After a decade and a half of touring with some of the biggest names in country, Annie Clements’ musical mission remains the same: She just wants to make people dance. “That’s probably my biggest goal in playing bass. I’ll spot someone in the crowd who isn’t moving, and I’ll lay back a little more and leave some space in my lines until I see their head start bobbing. I’m always trying to get people to dance.” Perhaps it was her upbringing in the musical city of New Orleans, or growing up with her father, renowned blues guitarist Cranston Clements (Boz Scaggs, Dr. John, the Neville Brothers), that gave her that bug at when she picked up the electric bass at age 13. But whatever it was, it’s served her well.
In her late teens, Clements made the jump from New Orleans to Boston to attend the Berklee College of Music, where she honed her skills and made countless musical connections—one being lap-steel aficionado Josh Kaler, with whom she would later join forces for her current Hawaiian-noir outfit, Hula Hi-Fi. Post-graduation, she moved on to Nashville, where she became an in-demand bassist, landing gigs with artists from Sugarland and Amos Lee to Anderson East. Her groovy playing and powerful vocals caught the attention of country rocker Maren Morris, who enlisted Clements for countless award shows, sold-out tours, late-night talk shows, and arena gigs with the country music star. And all of that chart-topping and award winning is just fine to Clements, so long as the people in the crowd are moving.
How do you approach playing with Maren?
Maren’s vocal delivery and songwriting have a really soulful quality, which makes her different from other country singers. My approach on bass is to always follow her vocal delivery, rhythmically and melodically. I’m singing right along with her for much of the set, so if I feel her subtly changing cadence or where she is on the beat, I’ll follow suit. I lean into how she’s feeling the song, with the goal of pushing those feelings out into the crowd.
Have you always been into country music?
My background starts with the Beatles and then moves into the music of New Orleans, Motown, R&B, and all things James Jamerson. I didn’t have much of a traditional country background, other than parallels to the feel of zydeco music. But when I got the offer for Sugarland, I delved deep into that style. Understanding and appreciating it now makes me enjoy it. It definitely wasn’t my childhood music, but I’ve adapted to it naturally.
How did the New Orleans music of your childhood influence you?
New Orleans music and culture is such a special thing. It’s like its own country, with its own language, music, and culture. There’s so much joy in it; it’s the biggest part of my spirit and my playing. I’m often told that my bass approach has a certain bounce, with lots of subtle ghost-notes and understated syncopations, which stems from the music of my hometown. It’s about injecting a little more funk and fun into the other genres of music that I play.
How did Hula Hi-Fi come about?
As a kid, I had the good fortune of my uncle taking us on several family trips to Hawaii, and I fell in love with the music and have been a big fan ever since. I’m a sideman by trade and never focused on singing lead, but certain aspects of my voice lent themselves to that sweeter, lulling sound. And getting to translate my more R&B fingerstyle funk approach to the upright has been a ton of fun. It’s the first time I’ve had something that’s my own thing, made purely for the love of making music, and that means so much to me.
Hula Hi-Fi, Hawaiian Noir, Vol. 1 [2017, hulahifi.com]
Bass Fender Deluxe Jazz and Precision Basses, ’61 Fender Precision body with a ’63 Jazz neck (body belonged to Jaco Pastorius), Fender Custom Starcaster Bass, Chadwick Folding Bass
Rig Fender Bassman 800 head, Fender 410 4x10 cabinet
Effects, etc. Electro-Harmonix Big Muff, EBS Octave, TC Electronic Polytone tuner
Strings D’Addario Medium Gauge