Growing up in Flagstaff, Arizona, in a family of four children, singer-songwriter Avery Anna has always been drawn to the self-expression of writing and music.
“I’ve been singing and writing in a journal for as long as I can remember,” the 18-year-old tells Billboard. “Songwriting came from that. When I was younger, I would sing with my grandpa and he would play Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash. That’s where my love for country started, and I’ve been raised on it. Of course, later on, I came to love Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert, Kelsea Ballerini and so many more.”
On Friday (Oct. 7), Anna will release her seven-song, major label debut EP, Mood Swings, via Warner Music Nashville. The release is the culmination of a journey that began, oddly enough, in her bathtub.
Bathrooms are well-known for their natural acoustics, and in October 2020, Anna posted a TikTok video of herself in a bathtub, singing A Great Big World’s “Say Something.” The clip went on to earn 10 million views on TikTok. One of those viewers was Matt Thomas, from country group Parmalee, who shared the video with writer/producer/manager David Fanning. Fanning and his 33 Creative management company manager/partner Tina Crawford reached out to Anna via Instagram, ultimately signing Anna to a management and production deal. In November 2020, she posted a teaser of new song, “Just Cause I Love You,” which went viral. Anna released the full song in January 2021. She now has 1.5 million TikTok followers.
Anna followed with “Narcissist,” which features the cutting lyrics, “And I know you’ll get over me/ But can you get over yourself?” The song, which she co-wrote with Fanning, Ben Williams and Andy Sheridan, reached No. 4 on Billboard’s Country Digital Song Sales chart and No. 15 on the Digital Song Sales chart in March, later cresting at No. 22 on the Hot Country Songs chart in June. She has been racing through career milestones ever since, announcing her major label deal with Warner Music Nashville in late June. On Sept. 30, she made her Grand Ole Opry debut. And, oh yeah, she graduated from high school in May.
Anna spoke with Billboard about crafting Mood Swings, her tour essentials, and what’s singing with her mom.
How did your deal with Warner Music Nashville come about?
[Warner Music Group A&R exec] Rohan Kohli reached out, but at the same time I was getting offers from other labels. I was meeting with them over Zoom because I was in Flagstaff, Arizona at the time and still in school. [WMN co-presidents] Cris Lacy and Ben Kline, and [chairman/CEO John] Esposito and Rohan, they all really cared about the music, and they cared about what I had to say. And they were so inspired and driven and I was so excited. I felt like when I met with them, I just knew that they were the ones and that I needed to work with them.
“Narcissist” became a huge song for you. What do you recall about the writing session?
I brought my journal into the writing room, and we were reading through things that I had written, and we were talking about a relationship that I had been a few years back. They helped me identify all these feelings that I had. Honestly, writing it was something that I needed to get off of my chest, and something that I needed to do for myself.
But releasing it was for all of the people out there that needed to get it off of their chest, too. I didn’t realize how I felt so alone in that situation, but after releasing it, I saw how many people relate to that. It created this amazing community of people that felt safe in a space that I gave them.
And then Kelly Clarkson covered it for one of her “Kellyoke” segments on The Kelly Clarkson Show.
I just remember being so in shock and so awestruck. I used to watch Kelly Clarkson singing ‘Piece By Piece’ on American Idol over and over again on YouTube. Just knowing that she connected with a song that I wrote is insane, because my whole life it’s been me connecting with her songs. It was just crazy.
After “Narcissist” started getting some chart traction and your signing with Warner, what was it like going into the studio and crafting your sound with David? You already had the basis down for the songs themselves.
The songs on the EP are a direct representation of all the extreme emotions that I’ve felt in the past couple of years. I have sad songs like “Critic” and “What Made You Think?,” but it was really cool to be able to write songs that aren’t just sad and about a breakup. “La di da” and “Good Day” are upbeat and happy, then there’s the more acoustic, in-my-journal song like “Biggest T-Shirt.” It’s just so exciting to be able to reach those different parts of me that my fans haven’t seen yet.
“Biggest T-Shirt” is one of your more vulnerable songs.
I was in my bedroom at midnight, sitting on my floor in a big T-shirt reading through my journal from about three years ago. I was reading all these things that I was saying and I was noticing I was in a very insecure, had very little confidence. I also noticed all these things that I used to do, like I would go into my room and listen to music all day and I would just kind of block out the world and I would wear big T-shirts all the time. But I also noticed how I’ve changed and grown. I was just kind of grieving over my past self, and I wrote a verse and chorus of the song, and thought nobody would ever hear it because it was so deep and personal. But I had a Zoom write the next day with Chris McKenna, Lori McKenna and Colin Healy, and they made me feel so comfortable sharing all of that.
You grew up writing in journals and writing songs. Once you began co-writing and coming to Nashville, how did that impact your writing?
I used to just write in my bedroom and get up at like 5:00 a.m. and write a song before I went to school. But being able to open up to other people in the room and share my ideas with them, it creates a much better song. Everyone contributes in different ways, and it makes songs so much deeper and powerful.
What are your tour essentials?
I have to bring my Stanley water bottle. I have these little honey shots [for my throat] and, of course, my journal. I also have these little notes with happy quotes on them. I like to sign them and put them out in the seats at the shows before people come in, so that people can find them. It’s fun, because sometimes people will find them, take a picture, and tag me or DM me that they found them.
Going through your own playlists, who are some artists people might be surprised to find are on it?
Country is my heart and soul. I listen to so much Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, but also Donna Fargo.
You covered “The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A.” in a recent video.
I love that song. But I also loved Cage the Elephant and Noah Cohen and YEBBA.
Some of your early bathroom TikTok videos also feature you singing with your mom. Will your mom sing with you onstage or on an album at some point?
Singing with my mom is just something I love to do for fun. She’s always jokingly saying, “I don’t wanna be featured in your TikTok.” She’s kind of shy and she’s a busy woman. We’ve talked about it, but I think in the future I will definitely make her do something with me.