Anni Clark: singer, songwriter

Anni Clark is nearly fanatic when it comes to routine car maintenance. She changes the oil every 3,000 miles and always remembers to rotate her tires. She relies upon the talents and integrity of just one mechanic — a small shop located in Springvale, and she can tell you exactly how many miles are on the odometer of her Subaru Forester.

It’s just another example of how Clark is not your typical artist. She’s organized, confident and ambitious. In one breath, she quickly rattles off the chores necessary to be a full-time musician — promotions, bookings, contract reviews, organizing travel plans — the list goes on and on.

And in the next breath, the right side of her brain seems to take over as she discusses her music and how it is created and why she never gives out her cell phone number.

A native of Yarmouth, Clark now lives in Old Orchard Beach. She doesn’t like to talk about her age, but she’s been performing in front of audiences since the early 1980s. Today, she is preparing to leave for a two-week tour in Florida. She’ll come home for about a week and then head off for another tour in Texas, promoting her newest CD, Big Water.

It would be wrong to lump Clark into the straight folk music category. In a review of her fourth album, A Light for Liza, the Boston Globe wrote, “Clark has created a deeply personal, acoustic folk and jazz-tinged sound.”

While Clark’s music has all the emotional depth and complexity of much better known singer-songwriters, such as Bonnie Rait, Joan Baez or Rikki Lee Jones — she can just as quickly turn on a dime, suddenly providing whimsical insight into familiar themes without warning.

Clark was named Female Artist of the Year and Folk Artist of the Year in Jam Music Magazine’s 2003 Readers’ Pix Awards.

You describe living in Maine as a personal tug of war.

“Winters are tough in New England. I love living here, being near my family. It’s really not tough to live here, it’s just tough to work here.

“The weather controls a lot of what happens. It’s hard to run a business when you can’t count on a steady revenue stream. Any show can be pulled at any time because of Mother Nature. If it snows that day, you can lose your butt. But between June and Labor Day, I love performing in New England.”

Who are your primary influences?

“I describe my music as original folk, pop and blues. So there are the obvious influences: Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell and Rikki Lee Jones. I was an English major in college, and that’s where I got turned on to Joni Mitchell. She was setting the same words to music that I was writing in my journals.

“That’s when I started thinking about the process of putting words to music, about how the words and music flow together.

“I love their vocal flexibility, you know? Bonnie can be so smooth, but she’s got some gravel in her voice, there’s a raspy edge to it. I like that.”

How do you go about writing songs?

“That’s a really good question. For me, it’s not a planned process. I know some people who say, ‘Okay, on Tuesday, I’m going to sit down and write for two hours.’ There are some people who are very structured about it, not me.

“I’m inspired by what’s happening around me or what’s not happening around me. When something trips my trigger, I try to jot it down. I get great ideas while driving in my car, but I’m a good driver. (Laughs)

“I always carry around one of those little, voice-activated tape recorders and I leave it turned on while I’m driving. When I’m in my car, no one can interrupt me. I have a cell phone, but I leave it turned off. I have it so I can call people, but I never give out the number.”

Artists are typically unorganized. You seem to be one of the few exceptions.

 (Laughs) “I know, but I’ve always been that way. A lot of the people I book with will tell me that they’re amazed by how organized I am. This is my full-time job, so I have to treat it that way. I take care of the bookings, lining up promotions, reviewing contracts and putting together press kits for the media.

“Most musicians aren’t like that, but I don’t want to perpetuate the myth.”

Describe the typical audience at an Anni Clark show.

“It really depends on the venue. Sometimes there are small kids and there can be people in their 80s and 90s. Hopefully, there’s something in there for everyone.”

And how would you describe your shows?

“The way I see it, you need to have something that touches everyone. I don’t have to put on a stage persona when I’m performing. I’m still 15, at heart. For me, the best performance is when I’m not the only one performing.

“There’s an obvious synergy with the audience that just takes place. They are as much a part of the show as I am.”

How have your performances changed during the last two decades?

“I cut my teeth doing bar gigs in the ‘80s, but I got a reputation for doing more intimate shows. I love it. I understand that kind of venue and feel connected in those places — coffeehouses and college campuses.”

You’re a big fan of Maine’s new law that bans smoking in bars and taverns.

“Oh, I totally love it. I wish all the states would do it. It’s so much easier to perform in a non-smoking venue. The smoke really takes a toll on my voice. It’s very rare that I find myself in an environment where smoking is allowed these days.”

How do you like living in Old Orchard Beach?

“It’s very convenient and close to the turnpike. I’m close to my family in Yarmouth, and it’s easy to get into Portland, where there’s always so much going on.

“I also like living so close to the beach. I love getting up early and going for walks on the beach. It’s a nice place to live because you can have the best of both worlds.”

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