She’s the softly spoken petite Brit with a voice that packs a rather surprising punch
Image: Maisie Cousins
This month we're celebrating the music of British artist Anna Calvi. The daughter of two therapists, this half British/half Italian grew up listening to classical music as a result of her dad's influence. Originally wanting to study art, she instead opted for a degree in music, where she went onto study violin and guitar in a Bachelor of Music at University of Southhampton.
She funded her own music by teaching guitar lessons and it wasn't until after graduating university that she ever felt comfortable singing. In fact she had a phobia of it and said to the Daily Telegraph in 2011 that her guitar became her voice when she was a teenager, it was how she could express herself. Before even releasing her first album, she had toured with Nick Cave, Arctic Monkeys and Interpol. Her first released single 'Jezabel', a cover of Wayne Shanklin's song (made famous by Frankie Laine and French chanteuse Edith Piaf) was received with acclaim. Her debut self titled album was co-produced by long-term PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis and featured backing vocals from Brian Eno. The album made her an overnight success globally and got the nom for Mercury Prize as well as for British Breakthrough Act at the 2012 Brit Awards.
Her second album followed in 2013. One Breath was a rather short stretch for the artist, taking only 6 weeks to pull together. Again receiving outstanding reviews all around, Calvi was certainly one to watch. Fashion houses even love her, with Karl Lagerfeld saying he liked her music and many brands inviting her to attend events and perform (including the Chloe Fashion Show in Paris).
In 2017, she announced that she had written the music for the opera, The Sandman, based on the short story by E. T. A. Hoffmann, and directed by Robert Wilson. Her third studio album Hunter was then released August 2018. The Guardian called it "glorious and triumphant", and "a record that succeeds on any terms you try to force upon it." In an interview with M Magazine, she says "This album allowed me to write about what I’m always thinking and talking about, exploring themes around the restrictions of being made to perform your gender even if it doesn’t necessarily feel a part of your character. I think about this a lot and it makes sense for it to come out in my music – when I noticed it, I went with it as it’s an interesting thing to explore".
It's her wildest and most powerful album to date - guitars that soar and drums that don't hold back. In an essay she wrote online about the album, she states “I want to go beyond gender. I don’t want to have to choose between the male and female in me. I’m fighting against feeling an outsider and trying to find a place that feels like home,” going on to describe her new music as “primal and beautiful, vulnerable and strong”. She describes the album to be "exploring a more subversive sexuality, which goes further than what is expected of a woman in our patriarchal heteronormative society."
Hear more from Anna Calvi at her site and Hunter is out in record stores now.