Interview: Ana Cristina Cash talks Lockdown and cooking videos on YouTube, new album Shine and more

Singer-songwriter Ana Cristina Cash has just released her new album, Shine, and it really is an excellent piece of work. Recorded at the legendary Cash Cabin studios in Hendersonville, Tennessee, Shine was produced by Ana’s husband, John Carter Cash, son of Johnny and June. Ana wrote, or co-wrote 12 of the 14 tracks on the album, including Brand New Pair of Shoes, where she wrote the music to accompany the lyrics of her late father-in-law. Nashville TV show fans will also be interested to hear that Claire Bowen and her husband Brandon Robert Young also co-wrote with Ana and John Carter Cash on the song Fixed to Fall.

Born and raised in Miami, Florida, by Cuban parents, Ana was a professional singer from the age of six, and signed with Sony Music’s Latin division at the age of 15. Her eclectic early musical influences are reflected in her truly versatile vocal style, which is given full rein on Shine, ranging from edgy blues, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz, country, and all points in between.

As a songwriter, Ana clearly thinks very deeply about the plight of others, and particularly in the realms of mental health, domestic abuse, and alcohol and substance abuse issues. These and other issues very much inform her songwriting, but not just that, as she also gets actively involved in a practical sense with fund-raising events, as well as giving talks on mental health issues for The Campaign to Change Direction, and much more, as you’ll find out during our wide-ranging conversation.

Hi Ana. How are you getting on in lockdown?

Well, pretty much doing okay. I feel like I’ve finally come to terms with it. I think the first two or three weeks it was kind of shocking, I think for most people, and definitely for myself, and for my husband too. But then we were just okay, we were like, “Okay, this is life.” We have to deal with the cards that we’ve been given, and everyone’s in this together. It’s not a problem that’s unique to us, it’s global, so, just try to stay positive, and continue to work out, and I’m getting a lot more cooking done. I’ve become much more domestic! (laughs)

I see you’ve been doing some YouTube cooking videos.

It’s something that just went hand in hand with the album promotion of Shine, I just wanted to do a lifestyle spot, and kind of just started that way, and then I started liking it. It’s become kind of like a second job, and an unexpected one. It’s been really fun, and people have been very engaging, asking me questions, asking me to make things, so now I’m cooking! A lot!

I love your new album, Shine. How long did it take you to write and record?

Thank you! The album took about three-and-a-half, four years to complete, just having everything mixed, mastered, and everything.

When I moved to Nashville, my husband and I, this is before we were engaged, we were just dating, became engaged, got married. He produced the album, my husband, John Carter Cash, at the Cash Cabin studio. And I was just really writing so many songs. I wrote a lot of songs that didn’t make it to this record, not because they weren’t strong, but just because we wanted the album to be uniform. We wanted it to have a continuity with the stories. A lot of these stories can kind of mesh well with each other and the themes. For example, a lot of the rockabilly stuff like Move Along Baby and Tough Love Woman go hand in hand with Renegade Rose and Busted, which is driving. Busted and Renegade Rose have a common theme, and a common co-writer for that with me was Jodi Marr, who’s also a Miami expat like myself, who moved to Nashville, oddly enough.

And then Jim Camacho joined us for Renegade Rose, so that was written with me, Jodi, and Jim. And he’s from Miami as well, which is interesting. But the common theme there is this couple. And we still don’t know if it’s the same couple or a different couple, but the couple in Renegade Rose is kind of like a Bonnie and Clyde criminal couple, and they’re just kinda taking over the world and wrecking things and being reckless, but they’re in love.

And then with Busted, it’s these two kids. The guy’s a piano player and she’s a singer, and they’re singing in this dusty barroom, that’s their paid gig, and they have dreams of making it to Hollywood. So those are common stories.

My husband John Carter Cash and I wrote Southern Roots together, and that is a murder ballad, very reminiscent of a lot of old country murder ballads, and it’s about a woman taking matters into her own hands and killing and burying her abusive husband under a tree. So that one’s cheerful!

Fixed to Fall is a co-write between myself, John, and our friends Claire Bowen and Brandon Robert Young. Initially I had brought them the melody, I had this sort of sad melody, and then we all wrote it together, about a soldier in the Civil War in the US coming back home and she’s waiting for him. But then with the COVID-19, coronavirus situation, people kept telling me that the song has taken on a whole new meaning if they listen to it, that it reminds them of first-responders, the nurses and the doctors, and the people on the frontlines through all of this. “Their precious souls that need you more than I do,” is the line in that song that’s resonating with people during this time. I saw my song in a whole new light after this, so it’s taken on a very special meaning, and I’ve dedicated it to the first-responders at this point. It’s mind-boggling how a song can do that. It can mean one thing one day, and then something can happen in your environment and it just changes your life, it changes your perspective on the song. I don’t think it’s quite happened to me with anything as much as that song in recent times.

Broken Roses was the first single off Shine, and I wrote that with a writer from Wales named Kevin Dunne who works a lot with Bonnie Tyler as Bonnie’s guitarist, and my husband John Carter and Bill Miller, a Native American artist here in Nashville, a Grammy-Award winner. And that song, I really wanted to highlight in the video that we shot in Nashville for it, the deterioration of a partner’s mental health, and substance use, and how that just kind of destroys relationships. The video is hopeful at the end, there’s a steady stream of roses in the video, there’s symbolism, red roses, and at the end there’s a white rose that symbolises hope.

It’s a very real picture of a person that’s suffering from mental health issues. It’s not easy to watch sometimes, a lot of people will cry, or they’ll tell me, “Wow, that was really hard to watch,” but I didn’t want to sugar-coat anything, I wanted to get the message out there to break the stigma, or that if anyone was really going through this in a partnership or just on their own, that it’s really okay to go through this. I partnered up with an organisation called Change Direction, and I worked with them about reaching out to folks during this time, and talking about the video and what that means for mental health. I also partnered with them to do a live talk on my Instagram about the effects of domestic violence and abuse in the home, and the toll it’s taking during this time, during the COVID-19, and just addressing the mental health issues surrounding that. I also wanna give tips on self-care in isolation. It’s so hard for people, ‘cause whether you’re quarantining with other people, or you’re just alone, you feel very much alone regardless of who you’re around sometimes. So I’m just kind of opening up that conversation again.

Hey Hipster is one of my favourites on Shine. The lyrics are really witty!

Thank you. I want to explain that one. I’m so glad you mentioned it. It might be one of my favourites. They’re all like my babies, it’s really hard to say “this one’s my favourite,” but the one that gets me going. My daughter’s two years old, Grace June, she’s turning three in September, and she says, “Mom, play Hey, Hipster!” I’m like, “Okay!” It’s like a pseudo-jazz kind of vibe. I wrote that song with my friend Mark Winchester, who’s often playing bass with me when I do live shows. We just wanted to poke some satirical fun at the hipster culture. I lived in Los Angeles for a while, and there’s a big hipster thing going on there, just pretty much globally, and in Nashville as well. I’m a big fan of poetry, I love Sylvia Plath, that’s my little line in there for Sylvia! It’s just talking about the people that use it to kind of, not hurt others, but to be judgemental.

I think there’s a difference between cool and being hip and then enforcing your opinions on people. That’s kind of what that song was about. So the line “Standing on the corner judging everything,” this is the kind of person that uses their coolness as a way to, not harm, necessarily, but to seem better than. Sometimes we can use our intellectual capacities as an “I’m better than you sort of situation.” That’s why the poetry line is mentioned there. And “Intelligentsia Coffee” is a really, really great coffee company out of Los Angeles, and they have a shop in Silverlake, that’s where I gathered that from. There are a lot of hipsters that go there, and they’re really intense about their coffee, and the way they have their coffee, very particular! (laughs)

There are a lot of strong women portrayed on the album on songs like Tug of War and Tough Love Woman.

I wrote Tug of War. That’s the track on the album that’s a full credit for me, and I just wanted to address from the standpoint of a woman just warning another woman about “Don’t mess with my man” situation, a tug of war. Like, “If you’re gonna challenge me, I’m gonna bring you down in a tug of war” sort of thing. Sort of throwback to old-school of Loretta Lynn, so to speak.

So that one’s a fun one for me, I get really into it live for some reason. I play that on guitar and I just get all feisty when I sing that one!

I think the key really for this record was having fun. I wrote so many more songs than I actually cut. I demoed them, maybe not a full-on vocal, or full production, but I chose these songs because they went well with each other, and they all sent a significant message. The reason why Broken Rose was the first single is because I felt like it was the one that had a message that people can relate to. I asked myself, “What’s the message that I want to put out there that can heal people, that can help people, that people could relate to?” So that’s why I chose Broken Rose as the first single, and that’s why we shot the video.

Your vocal style is very versatile on this record.

Thank you. It’s interesting, I grew up with a lot of influences. I grew up in Miami, and it’s completely different to Nashville, where I live, and Los Angeles, where I also lived. I grew up listening to international artists from all over. From Spain, from Latin America, from Europe, and I was heavily influenced as a child by jazz singers. Anyone from Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, to Billie Holiday. And what I loved about their vocal stylings is that jazz singing is so improvisational. And I love the idea of singing a song once and then singing it again and it not sounding the same, and not even on purpose. So I kinda like the surprise element to singing that jazz brings, but I also grew up listening to just straight-up pop culture, and also country music. We had a big country music station in Miami that I listened to. I remember listening to the stories of the songs, and just some of the best vocalists I’ve ever heard, like Martina McBride is like a beast with the vocals, and Faith Hill, and then Shania Twain is this amazing entertainer and this amazing woman. I remember being very attracted to that also. Just the storytelling aspect and the vocal quality of these country-pop recordings. So I never really limited myself as far as what I like to take in as a music enthusiast, a music fan. And I think a lot of it’s made its way to my writing.

I started off with a career in Latin music. I was signed to the Latin division of Sony Music when I was 15, so I recorded in Spanish, and even with this Americana style of singing that’s on Shine, and country-pop, jazz, sort of fusion, some people have been telling me that they hear a little bit of my Latin element in the sound! Not like I do it on purpose, but they feel like there’s something in there that comes from that. So I can’t really describe why I sound a certain way on this record or not, because my influences are so broad.

Have you been to the UK before, and do you plan to play over here once all the restrictions are lifted?

I’ve been to England three times, to Scotland twice. I love it so much over there! Something that really surprised me when I went to London is that they had something called “American Candy” shops. And I was like, “That’s so cool, that they have entire stores dedicated to American candy.” I think that’s really neat. I don’t know when I’ll be going again in the foreseeable future. Nashville Meets London have shows out there where they bring Nashville artists, so hopefully I’ll join them sometime. They’re promoting country music, and the style of music I’m singing now, in the UK.

I find the UK so charming, and so wonderful. And something else I noticed, and this is just me talking as a mom, I notice that a lot of the common facilities at the airport for changing babies, ‘cause I went with Grace when she was just five months old, for the first time, to the UK with her, and all the common areas are so nicely kept for moms. I feel like they do a really good job over there of supporting families with all of these nice changing areas. I saw a lot of nice baby-changing areas! And in Heathrow, they’re playing like classical music when I was changing my baby, I’m like, “What is this? This is awesome!”

Any other opportunity where I can travel to the UK and sing I would, because I’m such a fan of the music. I got to visit Abbey Road, inside of the studios, the first time I went to London, and it was so much fun. I just love the culture over there, the people. I just have so much fun. My husband does too, and my little girl, she’s little, but she’s enjoyed it as well.

Have you got a message for the fans over here, just to finish up?

Well, that I’m coming, hopefully! I love the UK very much, and I hope that people really enjoy Shine over there, and I’m working on new music, so just follow me on my socials, I’m just Ana Cristina Cash everywhere. On Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, my website, and I really hope to make it overseas, and much love to everyone in the UK.

By Maura Sutton

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