Bio for the Exceptionally Curious
Hi. I'm Andrea. I was born in Oberlin, Ohio because my dad, a concert pianist, taught at the conservatory at Oberlin College. From age 3 to 4 we lived in Vienna, Austria because my dad was on sabbatical and had fallen under the spell of the city years before as a Fulbright scholar and wanted to return to soak up more of the city's music, culture and cuisine. There my brother and I were terrorized daily by our classmates at preschool, though they eased up on us a smidge when my brother agreed to teach them how to say airplane in English. A sadistic brunette merrily stole my banana every day out of spite, not hunger, and I had no recourse because the teachers didn't like us either. They made my brother and me go to the bathroom stall together despite our screeching protests. They didn't care how we went to the bathroom in America.
We lived in an apartment building with an elevator that terrified me. It was possibly a first generation model. It had a metal door and it creaked and sometimes shrieked as it clambered up and down, always seeming to me to be on the cusp of a mechanical lapse that would plunge us down the shaft to our limb-rending deaths. Apart from malicious children and harrowing elevator rides, I retain pleasant memories of snow-capped mountains, castles, Viennese pastries, matchbox cars, dirndls, and hilly vineyards populated with birds, butterflies and the reassuring sounds of humans idling off the grid. I liked to look at my parents' white wine sparkle in the sun while drinking my own sparkling, sugary Orangina. We took trips to Sveti Stefan, Sarajevo, and Elmau and learned German nursery rhymes like Hampelman, which we sang in something resembling German and which I insisted was called Hoppy Man.
We returned to Oberlin for a year then moved to Austin, Texas a few weeks after I turned five because my dad got a job teaching at The University of Texas. When we pulled up to our new house in late August I felt astonishing heat. I walked into the tall grass in our new backyard and the grass was so sharp the blades cut little gashes in my legs. Soon I became acquainted with snakes, scorpions, stickers and an array of large mysterious bugs, which so fascinated my dad he began collecting them and putting them in a giant glass jar filled with rubbing alcohol.
At kindergarten in Austin I found the Texas accents of my peers almost as unintelligible as the German I'd been exposed to in Austria. And my classmates seemed to find me as foreign and strange.
My mom is a composer and also a pianist. The house I grew up in in Austin was lively and sensual, filled with music, parties, cussing, laughter, alcohol, secondhand smoke, college students sunbathing on the roof, bottles, cans, ashtrays and divine cooking smells. I loved hearing my dad practice day and night. We got to escape the Texas heat and spend summers in Aspen, Colorado because my dad taught and played at the Aspen Music Festival.
My first memory of going bonkers over a specific piece of music is when I was 5 and my parents were cooking spaghetti and blasting Mahler's 7th symphony at earthshaking volume. It was the 5th movement and I fell headlong into it and asked them what it was and repeated the name in my head until it stuck.
As young children my brother and sister and I romped around the house listening to The Beatles as often as possible. The imagery of the words, the bewitching melodies, the layered soundscapes, the sonic and lyrical surprises and treats sparked wonder and joy and transported me to an enchanted unreality where I wanted to abide. Tolling bells, clarinets, trumpets, strings, guitars, harpsichords...under the sea in an octopus' garden, Henry the Horse dancing a waltz, the king of Marigold in the kitchen cooking breakfast for the queen, Rocky Raccoon, Julia with seashell eyes and a windy smile, Lady Madonna with children at her feet, trampolines, barbershops, tangerine trees and marmalade skies, kaleidoscope eyes, strawberry fields, words flowing like endless rain into a paper cup...so many doors to enter into so many worlds, all of them alluring. I spent hours holding the album covers in my hands, feeling a sense of longing and excitement.
In middle school my parents divorced and my dad moved to LA to accept a teaching job at USC. I got hooked on Top 40 music and listened fanatically to the radio. When I stayed home sick from school I would write down every song the radio played for hours on end and then would stare at my list and think about which songs I liked and which I didn't. I would also call the radio station to request my favorite songs until a DJ yelled at me for hogging the request line. I loved songs more than anything and thought about them most of the time; and it seemed to me it would be very easy to write them, as I always had melodies careening through my head. When I was 10 I decided I wanted my job to be rockstar or something similar. I found out the Beatles didn't know how to read music so I decided it was best that I also didn't know how to, which was fortunate because I seemed ill-suited to the task.
One Tuesday morning in 8th Grade I woke up hearing one Beatles song after another on the radio. (I always slept with the radio on.) I was delighted that they were having this Beatles extravaganza -- what a great start to the day! --until a somber DJ interrupted the glorious string of songs to pronounce that John Lennon had been shot to death the night before and that this was a memorial. I staggered to school where I noticed that no one else seemed upset. In fact one girl cheerfully applauded Lennon's demise saying, "My daddy told me John Lennon brought drugs into this country." The kids who were clustered around her seemed to take her word for that and agreed that it was probably good that he was dead. They moved on with their jolly days while I stared into space, devastated and preoccupied.
Lennon's murder hurled me into what I later recognized as my first depression. For months I helplessly tried to will time back to the moment before this happened so something could intervene and make it not have happened. I obsessed over my love for John Lennon and my hatred for the man who killed him. I felt weak and sad. I couldn't grasp that the world order could allow such a beloved person to die like this. I couldn't accept it. It confused me. I thought of little else. I steeped myself even more in his music, skipping irritably over Yoko Ono's songs on my brand new Double Fantasy album, and listening to his songs repeatedly while sobbing. My view of the world darkened.
On my last day of middle school I decided it would be a good idea to chug a jumbo size screwdriver on a stomach that was empty but for the jolly ranchers and gummy bears I'd consumed throughout the day. I'd picked up some bartending skills from my dad but transposed the orange juice to vodka ratio and ended up tearing through town to the emergency room on an ambulance ride that I can't for the life of me recall. Before blacking out I did a few regrettable things that I do remember. My friend drank as much as I did but she was fine. I almost died and spent 3 days in the hospital. I woke up in intensive care with tubes down my nose and my throat and my wrists and ankles shackled to the bed. They had to tie me up because I had ripped out the tubes the first time around and thrashed about throwing punches at the doctors and nurses when they were putting them back in. The girl in the bed next to mine died of a drug overdose and the nurse gave me a tough love talk about it, telling me I had barely missed the same fate. My dad referred to this event for a long time as the two thousand dollar screwdriver.
The summer before high school, a month or so after the screwdriver incident, I got a boyfriend in Aspen. He was two years older and super handsome and blonde and from Minneapolis and passionate about music. He introduced me to sex and cocaine but also to The Clash, David Bowie, The Police, Talking Heads, Lou Reed, The Jam, The Pretenders, The Replacements. He intensified my appreciation for Prince with his Prince-is-from-Minneapolis stories. Prince wasn't quite big yet. The music he turned me onto ignited me and helped medicate me through the hellscape that was high school. I listened to The Clash most days before school and it pumped adrenaline, rebellion and hope through my veins. I found them to be The Beatles of punk. I rode the school bus with Ben Marcus who lived down the street and also liked The Clash.
I spent my high school years absorbing music, fantasizing about my future rock stardom and reading novels at a rate of 2 or 3 a week while making excellent grades in English and French and near catastrophic ones in math and science. I mostly preferred to stay at home reading the classics on weekends, though I had a wild streak that came over me in spells (see screwdriver incident above) and yielded me a nice store of adventures.
When I was 17 my mom had a friend with a 4-track recorder and she told him she thought I would like such a thing and he kindly loaned it to me for a couple of weeks. I could not be separated from the 4-track for those weeks as I layered sound upon sound, voice upon voice. I hated my voice until I heard it double-tracked, which was only by accident. I created many "songs" which were really meandering sound collages with stream-of-consciousness words and no structure. They were not at all good, but I thought they were works of great genius and listened to them on my Walkman, yearning for the opportunity to create more.
The focus of my life became saving up enough money to buy my own 4-track, microphone and keyboard. In Aspen I worked several summers as a housekeeper at the Limelight Lodge. Weary of toilet cleaning, bed making, ubiquitous pubic hairs, and the stench of copulation, I quit housekeeping and tried to be a waitress. I retained employment for no more than a few shifts at each of the two restaurants willing to hire me with no prior experience. I couldn't keep track of more than one table at a time and kept forgetting to get Jimmy Buffet's manager a coffee refill. He was patient and kind the first 2 times then blew a cog and flagged down the manager, resulting in the termination of my employment. I then tried my hand at cocktail waitressing (how hard could it be) by lying about my age and experience. I got fired a quarter of the way through my first shift. I finally settled in as a hostess at a restaurant and began saving for recording equipment.
My freshman year I went to The University of Southern California because I could go for free because my dad taught there. Far more than my studies or romantic interests I thought about the recording equipment I wanted to buy. I bought my first synthesizer, an Ensoniq Mirage, from the keyboard player of Animotion. I was crestfallen when I went to his plain, little pinch of an apartment to pick up the keyboard. I thought because he was in a famous band with a hit song he would live in a mansion in some posh neighborhood.
After a year at USC I went to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. It seemed like the right place for me for many reasons -- design your own curriculum, interdisciplinary approaches encouraged, no math, no grades, no majors, no team sports, no fraternities or sororities, lots of oddballs and experimenters, creative wizards, rabble-rousers, people in bands, unique thinkers, political progressives, rebels, questioners, advocates for social justice.
I set up a home studio in my dorm room. I had a Tascam Portastudio 4-track, a Shure SM-58 microphone, and my aforementioned Ensoniq Mirage, which I soon traded for an Ensoniq EPS 16. All I wanted to do was record, which I somehow managed to do a lot of even though I had hordes of books to read and papers to write on top of working over 20 hours a week at the cafeteria and selling brownies (unmedicated) every Monday night all over campus.
After my first year at Hampshire I spent the summer in LA with my boyfriend. We housesat at my Dad's house and I wrote and recorded dozens of songs including most of the material that ended up over a decade later on Saturday Morning Sweet Shoppe and Two. It took me that long to acquire the recording gear and skill to record the songs in a presentable, if imperfect, way.
Elliott Smith was at Hampshire when I was. At the time I had no idea he would become my favorite songwriter/musician in the universe other than certain members of the Beatles. I remember him well even though we never conversed or shared a class. I was a line server at the cafeteria and he would mumble to me what he wanted and I would serve it to him. He always seemed grumpy and looked nauseous and perpetually donned a ski cap. He never smiled or said hello. I thought he was a dick. He was in a band called Heatmiser. I saw what I think was their first on-campus gig. He was so scared he faced the band instead of the audience. I found that endearing even though he still seemed like a dick and couldn't sing. At the time his vocal style was like a cross between Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer. It was a few years after college that I was talking at work with a drummer who loved indie music and I asked him who his favorite artists were and he said Elliott Smith was his hands down favorite and I was like, "What?!?! Are you serious?!?!" He talked about how amazing Elliott's solo album was and I was skeptical but immediately went to Waterloo Records to buy it and was flabbergasted, dazzled, floored and deeply moved before the first song ended. He became my straight-up favorite creator by a considerable margin and I couldn't believe that this guy who seemed like such an ass wrote this gorgeous, vulnerable, sensitive, fragile, transcendent music. I even loved his singing. Of course in retrospect I wish I had talked to him in college. I had no idea what a beautiful soul he was. Sometimes I indulge daydreams wherein we become friends and lose ourselves in deliriously long conversations about music and I become his bass player.
At Hampshire I had a boyfriend who played bass in a band called the Ice Weasels. Without consulting the other band members he invited me to join as a keyboard player. I was excited to be in a band for the first time. The now acclaimed singer/songwriter Paul Melancon was in the band and I was the Yoko Ono to his Paul McCartney in that he was not pleased by my presence and shot daggers at me, perceiving me as just someone's girlfriend who wanted to be in a band. I felt self-conscious and unwanted and didn't know how to play in a band, but I was willing to withstand the humiliation for the thrill of being a member of a band I adored. Our drummer, Billy Greene, was also the drummer for Elliott Smith's band at the same time. The Ice Weasels broke up when an indispensable band member ditched Hampshire for clown college and joined the circus. Paul and I became friends years later and are still friends, finding ourselves in the same little corner of the indie music sandbox.
After Hampshire I moved back to my hometown of Austin with two members of the Ice Weasels (the bass player and the clown) and we started a new band called Wax Elephant with an Austin drummer, Mike McElhaney, who has become quite a successful architect. We played at clubs once or twice a week for a year and drew a small but enthusiastic tribe of supporters. My songs in that band were quite bad and I hated playing live. My stage fright didn't diminish a trace after over 50 gigs. I also realized I couldn't sing well and that my voice was only appealing when multi-tracked and supported by harmonies. I decided I would be a recording artist and hoped somehow I could make a living. I spent two-and-a-half years writing bill analyses and interim reports for the Texas House of Representatives, managing to fake my way through without ever understanding what I was writing. Then I worked, miserably, as a temp throughout the rest of my twenties while developing my guitar playing, arranging, songwriting and audio engineering skills.
During that time period Ernie Gammage, for whom I'd interned one summer in college when he was running the Austin Music Industry Council, gave Abra Moore a demo I'd made at Hampshire. She recorded my song, "I Look Around" on her debut album, Sing. Around the same time I met children's artist Joe McDermott and he occasionally subcontracted me to write music for games when he was overly busy. Joe introduced me to Robert Harrison of the emerging band Cotton Mather. Robert tried to recruit me to play keyboard and guitar in his band. I thought his songs and arrangements were exceptional and we bonded over a love of great coffee. I learned some of his guitar parts and was tempted to join, but I knew I hated playing live and also felt compelled to work on my own music. I declined but succeeded as a matchmaker when I suggested he try his fellow Alabamian Whit Williams, which worked out far better than either of us could have imagined.
My first full-time professional music job was for a company called Human Code in Austin. There I wrote songs explaining math concepts, as well as the instrumental score, for a Jumpstart 2nd Grade Math PC "edutainment" game. After the math songs I wrote the songs and score for another PC game, Ellie's Enchanted Garden. For this I approached drummer Chris Searles, whose playing swept me off my feet during my zealous fanship of Twang Twang Shock-a-Boom years earlier. I asked him if he would play drums on the 5 songs. He agreed to and soon after played on my debut album Saturday Morning Sweet Shoppe (2000) which I worked on nights and weekends while continuing to write music for several more games until Human Code was bought and spat out in 2001.
I made Saturday Morning Sweet Shoppe with a Mac, Digital Performer, a Stratocaster, a Fender hybrid bass, an SM-58 microphone and a 1966 Fender Super Reverb amp in my 196 square foot apartment above Jeffrey's Restaurant and released it initially on an old platform called mp3.com. MP3.com was an excellent forum for connecting with like-minded music makers, buyers and reviewers. To my astonishment and delight my debut received a great deal of buzz and rave reviews which put me on the map in the small indie world of power-pop. At the time it was virtually unheard of for a woman to produce, engineer, write, arrange sing and play all the instruments (except drums) on an album. I got quite a bit of attention for this. The only other one-woman band anyone had ever heard of at the time was Liz Phair. One-man bands were quite rare as well. People would generally cite Emitt Rhodes and Paul McCartney and not many others when referring to one person bands.
Less than 2 years after Saturday Morning Sweet Shoppe I put out Two, which built upon the attention my debut garnered.
Soon after the demise of Human Code I got a call from Tequila Mockingbird offering me the opportunity to demo for a Sherwin Williams paint commercial. I did not win that one, but they continued to hire me and eventually I started winning enough competitive jobs that they continue still to hire me. In 2006 Tequila Mockingbird got a call from Sarah Sharp who was serving as music supervisor for a show called American Made. She was looking for instrumental music that could work in the show and she wanted to support local artists. I met her at her office and gave her a CD full of instrumental tracks. Days later she told me the editors had put some of my music in an episode. And days after that she told me they had put some in another, and then another episode. They used 13 of my tracks, giving me my first TV credits other than commercials.
Also in 2006 I put out my 3rd album, Rivers of Stars. Four years had passed since I'd put out Two, so I had lost a lot of momentum. Futhermore, Rivers did not appeal to many of those who were enthusiastic about my first two albums. It did appeal to a lot of people who didn't seem to care for the first two albums though, so I lost some support and gained some. It had taken so long to follow Two due to the demands of trying to make a living doing commercial music. Though I did commercial music as a way to support myself so I could do "my own music" it took over.
Sarah Sharp contacted me in 2007 when she was serving as principal songwriter and music supervisor for a film called When Harry Tries to Marry. She had given the director some of my music and he loved It's in the Way from my new album Rivers of Stars and gave it a prominent place in the film. He asked Sarah, who had already written many songs for the film, to write a song for the opening sequence. She asked me if I wanted to co-write it with her. I had never co-written before and was intimidated by the prospect of trying to generate ideas in front of someone; but she was persistent and disarming and assured me it need not be complicated. We opened a bottle of wine and focused on writing something extremely simple and knocked out the 4 chord song in 3 hours. We kept her original demo vocal and my demo guitar and when she left my house I layered the other parts on and hired a drummer I'd used once before and that was that. The drummer, Larry Aberman, was an early adopter and had become one of the first online session drummers. He lives in Las Vegas and has played for years for Cirque de Soleil's Zumanity show, so he's always warmed up and has his studio setup and ready to go at all times.
A year or so after Sarah and I wrote that song together I got hired by FirstCom to produce 4 songs. They needed a female producer/writer and found me on Tequila Mockingbird's website. Because it was so fruitful and easy to write with Sarah for When Harry Tries to Marry, and because the results were more commercial and less quirky than my solo material, I hired her to join me on this project. Again we knocked out the songs very quickly, this time with Sarah's infant son in attendance at all our writing and recording sessions. FirstCom hired us to write more songs after the success of that EP. We wrote about 50 songs in a year and a half and many of them have appeared in TV shows and advertisements all over the world.
In 2011 a colleague from my Human Code job that had ended a decade earlier hired me to do technical audio at Bioware for the biggest MMO game in history at the time, Star Wars: The Old Republic. For them I mastered thousands of voice files for the game. I did this from home on and off for 7 years, until they moved that sort of audio work to their Canadian headquarters in Edmonton. It was amusing to hear the dramatic lines of dialog out of context. While working on it I kept coming across the name Kaliyo and thought the name both sounded and looked beautiful. Sarah and I had been trying to come up with a name for our duo, each batting down the other's suggestions until I said, "What about Kaliyo?" I didn't mention it was from Star Wars. She loved the name and we found that the domain name was available. For Sarah and me Kaliyo's purpose was to make money. We both had our own separate musical projects whose main purposes were self-expression and artistic fulfillment. Kaliyo was for paying bills. So with every song we wrote we asked ourselves, "Can we imagine this in a scene in a TV show or movie, or in a commercial?" Though our primary purpose was financial gain and not to express our deepest truths either musically or lyrically, we loved creating the songs; and though we wrote and recorded most of them very quickly, we worked on them intensely, with care, enthusiasm, love and absorption. The fact that we weren't trying to make great personal art took a lot of pressure off and made the songs tumble out easily and joyfully.
In 2013 I put out my fourth album, Four. This one was funded by a Kickstarter campaign and the money raised enabled me to hire instrumentalists to play instruments that I don't play, such as strings, Hammond organ and french horn. The songs on Four emerged from Bob Schneider's songwriting group, which was the case for a lot of the Kaliyo songs too. In this group members had to write a song per week using a word or phrase that Bob would offer up. If you missed two weeks in a row you were swiftly kicked out. Lots of people got kicked out. Having to incorporate the word or phrase made me come up with songs I would never have come up without the word. I found it fascinating how the prompt in combination with the deadline would spur ideas. Every week I thought it was finally going to be the week when I wouldn't be able to come up with anything, and like magic something always emerged. I came to be in Bob's group by recommendation of Anya Marina who was in the group. She and I had internet met back in the MP3.com era. She was a DJ, influencer, playlist maker there. I had been trying to promote someone else's music to her and she asked, "What about you? What about your music?" She liked what she heard and we stayed a little bit in touch over the years. She told Bob about me and he invited me to try the song group out. I was terrified, as usual, but it turned out to be a great creativity sparker and productivity boon. (I never had to present my songs live. We sent mp3s via email.)
In 2015 I made an album with 3 friends I also met circa 2000 via MP3.com. Scott McPherson, Kirk Adams and KC Bowman. We had all become enamored of one another's music at the time and occasionally kicked around the idea of making an album together, even though we had never met and all lived in different states. Internet file sharing was finally smooth enough, and our schedules finally aligned in 2014. We gleefully worked on the album for about a year, each writing, singing, playing multiple instruments and producing. We threw parts all over each other's songs and each song originator was responsible for the final arrangement/production of the song he or she had started. We communicated (a lot) via a private Facebook group. We called ourselves Pop 4 and released the album, Summer, in August of 2015.
Since Pop 4's Summer I have kept busy with various freelance composing jobs. In 2016 FirstCom released Songs from Austin, which I curated and to which I contributed many co-writes. In 2017 they released Songs, Scenes & Stories, every song of which I wrote or co-wrote and all of which I produced. (It is made up almost exclusively of songs written as part of the Bob Schneider song group.) And in 2018 FirstCom released Songs, Scenes & Stories 2, which I also wrote and produced. It is available for license but not yet available for purchase.