Ann Arbor musician Abigail Stauffer stretching out with new album, headlining The Ark
I’ve been looking forward to hearing new studio material by Stauffer ever since then, and her brand new album "No Contradictions" lived up to my expectations and went way beyond them. The material on her second album is certainly grounded in the world of heartfelt indie-folk, but the added elements of electronic dance music and rap also came as a welcome surprise.
Abigail Stauffer will celebrate the release of her diverse and adventurous new album with a CD release party this Thursday at the Ark, followed by a performance at the Ann Arbor Summer Festival’s Grove Stage at Top of the Park on Saturday, July 6.
I recently had the chance to catch up to the talented 24-year-old musician and ask about the making of "No Contradictions."
Q: So when did you begin working on your new album?
Abigail Stauffer: I started working on it last summer with Christopher Norman. He’s now in Houston but was in the Ann Arbor electronic music scene for quite a while. It was really cool to add some electronic elements, and while some of the songs are really folk, I don’t just want to be seen as that. I had a song or two in mind where I thought that Christopher could add his electronic stuff to it, but I wasn’t planning on doing a whole album.
It was a stage for me of overcoming a fear of collaborating with other musicians. I don’t know that much about music, so when it comes to playing with other musicians I’ve had a lot of fear. He presented the idea of doing an EP, and that was his way of easing me into this idea of doing another album. It’s exciting but financially draining; it takes a lot of time and energy and I wasn’t feeling up for it at the time. Initially we thought we’d do a couple of EPs: Abigail exploring electronic music on one, Abigail doing blues and soul on another, that kind of thing. In the process I also started rapping.
Q: I wasn’t expecting that hip-hop and rap element on your album and I love it!
A.S.: It totally fit in with the concept of doing all these things all on one album. At first it was going to be on separate EPs, and then we thought why don’t we throw it all together. It fit in with the idea of branching out a lot and the uniting theme is doing different things. It’s united in its diversity.
Q: Who else plays on "No Contradictions?"
A.S.: Mike Shea is on drums and Joe Dart is on bass. They both were with My Dear Disco/Ella Riot. So not only am I overcoming my fear of working with others but I ended up working with these really talented, really experienced musicians; they were a key part of the process. Last time I recorded I did the songs with me on the guitar and then I would add someone else on top, but this time we learned these songs together and recorded them as a unit, which was really a lot of fun. We just played our first show together fairly recently and we called ourselves Abigail and the Butt-Touchers (laughs)!
Q: Is that the lineup we’ll see at The Ark?
A.S.: Fortunately and unfortunately, because of Joe’s awesome success as part of the Darren Criss tour (which comes to the Michigan Theater on June 13 as part of Bank of Ann Arbor’s Sonic Lunch series), I’m bringing in Sam Collins, a 17-year-old bassist, plus Mike Shea and Christopher Norman will be there.
Q: There’s a gorgeous duet on the album entitled "World or the Windowsill." Who is that singing with you on that one?
A.S.: That’s Chris Dupont! Chris has been 110 percent supportive of my music. Certain people come into your life and they say, "I just want to help you and I think you’re awesome." I wrote that last summer when I was hanging out with Christopher Norman but got stuck and couldn’t figure out how to end it. I went to Thailand for a month and while I was gone, Christopher Norman sent it to Chris Dupont. It’s amazing what he did to it! Not only does his voice sound incredible, he wrote the words to the second half of the song and pulled it all together.
Q: It’s interesting to hear you talk about how self-critical you are about your own talents. When you played live at the Drowsy Parrot last fall during my radio show, I thought you exhibited a lot of poise and self-confidence, not at all rattled by the hissing of the espresso machines or customer conversations. How long did it take to get to that level?
A.S.: That’s interesting because a lot of the lyrical content on this album is about that idea of moving from a place of insecurity and a lack of confidence to a place of stability. It took a minute; it’s been a series of steps. Any performer knows that there are so many different pieces to musicianship; part of it is musical skill and then there’s that aspect of confidence and comfort, and that has to do with relating to people. That works out for me pretty well, because I really like people and like engaging and interacting with an audience.
Abigail Stauffer plays The Ark at 8 p.m. Thursday, May 30. Tickets ($15) are available online. Martin Bandyke is the 6-10 am morning host at Ann Arbor’s 107one, WQKL-FM. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.martinbandyke.com.