Anna Vaus — Miranda Lambert’s first-ever recipient of the Women Creators Fund Scholarship — Releases Debut EP, The California Kid
Can you share a brief overview of your career to date?
“Absolutely! I feel like the best place to introduce myself is to say that I’m a California kid. I was born and raised in a town called Poway. I was pretty much enamored with country music from day one, but it wasn’t until I was in high school that I realized I could actually write songs for a living. As soon as I graduated from Poway High, I packed up my bags and moved to Nashville to study songwriting at Belmont University. From there life has been a whirlwind — opening for Hunter Hayes, having a year of school paid for by Miranda Lambert, signing a publishing deal and now recording some music to put out into this world. It’s been such a blast and I can’t wait for what’s ahead!”
Has your Grammy-award winning dad, Steve Vaus, influenced your career choices? (Both of my daughters were able to perform at “Carols by Candlelight,” with their middle school choir, at the yearly charity fundraiser for Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.)
“It is such a small world! ‘Carols by Candlelight‘ played a huge role in allowing me to find out who I wanted to be as an artist and a songwriter. It is truly my favorite time of year and it’s a Christmas concert so the fake snow at the end is a real bonus. So ultimately, yes, both of my parents are incredibly creative (my dad is an artist who doubles as mayor of my hometown while my mom is an amazing videographer) and because of that, I was able to go to college and major in songwriting and music business of all things. I think because they both work in some capacity of the entertainment industry they understand the best and worst parts about it and encourage me either way.”
How did growing up in Southern California, specifically Poway, shape your music?
“My home state and town have been a huge part of narrowing down who I am as an artist. It wasn’t until I moved to Nashville and spent a few years away from home that I realized how much I was influenced by California. The golden coast, the mountains, the sunshine all the time. I find it funny because I think most people don’t expect Southern California to lend itself to country music. I mean, Blink 182 went to my high school, and everybody knows the Red Hot Chili Peppers and thinks ‘Californication.’ No one sees Southern California and thinks ‘That’s prime material for a country song.’ And don’t get me wrong I love those bands and the music that has come out of my home state. But I realized that what I love most about my home is the whole ‘real life’ thing. The only genre of music that was telling the stories that I was living as a kid (growing up in a town where high school football is a priority and driving through the hills and valleys with your best friends is a great way to kill time) was country music. My artistry became this mixed drink of my favorite country music and influences like The Beach Boys and Blink 182.”
What are your fondest musical memories?
“One of my favorite musical memories is hearing ‘Merry Go Round‘ by Kacey Musgraves for the first time. I feel like I should have a cooler response than this, but it’s such a standout moment for me in finding my voice as a songwriter. This happened in high school and at the time I had never heard of Kacey Musgraves. My older sister texted me and said: ‘You need to check out the song ‘Merry Go Round‘ by Kacey Musgraves.’ So, I plugged it into my phone to listen and was immediately blown away, goosebumps and all. I don’t think I had ever dug into a song’s lyrics as much as I immediately did with that song. There was a voice in my head that said: ‘I want to do that.’ And I began to see songwriting as storytelling because of that song. It’s still one of my favorites to this day.”
Congratulations on being selected as Miranda Lambert’s first-ever recipient of the Women Creators Fund scholarship, for use at Belmont College of Entertainment and Music Business, in 2016.
How does the scholarship program help female artists like yourself?
“Thank you so much! I’m still blown away by the fact that I get to be not only a recipient of the scholarship but the first recipient. What a wild thing. The scholarship program is a huge help to female artists like myself. One, it was a big part of the reason I graduated college. Miranda raised enough money to pay for an entire year of tuition and I am so grateful. It is also a huge deal to be able to have someone like Miranda as a supporter of your career. She hand-picked each scholarship recipient and to know that someone like Miranda, who is truly leading the charge for bad-assery (that’s definitely a word.) in country music, is on your team is massive.”
I read that you signed a publishing deal with Black River Entertainment.
What are you currently working on? How is writing for artist A different than for artist B?
“Yes! It’s been just over a year since I signed my publishing deal at Black River and it truly gets more fun every day. Currently, I’m working on recording a project to put out into the world that I am so incredibly excited about. But, when I am not in the studio I am writing with other songwriters almost every day. What’s cool about Nashville and the songwriting community is that I don’t think you go into the room with the intention of writing a song for Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban unless you are walking in to write with Kenny Chesney or Keith Urban. One of my favorite parts about writing in Nashville is that you and your co-writers chase the song that is in the room that day and ultimately a publisher is the one who says, ‘I think this would be a good pitch to Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town, etc.’ We, as songwriters, have a crazy opportunity to write songs every day to make a living and I can’t get over that fact. Whoever I’m writing with or for, at the end of the day I’m so happy to be in the room.”
Can you remember the first time you wrote a song?
“So I’ll be honest, one of the first songs I remember writing went like this: ‘Every long lost dream, led me to where you are…’ I was pretty proud of it as an eight-year-old kid. This was until my family and I were watching American Idol and someone auditioned with my song. Which was when I learned that what I thought was my first original song was actually Rascal Flatts’ “God Bless the Broken Road” … fail. I bounced back from it though, ha!”
Which song did you have the most trouble writing?
“One of my favorite songs to play live is a song I wrote called ‘Hands on You‘. I say this at pretty much every show but I’m not a huge love-song writer. I’m a sucker for a romantic comedy or a Sinatra song but I get stuck when it comes to love songs. With ‘Hands on You‘ I struggled with finding a way to say what I was feeling and so it took a good ole talking to myself to realize I just needed to speak the truth. Once I allowed myself that freedom it was off to the races — and now I play it in every set! Funny how things work out sometimes.”
Where do you draw inspiration from when you write songs and what’s your favorite part about the process?
“I draw so much inspiration from regular conversations I have with people. When I sit down to write a song I usually start with the title and/or hook of the song. Nine times out of ten I’ll get a songwriting idea from something somebody said. One of my absolute favorite things about the process is sitting down to write a song by myself. It’s really hard because you aren’t sitting across the room from somebody that’s working to finish the same song as you. It’s a one-man challenge but it’s such a triumphant feeling when the song gets finished.”
For someone who has never heard your music, can you explain your sound in five words? Which song of yours best captures that sound?
“Country music meets California desert. A song that best captures that would be ‘Mama’s Eyes, Daddy’s Habits.’”
You’ve played a number of venues around Nashville, including The Bluebird Café. Where is your dream venue? Who would you most like to open for?
“My dream venue would have to be hands down The Grand Ole Opry. My dad played when I was a little kid and I remember listening in via internet radio all the way in California. It’s such an honor in country music and so many of my favorite artists have stepped into the circle on the Opry stage. One of my dream artists to open for is Jon Pardi and that happened in July. Serious dream come true for myself and for my band!”
Where would you like to be in your career five years from now? If you could dabble in any other genre of music, which would it be?
“So, in five years I’ll be 27. I’m a bit of a goal maker so I want to have done a few things. First and foremost: put out a record. Second: be on tour with my band.
Playing live is one of my all-time favorite things to do and I would love to do that forever and ever if possible. If I could dabble in any other genre of music I would love to dip my toe in the waters of pop. One of my favorite records right now is Harry Styles’ self-titled album. It’s a mixture of classic rock influences and today’s pop and it’d be so much fun to do that. I love dancing around on stage when I sing so to make music like Harry’s record which is so dance-able would be a blast.”
How do you balance your music with other obligations?
“It can be hard at times but I think it’s all about perspective. I was fortunate enough to sign my publishing deal while I was still in school. So, for my last year of college, I was going to class in the mornings, writing songs during the day, and doing homework at night. It was such a challenge and took a lot of hard work but ultimately better prepared me for life after college. It definitely taught me how to handle a busy schedule but nobody is perfect. Sometimes I’m on top of it and other times I eat ice cream for dinner because I didn’t have time to stop at the grocery store on the way home from a write. It’s all about balance, right?”
What are the five things you can’t live without?
“Coffee, my faith, country music, my family, and my dog!”
What’s your motto or the advice you live by?
“I’m a big believer in ‘everything happens for a reason.’ It’s helped me learn to not sweat the small stuff, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and I’m just happy to be here.”
What’s your favorite thing to do when you aren’t writing or playing?
“I love baking (especially pie, it’s a Vaus family tradition) but I also love all things water. Growing up in San Diego, I fell in love with paddle boarding, boogie boarding, and swimming. I wish I had the coordination to surf but that’s probably never going to happen. A girl can dream.”
Debut EP, The California Kid. Get it on iTunes.