Anna Poc is a Hamilton-based jazz guitarist, singer and songwriter who has been performing at open mics and café gigs all across the Greater Toronto Area.
Her latest work is an EP called York Boulevard, which features four original songs in her signature style with eloquent lyrics that convey stories of connection. It follows her self-titled EP in late 2017, adding a backing band into the mix for the first time. York Boulevard finds Poc’s smooth playing and velvety vocals laced with R&B grooves and dreamy guitar leads.
For the New Music Spotlight, Poc joined us to talk about her newly released music and all the feelings and ideas behind it.
I want to go back to the beginning and talk about jazz guitar — where did you fall in love with it, and why?
Jazz guitar is something that I started playing in high school. I took Grade 10 and 11 guitar class — shoutout to Mr. Castiglione at Notre Dame Catholic Secondary School. When I started playing I was teaching myself standard chords, but my dad really loved jazz and he would always influence me with Diana Krall and different artists that he loved. [My class] did a unit on jazz specifically, and I loved the sound of it. I found that everything I was playing with jazz chords just had a nice ring to it. I loved what it changed in my music. So, I started playing jazz guitar in that way and stuck with it for everything that I was writing past that point.
Had you always been writing music, or did that come after you got into playing the guitar?
That came after. I’ve always been a singer, but I had never really tried writing music until I started playing guitar. Once I had that style of jazz chords down pat and it was something I enjoyed doing, that’s when I started putting lyrics to it.
Let’s talk about your new album York Boulevard. Where did this come from? When did you begin the process of making it?
This album has actually been in the works for about two years. My first EP was self-titled, and it was just solo, and then I had a bit of a hiatus where I wasn’t really writing. The four songs that are on this album are all love songs, really. I had a bit of time where I wasn’t writing anything because the first songs I had written were more inspired by family, and then I didn’t have anything to write about for a bit. But I find lyrics about love — and I’m sure a lot of musicians can relate — they kind of come naturally once you have a feeling like that. The songs were written about two years ago, and then I slowly started to get ready with a band. I hadn’t played with a band before. The songs on York Boulevard have a backing band with them, which was a lot of fun. It’s been in the works for quite some time, and I was really excited to get it out.
It’s been a long journey from beginning to end. Do you still have the same kind of emotion and viewpoint on the songs as you did two years ago?
It sort of takes on a new meaning once you actually release them. It’s one thing to write your songs, and those are the emotions you’re feeling at the time and it feels very natural while you’re writing, but then when you get to actually share them with friends and family and other listeners, it solidifies that meaning for you. In my case, thankfully the inspiration for the songs is still in my life in a big way. That’s helpful, of course. But it is definitely the same feeling. When you write those songs, it transports you back to the place you were when you started writing them, which is pretty cool.
On your song The Sweetest Sound, you begin by singing, “When I’m sad, the words come easily.” Do you find that in general it’s easier to sing about the struggle than the joy?
I definitely thought that at the start, when I did my first EP. Now, I’m finding it’s really just what you’re experiencing in your life and what strong emotions you have — whether that’s anger, happiness, sadness. If you feel strongly about it, that’s when I find the writing comes most easily. It was a new emotion for this EP, and that’s why when I was saying the words come easily when I’m sad, that was my previous experience. Once things started to get rolling, the happy words came easily as well. That was a good, new feeling.
You host something pretty cool called Tom Collins Night. Can you tell us about what that is?
Tom Collins Night is an annual music benefit show that I host with some of my friends in Hamilton. It’s in support of breast cancer research in honour of my late grandmother. It’s called Tom Collins Night because that was her drink of choice. One of the first singles I ever released was called Tom Collins in honour of her, and that’s a conversation I have with her in that song. I’m actually hosting an Instagram Live version for 2020 on Thursday, Oct. 22. Up to this point, we’ve raised more than $6,000 for breast cancer research. It’s a really special event to me. It’s an awesome way to combine my passion for music, and also a passion for helping others, and doing something memorable for my grandma and my family. It’s a very important event, and I’m grateful that my friends are able to support me in hosting it every year.
This interview has been edited and condensed.