Photo by Emma Nathan
After being taken under Brian Eno’s wing, the spooky half-Italian, half-English Anna Calvi found her self-titled debut (Domino) becoming a BBC Sound of 2011 and Mercury Prize-nominee, though she was unfortunate to be up against an instant PJ Harvey classic. She’ll be haunting Astra on Friday, October 7.
You were shortlisted for the Mercury Prize. Congratulations!
Being nominated is an honor enough.
But what if you win? [Ed. note: she didn’t.]
I’d have a big bowl of pasta. Calvi traditional Italian pasta.
And you’ve earned the attention of Brian Eno and Nick Cave. Do you think they see something kindred in you?
I suppose so. I don’t feel that my music is particularly inspired by any London scene. I think everyone’s there in their own individual world.
Brian Eno called you the best thing since Patti Smith.
I just think it’s really nice of him to get up and say these things. I feel really, really grateful to Brian – it’s only been a good thing. I don’t feel pressure. I’d love to work with him again: he sang some backing vocals on the last album and played some piano, and he helped with the mixes.
There's a lot of gothic drama and romance in your storytelling.
Well, I’m a big fan of Nick Cave. He’s probably influenced that in some way. When I write though, I improvise to the music, and things come out instinctively. It’s more emotional, rather than me sitting down and thinking, “Okay, I’m going to write a song about this now.” You can sense it when it comes.
You toured with Grinderman. Did you pick up any of Nick Cave’s pelvic thrusts?
No, I think I’ll leave that to Nick.
Your debut album took two-and-a-half years to finish. Can you tell me about this long process?
I worked with [longtime PJ Harvey collaborator] Rob Ellis and I just had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to sound. I saw it all very visually and hoped that would come across, so when you listen, you see it happening in front of you.
Sounds like you learned something from your parents, who are hypnotherapists.
Yeah, I think so. I like noises made in deeper intuitive places. I’m interested in tapping into the imagination, which is something I try to do through music. I wouldn’t want to control [an audience’s] experience, but I think it’s nice to feel that people are taken away to a place in the show.
There’s a mixed bag of musical influences in your music from Edith Piaf and Nina Simone to Captain Beefheart.
My parents had a really big vinyl collection, and I listened to a lot of different music when I was growing up. I’ve always just been interested in getting to hear as much music as I can. At the moment, I really like Wild Beasts, and I love Antony and the Johnsons.
What comes first, the words or the music?
They come simultaneously. It’s a very private experience.
Anna Calvi, Fri Oct 7 | Astra, Revaler Str. 99, Friedrichshain, U+S-Bhf Warschauer Str., www.astra-berlin.de