Anna Calvi

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story / Jennifer Huyer & Heather Seidler
photos / Roger Dekker

Anna Calvi may come across as pensive and mysteriously beautiful in person. She chooses her words carefully and you can see her deep cogs revolving as she discusses her music. But the minute she hits the stage, Calvi is anything but cautious. In a red silken blouse and black slacks, she transforms into an incisive operatic siren. Strumming her Telecaster in circular fashion, there is an immediate indescribable presence in the room, one that swathes and takes you away to an almost ethereal place. Her onstage persona is the dichotomy of the particularly delicate timid woman you meet in person, this contrast you feel in her songs as she fleets among multiple, sometimes competing tones and sentiments at once.

Her new sophomore album, ONE BREATH, is both viscerally haunting and cathartic. Spanning everything from piercing bluesy contemplation to orchestral flights of frenzy, while projecting burning vulnerability and steely strength at the same time. It’s this stylistic versatility that may simply wrench your soul. Anna Calvi sat down and openly spoke with Ladygunn about the new album, songwriting, fame, and her “One Breath” moment.

LADYGUNN: What kinds of emotions and influences have trickled into your songwriting for this album?
ANNA CALVI: Being out of control is a reoccurring one. For me, It’s something that can be really thrilling and exciting, like when you’re falling in love and you’re feeling out of control. It’s also the most scary moments of feeling out of control.

What’s the song-writing process, if there is one? Do you start with melodies or lyrics?

I sit with a guitar and sing what pleases me. I do the recordings myself and the melodies usually come on a subconscious level. I figure out what I want to say and I further develop that initial idea.

Do you still practice hypnotherapy when writing an album?

Yeah, it is something I do often. I wanted this album to feel some sense of hypnosis. I think music should feel trance-like. It’s about taking yourself into another atmosphere and another space for the length of the song. There are certain songs, like One Breath and Carry Me Over, that I think create that feeling.

While making this album, did what was going on in your life, direct how you wrote or was it more like a stream of consciousness?

I think you realize the themes after you’ve done it. On this album I found myself writing about things that were more personal to me, I had to make a decision to allow that to happen and to not fight it. You have to allow a record to be whatever it wants to be, and sometimes it tells you. You can’t force yourself to go a certain direction when everything around you is telling you to go the other way.

How important to you is the sequence of songs on this album, and how does this digital-download age affect that?

I think it’s really important. An album is a collection of work that documents a time in an artist’s life. It takes a good amount of material to say ‘here is a moment in my life and this is how I felt.’ Of course you can’t control if people choose to listen to a single song, over the entire album, but I think there are enough fans out there that appreciate the message that goes into an entire album.

Were you/are you ever afraid of the fame you are gaining?

I never got to the point of being so well-known that it infringed on my personal life. But I would imagine if I was a world famous artist I would struggle with it quite a lot. That idea of having no control over what people can know about you, it can be a real head fuck.



Do you find that it’s a challenge to appeal to both European and American audiences?

I don’t think too much about it. I think people will seek out music that they like and the main thing is to make sure that people know that it’s out here, which is why I have people that do that for me. I just come and do my best and try to perform well.

What does One Breath represent to you, as a whole?

I think it’s about the moment before things change. Whether it’s for better or for worse, it’s about trying to get the strength to move on into the next phase of your life.

What is your “One Breath” moment?

It was a turbulent year. Someone in my family died, a lot of stuff happened. In a way that song is saying something that I could not express. I love for music to tell a story and I think it’s very important. Yeah, you can be really honest and heartfelt, but without being literal about what’s happening in your life, otherwise it won’t be very mysterious and appealing.

What are two things necessary for your happiness?

Probably intimacy and freedom.

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