Amid an overwhelming swell of symphonics, Venus Hum's Annette Strean is exultant: "I am taken by the sun!/The golden glorious sun!/Arms spread wide and my face toward the sky!/I am singing at the top of my lungs!/I am taken by the sun!"
These are lyrics from "The Bells," among the most memorable tracks from the band's new album, Big Beautiful Sky. Imagine the young singer atop the hills of her native Montana, "arms spread wide and face toward the sky," running and spinning and laughing with a joy indigenous to sweeping mountainous landscapes and free-spirited women with short haircuts. The hills are indeed alive, and the sound of music has borne Venus Hum aloft over the span of six years, landing the Nashville-based trio on-stage with Blue Man Group on its "The Complex" tour this summer.
"We joke in the band that I'm a little bit of a Pollyanna," says Strean, whose lyrics are almost Lennon-esque in their unrepentant optimism. "They were just talking about my 'rainbows and sunshine. '" They refers to bandmates Kip Kubin and Tony Miracle -- the brooding, computer savvy Captains von Trapp who, in just about every press shot, stand straight-faced in dark suits behind a beaming and brightly dressed Strean.
Stripped down to its component parts, Venus Hum is two electronic musicians fronted by a female vocalist (often compared to Björk and Tori Amos). In the past year, words like "on the verge," "up and coming," and "Nicole Kidman" have been used in the band's various write-ups. (Kidman popped up at a pub to check out Venus Hum, but the star is not as musically astute as the person who recommended she catch the show -- Moulin Rouge's musical director Marius de Vries.)
Strean is the youngest daughter of a Montana logger. She grew up with no TV and therefore lived in her imagination. "As a kid, I analyzed everything. I thought maybe I should have something wrong with me since I felt so intensely." By middle school, she had blossomed into the girl wearing black-rimmed glasses, vintage clothes, and close-cropped hair. "In seventh grade, it was kind of popular to be depressed, so I tried that out for a little bit."
Leaving the mountains of big sky country for Nash-vegas in 1999, Strean immediately found a job that put her in the company of some of Music City's best musicians. "I worked at the Tin Angel waiting tables. I used to wait on Gillian Welch and Patty Griffin!"
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In spring 2001, Venus Hum released its debut EP, Hummingbirds, on the UK's Mono Fi label. It was a success, but the first handful of songs did not fully showcase the band's talents. The band did even better on Big Beautiful Sky, released in early 2003, which includes standout tracks like the cathartic "The Bells" and the happy-go-dancing "Montana" that exhibit a bit more depth.
Strean says she has found much depth in simplicity -- a value she invokes in the prayer-like lyrics of "Wordless May" -- "Dear Jesus, make me simple/Strong as trees to sway/Give me arms wide open/With a beautiful way." It's not at all surprising to find Strean's religion in her songs (which, she notes, do not represent the feelings of all three band members). It was her faith that got her on the plane to Nashville in the first place. "It was very cosmic. I believe that God told me to move there, so I moved there. I didn't know what I was getting into really."
A 40-pound, neon-illuminated dress, for example. Strean wears it when she's on-stage with Blue Man Group.
"Annette is unbelievable," says one of four touring Blue Men, Eric Gebow. "I've sat in the audience on nights off. There's thousands of people that don't know anything about [Venus Hum] in the audience, and I can feel her drawing them in. I think that they're going to do really well. All three of them are incredibly talented. Whatever that thing is that makes a band interesting, they have it."