Q&A: Ann Arbor Author and Folk Musician Annie Bacon Explores Grief and Loss on Upcoming Album, “Storm”

Photo: Courtesy of Jamie Harmon

Written by Andrew Mullin

For the past four years, Annie Bacon has had to grapple with the loss of loved ones and grief. Luckily, she has found solace and support in the local Ann Arbor music scene.

Bacon, who moved from San Fransisco to Michigan in 2018, performs and records folk rock with her group, the OSHEN, whom she has been making music with for over a decade. She is currently in post-production for her fourth album, “Storm,” an emotional culmination following the death of her best friend and father years prior.

Bacon, who grew up on classic rock, folk music, and romantic-era poems, brings a literary approach to her brand of indie-folk rock. She cites Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell, Roberta Flack, and Bedouine as influences on her lyrical and musical songwriting. Annie Bacon and Her OSHEN formed around 2010, playing a making music with a rotating cast of musicians since. Before forming this band, she released an ensemble record titled “The Folk Opera.”

When Bacon’s partner at the time lost his job in San Fransisco, Bacon and their child moved with him to his home state of Michigan, settling down in the Ann Arbor area. Amid this big life change, she released her most recent record, “Nothing Stays the Same” in 2019.

The album’s release proceeded an emotional chapter for Bacon, however, with the death of her partner’s mom happening two months after the album’s release, followed by the death of Bacon’s best friend two weeks later. Tragedy continued when Bacon’s father died shortly before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of her grief, she and her partner broke up in 2022 she said.

When I should have been out touring (the album), I was walking through death with two people and grieving heavily,” Bacon said. “I did not get to promote the album in the way that it deserved to be promoted.”

With these feelings of grief swirling through her head over the past few years, it was only natural for Bacon to explore these topics in “Storm.” The album will be a darker experience than her previous work, with it fully recorded and expected to be released sometime in May.

Outside of music, Bacon is also a writer and co-writer on a musical titled, “The Keeper,” with fellow Michigan musician Kyle Rasche of Chain of Lakes. Bacon discusses her upcoming projects, exploring grief through music, and how the Ann Arbor music scene helped her through grief with ann arbor’s 107one.

Listen to “Can’t Remember” off of Bacon’s Upcoming album, “Storm”

107one: What first got you interested in making music?

Bacon: I’m from a big Irish American family and when the family would get together, which was like 75 people at that time, (but) now it’s close to 200 people at this point, people would sing… Everybody would burst into song, and I just loved it! I loved the way that people connected through singing together. There would be four different harmonies, and it wasn’t the most incredible thing you have ever heard in your life, but it was real, heartfelt, and brought the room alive every time. I think that’s where my real love started, and then in my late 20s, I had been in other bands and wrote a couple of songs here and there. I got a Mac laptop, (which) had GarageBand on it, and it was the first time that I could flesh my ideas out separately. I could play a guitar part and then I could sing over the top of it. It helped me start building skills for songwriting, and that first week I had an awakening: “Oh, this is what I want to be when I grow up” (laughs) at 28 years old. I was not a child, but that was the real awakening.

I saw online that your literary background influences your songwriting, especially your lyrics. Can you kind of elaborate a little bit more about that?

It goes back to high school, where I was really into romantic-era poets, and I would copy out the poems by hand and pin them all over my walls like a proper nerd. I loved words. I love poetry and literature, and I have always been a writer. I have not published very much of my writing, (though) I did publish as a music journalist for a while, and I loved that, but I have been working on a novel, which is what (I am working on) now at this point…

Writing poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and songs all influence each other. (They) give me more tools for different ways to tell stories. For example, in poetry, there’s this cool concept of a volta, which is the part of the poem where there’s sort of a lightning strike; like something happens emotionally usually that shifts or twists the meaning. That’s the charge in the middle of the poem that catapults you through the rest of the poem. I have been into using that in songwriting and how I can be mindful of where the point is in the song that I want to be the fulcrum of this seesaw coming in and out of the song, and how it changes the way you understand or feel the song.

What themes or topics do you like to explore in your songwriting?

I am really into talking about hard things: death, grief, and heartbreak. The album I just recorded, (which) just started the mixing process now, it’s all songs of loss, heartbreak, death, grief. I’m coming off a period of quite a bit of personal loss, but I feel like I am always trying to find the place where my personal experience has a universal resonance. I want it to be vulnerable and personal, but also for a purpose, and that purpose is for other people to feel like, “Oh, she’s saying the thing that I struggle to say. I’ve been trying to figure out how to say that.” It’s building empathy. I see my songwriting as a chance for people to care more deeply about themselves and each other.

Could you talk about what you think “Storm” is going to be like? With all the grief you’ve gone through for the past few years and the pandemic that you couldn’t explore on your previous record, do you foresee these topics impacting the themes on that record?

Realistically, when a person goes through something like what I went through – (though) there are many different versions of what I went through and it’s certainly not a competition – it’s an experience of grief that tears you down to your bones, and a new person comes out of that. Everything I write for the rest of my life will be impacted by the last four years. This album is much darker. It’s much sadder…

This (album) had three other musicians, so it was four of us in a two-row studio for three days. There was a fourth day for the producer and me, and it was just us at that moment. These people, this moment, these songs, to tape. So, it is a record of a moment, and so it feels different from all my other records in that regard. It’s a lot more cohesive, not only thematically cohesive but musically (as well) because it’s the same people on all the songs. The musicians who were in the room were just unbelievable, and I am very excited about putting it out.

How do you think the Ann Arbor music scene has impacted your career?

I am so indebted! I could have easily come here and disappeared and had everything go to nothing. The people of Ann Arbor and Detroit in particular, but now it has expanded statewide, were just so welcoming. People heard my songs and were like, “Come in, be here with us. You are part of the family.” I had never experienced anything like that. It was generous and incredible, and I could call people out by name, but I think they might not like that, so I will just say I have been so humbled and amazed by how open and welcoming the community is. Because of that, I have been to way more shows than I had in a while and getting more opportunities.

At the end of the day, Michigan audiences sit down and listen to songs, like actively listen, and it has made me a better songwriter because I know that I have to deserve that attention (laughs). I am in a couple of different songwriting groups, people give feedback on songs, and help each other like, “How can we all get better and rise up together?” It is really special.

Learn more about Bacon’s work by visiting her website.