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Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Monday 14th October, 2013 9:21AM

Anna Calvi released her sophomore album, One Breath, at the beginning of last week via Domino Records. It's the follow up to her critically acclaimed debut; one that was nominated for Britain's prestigous Mercury Prize and catapulted her onto the international music stage due to her urgent guitars, operatic voice and powerful live presence. Down the line from her flat in London Calvi is reserved, quiet - almost awkwardly so - but thoughtful, as she discusses the juxtaposition between her public and private personalities, and the similar dualities that are present across One Breath.

Hey Anna, How are you? What are you up to at the moment?

Hey, I'm well thank you. Iím just in my flat, hanging out.

Youíre releasing a new album next week, are you excited?

Yes, definitely.

I wanted to start by talking about the forthcoming album. Your debut was extremely popular and Iím wondering if you felt pressure to deliver with this sophomore follow-up?

No I didnít feel pressure. The most important thing for me is to be happy with the work myself and to be able to stand behind it and be proud of it. You canít control how other people perceive your music or whether they like it or not, so I just wanted to be happy with my work. Iím confident that I did the best job that I could in the time frame and Iím happy with it.

Were you concerned with anything in particular when you were writing the material for this album?

I just didnít want to make the same record twice. I wanted there to be a wider breadth of emotion and colour, and to get out of my comfort zone and try things slightly more experimental and texturally different from the first record. Thatís what I was thinking before I was started. Also, I wanted to find a more personal way of writing the lyrics that were more about my life.

In recent interviews youíve discussed just how personal, and dark, the lyrics are. It must be a difficult process to put those emotions on record, and then into the public sphere.

It felt quite natural to explore things that I was thinking about at the time of writing. For me itís a hopeful record; itís about transition and about finding your feet after something thatís difficult. The idea that thereís a moment where you feel things are really going to change and thereís a feeling of insecurity about that, but that feeling out of control can also feel very exciting and thrilling and itís about both sides of that experience, and finding a way to move forward.

How did you go about writing the sonic accompaniment to that. What atmosphere did you want to create?

I wanted the guitar to come in in wild moments of the song. I wanted the chord changes to be represented by more unusual, less typical band textures so I used percussion and organ to express those.

When you write do you have to take into consideration how youíre going to translate them into a live setting and do they change for that environment?

I think itís natural for songs to sound different live to how they sound on a record, and itís a fun process to reimagine the song for a different environment and thatís quite a fun process.

Obviously from the time the first record was released youíve been incredibly busy with your music career. How have those experiences affected the outcome of the second album?

I guess itís made me more confident in the studio and I suppose just more confident as a songwriter. Itís helped me record the second album without too much pain which, sometimes, when youíre making something creative it can be quite exhausting but this was relatively straightforward to make.

It sounds like the process was quite cathartic, even?

Yeah in a way it was, definitely.

On the first album you collaborated a lot with other people and I understand that wasnít so much the case this time. Who did you bring on board to work with on the album this time?

On this record I had a keyboard player called John Baggott who plays for Portishead and Massive Attack and played keyboards on the record and that was really good, heís excellent.

Was there anything in particular that you wanted to achieve via the recording and production process?

Again I wanted the guitar to be more wild and I didnít want it to sound like a traditional band.

You have a really strong visual accompaniment to your sonic output. In interviews you mention you can visualise your songs Ė what does this album look like?

Um, thatís a difficult question. Each song I see a mini film and I see it in my head when Iím writing but I wouldnít know how to explain what exactly that is. I also think itís important that the music suggests the visuals for the listener and creates and atmosphere for the listener to get lost in whatever they want to see it as.

You released a beautiful promotional preview film for this record. What was the production process for that like?

I went to Mexico with the photographer who did my album cover and is also a filmmaker. We just filmed around San Miguel and it was really amazing Ė Iíd never been to Mexico before but Iíd always been interested in the cultural history of the country. There are some really great artists who have come out of that country Ė Frida Kahlo for example Ė and it seemed like the right place to take some photos. We just went around to the country and filmed lots of stuff that ended up being on the trailer.

Itís really rich with symbolism. Was that a purposeful thing and does the symbolism that youíve included in the trailer relate to the album?

I think the idea of aspiring to something higher and being aware of oneís own mortality are things that come across in the record. Iím not religious but I do find that the iconography in Mexico is very impressive and very beautiful and even if you donít subscribe to that kind of religion you can still appreciate itís strength of meaning and so it felt appropriate to represent that in the trailer.


Your album has just been released: what have you got planned out for the next little while?

Iím heading to the States in November and France and Spain in December and then next year Iím doing a big European tour and thatís as far as I know so far.

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