Anne Hills:
finding a voice for her dreams

An interview by Tom Knapp,
February 1998

Writing a song is like having a baby. Anne Hills knows. She's done both. "Talk to 20 mothers and you'll hear about 20 different deliveries," she said. "You'll talk to some mothers who lost a child, so they really nurtured and cared for this one. Then some mothers had a really easy delivery. Forty minutes and it's done."

Hills' songs come the same way. "It's a process which can be very painful. You have to work at it," she explained. "And sometimes you sit down and in 30 minutes you have a song. I can't explain it." Hills' musical roots are in big band and jazz. While those styles helped define her singing style -- she's been favorably compared to vocal legend Judy Collins -- she couldn't latch onto the words. "I veered away from that style because of the vocal content," said Hills, who found her niche in the Chicago folk scene. "One song after another about love just didn't interest me. I prefer writing about life."

And life isn't just hearts and roses. "I guess what interests me most is how human beings deal with adversity," she said. "How they deal with political conflicts, how they deal with spiritual conflicts -- how they deal with life." That explains why Hills sings about subjects like depression, community service and AIDS. "I write about what I'm thinking about," she explained. "That's really true of anyone -- which I guess is why people in their 20s write a lot more love songs."

Hills, who lives in Bethlehem with her husband and daughter, isn't quite as starry-eyed as some of her younger counterparts in the music business. In fact, sometimes she wishes she could loosen up a little and write music with not quite so much conscience. "Music can be just entertainment," she said. "You can be very playful with it. It has the power to lift people out of depression, and maybe that's all the purpose needs to be. "I've tried to be playful. It's hard. It's hard for me not to bring that weighty consciousness to my music. But I tell ya, when I hear someone do it well, I just go nuts for it. I love that."

An actor, poet and children's writer as well as musician, she's currently pursuing a master's degree in social work. "I'm going to get that degree before I'm 50," she said firmly. "How's that for a loose goal? It gives me a good six, seven years." Education doesn't interfere with her music -- Hills still is touring at at least three weekends per month -- but it's become a major focus in her life. "Going back to school is always a good thing," she said. "And when I went back to school, my writing increased. I had more fodder, more things to bring to it. "The degree is something I'm working towards the same way people work towards living in the house they want to live in or finding a person to spend their lives with. I don't know how much I'll use it once I get it, but I'm enjoying the process. Education is never wasted."

If nothing else, it's reignited her childlike wonder in the world. "When I really started working at it, I realized how little I know," Hills said. "Things become new to you, colors are brighter. You're constantly surprised by how varied and wonderful the world is, how wonderful people are and nature is."

[ by Tom Knapp ]