Anna Vaus released her latest single "Wild Honey" across streaming platforms on May 21. Photo by Rachel Deeb.
This is the final installment of exclusive Q+As with our Shifter Fest Vol. III performers. Be sure to check out their performances on our IGTV channel!
Back in December, I was scrolling through my TikTok For You Page in the middle of the night when I came across a video with a synth-pop rendition of Taylor Swift's "Champagne Problems." The creator of this video described it as "If 'Champagne Problems' was on '1989,'" and I immediately decided to tap the follow button on Anna Vaus' TikTok page. I'm a simple girl: if I see something related to Taylor Swift and talented musicians, I let it consume me.
Fast forward five months — I'm on a Zoom call with Anna laughing about how both of our wifi connections have continuously failed us throughout our interview and the pandemic. Thankfully, we're both understanding and continue to bond over a happy coincidence — Anna's song, "In Bloom," and Shifter's third issue sharing the same theme. Rather than meeting a talented musician for the first time, Anna's energy felt more like catching up with a childhood friend. Her music relays a similar sentiment to her personality in conversation — raw, honest and unapologetic. There's a reason she was compared to the likes of her songwriting idol, Taylor Swift, in a recent article by Billboard.
The California native made a cross-country move to Nashville, TN to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a.country music artist. In 2016, Vaus was chosen by Miranda Lambert as the first recipient of the Miranda Lambert Women Creators Fund, which awards a female singer-songwriter a scholarship to attend Belmont University. She was also chosen as one of six up-and-coming songwriters in AIMP’s Class of 2018 as well as one of CMT’s Next Women of Country Class of 2019. At 24 years old, she's already opened up for acts like Willie Nelson and Hunter Hayes, performed at the iconic Grand Ole Opry venue and gained a TikTok following of over 106,000 followers.
Shifter Mag had the utmost pleasure of chatting all things music, touring and TikTok with her ahead of the final installment of Shifter Fest Vol. III. Read on to meet Anna Vaus, the girl in a bar who's shifting the way we know country music.
Shifter Mag: When and how did you discover that you wanted to be a musician?
Anna Vaus: I grew up in a very creative family. My mom is a journalist and videographer. When I was growing up, my dad was a children's country music artist, which was crazy in itself; and my younger brother writes novels and is an amazing director and screenwriter, all of the things. So I was brought up in a very creative household. And I watched my dad play shows and record and write songs and I loved that, but I was like, "K, that's not cool. You're my dad." I got to like middle school and fell in love with Taylor Swift and just thought she was the coolest person ever. She was writing about the things that I was living and I was like, "Well, if she can write about the boy in her math class that she likes, and I can write about the boy in my math class that I like," and I just really loved writing about what I was going through in my feelings and all that stuff.
Music has been part of my life since I was a kid, really. Thankfully, I just feel like I've had people encouraging me since I was really young. So there have been moments of like, "Oh my gosh, what am I doing? Am I crazy for trying to do music as a career?" There's never been a point where someone said to me like, "Don't do it."
SM: How would you describe your musical style/genre and who are your main influences?
AV: I would say it's like pop-country. I love the lyricism of country music and writing lyrics is my favorite part of writing songs. I do think there are some pop elements to it. My top five favorite artists are Kacey Musgraves, Taylor Swift, Harry Styles, Maggie Rogers and John Mayer. I just love artists that are kind of genre-bending in a way, especially Kacey. I feel like those people definitely influenced my music just because it's what I listen to the most, and I feel like that kind of bleeds through what I write.
SM: I found you on my TikTok For You Page. It was a video of you producing your “1989” rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Champagne Problems.” Because of that, I discovered that you made your own music and have been following your journey ever since. In what ways has TikTok changed your experience and perception of the music industry?
AV: It's insane. I mean, first of all, I have like a love-hate relationship with social media in general 'cause I feel like it's so cool that what could have been someone listening to my song once is like a friendship now. And I feel really thankful for that because I genuinely feel like I've gotten to know people. I never would have known anyway. But also there's the part of me that's like, "Okay, if I'm on Instagram, I know I'm going to scroll into a pit of self pity where I'm like, 'Ugh, I'm just a blob chilling in my room while this person's on the beach or whatever.'"
But I love TikTok. There are people that are against it but it's the first platform that I really feel like I've joined a friend group of people and that's in just interacting like on all these different niche areas like Swift Tok or country music TikTok. As an artist, it's so cool to be able to post a preview of a song and have people know the lyrics by the time that it comes out because TikTok hits the algorithm the right way or people I've met on the app care and want to know when music is coming.
SM: You’ve performed at the iconic Grand Ole Opry venue in Nashville and opened for some of the biggest names in music including Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack, and Hunter Hayes. How did all of that feel for you as an upcoming artist?
AV: It's so surreal. In every moment, it felt like the out-of-body experience where you're like watching it happen versus being in the moment. Playing the Opry was insane. One, because like my whole family flew out to be there. My band, they brought their families 'cause they got to play too. It was just such a group moment and it flew by where one of the things about the Opry is there's the circle in the middle of the stage. That's part of the stage from the original Grand Ole Opry stage. Icons have stood there and sung, so it's a big deal when you get to step into it. I was like, "I'm going to wait. When I do soundcheck and all those things, I'm not going to step into it until it is the time to like shine." I literally walked onto the stage and looked down and I was like, "I'm in, oh my God."
I didn't soak it in, it just happened so fast. It was the same with the Willie Nelson shows. Those were really cool because I really felt like the people that came to see Willie Nelson got my music and they were like, psyched. They were just so kind and love country music, but they weren't so traditional about country; they're welcoming newcomers of country music. It was cool to play new music and test new songs for a crowd, it was literally a dream. I look back on those moments at the low points of 2020. We hold onto the good things knowing that they will come back and slowly but surely they're coming back.
SM: You dropped your single, “Girl in a Bar,” earlier this year. What’s the story behind that and what inspired you to write it?
AV: It's not the most conventional way I've ever written a song, but I had a dream that I was dating Harry Styles, as we all have. We were walking through Urban Outfitters during the "Watermelon Sugar" era of the world. There was a "Watermelon Sugar" shirt and bucket hat. And I was like, "Harry, you've got to get a picture with the bucket hat." I was going to take his picture and he was like, "Yeah... um, it's not working out." I was like, "Oh, Harry Styles is breaking up with me at Urban Outfitters, currently, right now." Later in this dream, I'm with my friends and we're in a bar and I look over and I'm like "That's Harry Styles." We had all these memories and now I'm just a girl in a bar and I woke up and I wrote that down in my phone as a title. A few weeks later ,I had a writing session with, Luke Laird, who is this iconic writer and producer. He co-produced Kacey [Musgraves]'s first two albums, co-produced "Space Cowboy" [off of Musgrave's Grammy-winning album, "Golden Hour"]. I mean, just an insane guy. I had this session with him and I was nervous. And so I went in and I was like, I have this title, "Girl in a Bar," you know, when you run into your ex? I wasn't about to be like, "Yeah, I had this dream where Harry Styles..." It's almost been two years now since we wrote it.
I remember coming home after writing that song and just playing it on my guitar, dreaming about getting to play it in an arena one day. I did a little voice memo where I was like "There could be this insane bridge," like all this, nerdy stuff. So, two years later, it's just come out, which is crazy and has been so cool. It's music I think my high school self would be really proud of that I've made. And that is the dream for me because that is what I chase while writing and listening to songs. That was a time in life where one, I was highly emotional, but also like, I just like loved writing and creating because I didn't know anything else. "Girl in a Bar" feels like that to me. So I'm really proud of it.
SM: The “Girl in a Backyard” tour concept is so fun and unique. You also prank call people’s exes on TikTok. What motivates you to jump on projects like this?
AV: So I know like as the world opens back up, I'm not going to be the person that artists call to open their tour, you know, and that's fine. 'Cause there are amazing people that will go and do that. So, I started planning this backyard tour and posted on TikTok like, "Hey, I'm trying to do this. If you're interested, leave a comment." It blew up enough that it's going to be like a full like cross-country backyard tour, which is crazy to me. In my head, I was like, "We'll go to my mom's house. We'll go to my boyfriend's parents' house. We'll go to my aunt's in Vermont, it's going to be wild." And now, we're going to New York City and Napa and all these places. So I'm so excited and just so excited to meet people and hang out in their backyard and like jam and vibe to "Mamma Mia" together.
The backyard tour is so cool because when you're playing a club or you're playing a theater, you get off stage and you're like... It's just me. You go from like being on top of the world to just you, it's a very weird, amazing thing. With this tour, you get off stage, or off a plot of grass, and you're like hanging out with everyone. You're seeing where they grew up. You're meeting their dog, you're meeting their best friend. Like that's the biggest gift that you could ask for in people listening to your music and getting to hang out with them. I'm so excited.
My friends and my boyfriend will tell you that I love prank calling deep within my soul. If I'm hanging out with friends, I'm like, "You guys want to prank call people?" And they're like, "What are we, 12-year-olds?" I don't feel like I take life very seriously, so it's fun. Like I would never prank call my ex — I would be too scared — but I'll prank call yours for you. It's just fun to interact with people like me on TikTok, it's just such a cool medium right now because people are willing to interact in ways that I've never interacted with people on the internet. So it's been really, really fun to get to do that.
SM: Which one of your songs would you recommend for anyone who’s never listened to your music before?
AV: Ooh. I would say probably "Girl in a Bar." I feel like that sums up me as a human and how I overromanticize every situation and overthink every situation ever.
If you want to keep up with Anna, follow her on Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and on the web. You can also stream her music on Spotify and Apple Music and follow her for updates on future releases!
In the meantime, catch Anna’s exclusive acoustic performance of “Wild Honey” in our final installment of Shifter Fest Vol. III on our IGTV channel: