Anna White is a triple threat—artist, musician, and writer—working to create a more accessible platform for indie artists outside of the US. Beginning her career as a contributor for the prolific Rookie Magazine, Anna has been at the helm of multiple creative projects, including the Nearness Project, collaborative response to quarantine isolation, and her new record label and artist support initiative, Inside Joe Records. As Anna provided insight into her many creative endeavors, I learned about her ambitious attitude and how connection and bringing people together is key to her approach. Community and collaboration are a common thread and the result is a truly beautiful and expressive body of work. ~Wyeth
ROOKIE MAGAZINE (2015-2018)
WYETH: What was your experience working with Rookie Mag? How did you get involved with that project?
ANNA: I loved working with Rookie. I actually submitted my high school AP studio art portfolio as a cold submission. Heard nothing back for months, thought nothing of it. I was certain Rookie was out of my league because I felt like I was kind of second generation Rookie and I had been reading it for a while and I wasn’t one of the very first contributors. But I started working with them with just visual art. My editor, Lina Singer, picked me from that portfolio and she hit me up to do some art and accompanying articles, then eventually to write a piece because she knew that I was a musician and in a band. So she reached out and asked if I wanted to interview a band, it was the first interview I had ever done. I had never really thought of myself as much of a writer, or at least as a journalistic writer, but I thought it would be a cool way to talk to a band that I admired, NOTS. I really loved it, I ended up doing a lot more music journalistic writing with them as well as narrative comics. I worked for them for quite a while until they folded in 2019.
WYETH: What was your favorite experience working with Rookie? Did you have a favorite piece that you produced for them?
ANNA: I was in a band, I’ve been in a lot of bands, but it was my first real band and we broke up the summer after my sophomore year of college. I went to school in a different state and they had decided I was not going to be in the band anymore. I knew it was coming but you know as any friend drama that happens it was so chaotic and such a huge dramatic thing for little 18 or 19 year old me. I made a big, very personal comic about it and put it on Rookie and I think it was the best artistic one and the longest, most personal one I put. I think that was the one I was probably the proudest of for a long time just because it felt like something I had put a lot into.
WYETH: Was it scary putting something more personal out there?
ANNA: Oh absolutely! The comics were the only things that were more personal that I put out and they were the ones that were the scariest to publish. One of my first ones was about being queer and just coming to terms with sexuality. I think I made some kind of analogy to cutting my hair because I cut my hair in a funny way and dyed it for the first time when I went to college. I hadn’t totally come out to everyone. I had a girlfriend at the time but I don’t think I had published it to the whole social media world. That was my first foray into a mass coming out to everyone that followed me on the internet. That was a scary one to put out there too. With narrative work and with visual work, it always felt cathartic and easier to put those things out after translating them into a visual way. It sort of detaches you and solidifies the narrative. It gives you time to figure out what you want to say before you set it out there. So I always liked that.
WYETH: That’s so cool, I have a lot of respect because I know for a lot of artists it can be hard to put something so personal out there.
ANNA: That was the beauty of Rookie. It was such a space where everyone was doing things that were so personal. It felt like because it was an environment where the readers were taking that and learning from it and creating a community. It was a very safe space to do that and also a space where it was very reciprocal. You would get engagement from people rather than cyberbullying or anything. People would see something and say they related to it. I remember putting out the one about being queer or bi or whatever I referred to it as at the time and having people put in the comments how they related to that. It felt like a crazy thing. And when Alia and I, who I founded Nearness with, we both met through Rookie. When we founded Nearness, we really wanted to kind of draw from that supportive community because it meant so much to both of us having come of age in different ways through the process.
Links to some of Anna’s Favorite Rookie stories
Tani: League of Legends (2018)
Katie Gately: Lift (2016)
Mega Bog: 192014 (2016)
High Five: Billie Eilish (2017)
Nearness Project (2020-2021)
WYETH: Can you tell me a little bit more about the Nearness Project and how that came to fruition?
ANNA: Alia and I have still never met in real life which is crazy. We’ve been remote collaborators for a long time now. We worked on a piece for Rookie together, I illustrated one of her essays which is how we connected originally. She curated a calendar a few years back, did a comic together, and remained collaborators even after Rookie. We had been talking on instagram at the beginning of the pandemic about how we missed Rookie and wished there was something like that. We had the idea to create it for ourselves. The goal of Nearness was to take that very intimate community forming quality of Rookie and the beautiful personal work and bring that to the context of the pandemic. So all of the work that we had was somehow related to isolation or just that period of time. It ran from April 2020 to April 2021. We wanted to cap it at a very specific time frame because it was a project that was meant to have very specific parameters. It was just a window into the collective experience of primarily young women who were all around the world dealing with this crazy unprecedented thing. More than anything we both felt very isolated. We were both living with family, I was at my parents house for 3 months and Alia was at her boyfriend’s family’s cottage somewhere in the UK. We were feeling a need for that community and realized a lot of other people were too.
That was the most social interaction I got for months. Reading articles, interacting with people on that. It was what consumed a lot of my time for the beginning of the pandemic and was what kept me feeling like I was making something that mattered.
WYETH: What was your motivation in focusing mainly on collages as opposed to other mediums?
ANNA: It was a thing that mostly existed on the internet but we wanted it to feel like this special, personal thing. With the collages, it was something that you could print out and could kind of take that space and put it into your isolated context. We went for things that felt like traditional DIY that could translate into the physical world. Similar to that, we wanted a lot of the aesthetics to feel handmade. So we have a lot of work that people have drawn and scanned in as opposed to digital.
We had the idea and kind of put it together rapidly. We reached out to a lot of ex-Rookies. After that we really got the ball rolling, we got so many submissions from people we had never interacted with that gave us such beautiful work to publish. Some of the people ended up being long term collaborators. Like Agustina Zabala, they are an amazing Argentinian photographer and they just cold summited some of their work and we ended up publishing a lot of their work. They’re extremely talented and they’re now someone I consider an internet friend. There are a lot of people like that we met through the context of the project which was really fun.
Inside Joe Records (2021)
WYETH: Tell us about your most recent project, Inside Joe Records.
ANNA: Pia and I met years ago when we were both studying in Argentina. We are both musicians and people who organize in musical circles. We had been talking for a long time about what something like this could look like. Pia is more of a live booker and I had been interested in creating a label. We wanted to combine them into Inside Joe, which is an artist support initiative. I am more on the label side and Pia is more on the live organizing, which will be more prominent when that is something that is more feasible. We’re hoping to lean more into live organizing. The goal is to facilitate smaller international artists to gain a foothold, whether it is through physical distribution or live performance in the US. As a writer, I’ve noticed that my friends that English is not their primary language or that don’t have a US or English speaking press team, it’s harder for them to kind of break into the indie US press cycle or even distribution. It’s harder to get things in stores, they don’t know where to go. And just having someone on the inside I guess who can help facilitate that is a helpful thing. It is important to us as we’ve received that kind of support, playing internationally and working with different artists, but the US has such a difficult scene to break into that’s also kind of viewed in so many different ways as a big global music scene. It’s one of the hubs. It’s nice to be able to help with that and help to integrate smaller artists into that or at least provide a platform. Even with music writing, they’re not getting circulated as much. The biggest fault in the indie media is that it is extremely US and euro centric. So smaller artists in other countries, even if they’re gaining traction in their local scenes, are often unnoticed here.
There’s such different things going on in different scenes across the US, each different pocket has different things going on but especially it’s the same but on a larger scale in other countries. I was amazed when I was in Argentina that their scene had unique textures and feels. It was synthier, it was more 80s influenced. It had to do with the political scene in the 80s in Argentina vs now and all these factors contributed to making it just kind of a different kind of music than what was coming out of at least the places I was living in the US at the time. It was fascinating to me and of course, different scenes are different even if it's all contemporary.
WYETH: It’s an interesting thing where we feel like we have everything at our fingertips in the US but in reality, we only have a very small sliver of what actually goes on in the world, especially with music.
ANNA: Exactly, and there’s such cool stuff going on. Our goal is, in whatever small way we can, to bridge that gap and bring some of these amazing things that either our friends or people that we admire or people that reach out to us are putting out. It’s been in the works for a while but as a live presence, it's fairly new now. It's exciting that it exists in a way that I can talk about as opposed to on the drive on my computer, which it was for a long time.
WYETH: Can you tell me a little bit more about the process of putting together your physical release?
ANNA: We thought that a compilation would be a good first release because we are a new platform. It’s a way to bring the audiences from these different artists, some of them are smaller, some of them are larger, but they’re all not based in the US and making really interesting different kinds of music. But kind of gathering all of their separate artists and bringing them together would be a good way to get the label going so that any subsequent releases would have that audience base to see them. Similar to Nearness, Instagram and Bandcamp are our primary platforms. We have the release on Bandcamp as well as physical cassettes because having a physical medium to distribute is an important thing I think.
WYETH: How did you piece the different tracks and artists together for the mixtape?
ANNA: With the artists themselves, it’s a little bit of everything. Its people that we have been fans of for a long time like GRÓA is one of my favorite ones to talk about. They’re young Icelandic teen punks, they’re amazing! They played in a video for PXP Iceland airwaves a couple of years ago and I’ve just been a fan of theirs so it was fun to get to reach out to them and have an unreleased song of theirs. Everything on there is unreleased. The artists are all people we reached out to but some we had known before. Maya Perry who is a Tel Aviv based artist who is actually a visual artist that I had worked with on Nearness and loved her visual work but had also loved her music so it was fun to get to reach out to her with a different medium. Pia was doing a grant with the Watson Foundation and lived in both Montreal and Mexico City and so some of the artists are people she played with or interacted with in those scenes. We have an Argentinian artist that we know from there but also have been a fan of—Fonso. I think the biggest get for us was Les Amazones d’Afrique. But they are an amazing super group of African woman singers who are far out of our league as a tiny label. But they agreed to work with us on this because they thought the project was something that’s important. They’re on a label and reaching an international scene.
Then with the order, we ended up with a crazy kind of Frankenstein of amazing music that did not flow very well but I think in a fun way. So we tried to set it up so that you can listen through and it fits but it also kind of bounces you around. There is no way that it's going to feel like an easy ride because we have harsh noise and ambient music and crazy Japanese post-punk and very soulful RnB pop. Side-B I think is my personal favorite in terms of flow. There’s a four song run. It’s the Les Amazones d'Afrique to Fonso to Desde ø, that we were like “Oh this is such a good run, they’re all so different but they flow so well together.” We were really proud of that. Moments like that fit together weirdly well. It was something that we were working on for a very long time so having it exist out in the world and having other people be able to listen to it is still kind of a crazy thing to me and really exciting. It was something that was slowly accumulating on my computer hard drive for months and months and I would show people but having it actually in the hands of people and on computers and on Bandcamp is just a whole lot of fun.
Anna White's Current Band - SPIRAL XP
Wyeth is a withitgirl writer and contributor based in the Bay Area. She is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon with a degree in Sociology and Film. When she’s not watching movies or thrifting, she’s hanging out with her two cats, Niv and Tisa. Instagram
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