Anja Elise is an indie folk singer-songwriter based in Milwaukee. Her debut EP “Salt & Sugar” came out last December, showcasing her knack for lyrical vulnerability and unconventional approach to song structures. I’ve seen Anja perform several times with Valerie Lighthart although I’ve yet to set her solo set, which I’ve anticipated since hearing her wonderful record.
ME: My first question for you is…how did you find out about and get involved with Wisconsin Music Ventures?
ANJA: That’s a good question! I’m actually really good friends with Ben Harold – who used to work for you guys – and he was one of the first people that I really got connected with in the music scene when I moved here. We met at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn at the open mic they do there, and he got me plugged in with some cool people and I opened for him a couple times; he’s just a really cool guy who’s been supportive of me and my music over the years. When you guys first started getting started, he reached out to me and said I should join. I didn’t even really think about it or question it because I trusted him already so much.
ME: I love Ben. Very swell guy.
ANJA: Ah, such a good, genuine dude.
ME: So that said, I know that you released your EP “Salt & Sugar” last December. We came across that for Breaking and Entering and I thought it was awesome so I wanted to talk about it for a sec. So, tell us a little bit about what your whole concept was for that body of work and why you wanted to put it out.
ANJA: Sure, so that project was my debut project; I had never released anything before, ever. Part of the motivation for it was just wanting to create music and get it out there so people know who I am. That was the smaller part of it, but the biggest part was the concept for it. I had moved to Milwaukee in the late summer-early fall of 2018 and I had just graduated college. My parents were living in Milwaukee; I lived abroad for about eight years at that point just between my dad doing overseas work and then I went overseas for school, so I hadn’t lived in the states for a long time. And so there was a lot of emotional stuff to work through there in terms of completely resetting my life and making a lot of different decisions. I had a tumultuous romantic thing at that point as well and it all just forced me to look at my life and myself in a way I hadn’t really had to before; it was a very self-reflective time. A lot of the songs on the record are about the anxiety and depression and not really knowing what to do with some of those feelings besides just write about them. I had written about ten to fifteen songs and I culled it down to that core six that I felt represented that story. It created a bit of a narrative if you listen the whole way through of just dealing with those issues. I’m really happy with the way it turned out; now looking back at it of course there’s things that I wish I had done differently from a technical side, but on the whole I’m really happy with it.
ME: It’s kind of like it’s contrasting the sweet parts of your journey with the bitter ones.
ANJA: Exactly (laughs).
ME: Thank you for sharing all that. So I’ve got a couple fun questions for you. Are you much of a hiker?
ANJA: Yes, I do really enjoy that.
ME: Then you’ll love this next question. What’s your favorite place to hike in Wisconsin?
ANJA: That’s such a hard question because there’s so many really good places. Long story short, for my boyfriend’s Christmas present this last year I got us both state park passes for our cars, so we’re trying to explore different places and try new things. I think my favorite one that we’ve been to so far was Kohler-Andrae State Park. I had never been before and it was just so different and so interesting just to be right on the lake and have all the dunes. It’s so cool to see how the dunes have such a shifting and changing environment where you can see that these paths have been here for a really long time but clearly the landscape looked really different when they put them in there because there are places that are super steep and others that you kind of have to go around the side of it. It’s just a really cool picture of how powerful the lake is and what that environment does over time. It’s only about 45 minutes north of here so it’s a very good day trip.
ME: Aw, sweet. Man, I’m going there. I really like Bong Recreational Area.
ANJA: We haven’t been there but it’s on our list!
ME: What’s your favorite season?
ANJA: I think my favorite season is probably winter, but that’s a really difficult one because in Wisconsin we get really beautiful seasons all the way through. I think winter is cool because the whole world is silent and I like hiking in winter. You can hike the same trail in the wintertime and it’s gonna be completely different; it’s gonna sound different, feel different, and look different than if you were there any other time. I do a lot of my best writing and music making in the wintertime; it’s a really good time for self-reflection that I try to do every year. Everything is dead outside but you look at it knowing it will return, so that really early time in spring when those slightest green things are starting to show up I’m like “yes, it’s coming!” and the world’s restarting. It feels refreshing.
ME: Yeah, it’s got it’s merits. This winter was brutal for sure.
ANJA: Yeah, this winter was hard. I’m definitely a more introverted person; I have my core group of friends that I hang out with and that’s where I get my social fix, but this year was especially hard and it almost made me appreciate how important it is to remember to get out of the house and see people and have those interactions. The summer’s been interesting because I’ve been forcing myself to do things that I wouldn’t normally do, and it’s been a really good experience.
ME: It’ll be good to have those holiday bashes again.
ME: My last question is, what have you been working on right now? What are your goals for the coming months?
ANJA: Yeah, so I’ve kind of got a lot of things in the pipeline right now; I’m kind of in a writing phase in terms of my music. I write in spurts, and everything’s disjointed, so I’ll start with writing some lyrics and then record a riff and just piece it together. I’m in a creative phase where I’m trying to get out as much music as I can in its different forms. I got an electric guitar this past year – thank you Black Friday sale (laughs) – and I’ve got an amp now. “Salt & Sugar” was acoustic but this new stuff I’m really exploring how the electric guitar is inspiring in its own way. I’m doing a lot of collaboration right now, working with some friends who are just really wonderful musicians, and I’m doing some producing which is something I’ve always really wanted to do but it’s finally putting itself together. I’m not really quite sure what’s all gonna take place first but it’s been a really inspiring time musically.
ME: Rock on! Looking forward to all of it.