If first impressions are everything, Anna Vaus made sure hers wouldn’t soon be forgotten.
Vaus made her introduction into country music with her single, “Day Job,” on August 24, followed by her debut EP, “The California Kid,” on September 28.
With strong songwriting at the forefront and an even stronger vocal deliveries, Vaus is quickly making a name for herself.
Read below to learn all about “The California Kid,” as well as Vaus’ influences, being selected as the winner of Miranda Lambert’s Women Creators Fund, opening for some of the big names in traditional country music, and more!
Pro Country: Who were some of your biggest musical influences growing up?
Anna Vaus: I grew up on a whole mix of things. I love Glen Campbell and very traditional country, and the more modern artists like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Lee Ann Womack. I also grew up loving Billy Joel and Frank Sinatra, and Blink-182 way before I did, so there was that influence of California, so it was kind of this weird mixture of all different genres that have played in to what I love, and now what I create.
PC: Was there a specific moment you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
AV: It was definitely a culmination of a bunch of things. My dad is a musician, and growing up, he traveled back and forth to Nashville. He was actually a children’s country artist, which is funny. His stage name was Buck Howdy, and he was on tour a lot when I was a kid, so I just had an understanding of music, and I always liked to do it because I was just like, “My dad does that, that’s cool, so I’ll do it!”
I was talking to someone the other day about this. This moment for me that was like, “Holy crap, I want to do this,” was when I was on a college tour at UVA, and I was touring there because I was looking at playing lacrosse in college, and they have a great team. We stepped into the John Paul Jones Arena, and all of my teammates would say, “Oh my gosh, it would be so fun to play a game here,” and I just remember thinking, “I don’t want to play a game here, I would love to play a show here!” I thought that would be so cool. So in that moment, I thought, “I think I need to do music in college, and I want to do this- hopefully I can do this,” and that was very much a moment for me when I told myself I wanted to make it happen.
PC: Has having a father who has been successful in the music industry helped you in the early stages of your career?
AV: It definitely did. I would say especially in high school, he was someone that I was able to go to. If I wrote a song, I would call him into my room and ask him to listen to it and give me feedback on it, and he would be able to speak into the nature of songwriting and structure, and point out things like choruses having the same lyrics over and over again because you want people to be able to sing along. Tidbits like that really shaped how I wrote songs and how I listened to songs, so that was helpful.
Also, when I got to Nashville, he had been in Nashville before, and as I have met people along the way, it’ll be cool because people will say they remember my dad, things like, “Yeah, Buck Howdy rings a bell.” So it’s just helpful to know that someone in my family has gone before me and done these things, made relationships and been successful at it; it’s inspiring more than anything.
PC: Was it a scary feeling to just pack up and move to Nashville?
AV: It was terrifying. I think about it now, and I think, honestly, if I knew how scary it was going to be when I got to Nashville, I don’t think I would have done it. I moved 2,000 miles across the country away from all of my family and everything I knew and everything I was very familiar with and comfortable with. Thankfully, I went to school here- I went to Belmont University and had a group of friends that I was able to rise with. But it’s terrifying, a lot of my friends live in places really close to Nashville, so they get to go home on weekends. I remember spending my first Thanksgiving with friends in North Carolina, but I was so homesick. Being away from family is hard, but once you find your group of people in Nashville, you click really quickly and feel like you’re home, so that made it a lot easier.
PC: Miranda Lambert selected you as the recipient of her Women Creators Fund, which included a $40,000 scholarship to Belmont University. What kind of validation did that give you as an artist to receive that kind of award?
AV: That was insane to me. That happened going in to my junior year of school. I remember during my sophomore year- this was around when a radio programmer had spoken out about females in country music, and how they had less of a place than males did on country radio, so that is why Miranda created the scholarship- to encourage females who are actively pursuing songwriting and artistry and going to school for it. I remember reading about it and thinking, “That’s so freakin’ cool that she would do that!” Then the application process came around and- I mean, I lost sleep over it. I would have these dreams where my professor would award the scholarship, and be like, “Congratulations to Anna Vaus! Oh my gosh… I said the wrong name.”
When I finally got that news that I was chosen, that was huge for me. It paid for my tuition and a year and a half of school, but also, just to be validated by arguably one of the biggest females in country music, was like a dream and a half, and I really think that helped me in terms of signing my publishing deal, and just getting to know more people in Nashville, it was huge for me.
PC: How did your time at Belmont Shape you both personally and professionally?
AV: I feel like I’m a walking advertisement for Belmont (laughs). If you want to do country music in Nashville, if you want to be in the music industry in Nashville, it is an amazing place to do that, because you are built into the community of people, that are all so motivated to go out and pursue the music business. I was a songwriting major, which sounds crazy, and a lot of parents would say, “How are your parents okay with letting you go to school and major in songwriting?!” But the professors there have built this program that really prepares you to be on music row.
In the summer going into my junior year, one of my professors said, “Look, tell me where you want to meet with people- tell me what your goal is, and we’ll make it happen.” That was huge. By the time I was a junior, I had a publishing deal, and I was able to have a job when I graduated college, so it’s huge.
And personally too, you just meet the people you’re going to be working with for the rest of your life, especially just as time has passed, in the past few months since I’ve graduated, the number of people I’ve run into at different publishing companies and record labels and management companies that I went to school with is insane, so that’s been cool too.
PC: Has being a part of an organization like Black River Entertainment with such great writers and artists helped you grow and improve your craft in any way?
AV: Totally. It has challenged me, especially just going into the writing room every day. There’s a writer that writes at Black River named Scott Stepakoff, he’s an amazing writer. He wrote “Love Can Go to Hell” by Brandy Clark and “Everybody Dies Young” by Jake Owen, and he’s just an insane lyricist, and I write with him a lot. Just being in the room with him challenges me to be a better writer. I think being surrounded by greatness in that way forces you to think, “Okay, I want to be great too!” It’s just such a cool company to be a part of, and it’s so multi-talented where you’ve got Scott, who’s this amazing writer, and you’ve got artists like Nikita Karmen and Abby Anderson and producers like Josh Kerr- they are all so talented, so it’s cool to be associated with them too.
PC: As you were preparing to release your debut EP, “The California Kid,” was it at all a vulnerable/nervous feeling as you were preparing to release music for the first time?
AV: Yes, very scary. For a really long time- when I first moved to Nashville, I thought, “I strictly want to be a songwriter. That’s what I do, that’s what I’m good at, there’s no way I can be an artist.” Deep down, I would think,” I would love to be an artist, but that’s really scary.” I feel like you have to have a certain personality, and I didn’t feel like I had that or that I embodies the qualities of an artist, so putting out music, naturally, was the scariest thing in the world. I slowly found a team of people that encouraged that artist side of me, and ultimately, once I felt like I had the songs, I became excited to put it out, because I thought, “Honestly, all I can do is state my truth, and if people don’t like that, that’s okay, someone else will.” It became almost like a soul-searching process in a weird way, but also really fun because it challenged me and pushed me out of my comfort zone, but I also feel like I’ve grown, just in the last few months of recording and releasing, just because I did it.
PC: What led you to release “Day Job” as the first single the EP?
AV: That song, I don’t know it’s special to me, other than I think I wrote it an I thought it wasn’t going to be anything. And then, we went into record it and I loved the recording process of it. It started as this slow, kind of swampy song, which it isn’t anymore, because it feels like you’re on caffeine when you listen to it (laughs). I just felt like of all the songs, it was the closest to what I wanted to say as an artist, and what my sound is as an artist. It felt like a risk to put it out, and I knew that that’s what I wanted to do. Very honestly, “Mama’s Eyes, Daddy’s Habits,” the second track on the EP, is a total introduction into who I am in a very clear and obvious way. But “Day Job,” to me, introduces me as a songwriter and an artist at the same time, and I just wanted to take a risk on it. I felt like if I didn’t release it as the first thing, I would kind of kick myself for it, so I just decided to put it out!
PC: “Day Job” has almost 100,000 streams on Spotify in just over a month since its release. What does it mean to you to have that kind of success as a new artist?
AV: That is so crazy to me. I am so thankful Spotify and all of the streaming platforms have been so awesome. Especially with “Day Job,” Spotify has kind of initially took hold of it, and I initially went out to California with the band to play some shows, and we ended up filming this vertical video for “Day Job,” and Spotify ended up playlisting that video on Wild Country, which is cool, and now it’s on Apple Music’s “Best of the Week,” and all these crazy things.
All I wanted was to be able to put stuff out so that when I played shows, people could go back and find music. The fact that people outside of the live shows have found that music and listened to it and continue to listen to it, it is like the coolest thing in the world. It’s just nuts to me, because I feel like my expectations are so low when it comes to that, because everyone puts out music, so that fact that people have listened to it is just insane to me, that’s the only way I can describe it.
PC: “The Ground” is one of the standouts on the EP. Can you talk about the writing process behind that song?
AV: I joke about it, but I’m so serious, I am not a person that likes to express my feelings and emotions, I’m like, “They’re disgusting, and love is gross, and I’m scared of it.” (laughs). So, I was going through a relationship, and it was at the point where I kind of realized that love doesn’t always work, and as much as I hate feelings, I’m totally a hopeless romantic, so when that realization hit me, it felt like my heart dropped to my feet. I sat down one night, and was messing around with my guitar, and wrote the song, and I was so scared, because I realized it was the most honest thing I’ve said in a hot second. I played it for one of my co-writers, Scott, just because we bounce songs off of each other, I asked if it was weird to say those things, and he said, “Nope, it’s just really honest, and I think that’s scary for you because you’ve never said that before.” So that became a really personal song that I didn’t think was going to see the light of day, but here it is on the EP (laughs).
PC: After going through YouTube, I saw some great songs like “Bathroom Floor” and “Friendzoned” that weren’t on the EP. Was it hard to narrow it down to the five songs that made it on to the EP?
AV: Yeah, definitely. If I could release a record right now, I would 100% do that, but I kind of like and respect John Mayer and the way he released his record in waves. I just wanted to introduce people to my music before I gave them the whole story. So there’s certain songs that I know we’re going to go into the studio and record before this year is over, so it was hard to pick those songs that all made sense, but I think sonically, at the time, those were the most cohesive together- the ones that I wanted to share and the ones that I was already playing live with the band, but it was really hard to narrow them down. It’s like choosing your favorite children. Obviously, I don’t have kids, but I’m like, “I love you all, I swear!” (laughs).
PC: As a whole, what do you hope people take away from “The California Kid” EP?
AV: I think the biggest thing for me, and my goal in everything that I do musically is to just serve the song. I hope that people take away that they know a little more about me, but also that they know and see that these are stories that are specific to me. “The California Kid,” obviously not everyone grew up in California, but I hope that people take away the themes of it, themes of home and heartbreak and finding yourself, and also just knowing who you are, so I hope that people take that away from it, but also get a little bit of who I am.
PC: You’ve opened for major names such as Lee Ann Womack, Jon Pardi, and Clay Walker. What have you taken away from those experiences?
AV: Oh my gosh, those are like the most fun ever. One of my favorite shows this year was opening for Jon Pardi in Columbia, Missouri. I’m such a fan of him, first and foremost, but holy cow, to watch people and to get to play for an audience that reacts to- I would say Jon Pardi and I are both that California country and a little bit edgier, so to get to play for a crowd like that was so much fun. But watching the way that Jon treats his fans was huge, and a huge thing for me to learn. Same with Clay Walker, the way that he treated his fans and met them after the show by his bus, it’s just a big takeaway for me. Country music fans are the route of this, and that’s the only reason that I get to go in a room every day and write a song, it’s because there’s promise that this song will be recorded by myself or by another artist and that people will show up and want to see that song live. The way that they treat people is key, and they way that they serve their songs on stage is huge too. I’m learning, I’m such a kid and I’m new to all of this, but it’s really really fun to learn from those shows.
PC: Can you describe your music/sound in a few words for someone who may not have heard you before?
AV: I would say it’s like country and west; where it’s very much this California and desert edginess, but it’s country music. I want to tell stories, and I want to embody so many of the themes that are told in country music, so country and west is how I would describe it.
PC: In your experience, how hard is it to be a woman in today’s country music landscape? Does it seem like an uphill climb from the start?
AV: I’ve been very fortunate to be around a team of people that- this sounds weird- but don’t see gender in that way, and if they do, they see it as an asset. I haven’t, in my songwriting experience and in my artistry, I really haven’t experienced it.
When I first got to Nashville, I definitely experienced some of the essence of, “Oh, you’re a girl who just showed up in Nashville, and I can change your career,” kind of thing. But honestly, I think that people in Nashville really want to see the song for what it is, and I believe- and what I’m trying to do with my music- is just look past the fact that I’m a girl, and just say, “Look, this is a country song, and all I want to do is sing country music.” So I’m just fortunate to have people around me who are here for the music, regardless if you’re a girl or a boy, they’re just here to accomplish goals with me, so I’m thankful for that. But it definitely is hard, I think I’m not on the stage yet where I’m on radio tour, and I think that’s hard for females, just naturally, and statistically speaking, it’s easier for a guy to get to number one than it is for a girl, so I haven’t experienced that part of it yet, but I’m ready, bring it on!
PC: You mentioned earlier that you were planning to record new material by the end of the year. Do you have a timeline for when you will record the music and when it could be released?
AV: There’s a few songs that I love playing live that I really want to get in the studio and record, so I think the goal is to record them by the end of the year and hopefully have them out by the beginning of next year, depending on other factors like how many shows we’re playing and a few different things, but I know that there is going to be new music soon, again, which is great.
*Images courtesy of Anna Vaus and Anna Vaus’ Facebook Page
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