“I really didn’t think I had that great of a voice growing up,” Anna Fermin admits. In many ways, she had a typical Filipino childhood, which meant resented and unwanted piano lessons, but also plenty of karaoke. “I was forced to sing…Whitney Houston, Bette Midler…. Not that I hated it, but I just didn’t feel like I did it justice…. It kind of put a bad taste in my mouth as far as singing, I guess.” While her relationship with singing may have had a rocky start, her voice never abandoned her over the past 15 years that she’s been writing and performing music. Now, with a family of her own and sights set on new horizons, Fermin is venturing farther into her solo career with her latest EP Someday Afternoon. From her quaint home in Chicago, with her kids fast asleep, she spoke with Working Author about her musical history, writing process and the trials and tribulations of pursuing an entertainment career while being a mother.
Despite being immersed in music at a young age, like piano and violin lessons and joining the school choir, Anna Fermin didn’t pursue music in college in the academic sense. Instead, she explored a much more visual medium. “When I was in school…I excelled in two things: in art and music,” Fermin says, but quickly adds, “And also drama! I was in the Drama Club and involved in a lot of the arts.” She knew that she wanted to do something that involved art. “Art was my thing. And so I decided to go into graphic design or visual communication at the Art Institute (of Chicago) because it was the only thing that my parents could understand as far as going to college…. It meant, oh, there was the possibility for me to have a lucrative job at the end of four years.” She laughs. “Of course, it didn’t end up that way.”
Instead, music stoked Fermin’s passion in a very dramatic way. In one of those cinematic cliché moments that never seem to happen in real life, a college boyfriend serenaded her with “Down the Road” by Steve Earle. “I was so taken and so moved by this gesture, I said, ‘I needed to learn how to do this.’” So she borrowed a guitar from her aunt who taught her a few chords. A week later, Fermin wrote her first song titled “August Moon”. So while she makes it clear that she loves art and design and “things that are beautiful”, music is her focus.
“I kept writing songs,” she says. “And I looked for a platform on which I could share these songs. So I found the open mike circuit in Chicago.” At these venues she met other burgeoning musicians who were basically doing the exact same thing as her. “It was a welcoming and warm place for me and it was very encouraging. That’s where I met the beginnings of Trigger Gospel.” Named after the 1935 book by Harry Sinclair Drago, Trigger Gospel assembled into an alternative-country band, singing folk rock with Fermin on lead vocals. The group would go on to release five albums, tour internationally, and share the stage with names like Johnny Cash, David Crosby and even Steve Earle, allowing Fermin to return the favor by performing “Down the Road” for his audience.
After a great run with Trigger Gospel, it was time to explore something new. “I…was looking to do something different creatively,” Fermin explains. “I had been working with these same musicians – and wonderful musicians! – for almost 15 years and I…wanted to see what it was like to…collaborate with other people and see how their influences might take the music I was writing. And it took me kind of a while to have the courage to do that, because I was so content, so set in this place. And it was a great place to be, but like anything, after a while you just become curious….”
In 2009, Fermin released The Contender. “When I first embarked on this solo thing,” she begins, “I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do, but I wanted just to start the conversation. I wanted to begin that creative process.” Listening to the album, while some tracks, like “Always Been You”, could fit nicely in the mouth of any country singer, The Contender is definitely a stride toward pop music. “I’m pretty deeply rooted in pop music. I love it! I love that really mellow, melody driven, almost melodramatic kind of production – just that different aesthetic.”
After The Contender, Fermin took time off to focus on her family. The hint of a specific Midwestern accent melts on her lips when she talks about moving to Racine, Wisconsin to open a bar, which she and her husband ran for a few years. Eventually, they decided that they didn’t want to do that for the rest of their lives, so they moved back to the city.
Now, Anna Fermin has released her second foray as a solo artist titled Someday Afternoon. This five-track EP is upbeat and uplifting, full of messages about love and hope. While the music feels thin in parts, the melodies are genuinely catchy, and the songs showcase Fermin’s crystal clear vocals and bright timbre. What really distinguishes this work, however, are the evocative lyrics that conjure very strong and very vivid images. It’s perfect music to transport your mind somewhere else while doing chores around the house, or for those long, lazy drives to someplace nice or nowhere at all. Someday Afternoon is a delightful treasure of feel-good music that will make a great addition to any playlist.
“I found myself being in this really wonderful place in my life,” Fermin says about why the EP is so uplifting. “It’s really just a reflection of how I was feeling and the experiences I was having at the time. So, yeah. A lot of the songs are happy!” She chuckles nervously, unsure of what else to add. When it comes to the title track, however, Fermin is happy to share its history, explaining how she had written the song years ago, but when she started recording it and listened to the scratch vocals her co-writer Aaron Barber pointed out how the song did not hit the mark. “As a song writer, I knew it, but we were so far into it already, but my collaborator Aaron kind of brought it more to my attention…. I think we have to rewrite the lyrics to this song.” She rewrote the lyrics in 20 minutes. “You hear that with a lot of song writers. It’s like their best songs took maybe 10 or 20 minutes.”
“How does that happen? It’s really just allowing yourself…to be open,” Fermin says, throwing out a disclaimer that she might sound new-agey. “We’re so good at censoring ourselves and cutting ourselves off before a thought can be completely mulled over and shaped and figured out. It’s like as soon as it feels weird, ‘Oh no, we can’t go there.’ But when you allow yourself to go there it’s amazing what you’ll find on the other side.”
One of the best aspects about Anna Fermin is that she is a real person who brings real perspective to the meanings in her songs. So when she sings about love, listeners know it goes beyond the eroticism or lust peddled by pop stars on the radio and comes from a place of commitment and sacrifice. And when she sings about struggles, it’s with the experience of a mother raising a family while nurturing her own dreams. “I imagine it’s different for everyone,” she says, “but for me, it’s challenging, because I love being with my family.” Her face lights up in a way that makes hearts swell as she continues, “I love being with them. And I love my music and I love being with my music. And I love creating and I love being an artist. Early on, when I first became a mom, it was kind of a real struggle for me in that the family life really takes you away. You either give in to it or you struggle with it and it can become a really painful thing. But I gave in to it and allowed myself to be a mom, and there were pangs of desire to create…but I knew at some point there would be a time I could go back to that.”
If Anna Fermin is nothing else, she is a woman of character, and she knows exactly who she is. “Regardless of whether or not I become a commercial success, it’s not going to change the fact that I am a song writer and a singer and an artist. It’s something I’m going to continue to do and it brings me enormous joy and pleasure. It’s as much a part of me as my eye color.” Anna Fermin is the kind of artist who makes you feel good listening to her music, and she’s the kind of person who you’ll feel good about supporting. Make her music your own.
Someday Afternoon is available on iTunes, Amazon and CD Baby.