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Anna Calvi

Anna Calvi

Interviewed by
Courtney Sanders
Tuesday 29th November, 2011 9:20AM

Anna Calvi released her critically acclaimed debut album earlier this year and, after being nominated for a Mercury Prize and touring the world all year she is heading to New Zealand as part of Laneway Festival in January 2012. UTR caught up with Calvi to reflect on the year that was, talk about her debut album, and why she hates being constantly compared to other female artists.

Hi, Anna, how are you?

I'm a bit tired it’s so early in the morning.

Where are you at the moment?

I’m in bed.

Are you taking a break from touring?

Yeah I’ve got a couple of days off.

It’s been a pretty massive year for you I imagine?

Yeah it really has been.

Is it crazy to look back over everything that’s happened in the past 12 months?

Yeah it is I can’t even really think about it. So much has happened it’s pretty crazy.

But it’s been amazing, you’ve had a good time?

Yeah it’s been really fun, I’ve really enjoyed it.

So let's start with your debut album. Tell me a little bit about writing and recording it.

I spent about two years writing and recording it and I worked with Rob Ellis and we recorded a little bit in the studio. I just basically wanted to create a lot of atmosphere?

Were there any themes or anything you were particularly inspired by?

Yeah I listened a lot of classical music; that was a big thing for me at the time. Basically I was influenced by the music that I’ve grown up with, like Bowie or all that classical music I have listened to, I tried to make all of that come across on the record. I also listened to Nick Cave a lot too; I guess a wide range of music.

You collaborated with a couple of people on the album, including Brian Eno. Tell me a little bit those experiences.

Well with Brian Eno, he happened to see me play a show in London and he looked me up on YouTube and the stuff that he saw he must have liked because he got in contact and I gave him a couple of demos I was working on and he really liked those. He just became really supportive through the entire journey; he was just a great person to talk to when I was hiring a producer. He came along to the mix sessions and did some backing vocals and played some piano and I could chat to him about the direction.

Is the collaborative experience an important part of the creative process for you?

I find the creative process is actually very singular and secretive; I do it on my own. Obviously there’s a point where you take the work you’ve done and create it into an album and collaborate with people and that can be really fun so the end product is a great combination of both.

My basic interpretation of the album is that it’s quite eerie and dark? Is that a fair statement?

I don’t know, for me it has elements of darkness but I think it also has hope. I wanted certain songs to sound almost the opposite of dark. I wanted to have a combination really and I wanted it to be an honest representation of my creative vision, wherever that may take me, so it’s got both sides I think.

Tell me a little bit about growing up with music, because you studied classically and then went to university and did a music degree. What have you taken away from all your years of studying music?

I started playing the violin when I was six and I think it’s just really trained my ear. Also when you learn classical music - not to generalize - but you’re made to work harder. To play the violin well requires practicing everyday and being very regimented about it. I’ve found that discipline has helped me because I still am disciplined in whatever I do and I think I learned that from playing classical music. When I was a kid I was a bit grumpy about it but I liked the results, and I think I’ve definitely taken that regiment with me. Also just being in orchestras I’ve grown to really love orchestral sound and I try to imbue in my music with it in some way even when I’m not using orchestral instruments.

Since your album was released you’ve been nominated for a Mercury Prize and done a lot of touring. How has your outlook on the industry and your work changed? Has it altered your perspective at all?

Well, when I was making the album I had no idea – I was a complete unknown – how people would take it. I thought I was probably the only one who was going to like it so I was really surprised when people responded to it. It’s really easy to be cynical about the music industry, like 'you have to write really commercial music if you have any chance of getting heard'. The fact that I didn’t have to give into that and focused on just having my vision and keeping to it makes me feel really proud. I think it’s a really great thing and proves to me that the industry doesn’t necessarily have to be that way; as long as your mature about it and as long as it’s good, you can get heard.

You're compared a lot to some pretty prolific and amazing artists in the industry. Do you feel it’s good to be a female role model in an industry that is traditionally male dominated?

I don’t really see it like that because if there was a female painter critics wouldn’t compare her work just to other female painters. It’s not like because you’re a woman you can only be influenced by other woman in your art - it’s completely irrelevant whether I’m a woman or a man I’m just a musician. I find it really limiting the fact that female musicians have to be influenced by female musicians and talk about female musicians, it’s just crazy. I find it frustrating overall and I find it frustrating getting compared to PJ Harvey. There are so many musicians that I’ve fallen in love with so much more than her. I mean I have one of her albums and I’ve followed her career – I respect her work – but it’s not something that really connected with me and I’ve loved all my life someone like David Bowie. But because he’s a guy no-one asks me about him.