Quick Q and A with Annalivia

Gloucester-based Annalivia is American ‘roots and branches’ at its finest– drawing from tradition and from today to create their own brand of new acoustic folk music. Annalivia – Liz Simmons and Flynn Cohen– are masterful players and singers, and have long histories with traditional music ranging from bluegrass to Irish, Scottish, and Old Time Appalachian music.  For fans of traditional music, you can’t go wrong with this act!

To learn more about Annalivia, visit their website.

Here’s a terrific video of “False Sir John.”

Annalivia will be performing with The Honey Dewdrops at the me&thee in Marblehead, MA on Friday, November 15.


Tell us about the members of the current line-up.

The current lineup is: myself (Liz Simmons) on lead vocals and guitar, Flynn Cohen on mandolin, guitar and vocals and sometimes we tour with a fiddler (Bronwyn Keith-Hynes or Lissa Schneckenburger).

Is it fair to say that the kind of roots music that Annalivia plays is deeply rooted in Celtic music—Scottish / Irish fiddle music — so can you explain how that kind of music is so connected to American roots music.

Yes, our approach now is pretty rooted in American roots, but since we have backgrounds in traditional Irish, Scottish and English folk music these ‘roots’ styles also find their way into our arrangements. These styles are more connected to American musical traditions than some people may think, since most of the people from the region of Appalachia where Old Time music began were immigrants of the British Isles and Ireland. Most Appalachian songs are direct descendants of songs from Scotland, Ireland and England. Old Time and bluegrass is where British Isles-descended music meets the influences of blues and other southern styles. I think that more and more roots musicians are making that connection and finding the history there. Tim O’Brien’s The Crossing is a good example of a roots/bluegrass musician exploring that connection– but there are others. The thing these styles all have in common– and the best thing about them– is that they’re all social music, and it’s all about connecting with people.

For those who want to learn more about the origin of this kind of music, what would you suggest they listen to so that they can be more well informed about what inspired you to write and perform the music you do today.

Let’s see– for some good old Appalachian balladry, try Sheila Kay Adams, Dillard Chandler, and Jean Ritchie. Also the young Elizabeth LaPrelle is fabulous. We are also big fans of Doc Boggs, Tommy Jarrell, Bill Monroe, and the Lonesome River Band. For the British Isles connection, we love ballad singers like Nic Jones, Anne Briggs, John Renbourne, Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy (English) and Paul Brady & Andy Irvine, Dolores Keane and the Bothy Band (Irish).

Annalivia is sometimes called a “roots and branches” band.  What does this mean? 

I like to call us this because I think of American roots as the “roots” part and “branches” as the multitude of influences feeding what creates our sound– and that includes the British Isles traditions but also the newer influences– jazz, contemporary folk, etc.

Did all the members of the group gravitate to this music as children or was it something that you came to love as adults?

We have somewhat different histories with the stuff: I grew up in a family of musicians who played and sang music ranging from Irish ballads to New Orleans brass music to classical, so I went through phases of exploration of different styles throughout my childhood and into adulthood. Meanwhile I was simultaneously working up my songwriting chops, which I have been taking more seriously– and truly enjoying– the last ten years. Flynn was exposed to classical music and pop as a child and found English folk revival and Irish music as a teen and bluegrass in college, and he also studied Early and Avant-Garde music. He has composed music in the fiddle traditions as well as new acoustic and Avant-Garde, and does some songwriting too.

Do you play at dances as well as concerts?  Do you prefer one experience over the other?  There must be something special about people moving about as you play but also something very rewarding about being listened to intently.

We’ve played for dances in other permutations and it can be very enjoyable– the music can get wilder– there’s something freeing about it. Annalivia has only played one dance and that was at Champlain Valley Folk Festival a couple years ago, and it was great fun. Normally we play for listening audiences, but we love when listeners respond. Coming from traditional music one is just used to that sort of thing more. Tacit audiences are also nice in that you feel like all the subtleties are coming across, but feedback can close the gap between musicians and audience, which is great– that is what folk music is really about: the interchange. It’s not just about being on display.

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