Began my life clean in braids and fresh scrubbed In spite of the noise I always felt loved But I got bored, I took a major detour Games get old even for a child When you are born with the sweet taste to be wild When I heard my first rock and roll song I knew something big was going on…
A born storyteller with a gift for heart-wrenching confessionals and rootsy anthems of a generation adrift, Kacy Crowley stands out like a sunflower among today’s crop of female singer/songwriters. With her husky honeyed vocals and her band’s soulful and edgy accompaniment, the songs on her Atlantic debut, “ANCHORLESS,” offer brutally candid glimpses into Crowley’s compelling, hard-fought worldview. As the title suggests, Crowley was born with the proverbial itchy foot, a veritable traveling jones. “I get deeply attached to things,” she says, “but sometimes I really wish that I could run away. So I’ve moved around a lot. I’ve lived a lot of life.”
A wandering star from the start, Kacy was born in Northampton, Massachusetts, but the Crowleys soon moved to Trumbull, Connecticut. Mom was the town piano teacher, and her passion for music affected young Kacy. When she was five, she saw her first concert, John Denver at the Hartford Civic Center, and soon picked up her first guitar. Mom taught her some chords, but Kacy opted to take piano lessons from Mrs. Dick, the second best piano teacher in Trumbull (“You know,” Kacy smiles. “Mothers and daughters.”). Lest anyone think that Mom was wholly responsible for Crowley’s love of music, her father, a construction engineer, had a significant role in it as well.
“A construction worker left a crateful of records in the back of my dad’s truck, so that was my record collection growing up,” Crowley recalls. “And the guy had really good taste! He was like a total rocker. They were all these great classic rock records.”
So, from Mom she developed her love of singers like Bette Midler and Rickie Lee Jones and some unknown laborer taught her to rock. As she grew into a teenager, she began writing poetry and became a huge John Mellencamp fan.
“He was a huge influence,” Kacy gushes. “In high school, I was like, psychotic. I had my hair cut like him. I didn’t want to marry him like normal girls. I wanted to be him. “My picture is in one of his tour programs,” she goes on. “For the “Scarecrow” Tour, MTV had this “Small Town” contest where you send your picture in next to your hometown sign. So I went to the concert, front row center, got my tour program, and I’m in the tour program standing next to the Trumbull sign. Isn’t that so cool?”
By now a dyed-in-the-wool rocker, Kacy returned to her guitar when she was 14, with the goal of setting her poems to music. “I relearned those three chords and wrote a song right away,” she says. It is no small coincidence that this constant traveler’s very first song was called “Head Out.”
“Isn’t that weird?,” Crowley laughs. “It was a sense of rebelling. My parents loved me so much but I really wanted to rebel against that. I had this great sense of adventure inside of me.”
Then the Grateful Dead came to me like a wave on the air
I didn’t shave my legs for at least two years
One year of college tripping on the sky
Draped in silkscreen, tapestry and tye-dye
It was after high school graduation that Kacy first headed out on her own, though she didn’t go too far at first. She stuck around New England, attending University of Massachusetts, but dropped out after a semester to go “on tour” with the Grateful Dead.
“The thing that really attracted me was the music and the misfit-ness of the people that hung around it,” she says. “I didn’t have a close-knit group of friends until I met these Deadheads, who were the misfits from every group. We came together and I just got so into it. I think a lot of the appeal to me was just traveling.”
I took a bus to Los Angeles all by myself I left reality high on a green childhood shelf…
Then, once again, it was time to head out. 19-year-old Crowley packed a bag full of songs and dreams and boarded the Greyhound to Los Angeles.
“I moved alone, I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t have a car, I would take the bus around town,” she remembers. “Then I met all these people, and they ended up being my family for a little while.”
She played in and around Los Angeles’ coffeehouse folk scene at places like the Breakaway and the Sunset Bar & Grill, but devoted more time to life in the fast lane than to her music. After two years, she headed home “to get my life together.”
Then I went home unrecognizable My mother said, “What happened you used to be beautiful”
“I left my car on the street, I’d lost my apartment, I had pretty much nothing so I came back,” Kacy says of her escape from L.A.
And so, with her parents’ help, she got her act together. She formed a band, dubbed Tragic Sam, and did some sessions with producer Billy Rush, former guitarist in Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes. By 1992, Kacy was ready to head out again, this time to New York City, where she put together a number of combos which bore little or no fruit. After a fire destroyed her apartment, she moved in with then-boyfriend, now-husband Karl Anderson, a playwright and novelist. The next two years saw her struggling along, waiting tables and devoting whatever little free time was available to her music. Crowley soon came to the realization that the Big Apple grind was getting her down. “It was really hard living in the city and trying to do it,” Kacy says. ” I was working six nights a week, I had to write in the bathroom, cause we had a one room apartment and my husband writes all night and I write in the morning. Looking back, I wrote some great stuff and it was an awesome experience, but I really wasn’t happy, so we put all our shit in a truck and moved to Austin, Texas.”
Will I surrender and learn to fight Like camouflage through the dark and the light From the bottom of my dreams comes the sound I wear my music like a broken crown
So, in the wintry February of ’95, with nothing but her guitar, some pink lipstick and overalls (and Karl, of course), Kacy headed out once more.
“I wanted to go someplace where the weather was pretty good,” she says of Austin. “I wanted to go to a place where we could afford to live, that also had a real community of musicians. I just felt like I needed to work on my songs. My early 20s were all about ‘I have to be a big star.’ Then I realized, ‘You know what? That’s not what’s important. I’ve got to work on my songs.'”
In order to master her art, Kacy began busking on Sixth Street, the city’s music mecca. She played at endless open mic nights, where she made friends with a number of the musicians that would later play in her band.
“The ball just started rolling,” Kacy says happily.
With a deal from Dallas-based indie Carpe Diem under her belt, she began recording “ANCHORLESS” with producer Dave McNair. Now a staple in Austin’s incestuous musical family, Kacy recorded “ANCHORLESS” with a bounty of local luminaries, like Craig Ross, Glass Eye’s Brian Beattie, and guitarist/songwriter Jon Dee Graham, as well as her regular bandmates, drummer Tripp Wiggins and guitarist Patrick Matera. After a triumphant performance during South By Southwest, Austin’s annual music biz confab, Kacy signed up with Atlantic to release “ANCHORLESS” to the wide public with two all-new tunes (“Eclipse” and “Bottle Cap”).
In its cutting and plaintive songs, grounded by an intense and poignant intimacy, “ANCHORLESS” chronicles Kacy’s walk along the hard road. Though the record’s first single, “Hand To Mouthville” offers a bit of life-affirming light, songs such as the startlingly autobiographical “Rebellious” are more rockin’ than most of today’s acoustic-based singer/songwriters. Touched with a sense of lived-through-this veracity, the intimate memoir of “ANCHORLESS” captures an artist who refuses to stand still, for whom forward motion is everything.
“It means so many different things to me, I can hardly explain it,” Kacy Crowley says. “But it’s definitely about drifting. It’s about letting go of your attachment to people, places and things. Sometimes that can be a really lonely place, but sometimes it can be a really free, wonderful place to be.”