Aug 25, 2023
Anna Byars is an inspiration for future generations of female musicians
You may have seen her around town since she has been a fixture on the local music scene in Baton Rouge for many years starting in the early 2000s, and you may know her as the guitarist and background vocalist for Polly Pry, but who is Anna Byars, truly?
Byars is kind and genuine in addition to being extremely witty, funny, and charming; she is bursting with personality. Anna holds her own as an extraordinarily gifted musician and guitarist captivating audiences with her soulful melodies and masterful skills, but she does not limit herself to just one instrument: She also played drums in a band called The Rakers.
“I like to say I’m a drummer as a second language because the guitar is my first language,” Byars says.
With a unique blend of talent, passion, and authenticity, she has carved her path through the bustling music scene in South Louisiana, leaving a lasting impression and continuing to forge ahead.
In this article, we delve into the journey and artistry of Anna Byars, unraveling the foundational magic behind her captivating talent.
Early Years and Musical Awakening
Anna Byars was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a musically inclined family and started honing her craft at a very young age. Both of her parents are professional musicians and play piano. Gravitating towards the guitar, she picked up a random one under her mom’s piano one day and that was all it took. At 10 years old, Anna officially started strumming and loved it because of the emotional depth and versatility it offers.
After proving to her mother that she indeed had plans to stick with it, she began to take professional classical guitar lessons at age 12. With a knack for sight-reading music, Anna built the foundation for her guitar knowledge. Growing up in a house where her mother taught piano lessons, Byars started writing songs and singing and says of the time, “It was the 90s, you know, and we were all dreaming of making it big. I kept playing and performing wherever I could, and then in college I knew I wanted to get a band together.”
During her teenage years, her passion for music fully ignited, and after meeting her bass player for her first band just after she turned 19, Byars met her drummer, too, and all the pieces fell into place. This ultimately led to the formation of The Anna Byars Band. Drawing inspiration early on from the music that inspired her as a child, such as the Indigo Girls and Green Day, and consisting of all original music, the band flourished for a few years before calling it quits. After college in 2005 is when Anna met Kristen Foster, and they instantly hit it off.
“We fell in love as friends, just super hard,” says Byars, and with Foster’s ukulele in hand, the two embarked on a career together. “She played me one of the songs she had written called ‘The Atlantic Ocean’ and it was just so damn good that I forced her to start a band with me.”
The rest is history.
Developing a Signature Style
Calling themselves The Casuals at first, Byars and Foster put out a couple of EPs together after recording in a makeshift studio and practice space located behind the now-defunct legendary music venue in Baton Rouge known as The Caterie. After seeing modest success with their initial run of EPs, the women decided to team up with Foster’s father, renowned music producer Fred Foster, who is best known for producing classic recordings for Roy Orbison and for helping found Orbison’s label, Monument Records. He also helped launch the careers of Dolly Parton, Tony Joe White, and Kris Kristofferson in addition to co-writing the classic song made famous by Janis Joplin, “Me and Bobby McGee”.
“Yeah, every time I tell people [that], I’m like, ‘It’s okay if you don’t believe me because I barely do,” says Anna. “We threw ourselves into it until he liked what he heard and invited us up.”
Anna and Kristen then went up to Nashville to record and in 2012, the album “Two Warm Minutes” was released.
After its initial release, Anna and Kristen saw modest success with the record, but they felt it did not truly capture their essence, so they took to the road to play live shows and build their following. At 29 years old, Anna embarked on her first tour with Polly Pry, which saw them adding a double bass player to make their duo a trio.
“And after that, I just really knew in my soul that I just did not want to do the singer/songwriter thing, even if it was as a duo,” so Anna switched gears and stopped playing acoustic guitar and switched over to electric. “When you play acoustic guitar, and you’re female, you get pigeonholed.”
By meticulously studying the techniques of her idols and incorporating her own artistic sensibilities, Byars managed to create a sound that is entirely her own—a sound that resonates with listeners on a profound level.
The year 2016 brought about Polly Pry contributing to a compilation of Aerosmith cover songs called “Deuces are Wild: A Tribute to Aerosmith”, which is currently available for listening to on Apple Music. Since then, the ladies have continued to play shows here and there while working on their follow-up album, “Hola Perfecto”. The release date for their sophomore effort is to be determined, so stay tuned.
The Future of Anna Byars
When Anna is not devoting her time to Polly Pry, she plays guitar in her other project, Sunrise People, which, according to Byars, “sounds like a band that would play CBGBs in the 70s.” On her involvement with Sunrise People, Anna goes on to say, “I really love playing guitar in that band because I get to take all my years of everything and just fly, you know? It’s just right.”
Byars possesses an uncanny ability to create a profound connection with her audience through her music. Listeners feel the raw emotions she channels through her guitar playing, carrying them on a hypnotic journey. Her ability to convey a range of emotions that encompasses joy, sorrow, nostalgia, and everything in between creates an intimate bond that transcends typical boundaries.
Beyond being gifted with extraordinary talent, Anna is constantly seeking growth and evolution. She embraces any opportunity to experiment with new sounds, techniques, and genres and has been steadily writing songs.
“My body and brain just started writing songs about six months ago and I’m in an infant stage of trying to get 12 solid songs. I want to be a little bit of Juliana Hatfield mixed with a little Radiohead,” she says. “I want to do another band. I’m playing with names, but I am really excited about the stuff that I have been writing.”
With a promising future ahead of her and so many projects in the works, Anna comments on her work ethic: “I have always dug my heels right in whether it’s right or wrong,” and continuing to dig her heels in is just what she has been doing. In addition to music, she stays busy by making comedic shorts on TikTok as well.
“I have sort of a hobby in comedy. I like to put on wigs and make up funny characters and put out snappy videos.”
When asked whether she has considered stand-up comedy as a possible career move, Byars elaborates, “You know, I did stand-up one time and I’ve lived my life on stage, or so it seems, but doing stand-up was one of the most terrifying experiences and I’m not scared of performing. I really want to press myself to do that, but doing stand-up does require rigor and focus. Everything must flow and work. Kristen has been inspiring my world with her stand-up career, so you never know!”
Ladies’ Pinball Club at BR.cade
When Byars isn’t focused on music, she prefers to play pinball and has even created her own Ladies’ Pinball Club at local hangout BR.cade, which is located on Government Street in Baton Rouge.
“I like to say it’s a ladies’ pinball club but that guys are welcome, too. My motto is ‘no pressure, we’ll always be there.’ I just started playing pinball one day and noticed that it’s all dudes [and] no girls. They would stand to the side, and I think that’s because pinball doesn’t look like it’s as much fun as it really is. You gotta put your hands on the machine. It’s a physical thing. It’s an arcade game, but it’s not a video game.”
To get her club started, Anna says she would purposely leave extra credits and games on the machines so she could approach people to play games with her. This proved to be successful, and an official Pinball Club was formed in late 2022/early 2023.
“It’s my one-year anniversary of playing, but the club has been around for about 4-6 months,” she says.
Anna modestly acknowledges her mad pinball skills, but I got to witness them firsthand and she’s pretty damn good.
“Yeah, I’ve gone to a couple of tournaments, and for a little while, I was the number seven female player in Mississippi. In Louisiana, I’ve placed last, and I believe they call it The Plunger Award when you place last.”
On whether she has plans to continue playing in the future, she says, “It’s such a new thing, though, and I love it and am just trying to get better at it.”
So, in conclusion, who is Anna Byars, really? She’s a true musical luminary and her boundless creativity and commitment to her art ensure that her journey as a musician will remain one that captivates and inspires for years to come. Through her unique style and collaborative spirit, she has successfully set herself apart on the local scene. As she continues to evolve and explore new frontiers, she will undoubtedly leave an indelible mark on the music world, inspiring future generations of female musicians to follow in her footsteps. To check out Anna’s projects and music, hit one of the links below and be sure to catch her in action with Sunrise People on September 1, 2023 at Midcity Ballroom in Baton Rouge with William Edward Thompson and The Rakers.
Polly Pry Apple Music: Polly Pry on Apple Music
Polly Pry Facebook: Facebook
Sunrise People: Facebook
*Cover photo: Gary Governale www.governalephotovideo.com
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