When navigating Los Angeles, Google Maps tends to think very little about topography. Which is how, on my way to interview Anna Ash, I ended up riding a number of switchbacks above the Silverlake reservoir. The streets there like to remind you of their mountainousness: Ronda Vista, Apex, Crestmont. Only a little behind schedule, I arrived at Anna’s house and parked. I looked up and there she was on the porch, waving. But then I realized I hadn’t tilted my wheels. Make sure to tilt your wheels when parking in Silverlake.
Find out more about Anna at annaash.com.
What was the last thing you listened to?
Jason Isbell’s new record. It’s so good. I listened to it obsessively when Joe and Theo both told me about it last summer, when it came out, and then I just overplayed it, so I’ve finally had enough time where I can go back to it.
What brought it back to mind?
Last weekend my neighbors were listening to it and I could hear them when I was sitting on my porch. I just walked over there and I was like, “Hey! Hi neighbors! I love that record!” And they were like, uhhhh, what?
What was your first instrument?
Bassoon was the first instrument I learned really well and got really into, but — well, I went to a small public school in northern Michigan. In 5th grade, the band director from the middle school would come to the elementary school to try and recruit kids to be in band. And you had to choose either band or art, you weren’t allowed to do both. It was this massive divide but I knew I was going to be a band kid.
The band director would bring a flute and a clarinet and a trumpet and a trombone — all the classical instruments — to our music class in elementary school, and let all the kids try it out, make sure the kids’ arms were long enough if they wanted to play trombone, that kind of thing.
I remember being so shy and nervous about this day, because I was looking forward to it so much, but I knew — well, I vaguely knew what the bassoon was, from Fantasia. There’s a big bassoon part that’s in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and then there’s a part in the intermission of the movie, where they go through a couple instruments. It’s with the orchestra and the conductor, and at one point they introduce a bassoon.
So I was very sure that I knew I wanted to play bassoon, and I told the teachers that. But they were like, “Well, you know, you don’t really get to do the double reed until 7th grade.” So I was like, “What?” I was really stressed out. But I guess they wanted to make sure you knew how to read music before they gave you a hard instrument.
They said, “You can play saxophone, you can play clarinet, you can play flute…” But I was like, “This is the worst.” So I ended up playing the clarinet, and I learned how to play it really fast, because I wanted to prove it to them.
Clarinet would be your first instrument, technically-speaking?
Yeah. Well, I think I had a couple of piano lessons, but I don’t even remember them.
You had the clarinet for how long?
For a year. They made me play it for all of 6th grade, and then 7th grade they finally let me have the bassoon. And once I got it, I just pretty much had to go to this back practice room for — I don’t even know how many months before I could make a good sound.
So you’re in the back room, you’ve developed your sound.
Yeah, me and the oboe player. There was a girl that wanted to learn how to play oboe, and they stuck us both in this back room.
How long did you play bassoon?
All the way through high school. I got really into it. Definitely I thought that that was going to be my career. I wanted to go to Oberlin, do the whole thing. I went to the summer music camps, got really competitive, went to the state solo and ensemble competitions.
Bassoon dropped off before college then?
Bassoon dropped off before that. By the time I was 15, I was much more into being in plays, in theater — that overshadowed bassoon.
There ended up being another bassoonist when I was a junior or senior in high school. I had always been the only one, but this freshman came up and she was so serious and she owned her own bassoon and she would challenge me for first bassoon.
Were there any famous bassoonists you looked up to?
No, no, I didn’t get that deep. How would you even find that information as a kid without the internet? I did have a private teacher, though, because my band director couldn’t teach me more, and I was so serious about it. It was actually a husband and wife, and they both played bassoon. We lived in rural outskirts in northern Michigan, north of Traverse City, but they lived even further out, in Rapid City, where they raised sled dogs, and lived in a massive barn house, and they had a barn full of sled dogs and a music studio.
Would you say playing bassoon has had a lasting impact on your music?
Maybe? What I make now is so far away from bassoon music. I definitely still love the sound of the bassoon. It sticks out to me — in advertisements, all the time. Really expressive, you can say a lot with it. Sensitive, and kind of silly.