PERSONAL TO A FAULT | Annie DiRusso
With her clever songwriting and piercingly gorgeous voice, Annie DiRusso offers a fresh take on indie-rock/suburban-pop. Her extremely personal lyrics often center around the struggles of coming-of-age and provide the cathartic sense that YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Based in Nashville/NYC, the young singer-songwriter's seven singles have garnered a significant following, and her many dedicated fans (myself included) keep up with her on TikTok, where she posts sneak peeks, singing clips, lyric explanations, and more.
Chatting with Annie over Zoom, it was immediately apparent that she is as genuine and passionate as her storytelling suggests. She shared that her love for music is largely rooted in the lyrics, and she carefully crafts her songs with the hope that people can find comfort in her music the same way she has in others. DiRusso inspires with her honesty and excitement in her art and is most definitely someone to watch. A giant thank you to Annie for taking the time to share! :)
When did you fall in love with music, and how did you decide that it was something you wanted to pursue?
I think I've always loved music. I grew up listening to what my parents were listening to. I grew up in New York - all my dad knows is Yankees and Frank Sinatra - he's Brooklyn born and raised. So I grew up listening to a lot of Frank Sinatra. My dad's love for music definitely inspired me. He's not a musician or anything, he just loves listening.
When I was 10, I started getting into singing, and then I discovered Taylor Swift. And this is a turning point for me because I became absolutely obsessed with her. I watched some kind of bootleg documentary, it wasn't any kind of official thing, it was basically tied together interviews. I don't even know where I got this DVD. But she said in it that you have to write your own songs.
So I taught myself the guitar when I was 12, and I started writing my own songs because Taylor Swift said so.
I went to see her in concert when I was 12, on the Red tour. I'll never forget being in that audience and thinking “this is what I want to do.” I just started writing really bad songs all the time.
I was spending a lot of time going upstate and doing open mics. I live about 30 minutes north of New York City. Upstate is the Hudson Valley, where there used to be a really amazing folk scene - and there are still remnants of it. So it would be me, a 13-year-old girl with a guitar, and a bunch of sixty-year-old men playing music. I learned a lot from that, and then later on in high school, I started going into the city and gigging there a few times a week instead. I got really into pop music; I became a big fan of Maggie Rogers around that time, and Declan McKenna and artists like that. I didn't really get into the indie-rock kind of stuff that I make now until I headed to college in Nashville. I had this electric guitar that I bought when I was 16, and I just randomly brought it to college with me even though I never played it. But I started listening to Margaret Glaspy and Big Thief around that time.
It just made so much sense for me to write this type of music because I love to talk, and I find that indie rock music is so conversational. It came so much more naturally to me to write lyrics in that way. So I started kind of doing indie rock in college. I'm always inspired by what I'm listening to, and when I started listening to that it very naturally became more my sound.
What inspires you to write your music, or just on a daily basis really?
All different things inspire me. When I was younger I used to get a lot of inspiration from the people around me. I think I just wasn't really experiencing anything too crazy. When I was 14 I would really get inspired by people on the train, or other people telling me their stories.
But now I write very much from personal experience - to a fault almost, it's really specific. But what I love about it is that I think I'm writing devastatingly personal things, but then I'll post a TikTok, and people will comment, are you reading my diary?
That's the best comment ever because I know exactly what it feels like to listen to a song and think "there's no way you experienced that exactly, right?" I think it just speaks to the universality of being human.
It's been such a beautiful experience to see people connect and relate to songs that are so personal to me.
What does your creative process look like?
In my everyday life, I'll write down a phrase if I find it interesting. Especially ones that encapsulate a lot in a few words, where the subtext is almost more than the actual words themselves. Then, when something really inspires me, a specific phrase, for example, that's when I'll usually sit down to start writing a song. The chords and the melody are not something that I struggle with a ton, they usually come pretty naturally to me.
But piecing together a story lyrically is very, very challenging for me. I think it's because, to me, it's the most important part. I want to make sure every single word I say is exactly as I want it to be said.
So usually I'll find that a lot of the different phases I've been jotting down connect to each other, and then I kind of figure out what I've been trying to say with these phrases for the last month or so that I've been writing them down. I'll usually use probably five to 10 of the things I've written to create one song. It's a pretty long, slow, and difficult process. I know some songwriters who describe it as this beautiful, life-giving experience that they do every day. But for me, it is very hard, and I think it's because the songs I write are so personal.
It takes a lot of self-reflection and works in order to make these pieces of art. It's really beautiful for me once the song is done, but the process of getting there is very hard.
What's the story behind your iconic eyeshadow?
I was never really into makeup in high school, I was quite a tomboy when I was younger. And then when I got to late high school and college I started getting more into fashion which I now love. It's such an amazing way to express yourself. So when I got to college, I started seeing people with this burnt orange eye color, and I wanted that - but I wanted it to be MAX. So I went to a makeup store and found this insanely pigmented orange color. Every day my freshman year I would just smear it on my eyes - it was my whole eyelid. It became my personality, I swear.
And then my best friend from home Loretta, who is my life's fashion icon - she actually does all my cover art. She's an incredible artist - so amazing with visuals and everything aesthetic.
So she had found Suva beauty, which is the company I use, and she ordered us some. I became obsessed with it. So then when I started playing shows I would wear it because it felt kind of like stage makeup to have these big, lime-green eyes. So that became my look at live shows when I was playing a lot of live shows last year. I would do the big green eye look. And then I started making TikToks and my guitarist helped me decide that it would be better to dress like I did for a show rather than just casual. So I did that, and then it became sort of my thing on TikTok too.
Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with? (dead or alive)
Paul McCartney. I love Paul McCartney. And he's releasing a collaboration album and Phoebe Bridgers and St. Vincent are on it, so that's incredible. Other than that, I would love to collaborate with Margaret Glaspy or Lucy Dacus. Any of these people that I listen to right now. There are so many incredible artists in the indie rock genre currently. So many of the people right now killing it. Any of the boygenius people.
What's your favorite musical memory?
I love seeing concerts. The boygenius concert I saw at the Ryman in November of 2019 or 2018 was absolutely life-changing.
I cry at almost every concert I go to. I always get moved to tears seeing someone being so amazing.
I cried when I saw Lake Street Dive, I cried when I saw boygenius. boygenius more specifically was insane. At that point I only really knew Lucy Dacus’ discography really well, I had heard a few Phoebe songs and a few Julien songs. But I was immediately converted to both of them. And then when they sang the boygenius EP through, I cannot describe it as anything other than a religious experience. Everybody in that venue was sitting there, absolutely silent, mouths wide open - what are we witnessing? Everybody silently got up. It was one of the craziest moments of my life, so probably that.
(Check it out - Annie has a new song "Nine Months," which released shortly after our interview!)
What is it like to release something new, nerve-wracking? exciting?
It's all of the above. Usually, the week of a release, I start to think hmm, actually, maybe the song is terrible. But then I usually do end up getting pretty excited about it. This one (Nine Months - new release!) is different because it is quite a sad song. Others of my songs have sad meanings but a lot of them are kind of fun. I guess this one does have a fun vibe to it when you're listening, but it is really sad. I'm not planning on having a big celebration. Usually, my roommates and I will celebrate, but I'll probably put that on the back burner because I think this release will feel a little bit different for me. Definitely taking it easy.
Any other musicians who inspire you? (up and coming or otherwise)
Caroline Culver. She's actually my roommate, but also my favorite artist. Let me look through who I'm listening to. I love Samia. Annika Bennett is so incredible. One of my favorite songwriters at this current time. Taylor Noelle. I love Liza Anne, again, not super up and coming, but very incredible. And then there's Gatlin who is Nashville-based. And grumpy is my least favorite band, which is their Instagram handle, but the name of the band is Grumpy. All of them are really incredible.
That's so cool about your roommate Caroline Culver, what's the story there?
She's a student at Belmont University as well. I actually live with three people, they're all three girls, they're all songwriters. So, so incredible. She and I met freshman year, but we didn't really become close friends until the beginning of sophomore year.
I've always looked up to her music and songwriting so much. I remember the first time she played for me, I was stunned.
Her songwriting and performance are just so incredible. We started writing together probably two years ago. I don't really co-write that often because it's not something I love to do. But it just made so much sense with her because she's one of my best friends, and so it was much easier to understand what each other wanted to say. She actually wrote on 20 (DiRusso song), and Judgments From the World's Greatest Band. So she's written on two of my releases so far. I love her music so much.
Any piece of advice that you would give to aspiring artists?
I would say just be really kind to yourself and to others. When you’re an artist it can be difficult to feel okay all of the time because so much of it depends on validation from others. Also, it often puts your personal life or personal things about you up for everyone to see, which can be tough, but I think you just have to remember it can be really helpful for some of the people listening. But just be kind to yourself, don't put too much pressure on yourself, and do what you want to do. Don't get too caught up in anything.
What Annie's Listening To:
See more ANNIE DIRUSSO
Youtube (Music Videos!)
Judgments from the World's Greatest Band
What is Indie Rock?
Vogue: A Brief Oral History of boygenius
Various Small Flames DiRusso Interview
Atwood Magazine Premiere: Annie DiRusso Languishes in Teenage Suburbia on "Don't Swerve"
Additional Photo and Video Credits:
Cover Art Designed By: Loretta Violante
Concert Video Credit: Lily Pickering
Annie Three Concert Shots Photo Credit: Hannah Hall
Annie Nature Shots Photo Credit: Jess DiMento
Annie and Band! Photo Credit: Noah Tidmore
Caroline Culver Photo Credit: Ashley Kickliter
Spotify Playlist Photo Credit: Mackenzie Baker
Alanna is an intern and writer at withitgirl and a proud UCSC slug, who loves the great outdoors but is terrified of mountain lions.
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