- 08 Jun 21
Now back home in Ireland and ready to release her superb new single, Annmarie Cullen reflects on the ups and downs of the LA music biz, songwriters nights alongside Katy Perry, and creating great music out of heartbreak.
Listening to Annmarie Cullen discuss the stratospheric highs and bitterly disappointing lows of the LA music industry, it’s almost impossible to understand how any creative could navigate that world unscathed. Many find the going too tough to handle.
The constant fear of rejection, opportunities wrenched away at the last minute and working multiple jobs to maintain the pursuit of one’s passion are all part and parcel of the business. One of the finest natural songwriting talents to emerge from Ireland, Annmarie Cullen has seen – and been through – it all.
Having left her native Dublin in the ‘90s, Annmarie landed staff writing gigs with Disney and Warner Chappell, after an executive stopped by the restaurant where she was waitressing and accepted her demo tape. It was the start of a hugely successful phase of her career, during which she helped to soundtrack everything from carefree Nickelodeon shows like iCarly and Drake And Josh, to the tense CBS cop drama Blue Bloods, and cult lesbian film And Then Came Lola.
She took to the stage as a solo artist, Annmarie Montade, before joining Cynthia Catania as part of noughties indie darlings Saucy Monky. Cullen was learning at every stage. Fast-forward to 2021, and following a spell in Barcelona that started with her landing a tech job and ended with the painful break-up of her marriage, Annmarie is back in Ireland and creating powerful, emotionally charged music.
“Any and all forms of acknowledgement in the music world is a bonus, because it’s such a tough sphere,” the Dubliner tells me over Zoom. Having run in the same circles as the likes of Katy Perry and Sara Bareilles before they were signed, Annmarie is familiar with the role good fortune plays in getting noticed in LA.
“I just feel so grateful to have had those moments with the likes of Disney Channel and Nickelodeon,” she reflects. “I’m still proud of the material I wrote back then. When I first moved to LA in my early twenties, all I wanted was a record deal, but I ended up with a publishing gig. I had showcases with Columbia and Maverick – who managed Alanis Morrisette – and got really close to landing a solo signing, but my career just never turned that corner.”
In many respects, it was a tough time for the singer.
“I remember being devastated when it didn’t work out,” she says. “There weren’t any of the same avenues that artists can take nowadays. Back in the days when record companies were more powerful, I just felt like they had the keys, and if they didn’t want to let me in, I was screwed. It eventually led me to Saucy Monky, which was a band that was born out of a weekly jam session. It allowed me to rediscover the joy of music.
“Around that time, there were few female-fronted bands getting played on the radio, except maybe for No Doubt. The perception was that Alanis Morrissette and her contemporaries broke that barrier down, but rock radio in the States still wasn’t actually playing women, which meant that fewer women got signed. It’s the same with country music – it all has a trickle down effect.
“A head of a record company once told my manager that I wasn’t sexy or edgy enough for his label. At the show he had come to watch, I actually outsold the headline act with my CDs at the House Of Blues. It didn’t matter.”
Unfortunately, sexism in the music industry remains all too prevalent.
“When it comes to female pop artists who go stratospheric, people assume that they don’t write their own tracks or play instruments,” says Annmarie. “I can vouch that Katy Perry was always a great musician, well before ‘I Kissed A Girl’ took off. When I did a little songwriter’s gig with her, I remember thinking she was kooky, but a hugely talented guitar player. Saucy Monky shared the same drummer as her in later years.
“In the ‘90s, your only option as an artist was to get a record deal, or somehow start your own indie label. It was insanely hard to break through. Nowadays, you almost have to be a marketing expert. It’s tricky for people who aren’t adept at social media, but there’s always a dragon to slay in this business. I really admire those artists who stuck out the hard times, because there’s a lot of rejection.”
The passionate creatives within Cullen’s circle also struggled to find their feet in LA, with many turning to sound engineering and songwriting to make ends meet.
“I am encouraged that a lot of people whom I regarded as super-talented have stuck with it through thick and thin,” she notes, “and managed to make a living out of music. Some achieved varying degrees of success and maybe not in the area that they had always wanted – but the commonality between them all is that they didn’t quit.
“They were almost incapable of doing anything else but music; they all play their own music in small clubs to this day. When I put music on hold for a few years to work a stable job, I realised that it’s essential to pursue your passion for the sake of your sanity. Even if you don’t make a living out of it, do what brings you joy.”
With its stripped down piano, swelling strings and delicate vocals, Annmarie’s new single, ‘What I Once Meant To You’, uniquely articulates the loss of love.
“I haven’t sent the song to my ex-wife, nor have I received any response to it, but we had a lovely story,” she says. “I’m sad it didn’t go the distance. When you marry someone, you assume it’s going to last forever, but just because a connection ends doesn’t mean it wasn’t a success. It was an amicable break-up, but the aftermath of any relationship is hard for both people.
“It’s hard to see your past love move on. Putting out such a vulnerable song makes me cringe, but as a songwriter, you have to put out intensely personal music. It’s our job to speak the thoughts of those going through similar situations. Sometimes you use artistic licence, and sometimes you 100% use the truth.”
• Annmarie Cullen’s latest single ‘What I Once Meant To You’ is out now.