From spinning records to making them
Anita Lofton was ready to start promoting Brand New Day, her latest album with The Anita Lofton Project, just before the COVID lockdown went into place. The album was released on her own label, Brown Girl Records. “I’d already had a record release party at the Ivy Room [in Albany],” Lofton said. “Then I got contacted by a record label. [They said] they wanted to release it to the world. We came up with a release plan. Then COVID hit and wiped out the company. I couldn’t perform, so I released it quietly.”
The Anita Lofton Project includes drummer Maurice “Mo” Miles, guitarist Brian Hill, fiddler Sharon Williams and bass player Kevin Lofton, as well as Lofton herself on lead vocals and guitar. The songs on the album are anchored in the roots of American music, including elements of folk, rock, R&B and gospel.
“Wide Awake” is a mid-tempo love song to the cosmos, with a soothing melody. Lofton’s open-hearted vocal is supported by the resonant harmonies of Maurice Miles. “I wrote that in Yosemite,” she said. “I love nature. I have to engage with her every day to feel alive.”
The current lineup is the second iteration of the project, the latest group Lofton has put together on her musical journey. “I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland and spent summers in Nashville, AR. My grandparents were farmers and owned land, so we’d eat breakfast and go exploring, coming back in the evening. We were the only Black family in Brook Park, and I fell in love with rock’n’roll,” she said.
“I had an uncle who had a huge record collection. He encouraged me to buy the records I liked. My first record was a Stones single. My grandpa’s mother only played bluegrass and country music in her house. That’s why I love country and bluegrass. At home it was rock—The Who, Kiss, AC/DC, Jimi Hendrix,” Lofton continued.
After making a living as a DJ, and amassing a huge record collection, Lofton went back to her guitar and looked for musicians to jam with. She met Kofy Brown, already a well-known bass player. Brown introduced her to her friend, drummer ieela Grant, and they became Sistas in the Pit. “We wrote two songs [the day we met]. We knew we had something,” said Lofton. “We started playing locally, made an album and got to open for Iggy Pop and The Stooges on their 2007 reunion tour.
“After I quit Sistas, I got real quiet. I heard lyrics with violins, acoustic guitars and upright bass. I didn’t want my effect pedals and massive Marshall Stacks. I wanted to write in a way that featured Brown girls. I took out an ad on Craigslist. You wouldn’t believe the responses. Someone wrote I’d have better luck finding a unicorn than a Black girl who played a violin. That gave me more motivation,” she remembered.
Eventually, The Anita Lofton Project came together, with five women on bass and violins, and a woman drummer. “I made an EP and an album, Neo-Black-Folk, but we kept getting louder,” said Lofton. She met “Mo” Miles and Kevin Lofton at a Kofy Brown show. They became the rhythm section of the current Anita Lofton Project, with Sharon Williams from Neo-Black-Folk on fiddle and Brian Hill on guitar. As soon as the lineup was complete, Lofton slowly started writing the songs for Brand New Day.
“My songs come to me, when they come to me. I can’t force it. I see the songs as a gift and have no idea where they come from. I might start with one line, in the middle of the night, or when I’m out running,” said Lofton. “When I bring them to a rehearsal, they like me to play the song through. Then they jam along with me and add their colors to the painting. When I perform with them, if I’m screaming in their faces at the top of my lungs, they know I’m enjoying it. I believe in impromptu solos, so I give the musicians the love and recognition they deserve on stage.”
One may listen to The Anita Lofton Project on Lofton’s website: theanitaloftonproject.com and on her Bandcamp page: theanitaloftonproject.bandcamp.com/album/neo-black-folk-2.