Interview with Grace Annunziato of Lone Phone Booth

Ipolito, our resident biggest fan of local experimental indie noise project/”gay uncle core” performers Lone Phone Booth (though the rest of us are fans too!) sat down (on the internet) with Grace Annunziato of the group recently to talk about how the pandemic is affecting music, what their writing and recording process is like, and random stuff about, um, corn. Here’s what they came up with.

Ipolito Terentjia (IT): So how are you enjoying the pandemic so far?

Grace Annunziato (GA): ha; i talked a lot before the pandemic about how i wished everything would stop, or at least slow down; i have learned to be more careful what i wish for,there have been some great aspects that have come with it like introspection, focus on my meditation practices, and connecting more deeply with the earth and with my priorities. obviously none of that is worth the toll it has taken! my plans have been shaken up and i forget how to be around people. but i am lucky to have gotten through it relatively unscathed. & it has definitely changed my creative process lots.

IT: Have you been making more music as a result or has it prevented that?

GA: DEFINITELY less music. for months at the beginning it just seemed so silly to write a little song with a pandemic and civil rights movement in full swing. now it’s just harder to get the motivation, but i’ve been finding ways around that. i also love writing about places and experiences which are hard to come by in a pandemic.

IT: I know what you mean. I think a lot of local musicians are feeling that way. Do you live in the capital district?

GA: i do! i live in albany.

IT: How long have you lived here? I think I read something about one of your recordings being at St Rose. Did you go to school there?

GA: i moved here for college in 2016. yeah, i went to saint rose! I graduated May 2020. meaning i finished school virtually. i had planned some long form travel after graduation but wound up sticking around, which has been a blessing in disguise.

IT: Did you study music there?

GA: I studied music industry, so a combination of music tech, business, and performance. i mostly focused on the tech side. i love engineering and production work.

IT: I guess that means you learned a lot about recording. Can you tell us about your recording process and methods?

GA: i usually start with guitar parts, at least i have in the past. once i have the guitar and vocals down i’ll add other instruments. after that is the really fun part, adding samples and field recordings, synths, effects, etc. that part probably takes the most time.

lately though, i’ve been switching it up a little. usually now I’ll start with a sample or field recording and build on that sound; i try to make it the focal point rather than the background. Then I’ll layer guitar, vocals, keys, whatever, on top of that.

i have a little portable stereo recorder i’ve been bringing on hikes. that has been the basis for a lot of music recently. then i just add sounds that feel like they fit the time and place i recorded.

IT: Do you record at home or in a studio?

GA: both! the studio when i was at st rose, now just at home. i’d love to get back in the studio when i have something ready that could use a hi-fi recording.

RE/SOUND needed that clean studio sound! but for more ambient stuff like i’ve been into lately i honestly love the lofi sound of recording at home on my busy street.

IT: Switching to the business side since you said you also studied that, I assume you’ve been self releasing recordings thus far. Have you spoken with or been approached by any local or big record labels? Or do you always see yourself doing things the DIY way and releasing and promoting independently?

GA: i’ve worked with the angels at bee side cassettes and talked with five kill a bit too. i’ve never been approached by a bigger label, but i have been ignored by a few! hahah.

despite having studied it, the business side of things has always made me feel icky. promotion is not my thing. i would rather self release and have only a few people hear it than have a huge release that feels inauthentic.

IT: The ‘who are your major influences’ question is a tired old cliche that signals a lack of imagination on the part of the interviewer. Who are you major influences?

GA: Mirah has affected me since I was a kid. Frankie Cosmos and Girlpool and a lot of straight white emo bands helped me get started. William Basinski and other minimalist composers like Philip Glass, Emily Sprague. The trees that live on my street. And how the light moves around my apartment throughout the day!

Anyone who can combine noise and music, too- Ylayali, spirit of the beehive, the books, etc

IT: That’s a lot of stuff I’ve never heard of. I’ll have to do some background research and put the record buying on Times Boredom’s dime!

GA: sounds like a great plan!!!

IT: What genre, if any, would you say your music could be classified as?

GA: gay

for real, i don’t know how to answer that! somewhere in the alternative umbrella. for now i’ll go with gay uncle core.

IT: A lot of people are saying that indie rock, like rock music in general, has become stale and unexciting. So if you could save Courtney Barnett, Waxahatchee, or the band Real Estate, who would you let drown first and why?

GA: bye bye, real estate!
i’ve covered waxahatchee and courtney barnett is the primordial ooze that my hairstyle was birthed from.

IT: So I’d like to ask you about live performances before I forget. Where have you played in the Capital District? Anywhere you’d like to play? Have you ever toured and/or are you planning to?

GA: i’ve played basements and living rooms all across the capital district! and i have done a small tour in the northeast US. next year i am moving into a van so i will sort of be touring all the time. i’d love to play in the southwest US just because it’s where i’d love to explore.

i would be ecstatic to play in any sweaty basement with my friends in it

IT: So several of the other writers here at Times Boredom wanted me to tell you how much they love your music and especially your latest album ‘RE/SOUND’. It plays around TB HQ pretty much non-stop. What we all most want to know most is, do you plan to stick around the Capital District? Can we hope to hear more from you and see live performances in the near and/or not to distant future?

GA: wow, i really appreciate that! seriously, it means a lot!! and it honestly depends on how COVID goes. i’ve been wanting to travel for a while. I hope to leave albany in the fall as long as everyone who wants a vaccine has one by then. hopefully i’ll be able to play a few shows in albany before that happens! but it seems so uncertain how the transition back into live music will go.

IT: We absolutely look forward to that and hope you’ll keep us in the loop! Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us tonight Is there anything you’d like to add before we conclude? Maybe another local music artist you’d like to give a shout out to?

GA: number one is an email newsletter i recently started! https://lonephonebooth.substack.com/ .

number two! my partner alex AKA soo do koo. one of the most inspiring artists i know, & in the midst of releasing a series of video collabs with local legend Derick Noetzel.

thanks for reaching out, and for chatting! much appreciated. can i ask you an interview question before we go?

IT: Sure thing. ask away

GA: what is your favorite vegetable and why???

IT: Hm. A fair question. Although technically corn breaks all the rules, one of things it is is a vegetable. So I’m gonna have to pick corn, since it was such a major achievement of the pre-Colombian American peoples. It’s basically the most scientifically advanced form of nutrition that can grow anywhere under almost any conditions

I fully believe that the import of corn from the Americas allowed all civilizations, in Europe, Asia, and Africa, to flourish in a way that allowed them to reflect much more on intellectual pursuits because it feeds so many so efficiently

While it may not be the healthiest kind of food, the technology, knowledge of farming, cultivation, hybridization, and the sheer audacity of taking something that grew only in very specific conditions in the wild yet was modified to make it spread across the entire planet mirrors humankind’s own journey into being the superdominant species on earth, for better or worse.

GA: that was beautiful. never have i thought so deeply into corn’s cultural impact; thank you.

IT: Oh, before I forget, Scott wanted me to specifically ask: “GOATS!!! GOATS GOATS GOATS GOATS GOATS!! THEY WILL TAKE OVER SOON, JUST LOOK IN THEIR EYES! FEAR THE GOOOAAATTTSSS!!!!”

GA: well said, Scott.

IT: Thanks again and I hope we have an excuse to speak again soon! Please keep making great music! We really love it!

GA: hahah they’re both good points & thank you so much! i really do appreciate all the kindness you all have shown me.

Lone Phone Booth’s RE/SOUND

The strongest influence I heard when I first listened to Lone Phone Booth was an unmistakable similarity to the vocals of Chan Marshall/Cat Power. However, since Grace Annunziato (the mastermind/main songwriter behind Lone Phone Booth) is at least 20 years younger than I am, it’s difficult to determine a concrete set of influences given my own time limited knowledge base. Even if the influences I hear and am familiar with are present, it’s possible that these have come to Annunziato removed through other, newer artists.

In any case the beautifully sorrow and highly expressive vocals are at least Marshallesque, though they also at times sound Van Ettenesque (Sharon), Timonate (Mary, of Helium fame), or Jane O’Neilly (TJO from so many great bands… I’ll stop now). Especially since the music, while poetically sorrowful and at times as hopeless as Cat Power, herald a wide range of influences and personal innovations. Especially on tracks like 222; a hi-fi version of a beautiful yet endlessly unhappy version of an early lo-fi Cat Power track yet replete with strings and all kinds of warm sounds from signature found sounds (which are almost always present on all the songs on the album) and noise collages.

Another influence I hear loud and distorted (which to be fair I hear everywhere in good independent rock like music that may well have come from their influence on grunge, Radiohead, and every other good thing that’s come out since them) is Sonic Youth. This record is rife with intentional delays, missteps, and a wall of noise at least made partially by naturally distorted guitars. But also, a striving for good yet unusual pop vocal and guitar line melodies to accompany the less traditional, more experimental (and thus to me at least far more interesting) music. A Month in Autumn, for example, could be a lost track from Sister. It even has a noise buildup and breakdown at the end. But I also hear echos of of Sonic Youth acolytes such as Polvo and Blonde Redhead. And who knows what the kids are actually listening to these days that sounds like the shit I know? Yeah, I’m old. So old I should stop rambling metastically about influences which I’m most likely getting all wrong already, right?…

Mysterious and dark, this Lone Phone Booth facebook photo possibly illustrates how intertwined art and machines have become by featuring recording equipment instead of members of the group

Yeah. So, not only is Lone Phone Booth impressive for a local group, but as I already knew from their debut album ‘Music For the Faint of Heart’, has the potential to be a national (albeit underground as all good music is in this century) phenomenon in the independent rock community. But this usually requires ceaseless touring, label support, and an enormous word of mouth, or better yet word of mass media like Pitchfork or Stereogum. For now Lone Phone Booth only has word of mouth. But the words are getting louder and more encouraging with every new piece of music released. Music for the Faint of Heart was one hell of a debut album, but alot of that greatness was in the potential that was clearly available to this undeniably talented and unique singer songwriter. RE/SOUND has completely, magnificently delivered on that potential promise.

Whereas the previous record relied on fairly typical ambient sounds like low pitched conversations for background noise and muttered singing that reminded me (probably not many others by this point given how OLD all my references are) of the second Velvet Underground record (valuing ambience above all else), this record uses far more unusual noises for its found sounds. And also like the self-titled ‘Velvet Underground’ RE/SOUND is full of wonderfully catchy and pretty pop melodies. The use of ambient sounds not usually found in typical music is on full display on “Greyhound”, made up in large part by old touch tone and early modem sounds. But, of course, these noises are blended in with synths and processed to give them a background fuzz that blends them seamlessly into the song in a way that probably makes every other songwriter ask themself; why don’t we do that?!

A rare shot of Annunziato (playing guitar) and accompanying trombonist

In terms of pop melodies, every other track that doesn’t include experimental noise passages or starts and stops delivers not only catchy tunes but well played guitar lines, such as Dimmer and Creation Myth. Iridescent similarly has beautifully worked out melodies alongside found sounds like clinking silverware(?) which reminds me of the tender sullenness of a Tara Jane O’Neill song. A mesmerizing passageway into a sombre picture of an everyday humdrum living space where “each floor board creaks and snores”. And when you try to influence or change things, big or small, “some plants die, and some plants grow. how much of it can u control?” Not a lot. But the way Grace describes it is highly controlled, and conveys exactly the message the lyrics paint with the unusual but highly skilled guitar playing and drop outs for unusual sound collages.

A professional logo we found among Lone Phone Booth’s personal effects…

There are also a couple of unexpected tracks that border on circus music, and when listening to the lyrics you see how well it fits. For example, Creation Myth (ostensibly based on a bizzarre Larry Bird obsessed Svalina poem) asks;

“when you sink to the bottom of the stew, who are you?
reality can be a downer too, one strange view.”

The even more evil carnival feel of the depressingly (ironically) peppy Hot Wax begins with a lyric that reminds me of the Bedhead song ‘Unfinished’, both of which start with dipping your fingers in hot wax. But it ends with the devastating realization that; “Even when you dissolve, you still have to work your job” — a cryptic statement like that somehow makes perfect sense, in this silly unplanned circus of a protestant work ethic society of ours where your life is defined by whether you work or not and the only thing you have to do to ostensibly prove your worth is going in to work every day. And Annunziato’s wise enough to know “there will be pain, it will go away…”, like it’s all just some stupid joke that still unreasonably guides our silly, pointless little lives and deaths.

Overall, this second (we think; if not, tell us where we can get the others!!!) record delivers on the promise of “Music for the Fain of Heart” to fulfillment and then some. Lone Phone Booth and its ‘lead visionary’ (we’re not actually sure how many of the instruments are played by Annunziato given the litany of at least a dozen other people that are ‘featured’) have here clearly taken their songs to the next level. Proving to be adept at both ambient noise, aptly scored backgrounds played by ‘classical’ instruments, AND innovative sounds from everyday objects that seamlessly careen into a sleepy, pensive, and sombre in the best way record.

Per our understanding, Annunziato and the other members of Lone Phone Booth recently attended the College of St Rose (which has a surprisingly excellent musical program and studio). It’s unclear if they will remain here in the Capital District or move on to greener or more urban pastures in the near and/or far future. Wherever they venture, we’ll certainly be following them. Though we hope upon hope that they’ll stay in the area and perform live for a long time to come. It adds so much beautiful noise that we here at Times Boredom and in the Capital District independent DIY scene can NEVER get enough of. Thanks so much for sharing your voice and your vision with us. It hasn’t and won’t go unnoticed, and we’ll sing its praises to anyone willing to listen.

Camera shy Grace Annunziato is the mastermind behind Lone Phone Booth

Do yourself a favor and give Lone Phone Booth’s new record a listen here, or on Spotify or other streaming services. We do however, highly recommend the Bandcamp link, where if you make a purchase all proceeds go to the presciently relevant and vitally important GWORLS rent and gender affirming surgery fund, which provides badly needed help and community services for transgender black people.