Anna Calvi must be getting used to the acclaim and anticipation by now. Since she appeared on the scene in 2011 with her self-titled debut album, she’s garnered praise from critics and fellow musicians alike: one of the artists on the shortlist for the BBC’s Sound of 2011 poll, loved by Nick Cave and Brian Eno, nominated for the Mercury Prize and, alongside tour support for Grinderman, playing her own rather large headline shows. These admirable plaudits position her as an artist whose work is “hotly anticipated” by an audience who just want to hear what her latest music sounds like.
Two years on from her debut, Calvi is about to release her second album, One Breath. Although a fair amount of time has passed – at least in terms of how quickly the music world moves –her sophomore album was actually recorded a lot quicker than the debut. One Breath was recorded during, and concerns itself with, a period of change and upset in Calvi’s life: a family member passed away, she suffered bouts of depression and struggled with both losing or keeping control. Made with producer John Congleton in France and Texas, it’s both an expansion of Calvi’s emotional palette, and a rawer experience than Anna Calvi - yet its use of strings and intimate recording style make it a record with as many epic crescendos as quiet moments. Where a track like ‘Eliza’ might sound like the Calvi we know and love from the debut, the distortion-heavy ‘Love of My Life’ and some of the classically-influenced songs show off a brilliant new dimension. With One Breath being a great leap forward and a thrilling listen, Best Fit caught up with the quietly-spoken (I know, with that voice!) Anna to find out how comfortable she was with addressing loss and depression so openly:
“I think it’s a natural thing to want to try to get to something that feels like it’s as honest as possible when you’re writing,” explains Calvi. “Although it was a turbulent time when I was making the record, I feel that ultimately it’s a hopeful record about kind of rebuilding yourself, and it’s about transition. I suppose that something I was personally addressing in my life and through my songs.”
I suggest that the key is to avoid be overly confessional or wallowing in misery, and maybe Calvi approaches it in the right way, shrouding her feelings through lyrics that are more abstract than direct: “Yeah – I think it’s finding a way of addressing things that are important to you in way that’s more interesting,” she agrees. “For example, the song ‘One Breath’ is about the breath before you say something really important. That is something I experienced this year, and that I had to do, but I don’t actually say what it is.” Is that important, to hold just a little bit back? Anna states: “Do I have to actually say that the song is actually about the breath before ? That’s kind of a way of talking about what’s happening in your life but without having to divulge everything – that’s my way of dealing with personal things without being overly confessional.”
Turning to the actual sound of One Breath, I say to Anna that there’s a noticeable “live” feel to many of the tracks. Was that something she wanted to capture, or was it more a product of the way the album ended up being recorded? “I wanted there to be more scope,” explains Calvi, “like a wider spectrum of sound and a wider spectrum of emotion on this record. I think there are times when it sounds more ‘live’ than the first record, partly I guess because we’ve been playing together for two years on the road so we’re much more comfortable playing together, and so there’s a more live sound to songs.” Calvi goes on to say she doesn’t think the whole of the album has that live feel, though: “There are also moments where I wanted to go into my classical influences, and orchestral influences, so there are more string arrangements than on the first record. So I think it’s gone further both ways, in a way.”