Everybody knows that our early life and upbringing shapes us as people, and this is perhaps even more apparent in ‘creative types’ and artists. Our experiences, whether good or bad, loving or traumatic, nurturing or neglectful, have a profound effect on our adult selves. We all carry a part of our childhood within us, no matter how much we may try to escape it. This is something musician Annabel Allum knows all too well.
Initially the ‘Rich Backgrounds‘ songwriter was hesitant to discuss her early life, but told me enough to suggest that, as with most people, it was at times less than idyllic. Growing up on an army estate, she talked fondly about the times spent outside in the woods ‘making dens and learning how the world worked’, but less fondly of her time in a Catholic school, where she found herself clashing with its strict adherence to the rules.
“I often got in trouble, I had a huge rebellious stage for a few years and really couldn’t put up with the hierarchy of schooling. I loathed how teachers thought they knew better purely because they were in a position of power. The shrinking nature of it all was a struggle for me for a long time. I hated not being able to speak my mind.”
If Annabel felt unable to speak her mind then, she certainly isn’t now – since the release of her debut EP ‘Absent‘, she has gone on to release a successful string of singles, each one more revealing than the last. Music has always played an important role in her life, with her father’s records providing an early education in popular song, saying:
“The earliest memories I have of actually appreciating music was when my Dad came home from his military assignments and would put on CD after CD. He’d play the likes of Bob Dylan and Velvet Underground and Norah Jones on a Sunday.”
It would be easy (and lazy) to assume that Annabel is another acoustic singer-songwriter, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. As her music tastes developed (she cites PJ Harvey, Nirvana, and Tom Waits amongst her biggest inspirations), her own music became rawer, more honest, with a cool punk aesthetic. Watching her perform live becomes a transcendental emotional experience, as she takes that punk abandon to her live show, allowing herself to ‘let go’ on stage, flailing her guitar around and screaming gutturally into the mic.
“Its the best feeling in the entire world. The best form of therapy, exhilaration, relief and vulnerability come from performing for me. In that moment, I am allowed to feel and I am allowed to be honest.”
Although many people equate musical vulnerability with softness, murmured vocals, and fingers barely brushing the guitar, Annabel’s fragility is revealed through these moments of reckless abandon onstage. When I say this to her, she agrees, saying that when she’s onstage she just ‘runs with a feeling’.
Last year was something of a turning point for Annabel, with the release of ‘Tricks‘, a song she says is all about trying to take something positive out of negative situations. When I press her further she says:
“Tricks just came out one day, I don’t really know how. I guess it’s about learning from shit situations. Gaining positivity out of someones or somethings negativity. Tricks is about being different, or experiencing difference and the realisation that that is a strength. It gives you things and thought processes that others cant obtain within their closed naivety. You learn tricks to keep you sane. You learn tricks to maintain. You learn tricks to survive. You learn tricks to feel alive.”
Whilst her earlier work may have been more inward-looking – a sort of self examination – it seems Annabel is venturing further and further into the world of social commentary with each release. Her latest track, ‘Rich Backgrounds‘ for example, aims to knock those who come from money and privilege off their pedestals.
“It started out as an alcohol-induced jam, it was kind of sarcastic but then I started to find a lot of enjoyment out of playing it. It’s not necessarily ragging on rich people, but more rich attitudes. I wanted to bring those kids back down to earth a bit – yes you may have all the materialistic un-necessities, but do you have all the un-materialistic necessities? Stripped bare, could you survive? Mental demeanour, a slight bitterness and the idea that paper is not truth.”
It seems as though the last few months have been something of a turning point for Annabel, who says that she is ‘ready for the next stage in [her] life’. It’s not just music that she has turned her hand too, she also makes an appearance in indie film ‘Spaceship’ from director Alex Taylor, and has found success as a model for alternative clothing brands like Submarine.
“It just kind of happened really. I’m connected with the fashion blogging world, with close friends doing it full time. With my romantic partner at the time also being a photographer, eventually having a camera shoved in my face and being told how to pose became normal. Then stuff just started to roll. Submarine Clothing got me in to model their tees. Ben Madle (Hair Stylist) asked me to his salon for a few of his collections which was super fun. Rob Blackham took me out to shoot. Clothing brands started to send me clothes to shoot in…I think I just said yes a lot. Its a huge aspiration of mine to model for a male clothing line and break down some barriers!”
I have no doubt that Annabel would excel in modelling male clothing lines, with her striking androgynous style and mop of bleach blonde hair. I ask her about her interest in fashion and how it relates to her as an artist, to which she replies:
“I love it. The clothes a person chooses to wear is such a reflection of who they are. We are all blank canvases. In my brain I refuse gender norms and by not sticking to a certain section in a clothes store allows me to express that.”
Not one for limiting herself, in terms of gender norms, music, or otherwise, when I ask her what she hopes to achieve in the future, she replies simply, ‘to create’.
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