by Kurt B. Reighley
"Life's too short to get jaded. It's just one big miracle this life, it's gorgeous. Even when it's bad, it's gorgeous." – Little Annie ca. 1992
As befits a lady who once joked that her autobiography should be titled It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time, Little Annie always lives in the moment. As a result, her art feels both fresh and timeless, no matter where, when, or with whom she makes it.
Born Annie Bandez, she grew up in Yonkers, a New York City suburb two miles north and a world away from Manhattan. Movies and music—Sinatra and the Supremes, West Side Story and Song of Bernadette—stimulated her imagination and shaped her aesthetic.
At 16, Annie bid adieu to "the Sixth Borough" and dived headfirst into downtown New York's music scene. She lived at the Chelsea Hotel and went to the opening of Studio 54. A late '70s Suicide performance at CBGB's blew her rapidly-expanding little mind and taught her to never settle for mediocrity. After seeing her early outfit the Asexuals at Max's Kansas City in the late '70s, Frank Zappa raved about Annie to Songwriter magazine: "This girl was wearing winter underwear with a black leather coat on top of that, and she had a paper bag with a bottle of vodka in it … She was screaming about Thorazine and being in a mental hospital and it was real!" There's a lot more to that Zappa quote. Google it, please. That's the great thing about Little Annie: every time you read about her, or see her one of her paintings, or listen to her sing, you discover something new.
Following a chance meeting with CRASS guitarist Steve Ignorant, Annie accepted his invitation to visit England, where two weeks became a month and eventually thirteen years. Whilst living at CRASS' commune in Epping Forest, she cut her first single as Annie Anxiety. Created with Penny Rimbaud, Barbed Wire Halo (1981) boasts a pair of claustrophobic tape-loop collages interlaced with Annie's unnerving vocals.
From there she entered the orbit of UK dub innovator and On-U Sound label boss Adrian Sherwood. "I kept hearing about this madman who was doing 60-hour sessions," Annie later recalled."Adrian and I met, and within half an hour, I was doing 60-hour sessions with him, too." She soon moved in his converted garden shed and became "Auntie" Annie to his children.
Working with Sherwood, his wife Kishi Yamamoto, members of Tackhead, and the extended On-U Sound family, Annie crafted three remarkable albums— Soul Possession (1984), Jackamo (1987) and Short and Sweet(1992)—that stir deep reggae grooves, leftfield electronics, and Annie's acute lyrics into post-punk's sonic sea of possibilities. Her towering Rastafarian cohorts re-christened their diminutive colleague "Little Annie."
In the midst of the London years, Annie signed with Atlantic Records subsidiary ATCO, a brief arrangement that yielded one underrated single; she spun across the dance floor on 1990's "Sugarbowl," and kept right on twirling after the label folded. A number of collaborations around this time showcased her versatile talent, including spots with Coil, the Wolfgang Press, Bim Sherman, Lee "Scratch" Perry, Missing Brazilians, and Current 93. (Alas, the rumored track she cut with Paul Oakenfold and Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie still remains unreleased.)
The streetwise chanteuse moved back to New York circa her final On-U Sound title, the 1994 EP In Dread with Little Annie (Four Pieces of Heart at 33RPM), which included her reading of the Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra classic "This Town." Though she would record and perform with friends including Kid Congo Powers and Sisterboy in the years ahead,In Dread … was her last solo release for seven years.
Annie concentrated on other disciplines as the turn of the century approached. Her friendship with actor Bill Rice led to theatrical turns at La Mama, PS 122, and Dixon Place. A sojourn in the vibrant climes of Mexico (documented in her 2012 book Sing Don't Cry: A Mexican Journey) inspired her to start painting. In 1997, she published her first collection of poetry, Hell Is A Place Where We Call Each Other Darling.
Following the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and weeks of volunteer work at Ground Zero, Annie's musical output resumed at an accelerated pace. "Diamonds Made of Glass" (2001) soon led to Little Annie and the Legally Jammin' (2003), an edgy electronic set with Khan and Christian Jendreiko that MOJO chose as the year's #1 Dance Album.
In 2007, Annie worked with a trio of kindred spirits—Paul Wallfisch (Botanica), Joe Budenholzer (Backworld), and ANOHNI (then known as Antony of Antony & the Johnsons)—on Songs from the Coal Mine Canary. The bluesy "Strange Love," one of her co-writes with ANOHNI, soon gained greater visibility as the soundtrack to an award-winning commercial for Levi's.
Like Lee Wiley and Billie Holiday before her, Annie was now a full-blown "torch singer" whose insights and innovations transcended cabaret clichés. On When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos(2007), the first of two albums with Paul Wallfisch, she breathed new life into iconic songs by U2, Tina Turner, Jacques Brel, and Frank Sinatra. Two years later, the duo returned with Genderful, an equally formidable set comprised entirely of originals. Once again MOJO raved, calling Annie "the female counterpart to the Lou Reed of 1982's Blue Mask - a voice full of pickled New York wisdom."
During these years Annie also toured with Marc Almond, which in turn led to working extensively with another one of Almond's favorite support acts, Baby Dee. Annie and Dee released their full-length collaboration, State of Grace (featuring Will Oldham on the title tune), in late 2012. That same year, the long-awaited memoir You Can't Sing the Blues While Drinking Milk: The Autobiography of Little Annie AKA Annie "Anxiety" Bandez finally appeared.
In addition to her new album, Trace, Annie's recent career highlights include the publication of Just Like I Pictured It, a collection of poems and illustrations dedicated to the city of New York ("my fickle and arrogant muse"); guest vocals on the 2014 Swans album To Be Kind; and a 2015 appearance alongside West End legend Elaine Paige in "Piaf: A Centennial Celebration" at Joe's Pub.
Little Annie currently resides in Miami, Florida, with her longtime companion, Sparky.