June 2, 2021
I have been covering the arts and entertainment scene in Fort Wayne for 25 years.
In that time, I have listened to dozens of independently produced CDs by local artists and a half-dozen major label CDs by formerly local artists.
I don’t recall enjoying a local release quite as much as I have enjoyed Addison Agen’s second album, When the Morning Comes.
It’s a knockout. You can get it on June 11.
Agen is, of course, the northeast Indiana girl who took second place in Season 13 of NBC’s singing competition series The Voice in 2017.
Making a Splash and Catching Her Breath
Since then, she graduated high school and started college, opened for Bob Seger and also for the Bacon Brothers (i.e., actor Kevin Bacon and his brother, Michael), and tried to get a follow-up to New Places, an album she recorded when she was no more than 13.
There were conversations with major labels but those didn’t pan out, and Agen is grateful. One exec promised (or perhaps threatened) to turn her into the next Ariana Grande.
“I don’t want to be like Ariana Grande,” Agen said in an interview with Whatzup. “She’s awesome, but that’s not my lane.”
For a time, it looked as if the album was going to get recorded at an Indiana studio. But when Agen saw her music being steered in directions with which she was not comfortable, she pulled the plug on the project.
She subsequently launched a Kickstarter campaign to reboot the album and it raised $36,070.
The album was ultimately assembled at La Luna Recording & Sound in Kalamazoo and Second Story Sound in Grand Rapids.
Agen picked those two Michigan studios because the people she wanted to work with were there.
“The Michigan scene for folk and Americana is awesome,” she said. “So many of my favorite musicians come from there. I reached out to a couple of them and said, ‘Who’s the person to work with? The people? Because I definitely want to get to know them and talk to them about what I want to do.’”
Everyone Agen talked to cited the same man: Grand Rapids-based producer/engineer Joe Hettinga.
The pandemic didn’t slow the recording and the mixing much, but it did hamper one part of the process of getting new music ready for release.
“The main thing was, we didn’t get to see how the audiences reacted to the songs before we recorded them,” she said. “That would have been nice to know.”
My humble opinion is that audiences would have been bowled over then and will be bowled over now.
Stylistically, the album is all over the place, but it never sounds like it doesn’t belong wherever it ends up.
“I wouldn’t say I am a confident songwriter,” Agen said. “I am still definitely figuring out my style. I feel like this album, although it’s cohesive, it is trying a bunch of different things. It was definitely purposeful to see what people latch onto and what I latch onto.
“It’s kind of cool to get a bunch of different flavors all in one and just throw it out there,” she said.
I doubt anyone would disagree with the assertion that albums, whatever the format, live and die by the songwriting. The quality of the production carries little weight. If the songs aren’t there, the album isn’t there.
Agen may not think of herself as a confident songwriter, but her songs are there, which bodes well for her development as a writer. She’s just going to get better and better.
Warm Welcome to Her Warm Voice
Agen has two local concerts scheduled for this summer: An album release show on June 11 at The Garden on North Anthony Boulevard and a tour kickoff show on July 8 at Arts United Center.
The pandemic shut down music venues in the spring of 2020 and many of those won’t fully reopen until the fall of this year. So, the tour is a series of house concerts, mostly in the eastern U.S.
House concerts are shows that happen in fans’ living rooms and backyards. They have always been part of the touring mix for many artists, but now they are a way to put the pandemic, and the long touring drought, in the rearview mirror.
“People have been itching to see me,” Agen said.
Ask Agen about her goals and aspirations and you’ll find that she’s the same improbably grounded human she’s always been.
Many people who become suddenly famous are altered by that in unfortunate ways.
Her college major is graphic design. It’s both a back-up plan and a supplement to the music plan. Agen figures she can always design things for herself and other musicians and do it from the road.
Agen said she’s a motivated person but hates it when people ask her about her five-year plan.
“The goal is to make it sustainable and keep making it enjoyable,” she said. “I would never want it to be a massive thing where it just gets to be no fun.”
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