New Orleans feels hot right now, and Anne Elise Hastings and Her Revolving Cast of Characters are breaking through in a thriving scene coming out of the city, with their album of meticulously crafted alt-country standards and shambling sidewalk folk.
We’re thrilled to be premiering their magnificent new album Unmasking A Confidence Trickster exclusively on Holler today. Listen below and enjoy.
Recorded in Marigny Studios in New Orleans with producer Adam Keil, the album takes its name from a Franz Kafka short story in which the narrator challenges and berates a man who tries to swindle him out of money. Hastings masterfully unravels this grand theme of deception and lets it run a thread through all of the songs on the record.
The origins of one of the album’s centrepiece songs lies with Anne Elise Hasting’s grandmother, and her recollections of how her parents – Hasting’s great-grandparents – had met years before. Their romance inspired the seven-minute epic ‘Missouri’, Hastings and her band letting the twists and turns of the true-life love story unfurl over an easy lilting groove and gently picked slapback guitars.
“When I play I swear I can hear him still tapping the beat on the table / When I play I feel his hand on my face and for that I’ll play as long as I’m able”, Hastings sings as she dives into her family’s history.
From channelling her great-grandmother on ‘Missouri’ to her disillusionment with an ex-lover on ‘Twice Married, Twice Divorced’ and navigating the dark waters of loneliness and depression on ‘Still Afraid’, she unpacks the carefully constructed self-images of the characters in her songs, unveiling the con artist within everyone; even herself at times.
‘Loving You’, ‘The Hardest Part’ and ‘Make You Care’ are bursting with the painful humiliation and hurt of being deceived by someone who you loved and thought loved you – while ‘Jack Kerouac’ rolls all those bad romantic choices into one - before the album closer ‘Between My Teeth’ puts her own self-deception mercilessly under the microscope.
With the bittersweet twang of old school country, Hastings mixes up her Appalachian roots with her adopted city’s ramshackle street corner sensibilities.
Over time her Revolving Cast of Characters has undergone many changes, but it’s always featured a roster of multifaceted musicians who can switch instruments on a dime. The current cast is composed of Isaac Worley on drums, Dustin Dietsche on guitar, Tristan Clark on bass and George Thomas on lap steel, trumpet, guitar, and percussion. Out front is Hastings, her rhythm guitar and her striving voice, a spellbinding ringmaster, packing her lyrical punches with a sweetly melancholic lilt and a muscled vulnerability.
Holler spoke to Anne Elise Hastings ahead of the album’s release to take an even deeper dive into the songs on Unmasking A Confidence Trickster.
What was the inspiration behind the new album?
This album is mostly a collection of stories and reflections on how I was feeling at the time of the songs' creations. A lot of it comes from issues in relationships, but there’s also a bit of political frustration and mental illness thrown in the mix.
The inspiration for the title came from a Franz Kafka short story in which the narrator sees a conman for what he is and refuses to fall victim to the scam. This is how I felt writing the songs on this album. They challenge and often berate the subjects that ended up revealing themselves to be con artists in our relationships.
As a whole, this album has a theme throughout of exposing the way people actually are beyond their carefully constructed self images, including myself.
What was the songwriting process like for this album?
My songwriting process is pretty much always the same; I’m usually stewing about some situation or emotion, and then I’ll end up thinking of a line that I like for a song. I’ll switch from general stewing to focusing on how to turn it into a song, and once I have a decent chunk of lines that are passable, I’ll sit down with a guitar and try to turn it into music.
Some of these songs were written in a little over an hour, while some of them took weeks to months to finish. I ended up only being able to finish 'Missouri' once I got a concussion.
How was writing and recording this album different from your last album?
While my writing process has been the same since I was a kid, the difference with this album was that I was older. Most of the songs on my last album were written when I was 18-20, one when I was 16, so this album feels a little more mature emotionally to me.
The recording process, however, was incredibly different. The last album was recorded over a span of two and a half years, with several different musicians. The engineer was a friend of mine and I paid him in bottles of wine since we were all broke college kids. For this album, we recorded all of the instrumental parts for the songs in one day, and I went back to record vocals in a couple of days. This was a much more efficient process.
Can you tell us about some of the characters from your new songs?
A lot of the characters are terrible romantic partners that have not been nice to me. We’ve got a broad range of them, from the non-committal person who strings me along for their own benefit, to the possessive one who got upset when I didn’t turn out to be the person they imagined me to be.
In ‘Jack Kerouac’, it’s not one specific real person, but an amalgam of all of the worthless men that have treated me and so many of my friends poorly. Imagine the kind of guy who wants you to be his mommy-girlfriend and come to all of his horrible poetry readings but doesn’t treat you like an equal.
On a more positive note, the characters in my song ‘Missouri’ are my grandma’s parents who have the most beautiful love story in the world. They were in a big band together in the 30s, eventually had a forbidden romance, and then ran away to elope together.
What were you listening to when you were making this record?
These songs have been written over the course of a few years, so it has changed a lot. The big ones that stick out in my mind are Jason Isbell, Shakey Graves, Phoebe Bridgers, Patsy Cline, Ohmme from Chicago and Erin and the Wildfire from Virginia.
How has New Orleans shaped your sound?
When I was still in Virginia, I pictured my music being more folksy, with a bluegrass string band setup or just playing solo. The longer I live in New Orleans, the louder and more energetic my music becomes. I never thought I’d have a trumpet in my band, and being around so much jazz has made me want to play with chord progressions in a more fun way instead of the four chord folk songs I was writing before.
Beyond musical influence, being in a city with so much activity has shaped my experiences and given me more things to write about. I’m doing more, so I have more to write about.
What does it feel like the day that an album of yours comes out and everyone gets to hear it for the first time?
It’s nerve wracking. I’m obviously excited to have it out in the world, but now it feels like it doesn’t just belong to me and my bandmates and the people who come to our shows. The excitement of having it all done and ready to show people outweighs the nerves though.
Which song are you most excited about people hearing on the new record?
That’s really hard for me to decide. I’d have to say either ‘Jack Kerouac’ or ‘Between My Teeth’. ‘Jack Kerouac’ is all about standing up to the lame men who think they can treat you poorly, so I think it’ll feel really good for a lot of people who have dated those losers.
‘Between My Teeth’ is quite different. It’s very slow and sad, but it’s about the guilt I was feeling over wishing I was with someone different than the person I was dating at the time. It sounds like a warm bath with a sparkly bath bomb to me. It’s a love song, but addressed to the wrong person. I was not being a good person.
Unmasking A Confidence Trickster is released on February 25th and available to preorder here