One-on-One with Annie Sumi

Annie Sumi (Photo by: Liz Lott)

by Laura Stanley

After graduating from university, most people take a break. Sure, some begin work right away but many sleep away weeks and months trying to figure out what to do next. When Whitby-native Annie Sumi graduated from Nipissing University just over a year ago, she released her debut album Reflections.

Despite not coming from a particularly musical family, Sumi fell in love with music at an early age. She started singing from the moment she could talk, she grew up listening to the greats like Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, she played the piano, did musical theatre, and eventually picked up the guitar. But Sumi made a promise to her parents that she would get a university degree before seriously pursuing music, a promise that she not only kept but one that ultimately helped to kickstart her career.

When I reach the 22 year old by phone, she’s in Whitby browsing a music store looking for new strings. She greets me like an old friend, asks how I’ve been, and is warm and charismatic. She bubbles with enthusiasm and pure joy when talking about music and how much her passion for it really came together during her four years at university in North Bay.

“I realized while I was at school how much I really wanted to do music,” she says. “At my last year of school, after working throughout school to save money to put together the record, I just decided it was time. There’s an incredible community up there in North Bay so everyone I had met over those four years were there to help me. It ended up being this very organic album, released at the perfect time. It felt really good.”

Despite Sumi’s young age, Reflections is a very mature record. In “The Waltz,” Sumi sings, “We are young and we are ancient.” It’s a brief little line but one that captures Sumi’s songwriting voice: youthful but informed. Though Sumi doesn’t know where this maturation comes from, she believes, like her album title makes known,  the act of reflecting informs her songwriting. 

“The world moves so quickly and life moves too quickly that there’s so many reasons to have to take a moment with yourself and listen,” she explains. “I think that’s really, really important. In songwriting, it has helped me so much to bring clarity to what it is I’m trying to achieve in a song.”

Between Sumi’s mature lyricism and stunning vocals, she won us over last year and prompted our writer to say Sumi “may be Canada’s new folk darling” but we weren’t the only ones embracing Reflections.  Her record charted on college radio, she was nominated for a Toronto Independent Music Award, and earned a fan in George Stroumboulopoulos who played one of her songs on his CBC radio show.

It’s overwhelming to see the amount of people who have responded to the album and to the stuff I’ve been doing since the release,” she says. “When you’re being recognized for doing something that you love, it’s really powerful. It’s incredible.”

As much as Sumi is enjoying the attention Reflections continues to receive, she is preparing for the future. She has most of the songs written for her sophomore album and has plans to release it in the Fall of 2017.

Overall, I’m really happy about [Reflections] but the next album will take me in a different direction and focus itself more.” Sumi says, noting the stylistic mix of songs on Reflections.  

“I’m getting really excited about the next product and focusing my creative attention in one area and being more specific about what I’m looking to achieve,” she continues. “I think that’s going to be a huge game changer for the next album – to know what I’m looking for going into it.”

What remains a constant as Sumi prepares for her sophomore release is her passion for music, excitement about the world and all that they have given her so far.

“Everyday is so filled with possibility and it’s magic. It doesn’t matter what people believe in or what kind of thing you subscribe to but I don’t think it’s impossible for everyone to live life in this magical way. Things that are bad happen all the time but I think there’s enough good in people and in the world that we can help each other and open each other up to this way of life that’s good.”

Annie is playing a handful of showcases during CMW and has a whole bunch of shows across Ontario in May. For info on these shows, head on over to her website

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