Ann Pragg: The Crucial Cut Interview
As Matt Radick admits, it's "pretty obvious" the songs on 'Bitter Fruit,' his debut album under the mysterious nom de alt-folk Ann Pragg, come from "dark and confusing places." Indeed, the record (released earlier this week and streaming in full below) is a thing of stark, meditative beauty. Opener 'Demolition Dust,' a Diffuser.fm free MP3 download back in March, sets the mood for the subsequent 10 tracks, and despite the air of desolation and decay -- it's about the end of the world -- it must resonate with listeners. The tune earned Radick first place in our first ever Crucial Cut of the Month contest.
That victory gave the Florida-based singer-songwriter the chance to chat with Diffuser.fm -- and to clarify a few things he's said in other interviews. In particular, Radick says, a recent chat with Vice got a little silly, and he wound up placing too much emphasis on the idea of Ann Pragg being a Sasquatch-like fictional character living on society's fringes. Radick did dream up such a beast, but really, he explained via the email exchange below, 'Bitter Fruit' grew from the organic soil of his own experiences.
Most of these, he says, were bad experiences. But elsewhere in his written responses -- thoughtful answers that touch on everything from his songwriting techniques to his work with the rock band Holopaw -- Radick speaks (or types) like a man who's emerged from the swamps with his soul intact. Now if he could just find a soul band that would let him play bass...
As you've said in other interviews, you sat on these songs for a long time, sharing them only with friends. How does it feel to finally release them into the world?
It's exciting. I suppose there was a little self-consciousness or protectiveness surrounding them for a while, but in putting them out there, I've kind of surrendered all that. It's just a different phase. Now, it's just interesting to me to see how they are responded to, and if they carry some resonance for somebody then that's a very welcome and pleasant surprise. I would say that my initial ambivalence has turned into gratefulness for the opportunity, and it's just a fun process to observe.
The reaction has been positive, but do you worry about people misinterpreting your words, or painting you as some "tortured singer-songwriter" in the Nick Drake vein?
I guess that's mildly concerning to me, but I understand that it's some peoples' jobs to create compelling narratives about other people. It really has little to do with me. I mean, it's pretty obvious that these songs came out of dark and confusing places. To me, they always served a therapeutic purpose, a way to let a little light in. But I never wrapped my identity up in them. That being said, it's always more interesting to garner songs from more challenging or less accessible places within yourself. I'm not the kind of person that's gonna sing about painting houses in the sunshine or playing recreational sports, even though that's more of what my daily life is about.
The music you make as Ann Pragg is obviously quite different from the stuff Holopaw puts out. Are the two indicative of different sides of your personality? Could you be happy doing just the solo stuff, or do you crave the camaraderie of being in a band and the opportunities to plug in and rock out?
Even though I'm pretty reluctant to put the "singer-songwriter" tag on myself, I think I'll always be a musician. The two are equally invigorating. And I think there will be occasions to rock out with the Pragg too. The record is composed of my songs, but I tend to think of the project as collaborative anyway, as it took the efforts of a good number of folks to help it come into being.
As you've described it, Ann Pragg is a genderless Bigfoot-like character that wanders around in the woods, minding its own business. Were you thinking of that character when you wrote each of these songs, or are some more personal to you -- i.e. Matt Radick?
Wait, now it's Bigfoot?! Ha! But this is kind of important for me to get across: Ann Pragg is just a pen name for this collection of songs. The humanoid in the woods was kind of a half-joke that spiraled out of control. In my own private logic, it's meaning alludes to aspiring for wisdom and grace and resolution, things that we tend to think are inherent in us as human beings, but which you really have to constantly struggle for. A lot of these songs came out of a really concentrated period of searching and asking. Of course, the creature was a metaphor for that. But I would hate for people to think that these songs are, as you say, character-driven or from the perspective of a fictional alter-ego. To me that seems wildly hokey, and I wouldn't want to subject anyone to that. No, I take ownership of all of them, even though they carry little weight for me anymore. They helped me navigate through tougher times.
On 'Bitter Fruit,' you recorded most of the instruments yourself, right? Were there any parts you had to push yourself to play? Any performances you're particularly proud of?
Yeah, the majority of tracks I played myself. I think I'm in the "jack of all trades, master of none" camp when it comes to playing music. You know, just enough proficiency at something to at least make it seem like you know what the f--- you're doing. For me, playing the bass is always the most fun. But, as a guitarist, I think I fall into the trap of thinking I'm a really great bass player when in fact I'm probably just littering the sonic landscape with unnecessary notes. I've always had this delusional idea that I'd be a great bass player in a Motown soul band, but if I were ever put to the test I'm sure I would fail miserably.
Critics have talked about this record in the context of where it was written. Could 'Bitter Fruit' have come from anywhere but the swamps of Florida?
Well, in the sense that I sometimes take certain geographical cues from where I live and incorporate them into my songs, I guess it could loosely be unique to living in North Central Florida. If some people want to interpret that as me being a gypsy from the Everglades or a misanthropic recluse, then that's their prerogative, but unfortunately, the reality is a little more mundane. It's true that I tend to create landscapes that reference certain emotions, but I don't think that I'm the first ding-dong with a guitar to turn rain into allegory.
'Demolition Dust,' the song picked as March's Crucial Cut, has what you've called a "post-apocalyptic feel." Do you ever fantasize about being the last man on earth? What would you do? Would it be an absolute nightmare or the greatest thing that could ever happen to fairly private, hashtag-hating, soft-spoken singer-songwriter?
No, man. That sounds like a total bummer, doesn't it?
Is this the first of many Ann Pragg records, or do you see this as more of a one-off? Would you consider another character-driven album? How about a proper Matt Radick solo record?
Again, though I'm a sucker for the wild world of cryptozoology, I'd like to bust the myth that this is a character-driven album. Beyond that, wow, compiling another record seems totally daunting if not impossible and/or ridiculous. I don't know if it's possible to patch together all of the strands of songs that have been lost in the atmosphere. But to answer your last question, if I ever release a record under my given name you better get out your Jncos and pacifier cause it's gonna be rave time, brother.
Stream Ann Pragg's 'Bitter Fruit'