A little slice of sun in Hayley Johnson's creative space in Echo Park by Anna Azarov


It’s a sunny Sunday morning in January and I walk up a long flight of stairs to Hayley Johnson’s (of The Little Miss) apt in Echo Park. Hayley shares the apt with another roommate and it’s a lovely spot overlooking the hills of the city. Walking into her bedroom/creative space, you are greeted by the beautiful antique furniture, passed down to Hayley from her great grandmother. It’s made of wood (the real kind) and has a deep reddish brown hue, with all the wear and tear you would expect from early 1900s furniture. But what immediately strikes me is the gorgeous, pure, unfiltered California morning sunlight that floods the room from the solitary window to the right of the bed.


Hayley is originally from San Diego, where she lived until her late teens. Although her sound is Americana, she dIdn’t grow up on folk music. In her youth, she listened to whatever was playing on the radio and as a young girl, she dreamed of becoming part of a girl group (of the Spice Girls variety). When that dream began to fade and her musical tastes developed, she started listening to Sinatra, Jazz, and the old greats. It was at this time that she began to write lyrics and melodies to which her dad would accompany by playing lead guitar. The two of them formed a small band and performed at surf competitions, churches and coffee shops around San Diego. When she went away to college in San Francisco she gave up on music, thinking it was time for her to pursue something “academic” that would have a bigger impact on the world. She chose philosophy.


When we spoke about her creative process, Hayley laughed saying she was pretty sure she didn’t have one. But she admitted that her only ritual is to close all the windows and make sure no one is in the house when she’s working on a new song. She sits on the edge of her bed and begins to write.

Before starting a new song, Hayley spends a lot of time collecting ideas and thoughts, processing them until she understand how she feels about them. She begins each song from the first line, not the chorus or the hook, but the first sentence like a novelist beginning a book. She usually finishes within an hour because by the time she’s ready to write, the song has already formed itself inside of her. She doesn’t edit the lyrics once they’ve been written, choosing to keep them in their original raw and unfiltered form.

One thing that you notice in the music of “The Little Miss” is the ever present humor. Although Hayley is drawn to examine questions of self criticism and the disappointment one feels when they do not meet their own expectations, her songs are all served with a slice of self-awareness and the understanding of the absurdity of it all. But underneath the humor, there is a coming to terms with the various aspects of oneself and a genuine desire to find moments of specific connection to others through shared experiences. In Hayley’s view, to really change the world, we have to focus on healing ourselves and only then can people become better versions of themselves and heal others.

For the longest time Hayley felt like to pursue music was a selfish thing. It took her years to reconcile that feeling with the innate need she felt to write and play. Like so many artists, it seems that we must give ourselves the permission to create before we can actually pursue our creativity. And not just that, but we have to constantly recommit to giving ourselves that permission. Not just for creating, but for failing, and trying something new, and expressing ideas that may or may have any value. You have to keep convincing yourself that it’s ok to have a voice.

I know that it’s something I’ve struggled with myself on my road to choosing photography as a career. Despite it always being a passion, it took my father’s passing to finally give myself the permission to pursue it fully. Because (as I got to see first hand), life is too damn short.

Check out The Little Miss’ music:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thelittlemissmusic/

Website: https://www.thelittlemiss.com

Spotify: The Little Miss


A Meeting of Minds and Creative Spaces: Lauren Ruth Ward and Eduardo Rivera by Anna Azarov

Last month I had an opportunity to photograph the songwriting duo behind Los Angeles’ gritty and soulful band, Lauren Ruth Ward. Lauren and Eduardo Rivera met back in 2015 within six months of having moved out to LA from the East Coast (Baltimore and DC respectively), and found within each other a musical partnership that inspires and breathes ideas that create a blend of 60s rock n roll, powerhouse vocals and evocative storytelling.

These two actually have not one, but two creative spaces that guide their inspiration. One is Lauren’s house in East LA, where Lauren and Eduardo often meet for writing sessions and the second is Eduardo’s home in West Hollywood, complete with a production studio where the two go to record new music.

Part 1: A porch in East LA

Lauren and Eduardo grab a Lagunitas from the fridge and head to the porch (their go-to writing spot). The porch faces a giant tree, and when you sit on one of the two rustic wooden chairs and look out, there is a feel that this could be a porch anywhere in America. It is homey and warm and the perfect creative space to make music. Here is where creativity is shielded from the business realities of being an independent musician, and only the free flow of ideas is allowed.

What’s immediately evident when you’re in the room with Lauren and Eduardo is the EASE. There's such a looseness and genuine friendship between the two of them. There is no pretension or ego, just a real bond between two friends that give each other the space to write and explore ideas, each weaving together a musical story and building on each other’s talent.


Lauren is the lyricist and wordsmith of the two. Her inspiration comes from her life experiences and she brings song ideas which often start as a conversation where she’s talking to “you” and “you” are responding back. Listening to her songs you can absolutely hear the conversation play out, and although you think she is directing it at someone, most of the time she admits, the “you” that she’s talking to is herself. Her songs are an open book into her life, a way for her to explore and process her experiences, while also offering a point of connection with her audience.

Eduardo is the guitarist and musical mastermind of the two. He is a classically trained musician, film composer, and producer, often drawing on his varied musical background to come up with melodies that fit perfectly with Lauren’s raw and vulnerable lyrics. For him, inspiration often comes from playing, working through different ideas on the guitar until he comes across something that hits him. A melody or hook that he keeps coming back to. That’s when their musical collaboration happens - a meeting of minds.


In her creative nook off of the kitchen, Lauren takes a momentary break to paint the cover for the next single from their Jim Morrison 75th Birthday tribute releases. Lauren recently discovered her love of painting and has been doing much of the band’s artwork since (one of her many talents!).


Part 2: A production space in West Hollywood

The second part of the creative process for Lauren and Eduardo is the recording and production side. After their writing session on Lauren’s porch, they head out to Eduardo’s place in West Hollywood. After a quick detour for some much needed reinforcements (nuts and olives), they head back down the hall to Eduardo’s studio space, a white room in his house completely dedicated to music production. With the desk set up by the window and programming tools on either side, it reminds me of a captain’s chair. Here is where they begin the recording process, tracking vocals, guitars, as well as sampling random items that make noise (in this case it was Lauren’s shoe hitting a a half drunken water bottle). There is an ease to their experimentation, they joke with each other, they try different things, getting serious when they’ve come across something that has potential.

From a creative perspective, they are completely in control and that is how they like it. After having a record deal and then losing it (due to the sub-label they were on being dropped by the head label), they are back to owning their direction. Working on their next series of singles, they’re excited to release new music, this time on their terms and timelines (and finances). Lauren has self-financed her music through hard work and hair (she has been a hairstylist since her teens and continues to cut hair in a standalone house in her backyard). After being burned by a record deal that did not represent their interests, there is a sense of relief that now the band can have the freedom it needs to do what it wants.

In reality, the creative side is truly only one aspect of what it takes to become a successful independent band and what is evident is how much time, effort, love, passion, and grit goes into building the Lauren Ruth Ward band. Lauren, aside from being the songwriter and front woman, manages the band as well as the finances, and also runs the creative/marketing aspects (painting album artwork, creating props for shows, etc). As someone put it, “she’s not running the ship, she IS the ship”. For as creative and free-spirited as she is, she is also detail oriented and organized, keeping structured lists of tour budgets and other necessities. For this is what it means to be an independent artist in today’s society. You are your own producer, marketer, accountant, booker, promoter, boss, etc.

Check out Lauren Ruth Ward’s music:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/laurenruthwardmusic/

Website: www.laurenruthwardmusic.com

Spotify: Lauren Ruth Ward

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A tucked away space of Songwriter Alex Wisner, Franklin Village LA by Anna Azarov

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to and photograph Alex Wisner; an author, singer songwriter, and Founder of Treehouse LA (an intimate pop-up event featuring artists from all over Los Angeles). I came by to Alex’s house in Franklin Village, we walked over through the main house to the back garden, where a separate detached house stood. Inside, painted in her distinct color palette of pale coral-pink and powder blue was her creative sanctuary.


With a cup of tea in hand, Alex shared that often she spends hours being in the space before ideas start to emerge. She’ll wake up around 6am, close the door and lock herself inside for hours. She’ll reread lyrical notes or listen to previously recorded ideas on repeat, sometimes stopping to straighten up or move something around just to get the creative process flowing.

Alex has always had a fascination with words. She has more lyrical ideas than she knows what to do with. As with many, her first instrument was the piano, which she started playing at young age. She went on to study music theory for 8 years , which both opened her mind up to the possibilities while also paralyzing her from composing on a piano because she felt she was constantly making mistakes. So she picked up the guitar and found a sense of freedom in the unknown and unpracticed.

When I asked Alex what types of themes she finds herself writing about, she answered unwaveringly “Betrayal.” The emotion has been a focus of her writing for a number of years. She grew up in a happy and supportive family and was shielded from betrayal for a long time, so when she did experience it for the first time, the moment amplified and left a deep imprint on her life. The first time a friend betrayed her trust, she couldn’t understand how people can do this all the time.

In 2012, Alex became very ill due to Lyme disease that was left undiagnosed and untreated. Her body began falling apart, she found herself weighing 70lbs, barely able to get out of bed and move across her room. She couldn’t understand what was happening. Her body betrayed her. To top it off, despite running myriads of tests, her doctors insisted that it was all in her head. They thought she was doing this to herself. Her doctors betrayed her. She realized she had to get out of the hospital before she would be committed to an institution. She trusted her self. She took her life into her own hands and tried everything she could to heal her body. It worked.

She shared that the last time she was hospitalized, when she thought she was going to die, Alex wrote 38 goodbye letters to her closest friends and family members, letting them know what they meant to her and the value that they brought to her life. I asked her if she ever shared the letters with the intended recipients, and she said no with the exception of one.

I wondered what would happen if she did. It made me think about what I would say if I had to write letters to my closest friends and family. How do you truly summarize the value and meaning of those people on your life? Talking to Alex reminded me how little we think of death. How much we take for granted that our life will be ever present until a ripe old age. Perhaps we all need to write those letters now while we still have an opportunity to share our gratitude.

Check out Alex Wisner’s music and writing here.

Alex wrote a short piece about her experience and you can read it here.

Treehouse LA.


The start of "Creative Spaces of LA Musicians"...stay tuned! by Anna Azarov

After many months of silence, I am excited to finally introduce the second volume of the Creative Spaces photo series! Volume II will be focused on Los Angeles musicians!

I’ve had such an incredible time documenting the intimate spaces and homes of NYC musicians that I thought, "why not expand and make this project bi-coastal, even global?" LA, similar to NYC, has an incredibly rich music scene with artists moving to this city everyday to pursue music. It is, after all, the quintessential “dream-space”, Morrison's "City of Lights", where artists arrive with hopes of building a career in music.

As I embark on this second leg of the series, I am curious what sort of insights I will find. How will LA be different from NYC? Does an artist’s location affect their creative space and influence their inspiration (I imagine that it must)? Will there be similarities between the two cities? Will there be similarities between the artists?

When I set out to shoot the series in NYC, I wanted to do just that, limit it to artists of one city because anything more seemed too intimidating and scattered. Now, my hope is to turn this series global. To document the Creative Spaces of musicians around the world because I think pulling the curtain back and showing off how artists live and work is inspiring, at least it is to me. It both demystifies the artists and highlights how integral creativity and art to human beings.

These days, we are consumed by stories of struggle and disappointment, in all spheres: political, social, and personal. It's so difficult to know how to wade through the upset, much less combat these forces. At times you feel both paralyzed by anger and tempted by apathy. I hope that by telling stories of inspiration that I can offer something positive not just for other artists but anyone who feels inspired. Because don’t we all feel inspired to do something, to create something, to experience something? And yet, many of us don’t act on it because we are afraid, or the weight of it feels too great, or the struggles of day to day life take over.

I personally have felt all of those things, and even restarting this series was something of an internal challenge for me because I felt the commitment of it to be so great. But here we are. And even though I am sure only 5 people will read this post, I putting it out there to hold myself to account. What brings me back is that inspiration begets inspiration. I LOVE hearing how artists write new songs, where their ideas come from, and seeing the private spaces that contain and foster that creativity. It makes me WANT to pick up my camera. So for purely selfish reasons (and maybe for not so selfish ones too), here goes the Creative Spaces of Los Angeles Musicians!

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PS. If you are reading this and are an artist in the world somewhere, don’t hesitate to drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you! And hopefully, if I end up in your city sometime, we can incorporate your story into the Creative Spaces series!

PPS. I created a new IG account for the series so that I can have a place to focus and share more from the project, you can follow it at https://www.instagram.com/creativespacesofmusicians/

Richard Julian: A Creative Space Built on Music by Anna Azarov


A few weeks ago I met up with Richard Julian, singer songwriter and co-owner of Bar Lunatico, in his apartment up the stairs from the bar. Walking up the spiral staircase, a home emerges. In a little room off the corner of the stairs is Richard's writing room. It hosts a little desk covered in a flurry of items (rare mezcal recently gifted, a gumbo cookbook, papers, and an old photograph of Duke Ellington, amongst other things). Richard usually works sitting on the day bed with his grandfather's 1920s guitar in hand. 

Although he hasn't put out any new albums in the last few years since his son was born, he is constantly writing down ideas in his notebook. At the end of the book, when the pages have been filled, he'll go through and catalog the ideas that hold the most promise on the last page: an index of references for future songs.  When I asked him if there are certain themes that he finds himself being drawn to, he thought for a moment and answered "sex" and "melancholia" ((and then jotted it down in his book because it had a nice ring to it). He expanded saying it's more of a constant pursuit of introspection, an effort to understand the significance of memories, places, and things that seem to never let him go. He is drawn to those unbridled emotions where people are most raw and uninhibited. His songs are carefully crafted portraits of people and places, draped with a coat of wittiness and observation. 

Richard initially moved to NYC from his home state of Delaware in the 80s after a brief stint playing keyboards in the lounges of Las Vegas. He lived in Hells Kitchen for 20 years, and watched the neighborhood transform outside his window.  Richard has long dreamed of owning a music bar, the perfect expression of his love of music and cocktails. After living in New Orleans for a few years with his wife and fellow songstress, Rosita Kess, he moved back to NYC with one stipulation, that they would finally open the bar they always dreamed of. It was not an easy journey, and finding the right location took much searching. In the end they found and built a haven for NYC musicians and patrons alike with a hint of New Orleans spice.

Having Bar Lunatico downstairs is like having a party that you're always invited to.  On the days when Richard is not working, he may come downstairs, take in the atmosphere, and hang with the musicians. And on the days when he needs some downtime, he stay upstairs and listens to the music in the privacy of his home. In any case, music is always in the air on Halsey St. 

When Richard showed me around the apartment, I also had the chance to see his five year old son, Floyd's, room. As a mom myself with a two year old son, it left a deep impression on me. The doors to the closets were covered in Floyd's elaborate animal drawings. Books and toys lined the corners of the bed, which had an animal duvet cover on top. I asked Richard what Floyd's impressions have been growing up with so much music around. Richard laughed and showed me that at the head of Floyd's bed are heating pipes that go directly downstairs to where the stage is at the bar. Every night Floyd falls asleep, listening to the sounds of incredible musicians playing. 'He has never once complained,' Richard said. 

As a mom trying (sometimes desperately) to raise a child that is sweet, kind and curious, I often wonder which experiences in my son's life will hold the most meaning. What will shape his personality and tastes in the future? Getting a glimpse into Floyds room, I couldn't help but feel like this kid is going to grow up to be an incredibly interesting person. In building a music bar for themselves, Floyd's parents have given him a beautiful gift, a creative space of his own. 

Explore Richard Julian’s music:

Facebook: Richard Julian 

Website: http://www.richardjulianmusic.com/index1.php

Spotify: Richard Julian


Josch Chodakowsky's Library of Sounds and Inspiration by Anna Azarov

I'll be honest, I have never thought about the term nor the concept of ethnomusicology until I photographed Josch Chodakowsky in his apartment in Ditmas Park a few months ago. Josch (aka DJ Inbetween) is a DJ and composer- more specifically a sound collage-r, creating music by sampling elements from written songs to create completely unique songs. Josch's living room contains a library of about 10,000+ records, spanning the decades and continents. He has always had a fascination with the history of music and began collecting records at a young age. It should come as no surprise that Josch's educational background is in Library Science and aside from composing and DJing, he works as a researcher during the day. But his true love of DJ'ing began while he was still in school, circa mid-1990s, when he and his friends would gather to listen to the latest hip hop records and attempt to sample their first songs.


Facing the giant wall of records, I couldn't help but feel overwhelmed. Where would you even start when you have a universe of sounds at your disposal? When I asked Josch, he said for himthe creative process is a bit like "lightning in a bottle". He began pulling records out to show me how ideas would turn into songs, picking out a bass line here or the first measure off of another record, and programming those so that a song began to emerge. Most of the samples were completely unrecognizable and he purposefully choses songs that are obscure so that the listener doesn't form associations with that sound. Each time he pulled a record, on to the turntable it went, quickly and without hesitation. Then, when the piece he wanted to play was over, back into the library they went, sometimes to a different spot than where they came from - a reflection of the organization that only he was privy to.  It reminded me a bit of a cook in the kitchen, grabbing a pinch of this spice and that, stirring around and tasting the sauce to see what else was missing.

Within the confines of the concept of musicianship, what Josch creates might not be considered making music because he's not actually playing or composing with an instrument. However, to me, it absolutely embodies the term.  To create a unique song by connecting dozens or hundreds of already written elements of music, is still in its essence composition and it is incredible to see these stretches of creativity and the capabilities of sound. A postmodernist approach to making music, and one that weaves together society and culture at that moment in time.

For Josch, collecting records is a bit like archeology; an examination of the significance of music in our culture and the tracing of the roots of modern music to their points of inspiration. His appreciation of music is infused with an innate curiosity of piecing a puzzle together that is in fact never ending. When he hears something that strikes him, for example an interesting bass line, he will often look up the musician, find the other records they played on, research what influences they had, and then delve into the music of those influencers, and so on and so on until a musical family tree of inspiration begins to emerge.

Although Josch's musical inclination is towards early Funk, Soul and Hip Hop, his research extends far across the globe. He told me he would go through phases when he would delve into a certain country's music and dig deep into their history, often piecing the significance of the artist in that country's moment in time. And often, when he embarks on a particular country's music history, he learns how to play the musical instruments native to the country so that he has a deeper sense of the music.

When it comes to record collecting, the rarer the record, the more exciting. "If the apartment was on fire, this is the box I would take with me" he said as he pulled out a "Supercase" of 45's. Gently he took out a record by The Third Guitar with "Baby Don't Cry" on it and laid it on the turntable. In the process, showing me the tattoos on his forearms which replicated the album's label. What made these particular records so sought after? Josch explained that some of the records in the Supercase were rare because they were the original albums that had been sampled by famous songs, in other cases, they were records made by unknown bands of which there were only a limited number of copies pressed. I asked him why it would be matter if a completely unknown band had put out a limited number of records. But he explained that for collectors, the thrill is in finding that incredible and undiscovered record from an unknown band. A stroke of luck and/or determined investigation.

Explore Josch Chodawsky’s music: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joschchodakowsky Mixcloud: Www.mixcloud.com/djinbetween Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/dj-inbetween IG: @djinbetween


Trumpeter Wayne Tucker in his Crown Heights creative space by annaandthelens

A few months ago, I had the pleasure to photograph trumpeter Wayne Tucker in his Crown Heights apartment that he shares with four other musicians. We began by talking in his living room. There in the middle of the room, Wayne conducts his daily practice, a combination of meditative breathing and trumpet playing. Closing his eyes, he counts to 10 in his head and clears his mind of everything except the even nature of his breath. He holds each note as long as possible while trying to maintain the same intensity. This practice allows him to channel all of his energy into his playing, a technique he later uses when he's onstage. When performing, he listens to the energy of the room and tries to concentrate on it, focuses all his effort on the energy coming out of him and into the audience.

Wayne comes from a family of musicians; his father, a piano player, was the main influencer of his musical taste, exposing him to funk, soul and r&b from an early age. Naturally, Wayne's first instrument was the piano, then he learned to play the violin, and finally the trumpet. His older brother (who is one of the four musicians he currently shares an apartment with), plays the tenor sax. In fact, it was after his brother began playing the saxophone, that Wayne picked up the trumpet. He grew up with a built in band at home, often jamming and experimenting from a young age.

Wayne spent a long time studying the technicalities and the math behind the music, including the patterns and permutations, to the point that it can become instinctual, allowing him to focus on evoking the feeling behind the music. In high school, he was part of an orchestra, which allowed him to understand composition and gave him an ability to hear all the elements in a song. That experience fueled his musical passion, the search for beautiful harmonies.

His latest album "Wake Up and See the Sun" (released this September), is about appreciating what one has in life. He is drawn to using music as a vehicle to transport the listener to a specific place or feeling. A way to share his world with others. Many of the songs on the record had been written years ago, but he wanted to take the opportunity to explore them musically, incorporating different instrumentations and sounds to create an eclectic sound quilt for the listener.

When I asked Wayne how he composes songs, he shared that it always starts with the piano, and as the song builds, he finds the natural moments where the trumpet can come in.  So we went downstairs, to his roommate's (David Linard) room where there is a stand up piano. While his roommate was packing to go to rehearsal, Wayne started fiddling with the keys, experimenting with a progression of notes he played over and over. I asked him what he was thinking of as he was doing this, and he said it reminded him of being in church. The first time the pastor says "Jesus"  it doesn't really have much of an effect on you, but slowly as he repeats the name over and over, the word starts to take on a meaning. So do the progression of notes as he plays them over and over, until a melody begins to emerge...

Explore Wayne Tucker's music: Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wayne.tucker.73 Spotify: Spotify IG: @wayneeverest

Inside the creative process and space of Progressive Trance artist, Jack Barrile aka Blugazer by annaandthelens

When you have an unlimited number of sounds and places to start composing, where do you begin? At least with an instrument you are limited to a range, chord structures, tonality, but with electronica music, you have an entire universe of sounds at your disposal. To me, it's as intimidating as the empty page for a writer, sitting in front of a typewriter waiting for the first sentence to come. When I asked Progressive Trance artist, Jack Barrile, about it, he said it was those same endless possibilities that drew him to electronica music in the first place. As the first electronica artist to be featured in the series, I wanted to find out more about how his creative process is defined by the genre. Jack began producing music in 2006, and stated putting it out into the world in 2010 under the alias Blugazer. To him, music is an exploration and an interpretation of how he sees the world, an expression of his reality and his dreams. When I came to photograph him in his creative space (his apartment in Clinton Hill), we walked to his bedroom where his setup was and he began working on a new idea.  He shared that he had recently been to the beach during his trip to Florida and he was inspired by the divergent experiences of the beach by day vs the beach by night. He began composing two songs, one a counterpoint to the other.

Jack always begins with a concept, an idea of a feeling, a mood, a place. He is also very cognizant of his own sound; he's drawn to dreamy, atmospheric, spacial sounds that are warm, dark, and mysterious. Knowing what he likes to hear is what helps him know where he wants to take a song and its elements. Although he did not go to school for music, he studied it on his own, researching music theory and composition, chord structures and production concepts, using the knowledge to push his production further. He mentioned that he wasn't sure if he can really call himself a musician, because although he knows how to play various instruments, he doesn't really play any one in particular. He is in essence a composer, putting together musical elements and sounds to create a soundscape.

By day, Jack works as a software engineer, but he wakes up every morning two hours before the start of his day to work on his music. Before leaving his house, he exports whatever he worked on that morning and listens to it throughout his work day, dissecting and finessing the song in his head. Often he comes home at 7pm or 8pm and dedicates another two hours to music, either practicing and teaching himself musical theory, or working on the song he began that morning. And he does this every day.

Jack's creative process follows a very unique and analytical workflow that he has developed and refined over time. In some ways, the organized nature of his process feels like a reflection of his engineering work, he tackles each part of the song in a precise and stacked manner, starting with the drum and bass lines first and then building the song piece by piece until he has completed each portion of the structure. His workflow gives him parameters within which he can be creative and explorative, while still allowing him to complete each song without being dragged into the abyss of possibilities of sounds.

This idea of finishing a song is something he stressed is an incredibly important part of his creative process. Even if the elements are not there yet, even if he didn't find the right bass line, even if the song isn't good, he must finish it. Completing a song is necessary for building the muscle memory of how to do it so that when a good song comes along, you know how to finish it. He shared that he thinks one of the issues many artists have is completing songs, often spending a long time on one element that is not quite right or putting the song aside for later when a better idea might come along, and then never coming back to something that could be great. I know I have suffered the same thing in my own photography, often having a good concept for an image but perhaps not completing it in the postproduction phase because it wasn't working out the way I envisioned. I think Jack is right, there is a lot of value in working through something and forcing yourself to not get stuck, even if your initial passion for the idea has changed. You learn something in the process that you wouldn't have if you just gave up. At the same time, I can understand that in this life where we have a finite amount of time, it's hard to convince yourself to keep working on an idea when you don't feel as excited about it. But then again, if you're training for a marathon, you need to complete those long training runs, even if you sucked that day and your time was terrible, just finishing each one of those long runs helps you complete the marathon on race day.  If creativity is a muscle, I think Jack is onto something.

Explore Jack Barrile's (aka Blugazer) music: Website: https://www.blugazer.com/ Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/blugazer FB: Blugazer

Up the stairs from Bar Lunatico, Rosita Kess' creative space by annaandthelens

There are rare occasions in life when you meet people for the first time and they open up to you without a moment of hesitation. These people are unafraid to show their vulnerability to you even if you are a stranger to them. And then, in those moments, the invisible social barrier that exists between all of us fades and you talk like two human beings who have nothing to fear. I walked into Bar Lunatico to meet Rosita Kess. Rosita is a wonderful musician, a dedicated mom, as well as the owner and co-founder of this incredible music bar in Bed Stuy. She greeted me warmly and led me through the back of the bar and up the stairs to the apartment where she lives with Richard Julian (co-owner and founder of Bar Lunatico) and their five year old son Floyd. We sat down to talk and she said "Ask me anything. I am an open book." And that is how we began.

Rosita is originally from Venice, Italy, but she is a wanderer at heart. She has lived in Berlin, Paris, Barcelona, London, New Orleans until finally settling on New York. She carries with her a zest for life, love and creativity, as well as a European understanding of the importance of appreciating time.

Walking into her home, you can see African art and musical instruments everywhere, and I wanted to know where it all originated for her. She said it probably started when she would travel to Kenya with her mother as a little girl. Her mom was a member of Doctors without Borders and  she would travel to Africa for weeks and months at a time, often with Rosita joining her. Her first trip was when she was 3 years old and she vividly remembers how these trips stayed with her. The music, the rhythm, the sounds, all entered her subconsciousness, and while she always felt them on an instinctual level, she never explored it in her own songwriting until now. She is currently in the process of working on a new record, a departure from her previous work and an exploration into the African music and influences that have captivated her mind since she was a little girl.

I asked her about her creative process, wondering how different it was to work on this record vs her previous ones and she shared that this one in particular came after a few years of not writing a single song. There were personal struggles that she was experiencing that had consumed her to the point that she was unable to be creative and then, when it felt like she could no longer take the pain she was experiencing, something broke inside her and everything began to flow. Between February and May of this year she wrote 25 songs. She said this process of pent up emotions brewing until the dam breaks is common in her songwriting. Whether its her body's defense mechanism or a vehicle for creativity, this is her process.

The way she started to write this time was by picking up the mbira, an African instrument often referred to as a thumb-piano.  She began collaborating with Tiga Jean Baptiste , jamming together and exploring different rhythms and sounds until one day she came home inspired to write her first song. Later she assembled an incredible team of musicians to play on her record, many of whom have passed through the doors of Bar Lunatico. Although she usually has specific arrangements in mind, this time, she wanted to leave room for the artists to contribute their ideas to the record.

I asked Rosita what it must be like to be a musician and constantly hear other musicians play. She said it is both incredible and difficult at times. It's hard not to measure your music to the incredible calibre of talent that plays at Bar Lunatico, and at the same time, this beautiful music fills you with such inspiration and a continual desire to create, how can you not be thankful for that?! I would be remiss if I did not point out how truly special Bar Lunatico is. From the physical space itself, to the decor and of course the diverse lineup - this places breathes music. You feel it when you walk in from the genuine appreciation and care that is given to the musicians. It is so very rare to find a place like this, even in a city like New York. Rosita said sometimes when she's working, people come up to her and suddenly hug her, thanking her for opening up this place.

Explore Rosita Kess' music: Website: www.rositakess.com Instagram: www.instagram.com/Roskess

A creative collaboration in Brooklyn: Kendra Morris and Jeremy Page by annaandthelens

One Thursday afternoon a few weeks ago, Kendra invited me to join her and her producer / co-writer, Jeremy Page, at his studio in Bushwick where they write and collaborate on music. I had photographed Kendra in her home (the place where many of her ideas originate) but this studio is an integral part of her creative process. She keeps dozens of journals with song ideas and lyrics (a habit she formed ever since she started journaling at the age of 13), and in these journals she often writes out ideas for a song, edits them, writes out new ones, and then copies over the refined song on a fresh page. She brings these ideas to Jeremy and, together with his help, they flesh out the music and create the soulful and sultry sound that she is known for.

When I asked Kendra how she started working with Jeremy, she shared that she came across his production from another musician (a friend and patron of the Library Bar where she used to work). When she heard his sound, she knew she wanted to work with him. And so she did. For the last 9 years, Kendra and Jeremy have kept a steady weekly writing session, finding in each other a perfect balance of sounds and artistic aesthetic. It is here in this studio, the basement apartment of a townhouse in Bushwick, that they truly get to create.

When I walked in, Kendra and Jeremy were in the process of tracking a newly written song that was dedicated to a good friend of theirs who had passed away suddenly. They had written the song over the course of a single session just two days after they found out about their friend's death. They had both cried as they wrote it.

Kendra walked inside the vocal booth and I followed. They were going to do a few runs so I knew I had some time to photograph before the camera shutter clicking had to stop. This was my first time inside the booth while someone was singing (for obvious reasons, most of the time you try to avoid extra sounds). I crammed myself into a corner, only 2 feet away from Kendra, and waited. She had headphones on but I couldn't hear the music. I could only hear the sound of her voice.

While Kendra is in the booth, Jeremy is behind the board, giving suggestions and guiding the takes until they know they have it. He has expertly arranged the song so that the process is seamless. It's a unique collaboration and one that I imagine is not very easy to find.

The thing about Kendra is that, when she sings, is she gives it her absolute freaking all. Her entire body is activated and she uses it to help convey the precise emotion needed in that part of the song. It's incredibly entrancing to watch and you can feel the energy flow from her core, through her hands and out of her voice.

How incredible to be a witness to the moment of creation! To see two artists interweave their craft and create beautiful music together. Loved every minute of it.

Explore Kendra Morris’s music: Website: Kendra Morris Spotify: Kendra Morris FB: Kendra Morris


Niall Connolly and a railroad apartment in Park Slope by annaandthelens

Most songwriters I have come across know Niall Connolly and it's no surprise. He's been leading the Big City Folk Club for nearly 10 years, it's a song circle known for its excellent quality of musicianship and camaraderie. He's a dedicated and tireless member of the NYC music scene striving to create a community where musicians can bring their songs and open them up for other songwriters to hear and offer feedback. I asked him why he's been doing it all these years (after all, it's not an easy feat to organize these biweekly events especially when venues change and the sign up has to be done in advance), and he said that back in Cork (where he's from), you would go to parties and a guitar would be passed around, giving each person a chance to play a tune. There, the culture of music and an appreciation for sharing that music with others, created a community and an audience of friends and fellow musicians. When he moved to New York eleven years ago, he missed that community and wanted to build one here. And so he did, to great thanks from the musicians of this city!

Niall's creative space is his home, an apartment in Park Slope that he shares with his wife, Clare, an art teacher. It's a vast railroad style apartment that stretches the span of the building, with windows on both sides and high prewar ceilings. His writing spot is the desk in his bedroom. A corner where he sits down with a cup of coffee and a guitar in hand and works on his craft.

When I asked Niall about where his inspiration comes from, he said he used to write a lot from personal experiences but now, his creative process has changed. He's on the road a lot, touring by himself, and he finds the road gives him a lot of opportunities to listen. When he's traveling, he has the opportunity to meet new people and hear their stories. This is where he derives his inspiration from nowadays.

I am always curious about the types of stories a musician is most drawn to telling. As artists, songwriters, photographers, we all strive to tell human stories that make us feel - whether it's joy or sadness or an empathy for the human condition. Sometimes it seems like the darkness in humanity is the most powerful story to tell because its full of raw emotions. One of the beautiful things about Niall's music, is that despite the darkness, there is a glimmer of hope. A search for the belief that human beings can be better than their circumstances. Those are the stories that Niall tells so masterfully. In his songs, there is a message of urgency, to turn life around, to make it better because that is what the human condition demands of us. To keep going despite and in spite of it all.

Niall has this incredible line in one of his older songs which has stuck with me ever since I first heard it: "We are just skin and bones without love." And damn, what greater truth can be said?

Niall is releasing a new album this Friday called "DreamYour Way Out of This One" and has just begun his tour around Ireland. I hope he finds more beautiful tales on the road...

Explore Niall Connolly's music: Website: Niall Connolly Spotify: Niall Connolly FB: Niall Connolly Music






Scarlet Sails' Artist Collective in Morningside Heights by annaandthelens

A few months ago, I walked into Olya and Brian's (of the Scarlet Sails) house in Morningside Heights, a beautiful 5 story building, the kind you picture as being representative of old New York: a sweeping staircase leading up flights of stairs, a kitchen located on the 2nd floor, and bathrooms featuring that quintessential black and white New York tile. The story of the building itself was rather unusual, owned by Columbia University, the building was actually leased in the 70s to one of the university clubs (I believe it was a language club), and the woman who originally leased it has held on to the building despite Columbia University's attempts to retake it. Over the years, the building grew into the hub of an artist community, attracting artists, sculptors, musicians and other creatives. Although the house has had a rotating roster of artists, the apartment itself didn't become what it was until Brian moved in over 10 years ago and started carving out the main living room as a creative space, filling it with instruments and music.

Olya Viglione, is the main songwriter of the band, Scarlet Sails, and her husband, Brian Viglione, is the drummer and co-songwriter. It was so interesting to learn about their creative collaboration and witness the different ways they go about approaching new musical ideas. Often, Olya brings the initial lyrical or song idea to Brian who then fleshes out the structure and dynamics of the song. Olya is a Russian-conservatory trained pianist, who, after years of studying the classics, found that she couldn't stay within the confines of classical music, always gravitating to sounds that are very different, following unusual scales and chord patterns. When she talked about songwriting, she expressed thinking of the movements in terms of colors, finding a specific shade of color in the chords to convey the feeling.

Brian is the first drummer I shot in the Creative Spaces series, and I was curious to learn about what the process of songwriting is like for him. Given that drummers play so many instruments at the same time, for me it was impossible to understand where do they start? Brian explained that a lot of it is hearing the sound, visualizing the mood and accessing the dynamics that encapsulate where the song is going to go. Interesting enough, when it came to describing the music, he also spoke about visualizing the song through the framework of colors, each one representing a mood.

When Olya began to play a newly written song, Brian started breaking down the drum composition, allowing the tension in the song to form at first, then bringing in certain rhythmic elements to accent the darkness of the piece. But, he explained, as the lyrics move the song, you don't want the drums to drown out the lyrics, so you find the sounds most complimentary to the vocals, the words, and the rest of the song.

It was interesting to hear about the complimentary nature of their respective creative processes, Brian was very detail oriented, while Olya was more intuitive and explorative. When she writes, it can start anywhere, with either lyrics or melodies or all at once. For Brian, when he hears the start of a song, he visualizes a library of sounds, finding reference points in his mind, and then creates something unique that flows with the song. Despite these divergent approaches, when they were jamming, the music flowed like a river, seamless and fluid.

Explore Scarlet Sails’s music: Website: Scarlet Sails Spotify: Scarlet Sails IG: Scarlet Sails

Singer Songwriter Alana Amram and Her Bushwick Cabin by annaandthelens

I photographed Alana Amram back in March and I am so thankful that I had the opportunity to meet her and see her incredible creative space. Alana is such a warm and open person that immediately upon meeting her you feel included in her world. Alana lives in a space in Bushwick that embodies what I think of when I think of an artist's loft. It contains all the creative elements that are ripe for inspiration. She shares the space with her brother (who is also the drummer in her band, Alana Amram and the Rough Gems) as well as an incredible artist, Adam DePalma, whose paintings line the walls of the loft.  Since the loft is located above a nightclub, there is never an issue of making too much sound - the loft is equipped with a full drum kit, thus making it possible to rehearse with a full band and host late night jam sessions into the wee hours.

Alana's creative space is her bedroom, a small lofted wooden room built by hand within this larger loft. When you're in it, you feel like you're camping in a cabin in the woods. Before she starts working on her music, she usually lights some candles, giving the entire space a warm glow. When I asked about how ideas for songs come to her, she said often they come in her dreams and she wakes up startled, grabbing her phone to record them before they're gone forever.

After lighting some candles, Alana grabbed her guitar and I set myself up with my camera. I must admit that being an observer of someone while they're working on new songs is an incredibly intimate process. It's raw and tender. I understand that I am an intruder although I try my hardest to be a fly on the wall without disrupting the flow.

As I write this, Alana is the process of moving to LA where she will rejoin her other band, Death Valley Girls, and head-out on tour around the States. Excited to see what musical adventures await!

Explore Alana Amram's music: Website: https://alanaamram.bandcamp.com/ FB: https://www.facebook.com/ALANAAMRAM IG: https://www.instagram.com/alanainstagramram/

"The Point of Inspiration" with composer and songwriter Joy Askew by annaandthelens

I met up with composer and songwriter Joy Askew on a Sunday afternoon in her Bed Stuy apartment where she's lived for the last 9 years.  Joy is originally from Newcastle, England but has lived in New York since coming here in the 80's. Joy's creative space is her bedroom; she converted it into a studio with her piano, keys, and various recording equipment sharing the space with a bed and dresser. Joy's most recent record, Queen Victoria, was inspired by a memory from her childhood when she was a young girl and heard the sound of a brass band playing in the distance as it was approaching her home. This figment of an idea later came to take shape in the form of an album. Joy composed the album with a brass band in mind and was able to travel to England to record the 30-piece Brighouse & Rastrick Band. A "flock of birds" coming together to create an incredible sound.

When we spoke about inspiration and creativity and how Joy gets her ideas, she shared that usually there's a spark of an idea and sometimes it's just a matter of following it down the rabbit hole. There is always a concept to her albums. Some of her prior albums were inspired by the specific tuning of Joni Mitchell's guitar or the deconstruction of famous jazz songs which lead to the downbeat electrojazz album she worked on with multiinstrumentalist, Takuya Nakamura. Regardless of the idea, there is an effortless and spontaneous nature to her creativity, one that she allows to form without questioning its connection to her established path or sound.

Before ending our session, Joy mentioned something that I have not been able to get out of my head ever since. When she was asked to deliver a songwriting lecture at Berklee College of Music on the topic of what makes a good chorus, she analyzed her top 50 songs across the decades to come up with the elements that made these choruses successful. After all, she said, it is usually in the chorus that you can find the point of inspiration for the song. Perhaps to most musicians this is not news, but to me it was an incredible discovery. To think that you can find the nugget for the song in the chorus, was like unlocking the viewfinder into the songwriter's head.

Why am I so interested in this idea? Because it feels like the key to understanding art.  Not by asking the artist (especially when we don't often have the chance to do so) but by experiencing the art itself.

For me, my point of inspiration for this project is inspiration itself. Where is creativity derived from? I don't know what my ultimate goal is in this search for inspiration, but perhaps if you know the path of creativity you can somehow tap into it. Without art and beauty and inspiration, we're just skin and bones and blood (thanks Niall). Bodies in motion instead of beings.

Explore Joy Askew’s music: Website: Joy Askew FB: Joy Askew IG: @JoyAskewMusic



Multi-instrumentalist Clark Gayton in his creative space in South Bronx by annaandthelens

Anyone who knows Clark always describes him as a NY legend, and it's no wonder. He's been living in NY for over 30 years and is considered one of the finest musicians and has been playing with some of the most renowned musicians for decades. Clark lives in an apartment that is located in a converted piano factory. The area of the Bronx that he lives in, Mott Haven, used to be a hub for piano factories.

In his sun-drenched and open space, he has instruments laid out all around. Varieties of horns, tubas, trombones, a sousaphone, as well as pianos, bass guitar, and so many others, all within easy reach.  He picks up an instrument depending on what mood he is in and walks around his apartment playing it. The tuba he turns to when he wants to feel better, he says something about the act of playing it is soothing.

We spoke about how he started playing and composing music and he shared that his first instrument was the tuba. He began playing in his school band when he was 12 years old and at his teacher’s encouragement, he composed his first song that same year. Later, also at his teacher's encouragement,  the band perform his composition. It was the first time he got to hear his own composition and he was surprised at which parts worked and which mistakes actually sounded better than the originals he wrote.

Nowadays, he composes songs in pieces, keeping a stash of ideas that he turns to later on. Sometimes his get inspired from hearing songs on the street. It could be two different songs with different rhythms and melodies playing at the same time, one from a bodega and the other from a car; the blending of sounds breathes life to a new song idea. NYC noise suddenly becomes ripe with inspiration.

Explore Clark Gayton’s music: Website: Clark Gayton FB: Clark Gayton

Multi-instrumentalist Treya Lam in her Bushwick apt by annaandthelens

I came as a stranger into Treya's home and I left with a feeling like I knew someone. The truth is I am constantly reminded in this project that it’s only as good as the openness of the artist and the connection we share.

Treya Lam is a multi instrumentalist - a classically trained pianist, she began playing guitar and viola later in life.  She originally grew up in Long Island, and has lived in her Bushwick apartment for 6 years. When I walked into her space, it was a beautiful and peaceful place where you could feel the serenity emanating from the room. Talking to Treya, I felt that same  thing coming from her.

She let me know that she rarely invites people over to her place, but a part of her wanted to capture the space that she loves so much to remember it as it is. I felt honored that she decided to share her home with me and let me document her process.

When we spoke about how ideas come to her, she told me that they really begin all sorts of ways, sometimes as song lyrics, sometimes as melodies. She stores these ideas and comes back to them, occasionally years later when she feels the song has come to her. When she played her music for me, she immersed herself in the song and it was in that moment that I took perhaps one of my favorite shots of the series so far.

Treya is working on her first album and I’m excited to have a listen once it comes out. You can check out her music:

 Explore Treya Lam's music: Website: http://www.treyamakesmusic.com/ IG: @treyamakesmusic



Sound Engineer Will Hensley in his Williamsburg home studio by annaandthelens

If you're a NY musician, you probably met Will already so no introductions are needed!

For the rest of you, Will Hensley is an incredible musician and sound engineer. He has worked with many of New York’s musicians, either playing or mixing and mastering their music. I was excited to work with him because I really wanted to know more about his creative process and how his finely tuned ear allows him to take an artist’s vision for a song and make it happen. I only wish it would be possible to get inside his head to hear what he's hearing!

Will lives in an apartment in Williamsburg, BK and works mainly out of his bedroom. This is his creative space. He said he used to work out of a studio that he rented but realized there was no point in doing so when he could do the same work out of his home. He sound proofed his room including his closet to allow him to record different instruments in there (leaving only a small sliver of space for his shirts to hang). The rest of his space is minimal, with only a bed, and the rest is taken up by engineering equipment and instruments (some of which he made himself!).

He was working on a new mix for an artist while we were photographing, and as the song played in the background, he grabbed the guitar and started playing along, creating and improvising a beautiful melody to go along with the song. You could feel his complete immersion in it.

Here's how you can find Will Hensley: Website: http://wahproductions.com/ Email: will@wahproductions.com

Dmitry Wild in his Kew Gardens home studio by annaandthelens

This is how the series began…

On a cold winter night, sometime in early January, I photographed Dmitry Wild in his Kew Gardens basement studio. He lives in the apartment upstairs with his wife and son, but has access to this part of the house and thus has made it his private getaway from the bustle of family life. He comes here to write, or play music, or paint, and I wanted to photograph him in his element.

For those that don’t know, Dmitry is my brother. I have grown up listening to him write songs and play guitar. It was with him that I witnessed the process of a song being written and I got accustomed to the fixated stare he would get when an idea would come and he needed to work it out on his guitar. It always fascinated me to see the song in process, only to hear the final version later.

The truth is when I first started this project, it developed very organically. I did not have a set idea of what I was looking for besides wanting to photograph musicians in their creative spaces. I did not prepare a set of questions to ask or really thought much about how I wanted to portray the musicians. I just wanted to be in their space and talk to the musicians and let inspiration do the rest.

When I asked Dmitry about his process, he told me about how ideas come to him. Sometimes its a line or combination of words that gets stuck in his head and he starts singing them to himself until the lyrics emerge. Sometimes its a riff or a melody that he finds while picking on the guitar. Most of the time, he’s writing about his own life experiences, with the hope that someone listening has had a shared experience and will relate.

Aside from publishing a memoir and a book of poetry, Dmitry is currently working on a project helping to compose the music for a Hamlet-inspired Rock Opera called Mouth Trap. He also has his main Dmitry Wild project, an electro-rock project called WoW. You can check out his music below:

Explore Dmitry Wild's music: Website: Dmitry Wild IG: @dmitrywild MouthTrap project



How the "Creative Spaces of NYC Musicians" series began... by annaandthelens

Almost six months have passed since I started working on the Creative Spaces of NYC Musicians photo series, and now I have come to realize that the project needs a voice and a place where that voice can be heard! This blog is my own space where I can explore the ideas of creativity in a deeper way and highlight some of the wonderful artists of New York City and what inspires them to compose. I think I should start at the beginning - how I came to start working on the series. To say that I had it all planned out would be lying. It has very much been a work in progress, changing its shape and incorporating new ideas as they come. I have always been fascinated by the phenomenon of inspiration and the form it takes. What sparks an idea? Where does this elusive thing come from? How much does the space that we occupy inform our creativity?

I wanted to work with musicians because well...I love music. To me, music is the most visceral art form, it has the capacity to make people feel in such a powerful way, it's effect is undeniable. I have always grown up with musicians in my family, and later went on to marry a musician, so in some ways my life has always had a soundtrack. Given this experience, I have always loved watching new songs be written (even now as I write this my husband is writing a song 3 feet away from me). To hear the spark of an idea, a nugget that sounds like it could become something, develop in front of you, is fascinating.

And the spaces part? That came about because living in New York means that space is a highly prized commodity!  The city can be so overwhelming with its energy, that each one of us struggles to establish a small slice of peace in our home where we can let down our city guard and be ourselves. Because our living quarters are small, NYC is a city where people often go out, rather than meet in their homes. As a result, we don't often get to see each other's private spaces.

This project has changed that for me and I feel incredibly honored for the opportunity to be welcomed into the homes and intimate corners where musicians write and work on their craft. The conversations I end up having and the raw moments that they share with me is a gift I cannot repay. I only hope that through the images in the Creative Spaces series, I can share their talent and their world with others.