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Anna Fermin squeezes trigger on new album

By T. J. Simon, January 2004

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At the time, Fermin's manager happened to be friends with Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely and Butch Hancock. After meeting Fermin in Austin, they referred her to the prolific producer Lloyd Maines (father of Dixie Chick, Natalie Maines) for assistance on the production Trigger Gospel's forthcoming disc.

Maines went to see the band play at the South By Southwest festival, and immediately agreed to produce the 1999 debut LP, "Things Change."

Fermin says recording under the direction of Maines was a complete pleasure. "Lloyd is like your favorite uncle. He's really easy to get along with. He's got no ego whatsoever. He's not one to do a lot of manipulating with arrangements or instrumentation. He just took what we had and made it sound the best," she says. The self-released disc featured what was to become Fermin's signature song, "Northern Lights," as well as a beautiful cover of the oft-recorded Latin number, "Beseme Mucho."

Hard work and relentless touring resulted in debut album sales exceeding 6,000 copies, a respectable figure in the world of do-it-yourself music.

Too eclectic for mainstream country distribution and not raw enough for the logical alt.-country indies, Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel existed for four years in a musical no-man's land that made it hard to find a label to call home for a follow-up album.

A sizable gap between discs might have been a death sentence for lesser bands, but Trigger Gospel had a loyal following willing to wait for a new CD and attend live shows whenever possible.

In order to assuage her antsy fan base, Fermin self-released "Live Music Volume One," recorded in 2002 at the famed Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. It's one of those live albums that capture lightning in a bottle by catching band members performing at the top of their game. The disc includes perfect recordings of songs from "Things Change" including "Cry" and "Polite Conversations" as well as a cover of Richard Thompson's "Beat The Retreat."

In 2003, Fermin developed a business relationship with Undertow Records, a small, but respected, indie label who expressed an interest in releasing Trigger Gospel's second studio recording.

The boss at Undertow also managed Jay Bennett, who was striking out on his own after a particularly ugly and well-documented musical divorce from former Wilco band mate, Jeff Tweedy.

The timing was perfect, and Bennett was chosen to produce the follow-up to "Things Change."

"We decided to work with Jay because we felt he would be able to help us take the music to a different level," Fermin explains. "We knew that he was hands-on, very creative and would have a lot of input as far as the songs' arrangements."

The band found Bennett's style to be in sharp contrast to the laid-back manner of their first producer, Lloyd Maines.

"Jay is a genius bordering on madman," Fermin confides. "He's manic in his work ethic. We were recording things in elevators, in the bathroom, in back rooms, in the kitchen. It was an incredible experience in that we got more out of it than we expected."

The resulting album is rooted in a lush country sound with diverse influences including Latin, jazz, pop and rock. Call it Americana from a U.S. immigrant's worldview.

Fermin's emotionally-derived lyrics more often than not arise from recalling bad break-ups with historical boyfriends (see "Baby Won't You Please Come Home" and "Dragging On"), a trend that hopefully ended with her June 2003 wedding. From the opening lover's lament, "Are You Gonna Miss Me Too?" to the album's love letter to Chicago, "My Town," Fermin emotes with the voice of an angel and the composition skills of a seasoned pro. Her background as a visual artist shines through on the poetic musical painting, "White Birch," written while staring at birch trees swaying in the wind in Stevens Point, Wisc.

The disc also features two covers, a playful version of "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps" (originally made famous by Doris Day) and a recording of Steve Earle's "Down The Road," the tune that inspired Fermin to pick up a guitar in the first place

. And the future?

Anna Fermin's Trigger Gospel is putting together a U.S. tour in support of the new music. Although the album is a celebration of American music, Fermin has used a spate of recent concerts to introduce country music fans to a bit of Filipino culture. She was able to obtain opening slots for other Filipino-American performers at a recent show.

"I was amazed that there were other Filipinos out there who are poets and jazz musicians who are forging their way. It was just cool to be able to highlight them as well," Fermin says with appropriate pride.

Another recent concert featured an unusual opening act - a buffet of traditional Filipino cuisine. "I never really paid attention to it until now when people make a point that I am Filipino. I've been more active now than I ever have been before in my adult life in acknowledging that I come from this colorful culture. I'm really proud to be part of that Asian-American community. It's kinda cool to see that there are Asians who are moving forward in the arts aside from just being medical professionals."

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