Anaïs Mitchell is bringing her indie rock tunes to the Wisconsin Union Theater on Oct. 12, but she’s also trying to share her work in a larger venue — Broadway Theater.
Mitchell has been involved with music her whole life. As a young girl, she learned how to play the violin and was surrounded by the 1960’s folk songs of her parents’ hippie record collection.
Inspired by artists such as Ani Difranco, Dar Williams and Tori Amos, Mitchell began to write songs in her high school years — music always came first. Her songwriting abilities launched the theatrical project “Hadestown,” which is Mitchell’s current priority.
“Hadestown actually began as a theatrical event. It was a shorter, more abstract version of the story,” Mitchell said. “Then I made the studio record and the piece lived in the music world for a few years, but I always wanted to see it staged again, and to turn it into a professional, full-length production.”
The piece has been in the works for several years now, Mitchell said. With help from the current director, Rachel Chavkin, the full-length production has transitioned into a completely new show from the original. Mitchell enjoys performing on stage during regular tours, but she appreciates the visual aspect of the theater.
“To put this show on Broadway even briefly would feel like a real dream come true,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell’s musical ideas come to her at the most random times. There is a burst of inspiration, followed by tedious efforts to edit and find the right words. When music is finished, she releases it on her own record label, Wilderland Records. This endeavor was made possible with the help of her manager, Liz Riches, and Nashville distributing company, Thirty Tigers.
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Mitchell said that having her own label gives her greater control over what things were getting done and on what timeframe.
Before accomplishing this, Mitchell would take any gig she could find until she made a living out of singing. She lived in her car, but let nothing come between her and the joy of playing music. She recommends aspiring musicians follow this advice for beginning their own careers. Careers can be started independently without the aid of a major label, Mitchell said.
“You don’t have to get discovered or legitimized by a major label to have a career in music,” Mitchell said. “You just make an album, press it yourself, sell it out of the back of your car and then make another. It takes a lot of work and energy to have an indie music career, but it is absolutely possible, and in some ways, has become the norm these days as the major label model becomes more unsustainable…”
With such a busy career, it may be hard to keep focus on the art and not the business behind it all. Mitchell reminds herself that art is the forefront of her job, and she needs to remember why she chose to create songs. It’s about the muse and the work put in, Mitchell said.
This intense connection with the music lets Mitchell connect with the audience at her live shows. She is only touring sporadically because of her limited time away from Hadestown, but when she sings, there are no barriers between her and the crowd. Her shows are poetic and emotional experiences, Mitchell said. She even bonds with the audience by allowing them to offer song requests.
Her many songs and releases show how her voice has changed. Over time, Mitchell played around with her voice and how to best use it. Mitchell also worked with a variety of producers, and she’s learning how she can make her music into something more expansive than just words. She wants to create music that can be uplifted by other payers and arrangements, Mitchell said.
In addition to her Madison performance, Mitchell will be guest-speaking for a class, and she’s looking forward to talking with students. Madison is a forward-thinking, creative town, Mitchell said. It only seems right that such an open-minded artist is coming to town for a show that should not be missed.