Many strive for an ideal work-life balance. But for Anna Calvi, work is her favorite part of that equation. While the singer and guitarist does occasionally manage to take time off, it was daydreaming during a break from tour that helped her realize her haunting fourth album Hunted, which releases tomorrow, March 6, 2020, might be worth revisiting in a different form.
“I listened back to some really early recordings and I thought they had a kind of a rawness and vulnerability that I thought was really interesting,” she tells CR. “That’s where the idea came from to use these recordings and get some musicians to lend their artistic abilities and their voices.”
Calvi’s last album, Hunter, was released in 2018. A genre-blurring combination of goth pop, eerie dreamscapes, and guitar rock, accompanied by Calvi’s David Lynch-approved howl, the album was met with near-universal acclaim, a groundswell of support which included her third Mercury Prize nomination. But while the album was deeply personal, Calvi, who also works as a composer for the Netflix show Peaky Blinders, saw the benefit of opening her cinematic vision to a new cast of characters. She describes Hunter as “some kind of indie film that was kind of shot really beautifully and had some kind of sadness, but also hope.” It was time to see what else it could be.
The musician sent emails along with the music, explaining the meanings behind each track to collaborators that included Charlotte Gainsbourg, (“I was so nervous to go and talk to her and she was very, very sweet!” says Calvi of their meeting) and early supporter, Courtney Barnett. However, she noted that her goal with each song was to evoke a personal response, and wanted to know—above else—how the song made them feel. But Calvi says she wasn’t terribly worried she wouldn’t like the results. For lack of a better term, she’s gotten good at identifying her creative soulmates.
“I had already released Hunter the album and done it exactly how I wanted to,” she says. “I guess I felt more free with these inclusions. I like the idea of hearing other artists put their flavor to the song…I like the idea that there are some people that you really click with and seem to understand you, and you understand them without having to use words. I feel like it happens very, very rarely which makes it very special when it does happen.”
Both Hunter and now Hunted are meditations on queer love and a meditation on the gender spectrum. (She identifies as a lesbian, but points out this album isn’t really a coming out—all her songs have been about women.) Likewise, Calvi took a sex-blind approach to picking her collaborators, a decision she says happened on an unconscious level.
“I really didn’t think about gender when I thought about who I wanted to sing on these songs,” she says. “Because to me the voice is genderless or it can span many different points of gender. I like the idea that that didn’t come into it, that it had to be a woman or had to be a man.”
More than simple remixes, Hunted is an album reimagined, with Gainsbourg lending her whispery sing/speech to “Eden,” Barnett amping up the volume on “Don’t Beat the Girl Out of My Boy,” and Idles infusing “Wish” with an extra rock sensibility. The songs still exist in the musician’s dark universe, but stylistically many have taken a hard right—a series of transformations that Calvi is extremely pleased with.
“What Julia Holter did on the song, ‘Swimming Pool’ was really not what I was expecting, but I find it really beautiful,” she says. “She did this kind of choir, really beautiful choir. I guess it certainly makes sense ‘cause she’s such a multifaceted composer, not just a songwriter. I was really impressed.”
The ability to uncover new facets of already-released albums is unusual. Even more so when the process involves working with those not intimately connected with its source material. And while Calvi laughs at the idea of traditional rabbit-in-the-hat magic, she does acknowledge the whole process was touched by something special, perhaps just a bit otherworldly.
“I do believe in the magic of a moment,” she says. “I definitely believe in that. When it comes to making music, it’s like that’s what you’re always trying to find, to capture something to capture the moment. It feels so elusive and occasionally it happens. But I think that’s all musicians are trying to find when they write music.”END
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