On Tired Girls, Anna Hillburg looked inward to write songs describing various aspects of being a woman in today’s changing world. “This is a feminist record,” Hillburg said. “It’s honest and personal, with songs that try to encapsulate all the conflicting feelings women go through.”
Many of the songs on Tired Girls were written during the Covid lockdown. “When the pandemic hit, I rented an apartment in Nevada City,” Hillburg said. “I was alone; no partner, no friends. The only person I talked to was the grocery store clerk. My day job is teaching vocals, piano and songwriting, so I did some Zoom lessons. Other than that, it was solitary. I got deep into my imagination. I had pieces of paper on the wall with song titles and ideas of what I wanted to do when I got back to the city. I spent a lot of time playing my instruments. I made demos and sent them to the band. They sent me back their ideas, and the songs took shape.”
She added, “When I got back to San Francisco, we started jamming, which we don’t usually do. We were masked and, when one of us got Covid, we stopped for a while. We had no expectations about a return to normality.”
As Covid restrictions eased, Hillburg contacted Jason Quever and asked him to produce the album. “I love the sound he gets on the records he makes as Papercuts,” she said. “After we were vaxxed, we went into his studio and played the songs live, the way we do at shows and rehearsals. He’s meticulous at picking up sounds and mixing them delicately. I overdubbed my vocal harmonies and trumpet parts at home, with my boyfriend, Bill Rousseau.”
The arrangements on Tired Girls balance elements of Hillburg’s classical training with elements of folk, rock and country music. Hillburg’s complex acoustic fingerpicking opens “Early Morning Dreams.” Her melismatic vocal describes a sleeper waking from a nightmare to greet the sunshine of the day. A Baroque piano hook opens “Holdin’ On,” a song portraying someone longing for love as her life “fades into violet skies.” Hillburg’s trumpet line and soft vocal intensify the song’s aura of loneliness. “What To Do With The Lights Out” is a country rocker, featuring the warm tones of a pedal steel guitar and Hillburg’s wordless harmonies.
The album closer, “Happier Times,” is a funky R&B tune that expands into a free-form jam that lets everyone show off their chops. “This song captures a time when we were soloing our way through the pandemic, in between variants,” Hillburg said. “It adds an exclamation point to our return to normality.”
Hillburg grew up in Long Beach, surrounded by music. “My mom is a pianist and singer in a German choir,” she said. “My dad was a journalist and a college radio DJ. There was always music playing in the house. I took piano lessons at five and picked up the trumpet in third grade. I wasn’t great academically, but musically I kicked ass. I got into the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, thinking I wanted to be a classical trumpet player, but I also wanted to learn how to play bass, drums and guitar. To be a classical player, you have to stay in your basement and practice five hours every day, but I did learn how to compose music.”
She continued, “I put together a jokey cover band with some friends, called Oedipus Sex, but we only played one gig. When my sister started working for a cartoon studio, she helped me get a job writing music for a show that was in development. That paid me enough to rent a U-Haul so I could move up to UC Berkeley and continue my music studies.”
In the Bay Area, Hillburg played in bands, wrote songs and met Yea-Ming Chen. “Chen had her own practice space and invited me to play bass in her band, Hawaiian Getaway,” Hillberg said. “Around that time, I saw Stop Making Sense, the Talking Heads movie. Bryne walked out with a boombox and started playing, and the music just builds and builds and builds. I had a shitty Casio and started writing songs to simple beats. When I showed them to the band, they liked them.”
When Hawaiian Getaway collapsed, Chen and Hillburg continued collaborating in Dreamdate, a group that lasted five years and made three albums. During that time, Hillburg worked a day job as a luxury florist, taught piano and voice lessons, did session work and played with a number of local bands. She also started making her own albums.
“My first album [Anna Hillburg] was a ‘Let’s see if I can make a record’ project,” Hillburg said. “Except for the drums, I played all the instruments: trumpet, guitar, banjo, bass, organ. It was my first jump off the cliff. I wanted a band for [my next album] Really Real, so I put one together with Chen and a few other folks. The melodies were more complicated, the lyrics more expansive. I was becoming a better songwriter. Today, I have a tight, talented band, and on Tired Girls we came into our own.”
She added, “In the future, I just want to get better at my craft. I feel more confident being an older woman, and I’m already writing my next album. I feel a strong sense of responsibility to the women that didn’t have an opportunity to kick some ass. My mom made me keenly aware of the history of the women who came before my time. I’m part of the first generation of women that can do what they want, so I have a sense of responsibility to use that freedom to lift up other women and all people.”
For upcoming tour dates, check out Ms. Hillburg’s website: www.annahillburg.com. Listen to Tired Girls at: annahillburg.bandcamp.com/album/tired-girls. The album
was released on the Speakeasy Studios label: speakeasystudiossf.com. Listen to Hillburg’s work with Dreamdate at: dreamdate.bandcamp.com.