It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since San Gabriel Valley native Anna Nalick signed a label deal with Columbia on the basis of a homemade demo of songs she’d been writing, and postponed college to work on an album that eventually became 2005’s “Wreck of the Day.” Advance single “Breathe (2 AM),” inspired partly by Jeff Buckley and released the year before, remains her signature song, a gripping, thematically linked trio of stories that unspool with the cinematic imagery and character of a film. Later certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America, it remains an uplifting anthem still heard on “Grey’s Anatomy” reruns and pop radio and is performed by many a singer-songwriter.
The more meaningful achievement is that Nalick, who grew up in Temple City and Glendora and attended school in Arcadia, wrote the album’s songs between the ages of 17 and 19. Delivered in a remarkably self-contained, insightful voice, “Wreck of the Day” was one of those albums that struck an enduring chord with girls on the cusp of womanhood as well as young women navigating a world that felt like it was being upended. The title track (“Drivin’ away from a wreck of the day and I’m thinkin’ ’bout callin’ on Jesus/ ’Cause love doesn’t hurt so I know I’m not fallin’ in love I’m just fallin’ to pieces”) became a minor hit, and thanks to “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Breathe (2 AM)” had a second successful run up the charts. Nalick toured heavily for four years.
The 2008 EP “Shine” appeared like a placeholder, with the new title tune augmented by acoustic versions of “Breathe,” “Wreck of the Day” and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Breaking the Girl.” Then … silence, as the industry grappled with corporate contortions and new music platforms and delivery mechanisms appeared and were replaced with disruptive regularity. The metrics that traditionally defined career success continually shifted; amidst the chaos, Nalick kept touring and independently released her next two albums, 2011’s “Broken Doll & Odds & Ends” and 2017’s crowdfunded “At Now.”
In between, the notably private artist studied creative writing at UCLA, got a divorce, studied Sanford Meisner’s acting technique for a year, acted in Scott Caan’s two-character play “100 Days of Yesterday,” and started digging into Americana and folk music. Also daubed with trip-hop and jazz, “At Now” reflects that exploration. Though her releases are few, Nalick says she is a prolific writer, and songs like the lilting “Pegs” (“I wanna feel all right”), the banjo- and fiddle-dancing “Bless My Soul” and piano ballad “All Through the Night” show her recalibrating and rebalancing, her poetic lyrics deepening. It’s an inspiring reset.
Anna Nalick headlines and Lauren Waller opens at The Rose at Paseo Colorado, 245 E. Green St., Pasadena, at 7 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 26; $20/$24/$28. Info: (888) 645-5006. annanalick.com, wheremusicmeetsthesoul.com