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Annie Kemble finds her musical inspiration in film drama

A black and white headshot of Annie Kemble
Megan Ruth (@meganruthphotography)
Annie Kemble, IPR's Artist of the Month for March, released her debut last fall.

Des Moines-based artist Annie Kemble combines soul, jazz, and funk in her music. In an interview with IPR, she reflects on her debut release and prepares for what comes next.

Dive Bar, the debut release from Des Moines musician Annie Kemble, has five songs and a couple of non-musical interludes that sound like they’re from a movie script. This technically makes the album an EP, or “extended play” release. Kemble is very aware of this, but as she says, "I'm just dramatic," and calls it an album.

Kemble's music style

It’s hard to imagine a more appropriately-titled release than Dive Bar. The jazz- and soul-influenced music, combined with Kemble’s amazing voice and flair for the dramatic, create an experience that will instantly transport you to your favorite dive bar or other home away from home. The album also serves as an homage to the music Kemble listened to while growing up.

“I drew a lot of inspiration from the songs I was singing in the dive bars that I sang at,” said Kemble. “A lot of them are directly inspired by covers I did with the band I worked with. The whole energy of the album, I wanted to pay homage to dive bars, and give people a glimpse into who I am, and give an introduction to me as a singer and as an artist.”

Annie Kemble sings while the band Birdie Pie plays behind her in IPR's studios.
Tony Dehner
Annie Kemble and Birdie Pie visited IPR's studios to perform some songs from her new EP.

In addition to performing in cover bands, Kemble also studied music at The School for Music Vocations, at Southwestern Community College in Creston. The experience prepared her for a music career in more ways than one.

“I’m from Panora, which is tiny, and Creston is also tiny but it seemed huge. It was like ‘There’s a Walmart here!’” said Kemble. “It was a great transition before coming to Des Moines, and I learned a lot about all kinds of music things that I never even imagined.”

Despite her own training with arranging and playing several instruments, Kemble brought in Iowa-based musician and arranger Erik Jarvis to produce Dive Bar. “I can kind of communicate what I want because I have a little bit of training in those areas, but Erik is way better at arranging than I am,” said Kemble. “I took classes on it, but I was never very good at the theory stuff. I like performing!”

Musical influences

Kemble is also a big movie buff, and readily acknowledges movies' influence on her music. “I love movies. I don’t have the attention span for TV shows. I like how movies get right down to it, there’s not much filler stuff,” said Kemble. “I love lots of film noir and old Hollywood stuff. That was another big inspiration for this album, the kind of noir, ‘whodunit’ vibe, which I think I want to keep going with.”

Meet Annie Kemble

In fact, not long before our interview, Kemble rewatched one of her favorite films: The Lady From Shanghai, released in 1947, directed by Orson Welles and starring Rita Hayworth. “There’s so much lore and drama around it,” said Kemble. “The lead actress was dating the director, and the movie got all cut up in post. That kind of stuff is so cool to learn about. I wrote a song about that movie, so we’ll see how that ends up.”

Musical collaborations

Kemble performed in the IPR studios recently with the Des Moines band Birdie Pie. She’s appeared with them on several occasions, both at her own shows and theirs. Kemble calls these collaborations “super important.”

“In the genre I’m in, with playing kind of jazz-based music, I think it’s really important to collaborate with other artists,” said Kemble. “I love to play piano, but I know I’m not the best pianist in the world, so it’s really cool to be able to take a back seat and let other people shine.”

Another one of Kemble’s regular collaborators is the Des Moines rapper B.Well, who’s featured Kemble in a couple of his songs. “Mine,” from his album Billy, features Kemble and is B.Well’s most streamed song. “Every time I get to perform with [B.Well], it’s a good time, and that song got a lot of love, so it’s fun to hear people still listen to that,” said Kemble.

One of Kemble’s performances with B.Well was during his set at last year’s 80/35 festival, and this year, she has her own slot at the festival. “I’m so pumped,” said Kemble. “I’m really excited to get live stuff going, and create a full show and have it be an immersive experience that’s all my own music. I’ve never had a festival time slot with my own name on it. I love 80/35, and it’s an honor to get to play there.”

Annie Kemble sings into a microphone in the foreground while BWell can be seen out of focus in the background.
Andrew Clements (@priceofahug)
Annie Kemble performing with B.Well at Wooly's in Des Moines.

What comes next

Aside from preparing for her 80/35 appearance, Kemble is hard at work on her next album, titled Pink Limousine, which she hopes will be done before the end of the year. “I want to do a fuller length album,” said Kemble. “I want to do more interludes and tell more stories, and kind of continue on with the story of who I am and where I’m going.”

Musically, she expects the next album to explore new territory. “I think ‘Movie’ was the funkiest [song on the first EP], or a step into funky,” said Kemble. “On Pink Limousine, I’m hoping to do a couple more funky songs, and I’m adding more of a bossanova, Latin feel. Kind of flamenco guitar, castanet-y, dramatic-type stuff.”

Before you go...

Dive Bar is available on Bandcamp and major streaming services. Kemble’s scheduling shows for the rest of the year, but if you catch one of her performances, don’t expect to grab a drink with her after the show.

“Honestly, after I get done with my set, I’m usually going to get food,” said Kemble. “I’m actually going to Big Tomato next door to get some pizza. If I did have a drink, it would just be a seltzer or something. I’m kind of boring.”

And, if you're dying to know, here are Kemble's Top 5 Film Noir movies:

  1. The Lady From Shanghai
  2. Gilda
  3. Sunset Boulevard ("I saw it at the Varsity Cinema recently - I'm so glad that theatre re-opened!!!")
  4. Some Like It Hot
  5. Se7en

Annie Kemble is IPR’s Artist of the Month for March. Learn more about IPR's Artist of the Month series here.

Music News Iowa Artist of the Month
Tony Dehner is a Studio One Host