Anna Clendening is uncomfortable. She hates touring, the van makes her carsick and meeting new people makes her anxious. Nearly everything seems to point to the fact she shouldn’t be pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter.
But, that’s not going to stop Clendening.
Fresh off her first headlining tour and following the release of her debut extended play (EP) “waves,” the 26-year-old is feeling grateful to be able to meet those who have supported her and is determined to use her platform to destigmatize mental illness.
Clendening creates eletro-pop beats to pair with her honest lyrics about the realities of heartbreak and anxiety.
The infectious instrumentals may draw in listeners, but Clendening’s vulnerable lyrics about the hard topics may be what keep fans around.
“I’ve never been one to be shy about when I’m going through something complicated,” she said in an interview with The Phoenix. “It’s life. We should be able to share life.”
For Clendening, sharing her life and subsequent struggles with mental health with her fans has been what makes the mental strain of the profession worth it.
Her recent tour — which brought her to Schubas Tavern (3159 N. Southport Ave.) in April — provided the opportunity to play these songs for fans in person. The singer said she could finally reciprocate the love they’ve shown for her every step of the way — from her time on “America’s Got Talent” in 2014 to a mass of YouTube streams in 2017.
While Clendening said she enjoyed finally putting faces to names, her social anxiety turned her meet and greets into a strenuous activity. Despite this, she continued to put her fans first.
“If me being uncomfortable for like two hours for a meet and greet makes one person feel connected to something, I will be uncomfortable,” Clendening said.
While she aims to create a connection with the listener, Clendening said for her, songwriting is selfish. Music is one of her many coping mechanisms — along with therapy and her long-haired German Shepherd Atlas — for combatting her anxiety.
That anxiety took over after she boldly moved across the country to California resulting in innumerable nights spent crying and, eventually, her song “Bend & Break.”
The undeniably fun track gives a lighthearted spin to the dismal lyrics “You’ve reached your limit / You’re in it / Straight up to your head.” The blunt opening line immediately speaks to feeling overwhelmed and could make listeners experiencing those emotions feel seen.
Though the culture shock tested Clendening’s mental state, She says it was necessary. Feeling stagnant in her hometown of Chapel Hill, N.C., Clendening gave herself an ultimatum.
“You can either stay here and be unhappy … or you can move to L.A.,” she said.
There, she’s been able to cultivate a space of growth in the studio. She said going into a session Clendening and those with her will check in on each other and see what’s on everyone’s minds. From there, the songwriting process would come naturally.
“It just flows out,” Clendening said. “If that’s what’s going on, why not just write about it?”
Clendening attributes her success to the vulnerability which stemmed from the freedom she finds in songwriting.
Looking forward, the singer expects to release new singles and an EP this upcoming fall or winter.
Until then, there’s just one central question guiding Clendening: “How can we make genuine music?”
“waves” is available to buy and stream on iTunes and Spotify.