Singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer Abby Posner (she/they) recently released her second full-length solo album, Second Chances, via Blackbird Record Label, building on an already impressive career in music. From playing in bands to creating, recording, and performing solo work, to creating music for film and TV, Posner is known for her eclectic approach to genre and sound elements.
Equally at home in Rock, Pop, Americana, and even Blues music, Posner encountered a lot of possibilities when writing and recording Second Chances. Playing nearly every instrument and recording in her home studio, Posner worked on songs that reflected her experience of heartache at the time, helping to process those feelings through music. Later finding that she had a whole album’s worth of related material was something of a surprise. Sonically, the tracks run the gamut of different genre accents, from the very Americana-flavored “Simple Life” to the Bluesy “Night Train”, but interesting developments in Electronica are hinted at in tracks like “Quiet on Sunset.”
I spoke with Abby Posner about the role that creating music plays in her life, personally and professionally, and how intertwined these new tracks are with her own experiences and discoveries about life.
Hannah Means-Shannon: I see that you’ve been playing a lot this autumn, including Americana Fest. Have you gotten a chance to see how audiences respond to the new songs on Second Chances? Do you have any favorites?
Abby Posner: It’s interesting because I think that, over time, when you’re performing live, the albums kind of take on different faces and go through different phases. I think we’re finding that there are favorites, but that changes over time also. My personal favorite to perform live is “The One Good Thing.” It’s just kind of my emotional, heartfelt anthem, and I feel like I’m very present in that song. I also enjoy playing “We’ve Come So Far” with a full band. My backup singer and I often tour together as a duo. Her name is Paula Fong. I’d say that my favorite song to play with Paula is “Moving Back To Denver.” But it changes over the years. I have a different relationship with all my songs as time goes by. The story even changes. That’s what’s so cool about music. It can travel with you over time and take on different shapes.
HMS: Was writing the songs a very solitary thing for you when you were working on Second Chances? Was there a substantial period of time where no one else had heard these compositions?
AP: This album was a really interesting process for me. The majority of it was done in my home studio. I played all the instruments on it, and Produced, and mixed it, with the exception of three songs that my band and I played live. I would say that the experience of the album was unusual because I wasn’t even sure that I was making a record. I was just processing an experience, since I was going through a big breakup at the time.
Music has always been such a big part of me solving a puzzle. I think that making each album, I’m able to solve a portion of the puzzle and be more present with some of the emotions coming up. It’s a way that I’ve always processed difficult emotions. At the time, I wasn’t even quite sure that I was making an album for people. I was healing.
But then I realized that I had this collection of songs that was under one umbrella, that was heartbreak, grief, and loss. That’s when I decided, “I think this is something to put out into the world.” Everyone has their own relationship with grief, and my hope is that people will be able to take my music and put their own story into it.
HMS: When you’re creating for yourself, is the song in more of a sketched format that you fill out more later when you think you might release it, or do you work fully on each song until completion, even at an early stage?
AP: I’ve always been kind of an all or nothing person. [Laughs] If I have a song that I feel is fully-formed and ready, and ready to be “painted”, I do it. I like to use the word “painted” because really Producing and mixing is painting with sound. You’re adding color in. When a song is ready to be put on the canvas, I don’t go in with the intention of only demoing it and not finishing it. I really want it to be as professional as possible and there’s a part of that process that I really enjoy. I’m getting it right to the point of chasing a specific sonic vibe. Obviously, all things art-based and creative start with an idea, then there’s a sketch, and you’re building towards some final process, but as I’m in the studio recording, there’s an intention to be mixing as I go.
HMS: That’s really an impressive mindset. It takes no prisoners.
AP: It’s just something I’ve always done. I started recording with on a multi-track cassette player when I was about 11 years old. I’ve always been connected to music in that way, and it’s always been my playground. It’s the way that I’ve felt most alive, both in the studio and on stage.
HMS: For a lot of people, in a lot of art forms, or through other forms of personal practice, being able to be wholly absorbed in one task can be very helpful. It sounds like the process of really going into the songs could be therapeutic, too, that focus.
AP: One hundred percent, yes. There’s something that takes you out of your lived experience. I’m being very present, in a way, but I’m also in a kind of focused trance-state where I’m able to escape some of my own present heartbreak. It’s like escaping into a different kind of presence.
HMS: I also know that you’re a professional music person in various ways, including writing for film and TV. Do you feel like those are kind of different rooms within your mind, or is it just one whole endeavor for you?
AP: That’s a great way of putting it, with the rooms. They are very much different rooms for me. I do write for “sync”, licensing in the music world, which means placements in TV shows. That could mean a music supervisor has found a song [of mine] that’s already been written, or me writing to a brief for a music supervisor. I have a collaborator, Will Carpenter, and we write a lot together and Produce together. We recently got a placement on a Canadian show. For a lot of that, we’re thinking about what is going to be the most accessible on TV. If we’re writing to a specific brief, we ask ourselves if we are going to hit the mark. It’s less about writing from an artist’s heart-space and more about writing from a head-space.
The song that Will and I recently put out, though, was a kind of mixture of the two. We were writing right after Roe v. Wade was overturned and wanted to have a protest anthem about getting loud and standing up for women’s reproductive rights. While that song is clearly about that, it also has a universal element to it. We’ve been pitching it to sports teams. That’s kind of what sync is all about. You write from a head and heart space, but it has to have universal lyrics. A lot of the stuff that I’ve done for placement and sync has also been written with other writers, so that’s a whole other room as well.
When I’m doing my own stuff, I’m in a studio by myself, so collaborating is an interesting door to open up and get new ideas.
HMS: I imagine that that’s a very different climate that can make your life more varied, which is a positive thing.
AP: Yes! And it’s made me a better writer. It’s made me a better singer and collaborator in my own band. Co-writing with incredible artists who have very different outlooks on life has really challenged me, and that’s often what I say too: I want to always be surrounded by people who are better than me, who have talent and can offer something different. That’s really helped me a lot.
HMS: You’re also someone who’s known for working with a number of different musical traditions and sounds and I imagine that working across multiple musical fields might give you a way to use all those skills and ideas.
AP: I’ve always been someone who’s a little non-committal when it comes to genre because I like to explore a number of different elements and sounds. I’ll definitely get a lot of inspiration working with different folks who are using different sonic elements.
HMS: Was sound something that you were thinking about or aware of when working on Second Chances? Did you notice what you were gravitating towards, or did you work more on a song-by-song basis?
AP: A lot of the album was on a kind of song-by-song basis, but I do notice that in a specific season of working on a record, I usually have a few top artists who I’m influenced by and listening to at that time. A lot of those artists have provided a mixing reference for me, or a songwriting style reference. I’ll get borderline obsessed with certain artists as I’m creating an album and it really helps me to propel my own product forward. During this album, I listened a lot to the artist Donovan Woods. That was more catered towards the songwriting and acoustic elements, with New Folky vibes.
I feel like I’m always inspired by Elliott Smith. He’s an artist who’s a thread throughout my musical journey. That comes out in songs like “Moving Back To Denver” and the title track, “Second Chances.”
Then, I’m also really interested in exploring this idea of electronic elements and organic acoustic elements. I’ve been chasing after this specific sound that I think that artists like Bon Iver have really successfully accomplished. The last song on the record that I Produced and mixed was “Quiet on Sunset” and I think that was the song that I was most proud of in terms of chasing a sound. As soon as I did that, I wondered if I should even put the song on this album because I felt like it could almost be the start of the next record. It has a vocoder, which takes acoustic elements, flips them, and makes them into something electronic. So I felt that was a song that could have definitely been on a new album. I’m really still interested in that sound. I don’t believe it to be any particular genre other than exploration.
HMS: You mentioned earlier that some of these songs focus on similar ideas that you needed to approach, based on your life experiences. Something that I found interesting about these songs is this feeling that ties into the idea of “Second Chances”, of there being a moment in time where things can go either way. It feels like a productive thing to talk about through music.
AP: While I was writing the album, it was a time of possibility. There was always a possibility that me and my partner were going to get back together, and I was riding on this hope. There are also a lot of notes of accountability on this album that may not look great for me, but I’m a big fan of ownership, and I’m a big fan of growth-mentality. Making this album was not just a grand gesture to her, to have a second chance, but for anyone that deserves it. We all do deserve second chances, especially good folks who are really doing the work.
This album suggests that it could go either way, and unfortunately it went the way of us not being together. But on the record, there’s also a lot of acceptance, that we don’t know life is going to go. I also practice Buddhism and I was really leaning into my practice during this time. There’s a lot of raw acceptance that comes with that. One of my friends said it perfectly: “This is a record that reminds everyone that they deserve a second chance.”
HMS: That’s something that I certainly got from the record. By exploring that state of being in uncertainty, but hoping for the best, a human spirit comes out there in the music. Human beings are resilient, and is poses the question: Even if things might not work out, are we handling it in the right way?
AP: Exactly. And how do you show up after a mess? How do you show up after missteps and mistakes? That’s what matters. Life is full of that. Life is full of messiness and people doing things that they have to learn from. If you can’t move past that, then you’ll be stuck, and in the end, I’m someone who wants to be challenged and grow.