In a genre in which fashion practically forces allegiance to all things plaid, paisley and plain, folk artist Annie McQueen easily qualifies as a conscientious objector. Studying her from the soles of her black platform boots to the fur to the mystical, Stevie Nicks-esque accessories all the way up to her fiery, red hair, she rarely takes the stage without sticking out before she sings a note. But the clothes aren't nearly as big as her voice. Springing herself on the unsuspecting masses over the past year, this La Habra Heights native was one of a handful of pleasant local surprises toward the close of 2012. Flaunting a wall-rattling range à la Joy Williams of the Civil Wars, the anthemic "Burned"--off her latest EP, Cold Hearts--shows a promising partnership between her and lauded local producer Jon O'Brien; you can get a taste of it tonight during the second week of the live showcases for the Orange County Music Awards. We recently spoke to McQueen about her bohemian hillbilly aesthetic that refuses to be ordinary.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): You have a song called "Booze and Fur" on the new EP. So before we ask you any real questions, give us your favorite type of booze and favorite type of fur.
Annie McQueen: Jameson whiskey, hands down. But I do also love champagne. [Laughs.] I wear fur--not necessarily real fur; it's just more about the glamour. And I love the cold. That's part of the whole theme of the new EP.
Does the new EP release feel as though it was a long time coming, or is it a lot of newer material you've recorded?
I starting writing for the EP a long time ago. But it wasn't really until I met Jon in 2010 that we got together and made my first EP, which came out last year. We started Cold Hearts in July without really knowing where it was going to go. And then at the very last minute, I wrote "Burned," which came out fast and easy; I made some changes, and I'm so happy because it's my favorite song I've ever written. The lyrics are just honest. It's about setting yourself up for bad things you know are going to happen, but you do them anyways.
As a La Habra Heights gal, does being from such a small niche in OC influence your sound much?
It has brought a certain kind of woodsy vibe to my music. My neighbors have horses; it's all hills and farmhouses. I pretty much live with a ton of hillbillies, and I love them. They're the best people.
Americana and folk artists aren't super-hard to find in OC. Do you think you add something different to that scene that breaks up the monotony?
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I don't play a ton of shows. I like to do a bigger show here and there that's more of a big event. I like the idea of bringing new people every time and really treating it like a live-show experience. Well, definitely I sing crazy-loud; I love the glamour and sparkles and dresses and big shoes--the whole look on top of just getting up there and playing a show. Almost every time I play is like a concept show from the cover of my CD to the vibe to where I should play.
What has it been like for you to go from being relatively unknown to being picked to play the OCMA showcase in the span of a year?
I finally reached the point where I know what I'm doing and who I am as an artist. It's been a good solid year since I've started doing music on my own. And I think it all became clear during my record-release show. I'm feeling more comfortable and excited than I ever have.McQueen: Jameson whiskey, hands down. But I do also love champagne. [Laughs.] I wear fur--not necessarily real fur; it's just more about the glamor. And I love the cold. That's part of the whole theme of the new EP.
Annie McQueen performs tonight with Becky Holt, Cherokee Fade, Alice Wallace, and Justin Soileau at the District Tustin Legacy. 8 p.m. Free.