Anna Morsett, the creative force behind indie-rock project the Still Tide, has a resolution for 2020: "To take up space,” she says. “Not be an asshole, just to take up space. It does everyone a disservice when you’re demure and really self-deprecating.”
This isn’t a wholly novel idea, especially as it relates to women who work as musicians and performers. In the last year alone, the members of Sleater-Kinney made a point of talking about it, usually as it related to being women over thirty and still daring to play punk. Thanks to Lizzo, the term "100 percent that bitch" is now enmeshed in the American lexicon. Dolly Parton, famous for refusing to give Elvis's manager Colonel Tom Parker half the publishing rights for "I Will Always Love You" (among other things), is enjoying a millennial renaissance. Bikini Kill is back together. Between boygenius and the Highwomen, supergroups comprising women at the top of their individual games are a growing trend; Beyoncé’s bar-obliterating Coachella performance almost single-handedly forced festivals to take women as headliners seriously. (Taylor Swift has already confirmed that she’s headlining Glastonbury 2020.)
So it’s altogether not surprising that Morsett is reconsidering how she takes up space. Raised in Olympia, Washington, on Pacific Northwest grunge “hand-me-downs” from her older sister (namely Nirvana and Pearl Jam, though her dad provided early exposure to Fleetwood Mac and Leo Kottke), Morsett started playing guitar at age twelve. By fourteen, she’d figured out that songwriting provided an outlet for all-consuming teen angst. In 2007, at 23, she moved to New York, only to feel drowned out in the notoriously crowded scene.
“The venues that we were playing in New York, I always think about it as trying to shout from the back of the room,” she says. “That scene was so saturated that you’re fighting for space. I think about all those times that I did go to see a singer-songwriter, and seeing them so talked over that you couldn’t even hear that person trying to sing their song because the bar was so loud.”
Relocating to Colorado in 2013 was something of a serendipitous accident. Morsett had only planned to stay in Denver for a month. Then she started meeting people — like-minded people who offered genuine support and who didn’t talk through her songs during shows, like her local debut at the hi-dive. She met her now-longtime collaborator, Joe Richmond, when he ran sound for her at Syntax Physic Opera. And she realized that she might just have found the time and space and scene to write the kind of vulnerable, contemplative songs with measured, intricate guitar work that she wanted to write.
Which is exactly what she did on the Still Tide's new EP, Between Skies, an intimate, meticulously arranged contemplation of private life with a title inspired by the 1970 National Geographic poster “The Heavens” that hangs in her apartment. The record draws on melancholic, meditative shades favored by the National, Sharon Van Etten and Hand Habits. It begins with “On the Line,” a love song about a bittersweet long-distance relationship sustained by phone calls, then traces its way through a breakup, a bad party, and something resembling closure in the wake of it all.
Morsett recorded Between Skies in her apartment, so immersed in the project that she’d work into the wee hours tweaking sonic minutiae. Left to her own devices, she found it deceptively easy to lose herself in the details; toward the end of the process, with her deadline approaching, isolation and self-doubt closed in. She’d inadvertently neglected the help of friends and colleagues, something chronicled in the EP's closer, “Acres”: “Couldn’t see it, the outstretched hand/The place to lean, the ear that you lend.”
Consider the lesson learned. “There’s a reason people don’t work in isolation. You really can get so lost in the weeds that you can’t see the light anymore,” she says. “In a way, that was the hard part, learning from that process that there’s a ton of really talented people all around you. You just have to speak up and ask.”
It’s one more piece of wisdom that she's carrying into the new year. Morsett, who has worked as a touring guitar tech for The Tallest Man on Earth and Kaki King, has already done away with delusions of grandeur or the concept of making it, whatever "it" is.
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“I was on all these stages that as a musician you would long to be on, but suddenly I was working those stages and the veil was pulled back. It shifted my perspective to be like, ‘Those are just stages and these are just people,’” she says. “I haven't hitched my wagon to that star of ‘Once I do this, then I’ve made it.’ Once I make a record I fucking believe in, then I’ve made it in my heart. I’ve seen all these other things [as a guitar tech] that I would’ve wanted to see had I not seen them. It’s taken all that weird pressure away.”
And it's given her the space to do exactly what she wants — space she intends to occupy without apology.
The Still Tide plays Friday, January 17, at hi-dive, 7 South Broadway. Tickets are $12-$14 and available at hi-dive.com.
Listen to The Still Tide and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.