Tiffany Anders has scored a pretty nice coup for an unknown singer-songwriter: She's the first artist to have an album produced by alt-rock heroine Polly Jean Harvey. But when the Los Angeles native initially met the Englishwoman, she was overshadowed by her mom, filmmaker Allison Anders.
The more famous Anders, a heroine herself in the independent film world with such gritty movies as "Mi Vida Loca" and "Gas Food Lodging" among her credits, got to know Harvey first after being invited to a couple of her L.A. concerts.
"My mom called me up and said, 'You've got to meet her, you would just be so inspired by her,' " recalls Tiffany Anders, 26, a professional nanny who left L.A. for Seattle before moving to New York two years ago. "I already totally knew all of her stuff and really, really liked it."
One evening in New York, the younger Anders, her mother and Harvey went to dinner together. But the two musicians didn't bond instantly. "I was definitely the third wheel," the soft-spoken Anders says with a giggle. "It was like, 'OK, what am I doing here?' "
A few days after their first meeting, Anders ran into Harvey on the street and handed over a copy of her four-track demo tape. Apparently the songs' naked emotion resonated with Harvey. "She was so supportive," Anders says. "She came to all of my shows."
After Harvey repeatedly offered more assistance, Anders finally took the plunge.
"I said, 'Actually, would you be interested in producing?' She just looked at me and said yes," Anders recalls. "It was really exciting that she didn't even [hesitate]."
The result is "Funny Cry Happy Gift." Released in March on Seattle-based Up Records, which also put out her 1998 EP, the album also features drumming by Anders' longtime pal J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. fame.
A music fan partly because her mother's interests exposed her to such L.A. groups as X and the Gun Club, Anders became friends with Mascis when she was 14, after he responded to a fan letter she wrote. She bugged her mother about his band so much, she says, that "[Mom] kind of thought she could get Dinosaur Jr. in 'Gas Food Lodging,' like playing a show, and it would make me so happy."
Eventually Allison Anders wrote a scene for Mascis and had him score the film, in which Tiffany Anders also had a role. She subsequently appeared in 1993's "Mi Vida Loca" and was the music consultant for 1996's "Grace of My Heart."
Just as Mascis' attention motivated the teenage Anders to get serious about writing songs, Harvey inspired her to realize the spare drama of her material.
The heartbroken, folky ballads on "Funny Cry Happy Gift" are at once dire and hopeful, with subtle, distinctive melodic touches. Anders says they are simply more extreme renderings of personal experience.
"I'm drawn to sparse, almost meandering, melody stuff," says the singer, who is planning to return to her hometown for shows in August. "All of the Neil Young songs I find myself listening to over and over are the ones where he's just playing guitar and singing, or there are weird little sounds that come in, like piano lines for one verse."
To achieve their goal, Harvey at times had to rein in the younger songwriter.
"I was like, 'I have all these friends who are gonna play on the record!' " Anders says, laughing. Harvey suggested a more intimate approach, so the pair recorded alone for about two weeks at Brooklyn's FireProof Studios. (Mascis completed his drum work in one session.)
Says Anders, "She encouraged me to play all my guitar tracks, and then she did the kind of filler stuff. She was totally right on with that."
Anders' mother, whose next movie, "Things Behind the Sun," was scored by Sonic Youth and includes Mascis in the cast, is as supportive as ever. But she's apparently also enjoying a rare opportunity to turn the tables.
"Lately, she's been joking around about stuff I said when I was little," says Anders, who grew up in L.A.'s Echo Park. "Like when she'd say, 'Go out and play, we're trying to work,' I would say to my sister, 'Come on, Devon. They're always working, and they never get paid!' " She giggles. "Since I've been doing this, she's like, 'Who's crying now?' "