Many a crowd-funding campaign video has cleverly toyed with a basic format of graphics and talking heads. But cellist Anna Fritz and filmmaker friend David Waingarten took a more cinematic approach to her Kickstarter video, presenting her song “The Gospel of Tree Bark” as a mythical tale set in the woods — a mini film rather than a plea for money. Fritz exceeded her funding goal last August, and subsequently recorded her newest album, of which “The Gospel of Tree Bark” is the title track. She’s promoting it with a West Coast tour through living rooms, Quaker meeting houses and even a boxcar that brings her to Orange Grove Friends Meeting house Friday night.
Most of the songs were written in a cabin in southern Oregon, where Fritz says she was “heavily influenced” by her forest surroundings: “It felt like the songs that came were from the earth around me.”
Her album also offers her cello-driven take on Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ murderous “Caleb Meyer,” and a version of “The Water is Wide” that’s notably more provocative than the traditional English ballad: “When my love was a boy he learned the story/ That his female frame would tell to the world…”
“‘The Water is Wide’ has always been beautiful to me,” she says. “I applied it to a particular situation in my life with somebody that I really cared about who is transgender, about his whole journey of dealing with his gender identity. I spent some time being in love with someone who is trans, so I became part of that community. There’s this whole subset of the queer community that’s trans folks who are misunderstood and discriminated against even within queer culture. [The song] was an attempt to help humanize and understand trans folk as much as I can understand it.”
Composing or performing, Fritz’s main instrument remains the cello. Classical training taught her to make “only one note at a time,” but fellow Portland cellist Gideon Freudmann inspired her to experiment with chords and strum the cello like a guitar. “That blew open my songwriting ability,” she says. “I started seeing the cello as a chord-based instrument as I never had before, and that made it possible to create song structures and not just a melody. It made it more possible to accompany myself singing too.”
Fritz is best known for her work with the Portland Cello Project, with whom she’s accustomed to playing symphony halls and festivals. She purposely chose more relaxed “community-based” settings for the concerts on this tour. “It feels appropriate for these songs,” she explains. “They’re about a more internal, making-peace-within-yourself kind of subject matter. I wanted to bring them into an environment that’s a lot more intimate.”
Anna Fritz performs with her trio at Orange Grove Friends Meeting house, 520 E. Orange Grove Blvd., Pasadena, 7 p.m. Friday, May 31; admission’s free though donations to the artists will be accepted. Call (626) 792-6223. annafritz.com, ogmm.org