It took seven years, a debilitating ear condition, a lot of self-reflection, and countless hours agonizing over songs in a DIY studio. But at long last, the pop singer Anna Wang thinks she’s found her groove.
Wang, 28, made a brash entrance onto the Madison music scene as the lead singer of a guitar-centric rock band called Anna Wang and the Oh Boys in 2010. Now, after some time away from the spotlight, Wang is reintroducing herself as a solo musician with a CD release party at The Frequency on Friday night at 8 p.m.
“I feel more confident in myself, and more self-assured to say, ‘This is what I want,’” said Wang. “I don't care what other people think anymore.”
Wang has spent the last three years trying to figure out how to express a sound that she couldn’t nail down when performing with others — a pop sensibility that’s electronic, synthy, and peppered with hooks.
That sound is the heart of her new album, “In Your Head.” The song “Ashes” opens the album with a light step, with gentle jingly synths floating above a pitter-patter beat. “Rain Down” swirls together strings in a sultry waltz, reminiscent of R&B hitmaker The Weeknd. The titular “In Your Head” pulses with energy that evokes a ‘90s dance club.
It’s the sound that’s stuck with her ever since her parents played her ABBA when she was a child, and ever since she was gifted her first CDs: a mix of Backstreet Boys, Celine Dion and Britney Spears.
“There's not a lot of pop music in Madison. I think I let that sway me into going into the more pop-rock, full-band, loud guitar sound (with the Oh Boys). Which I love, but it was never the sound that was in my heart,” said Wang.
Wang’s new sound reflects a rediscovered confidence in her music. After a few years of playing with the Oh Boys, Wang retreated from making music.
“When you first get out there, you're like, ‘Yeah, I'm the best thing ever,’” she said. “Then after a while, you just start feeling like, 'I suck. I thought I was great, but I actually just suck. And I used to show my music to everyone, but now I don't want to play anybody anything.'”
It didn’t help that Wang also developed problems with her eustachian tubes, the channels in the ear responsible for equalizing pressure. For a while, it would constantly feel like she was listening to the world through a blown-out speaker.
“It was really depressing. I couldn't practice because it hurt so bad. I couldn't go to shows because it hurt so bad,” she said.
At one point, she said, she went a year without even picking up her guitar.
But over time, she began experimenting more with music, this time on her own terms. Instead of playing with others or recording in studios, Wang invested in her own home set-up. She bought microphones, monitors, controllers and a range of gizmos to install in a space in her home that she nicknamed “The Blue Room.” Through trial and error, and hours of painstaking recording and mixing, she began to craft what would become “In Your Head” in 2015.
“I was just never fully able to nail down what that sound was that I was going for, until I was just able to sit in front of my instruments and think. And then think some more,” said Wang. “If you were to just sit in the room with me while I was writing or recording a song, you would probably go insane.”
Wang is now not only releasing new music — she’s also beginning to perform live again too, now that her ear condition has improved some. Recently, she’s played shows with collaborator Jeremy Van Mill under the moniker Tortoise and the Finch. She said she also plans on doing more performances solo.
Plus, there’s Friday’s party, where she’ll be backed up with a band featuring drummer Nathan Russell, keyboardist Paul Isaacs, bassist Annelies Howell, and keyboardist/vocalist Shawndell Marks. The party will also feature fellow pop artists from the Madison music scene, including DJ Boyfrrriend, Woodrow and Genevieve Heyward.
“That's one of the best things that I've experienced since I've come out of my hermit shell in the Blue Room and gotten back to the music scene. I'm re-experiencing how much love and support there is from everybody, everywhere,” said Wang.
Friday's show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $5.