An interview with Annie Keating about her latest album “Bristol County Tides”

Bristol County Tides, Annie Keating’s latest album, has been welcomed as her best. The 15 songs are a sort of intimate journal of the first days of the pandemic, which she spent with her family far from her NYC home, and are about strong feelings, deep emotions and the necessity of accepting changes in a world turned upside down. She chose the image of the tide, which was part of her everyday life during the months she spent by the river, as a symbol of the ups and downs of human existence. Pictures of the water rising and ebbing are also featured in the album artwork, created by Kim Hawkins.

I have had the pleasure of interviewing her recently and she has confirmed to be, even in answering my questions, an excellent storyteller. Her words show the deep sensitivity of a true artist, who has been able to be inspired from a difficult situation creating beautiful, intense songs.

Hi Annie, welcome to my blog! Let’s start from analysing the album artwork. The pictures represent low tide (front cover) and high tide (back). Tides are a metaphor of human life: our moods can swing from high to low, so can our fear, our fortunes, and so on. Do you agree?

Yes, I do agree. The tide is a metaphor of human life and how our moods, our hopes and fears rise and ebb. 

During the darkest period of the pandemic, you moved with all your family from Brooklyn to Bristol County, an area that is about 200 miles from your home. Was it a choice of your own?

I chose to move my family to my mom’s cottage in Bristol County, MA, in March 2020 because things were very bad and scary in Brooklyn, NYC at that time (rapidly rising COVID infections, deaths amidst a very dense, large population).  We thought we were going away for a week or two but we ended up relocating for 5 months. Three seasons later, I’d written most of the songs on this album from April to October. 

Is it correct to say that the inspiration for your songs derives from this experience, that has implied willingness to change and a resilient attitude?

The songs were all inspired by deep connections forged in times of hardship and isolation, with some very kind people we found to be our neighbours on this road in Bristol Country. They befriended us, taught me and my son about river and the tides, and I bought a boat and learned to navigate it through the channels where the fresh water meets the salty sea. My dog learned to swim, my boy learned to fish and the city girl in me entirely gave way to the country, captivated by the river and the tides high and low. The human connections born out of pandemic time of isolation combined with the beauty and inspiration of the Bristol County tides and environs shaped me as an artist and each of these songs. 

The colour blue, the shade of the sky and of the sea but also of sadness, is a recurring one, together with the image of the tidal waves…

I write from an emotional place and these songs were deeply rooted in an uncertain, transformative but also an inspired time. Something deep in me woke up during the time I wrote this album and I think you can feel it in the songs. There’s a physical yearning, vulnerability, joy and sadness that comes through on this album more than any other I’ve written – like you can feel the emotional journey and identify with it through your own transformative experiences. I think the tides reflect this awakening and the inspiration born during that time. The blue colours are both about a kind of incandescence and the sadness of having to say goodbye to that time (both things are evident in the song “Bittersweet”.) 

The pandemic is subject to waves as well, thus influencing our hopes and distress…

Yes, I do agree, there were surges of illness and death that brought great fear and uncertainty, like waves of sadness. The song “Half Mast”was one of the first songs I wrote in April and you can feel the collective shock and pain of the dark, early COVID days.  We were all pretty much on lockdown and you can hear the sadness in the lyrics, “Time is moving slow, thoughts are racing fast nowhere to go, flag’s at half-mast. Monday brought the sun, Tuesday came the rain, Wednesday I just lost track of the days. World turned upside down, we go on just the same, as things fall apart, we carry on. Days they still start with the sun.” There’s something about that idea of flags being stuck at half mast everywhere that felt like the right metaphor for that time. We were all in our own kind of mourning and captivity in those early days of the pandemic.

In this situation of uncertainty, vulnerability (you mention that John Prine used to say “Stay vulnerable”) what gives us comfort and hope is our dearest affections, friends, family… your mother is your constant source of inspiration.

As the weather warmed and the pandemic surge ebbed a bit, I bought a boat, learned about the tides and wrote some of the happier songs on the album like “Hank’s Saloon” and “Third Street” because the pandemic wave had receded a bit and we were in a happier place. It was a gift for me to be able to write/share the song about my mother called “Doris” (her name). I sent her the demo in early spring and she cried, so happy to have received the gift (the lyrics “Mama can you hear me across the sea I’m singing this song just for you, Mama can you hear me from down on Third Street, sending all the love big and true.)  Music truly can at times be LOVE and forge a direct connection with another human being in profound ways. 

The nice drawing made by Ava Roth portraits you without a musical instrument, but your hands seem to play an imaginary one. Is there a particular significance?

I just love that drawing of me by my dear friend and artist Ava Roth. It captures my spirit, always trying to create and be open to inspiration, even without an instrument in hand … it’s about always being open to inspiration and change. We can fear change or embrace it but ultimately …life IS change. 

Thank you so much, Annie, for being available to answer my questions, and for your time. I hope to see you in Italy again, maybe next summer.