Singer/songwriter Annie Nirschel is premiering her brand new song “Alejandra” and the accompanying music video exclusively on Talk Nerdy With Us. Annie has become a fixture of the New York indie scene, playing such iconic venues as The Bowery Electric, Rockwood Music Hall, and Branded Saloon. With a quirky and lively personality, she identifies as a member of the queer community but prefers to not put any labels on herself. Her backing band Union Street was founded in 2019 and is comprised of Nate Aspinall on guitar, Cara Radom on the bass, Sam Fishman on the drums, and multi-instrumentalist Russ Stone.
In addition to letting us premiere her new video, I got the chance to talk to Annie and Russ about how they got started in music, the writing process for “Alejandra”, what they’re currently nerding out about and more! Keep reading to see what they had to say!
Tell me a little bit about how you first got into making and performing music.
A: My Dad loves to tell me (usually without context), all good music is just “3 chords and the truth”. My version is: Em, Am, and a convoluted, hyperbolic version of something I’m probably remembering incorrectly. I’ve always written music and wanted to perform but I was so nervous and sweaty and could never remember where I put my guitar tuner.
My first open mic was at the Branded Saloon in Brooklyn a few months after moving to the area– I sang most of “Mr. Brightside” in front of the regular Sunday night crowd of cowboys and retirees and started to cry and, oh man, it was so stressful. I went every Sunday after and started to make open mic friends, and to have that community and support system when you’re trying out new music and building your confidence is so wonderful. Did that answer the question?
R: I took piano lessons all through high school. I always wanted to write music but could never figure out how to. In college, I kept playing on my own and somehow started writing piano music, and eventually got into writing songs with lyrics/vocals. My songwriting has gradually gotten better while my technique has steadily gotten worse. When I moved to NYC, I started going to open jam sessions and ended up in a band doing open mics and it just grew from there. I did my first solo open mic in 2018 and played verrrry sporadic solo shows and somehow ended up in 3 bands.
A: For context, 1 of those bands is mine, and another is an industrial metal band called GLDN that our amazing friend and bass player Cara plays in. Also, I met Russell for the first time when he was performing at the Branded Saloon with one out of his catalog of bandmates. He was playing a melodica, and I went up to him and asked him how he learned to blow a piano, and he didn’t think it was funny and then we didn’t talk again for months.
Was there a specific moment or person that made you realize that music is what you wanted to pursue professionally?
A: Definitely my Dad, who once waited in line with me for 6 hours to audition for The Voice when I was 16. My parents always made me feel like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t do which has led to a lot of unwarranted confidence.
R: I’ve just always played music. It’s part of who I am. I don’t know that I think about doing it professionally necessarily, but I’ll always keep playing. I mostly credit my old piano teacher Alex, who was the second of 5 (!) piano teachers that I had. He wasn’t a very traditional teacher and wasn’t great at making me practice scales and do exercise, but he taught me how to love music and showed me how fun it can be. He’s the reason I fell in love with music.
I’m always genuinely curious about what artists want to convey to listeners with their music so if you had to describe the music you make without using genre names, how would you describe it?
R: I’m an introspective sad white boy at heart, so I basically write about whatever I’m going through emotionally and then crank it up to 100 to make it really melodramatic. I try to strike a balance between being weird/all over the place and writing things that could actually be called songs.
A: On the Union Street facebook page, it says, “The indie punk garage band writing the soundtrack to your existential crisis”, which is all marketing, baby. I think my personal style is “hostess cupcake filled with dish soap”.
Kind of going off of that, who are some of your musical influences?
A: Russell is my musical influence. I don’t know, but I did just watch the documentary with Alan Rickman about the famous LES club, CBGB, and I’ve had the soundtrack on a loop since.
R: I don’t really have a lot of conscious influences in mind when I write. I view writing as an exploration where I try different things and see where I end up. That being said, probably the biggest influences on how my music sounds are Brian Wilson, stuff I grew up playing like Chopin and Brahms, and a hint of death metal.
Let’s talk about your new single, “Alejandra.” What’s the song about?
A: “Alejandra” is about that exhausting, exasperated love, where the love is almost secondary. Like: “My feelings do not negate the fact that wow you are still driving me absolutely bananas”. It’s just an unromantic love song, I think.
R: YOU DIDN’T WRITE IT, IT’S A LADY GAGA SONG.
A: Everyone thinks it’s going to be “Alejandro” and they’re always upset when it’s not.
Something I’ve always been curious with songwriting is how topics come to mind. Did you know what you wanted to write about going into the song session that birthed your single ”Alejandra” or did the idea just come about organically once you were in the session?
A: A great question! I think in hindsight it’s easy to be like “Ah yes, these were my feelings because I was here at this time”, but at the time it just felt like words.
Were there any major changes made to “Alejandra” once you got into the recording studio, whether it be in the lyrics or something sonically?
A: Yes! This was my second time in the studio trying to record “Alejandra”. The first time I had no idea what I was doing, because I only had 3 chords and something truth adjacent, but nothing else. It felt like I was trying to put a hat on a skeleton and pass it off as my Canadian boyfriend– does that make any sense? Anyway I met our friend, brilliant musician Nate Aspinall, in a $15 rehearsal space on Prince Street and the way he was immediately able to build on top of the song was so exciting. And then Russell and I played it together — I don’t think he’d heard it before — at a fundraiser at Rubulad in Brooklyn with hundreds (or dozens but we were all drinking so everyone looked like 3 people) in the audience. And then my dear and genius friend Cara Radom came up with a bass part and drummer-to-the-stars Sam Fishman did the drummin’.
Now, Russell and I play it as a duet and are going to re-record a more stripped down version for our album. It’s been so cool to watch what this little structure of a song can become in different contexts. For example, sometimes Russ will play “All Star” over the instrumental parts and wow what a treat.
R: About a month before the recording session, I was playing at a fundraiser event that Annie organized and she brought me up on the stage to perform with her. That was the first time I ever played her songs. Then for a while I wasn’t sure whether I was in her band or not. It turned out that I was, and I kind of hammered out my piano part for it by the time we got to the studio. There was definitely an evolution of the song from solo to full band but it was organic and just basically took shape on its own.
You also recorded a music video for this single. What was that process like? Was that your first time shooting a music video?
A: The video was made by our awesome videographer pal, Kevin Vallejos. The day was kind of a blur– we recorded 3 songs in an 8 hour appointment and used every minute, except at one point we all went to get burritos across the street.
R: It was honestly a pretty painless process. We did a bunch of takes of each song and didn’t really experiment much. It was my birthday weekend and I was hungover.
I know these are weird, uncharted waters and there’s a lot of uncertainty and plans being re-arranged/canceled/etc. But what can fans expect from you in the next few weeks/months? Are you planning to release more music?
R: We have a song called “Marigolds” that we recorded a couple weeks ago. We plan on releasing it by the end of October. We’re also planning on recording an album in November. Hopefully this information will satisfy our massive adoring fanbase.
A: Shut up, Russell. The part about “Marigolds” and the album are true! We also live stream on Facebook when we remember. It’s also possible you’ll find us in your neighborhood corner store looking for dairy free ice cream sandwiches and spicy chips because snacks are the main thing holding us together. Other than that, we’ve been really busy with mask wearing, social distancing, and voting in November.
Last question — we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us because we all have an inner nerd so what is something that you’re currently nerding out about?
A: Well Russell is chronically nerdy.
R: I’m always geeking out about music. I’ve been into this Armenian pianist named Tigran Hamasyan who uses lots of odd rhythms and it’s awesome. I also just read a book called Horrorstor that’s about a haunted Ikea knockoff store. It is as ridiculous as it sounds. Oh and I’m getting back into learning Chinese, which is something I used to do a lot.
A: I wish I had an answer that wasn’t this, but I’ve been home visiting my family for a few weeks and my Mom and I have watched so much 90 Day Fiancé that I am now fully qualified to give legal advice, I think.
R: That reminds me, we’re writing a song about 90 Day Fiancé! 2020 is the perfect year to do that.