It's an unseasonably brisk June night when I meet up with Ana Asnes Becker at a tavern beneath the elevated subway. She's just gotten off work at the Wall Street Journal, where she designs and develops interactive graphics for their website and we've shifted boroughs to Brooklyn. But, then again, traversing New York is nothing new for her. "I've always had at least one foot in the city," she tells me. "I was born in Manhattan and lived there for a while. My folks split up. My dad moved to Park Slope and my mom did a bit of a suburb hop. So, I commuted between Brooklyn and the suburbs."
There's no more commuting, and she's maximizing that extra time, performing solo as well as with her two bands, City Mice and Fruit & Flowers. "City Mice," she explains, "is kind of my baby. I write all the material. I would call our stuff power pop but with a bit of an edge. It's like we're a punk band that plays pop songs. But it's not pop punk. It's the opposite of pop punk. It's punk pop."
As for Fruit & Flowers, "We're a brand spankin' new band, fronted by my friend Caroline Yoder. All of us are songwriters." As result, there's an interesting blend of voices and sounds. She tells me it's "garage-y rock," but with a bunch of variety. "We've got a little psych flavor in there, we've got a little surf flavor in there, we've got a little post-punk flavor in there. Everything's kind of dark and sexy and rockin'."
I ask how she became interested in music; she starts talking about a record store. "It was in Park Slope, on fifth avenue between first and second streets. I think it's a laundromat now, a fancy dry-cleaner kind. At one point, I had to get a birthday present for a friend of mine. It was freshman year of high school. So I would have been thirteen still—I'm a baby for my grade. I went into the record store and this guy, Josh, he was like, 'Well, what does your friend listen to?' I said, 'I don't know. He likes Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd'—you know, classic rock bands. So Josh was like, 'Give him this... but you should listen to it first.' He sold me Marquee Moon by Television. And I listened to it and I was like, 'Holy. Shit. Music can sound like this?' I grew up on the Beatles and I was listening to classic rock as you do in high school and it just blew my mind. So I gave it to my friend. I don't know if he liked it or not.
"But I went back to the record store and, the second time, this guy named Nick was behind the counter and I told him, 'I've just heard Marquee Moon and it was amazing. What else should I listen to?' He gave me Gang of Four's Entertainment. And after that, I was just done. What I thought music had been was only an insignificantly tiny fraction—and I need to know what music is. That's how I got hooked."
Here's what she brought to show us:
THE STANDBY – 1965 Holiday Bobkat
"I think Harmony briefly made guitars branded as Holiday at some point in the sixties. I got it at Southside Guitars on Grand Street in the neighborhood. I like those guys. It's the first guitar that I ever bought for myself, at least in part (my mom pitched in for my birthday. Thanks, mom!). I started playing guitar when I was thirteen and my dad had just been diagnosed with cancer. Before I bought myself this guitar, all of my guitars were ones that I inherited from my dad. Except for my first guitars—a mini acoustic and a Squier he got for me to learn on.
"I started playing out a lot and I wanted to have a guitar that if I broke it, it wouldn't break my heart. All of the ones that are connected to my dad are pretty priceless to me—very priceless to me. And the idea that I'd be schlepping it around and maybe someone would spill a beer on it or someone would break the neck... you know, shit happens. I wanted to get myself a little insurance. But I've fallen in love with the Bobkat. It's amazingly friendly. It's really easy to play. It's also short-scale, which works because I'm short as fuck. It's tiny. It really fits me: It fits my size, it fits my personality. The pickups are really cool. They're gold-foil pickups, which is interesting. They're not Humbuckers or the standard Fender single coil. They sound really warm and nice. The Bobkat's become my best friend. I use it almost every day. This is the first night I haven't had band practice this week. So it's just me and Bobkat every day, hanging out. She's gorgeous, Bobkat. They're all girls. Even Ol' Blue. Ol' Blue's a girl, too."
THE SPECIALIST – Steinberger m series
"The Steinberger used to be my standby but I had to retire it for sentimental reasons to keep it safe. It's one of the ones I inherited from my dad. It's a headless guitar, kind of goofy-looking. For certain things, though, you just can't beat it. It's so responsive. It's begging you to shred on it. It's like, 'My action is so low. My neck is so thin. I'll do whatever you want me to do. Just shred on me.' So when I need to play the really notey parts, or if I'm recording and I'm soloing, a lot of times I'm using the Steinberger just because it's so sleek. You couldn't fuck up if you wanted to.
"When I think of guitars—oh, God, it's so corny. I sound like such a jerk—but it's like they have personalities. And the Steinberger's very submissive, in a sexy way. It doesn't argue with you. Other guitars I've got, they'll talk back to you. They'll be like, 'No. Don't bend that string that way.' You have to make concessions, or you have to understand it. But the Steinberger, it's like a dog with it's belly up. It just does the thing, whatever the thing is."
THE SENTIMENTAL FAVORITE – "ol' blue" – 1960s fender stratocaster
"This was my dad's. I remember very clearly him playing it. It's probably worth a lot of money because it's a strat from the sixties, but I couldn't ever sell it. I started playing guitar when my dad got sick and now his guitars are what I have left. They were so dear to his heart. I wanted to learn to play guitar so I could have something of my dad's that I would never lose, and now I do. So, I think his actual guitars are something I could never part with, especially the strat. He gave it to me shortly before he died and it was really meaningful to me that he did that. He trusted me with it. It was really special to him. He even named my brother Strat. That probably paints a pretty good picture.
"So I started learning to play guitar when he first got diagnosed and he lived for about a year and a half after that. So he was around long enough to see me start getting good, but not quite long enough to hear any songs I wrote. Sometimes I play that guitar and I look at my fingers and sometimes my fingers look similar to my dad's fingers. The way they move, and the shape, and the shapes they make on the guitar. And I think about his fingers playing on the same frets. The same exact frets. It's really a special thing. It's a lifeline."