Anna Butterss’ Activities was born out of a chance studio invitation, a one day session that slowly evolved into the encompassing, electro-acoustic opus she eventually crafted. Alongside her trusty co-producer and mixer, Pete Min of the label Colorfield Records, the bassist turned-songwriter recruited collaborators Josh Johnson, Ben Lumsdaine, and Christian Euman to flesh out her compositions. These songs, created through a process of improvisation, processing and layering are deeply personal to Butterss, a collection of reflections on life in a foreign country, grief, and family.
The array of instruments Butterss brings to the album is staggering in its own right. Though famous for her work on the bass with Aimee Mann, Phoebe Bridgers, Makaya McCraven, and more, on Activities, she plays upright and electric bass, guitar, piano, Rhodes, analog and digital synths, drums, drum programming, percussion, flute, and vocals.
The album’s charm and power exists in the limitless scope Butterss explores. “Super Lucrative” rumbles with brooding synths that could fit into Radiohead’s Kid A era, while “Blevins” is a gorgeous chamber jazz ode with arena-ready drums and descending scales of guitar lines that delicately weave between the instruments. The avant-garde bass exercise of “Do Not Disturb” is perhaps the album’s rawest track, a meditation on grief and loss, Butterss’ way of thinking through the loss of a friend.
Though Butterss only hit the studio after Min invited her to mess around for a day, she quickly realized she had many things she needed to say through music. The weight of her time in America, seemingly impossibly far from her friends and family in Australia, began to become more intense during the height of the pandemic. “In mid-2021, I had just hit nine years living in the United States and I have always found dates to be very important. I always remember them,” she explains. “When that anniversary came around last year, I was just like, ‘Oh my God, I've been here for nine years.’”
The album deals with the joy and pain that comes with such a monumental decision as leaving home. Sure, Butterss made her career here, became an in-demand bass player for some of the best musicians on the planet, but her world was a world away. It felt like the gap was growing even bigger. “I was thinking a lot about the implications and the weight of that decision, that at the time when I decided to move, I was 21,” she says. “I wasn't really thinking very far ahead, but as each year goes by, I think, ‘Oh my gosh, I haven't seen my family.’”
This, alongside two tragic deaths of close friends, informs the mournful core of Activities, whose title alludes to a number of things, but perhaps none more important than the power of music during our lowest points. It is always there, and is one of the few constants in a world that is moving far too quickly in scary directions. But instrumental music has always been an outlet for Butterss to explore when words were too much, or not nearly enough. “I find it almost a little scary to express myself with language,” Butterss explains, before adding, “...but on the bass, I feel at home.”
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