woman approached me, said she really liked that song, and asked me if I was a diver. I said, “No, but I used to be.” She said, “Well, my daughter’s a diver, and I want you to know, you put your mother through hell.”

With your busy schedule and demanding performances, how do you prioritize self-care and maintain a balance between your personal life and career in the music industry?

Self-care is number one. Deadlines happen. Sometimes things build up, and you just have to deal with them. But whenever possible, I try to leave buffer zones between big commitments. I make my close relationships a priority, and occasionally take days off to do almost nothing, no music or business anyway, and I take naps when needed.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would like more than anything to see an end to homelessness. It baffles me that homelessness is even a “thing” in today’s world and wealthy countries. I can’t believe there’s no money being spent somewhere uselessly that could be re-directed to provide, at minimum, a safe place for everyone to have a warm place to sleep and enough to eat. And with all these empty buildings today because of people working at home and shopping online, it makes me wonder, how hard could it be to find a way to give people who have fallen on hard times, at minimum, their own room with a door to lock, a temporary respite to anyone who needs a chance to catch their breath and ideally find their way back again?

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

Joni Mitchell. I’ve always loved her. She appears in my dreams from time to time, and we’re always good friends. If I ever get a chance to sit down and have a cup of coffee with her, that would be the biggest thrill and delight. A literal dream come true.

How can our readers continue to follow your work online?

I post everything on my website, and I also send out updates about once a month to my mailing list, which can be accessed through my website. I’ve also recently gotten onto Patreon, where I’ve been posting rough chapters of my upcoming book.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!

About the interviewer: Guernslye Honoré, affectionately known as “Gee-Gee”, is an amalgamation of creativity, vision, and endless enthusiasm. She has elegantly twined the worlds of writing, acting, and digital marketing into an inspiring tapestry of achievement. As the creative genius at the heart of Esma Marketing & Publishing, she leads her team to unprecedented heights with her comprehensive understanding of the industry and her innate flair for innovation. Her boundless passion and sense of purpose radiate from every endeavor she undertakes, turning ideas into reality and creating a realm of infinite possibilities. A true dynamo, Gee-Gee’s name has become synonymous with inspirational leadership and the art of creating success.

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Guernslye Honore
Authority Magazine

Guernslye Honoré, affectionately known as "Gee-Gee", is an amalgamation of creativity, vision, and endless enthusiasm.