Harper's BAZAAR Australia, November 2013
Onstage, dressed like a seductive Lynchian heroine with matt crimson lips and hair scraped into a low bun, British chanteuse Anna Calvi exudes drama. Factor in a velvety, operatic voice and the bewitching way she wields a beaten-up electric guitar, and the effect is one of brooding, authoritative bravado.Yet off the stage Calvi is petite, charming and softly spoken. Not that she is a pushover, by any means; she knows what she wants, but it’s wrapped in a layer of intrigue.
For those unfamiliar with the 33-year-old, Calvi has been playing the violin since the age of six (and jamming along to Jimi Hendrix since she was eight), but was too shy to sing until she taught herself years later. After releasing a self-titled album in 2011, she quickly went from indie darling to icon-in-the-making, and now counts Karl Lagerfeld, Gucci creative director Frida Giannini, Nick Cave and Brian Eno among her fans. In fact, Eno has become something of a mentor figure, and once famously described her as “the most visionary female artist since Patti Smith”.
This month, Calvi releases One Breath, a deeply personal album that she says explores the spectrum of control, emotion, beauty and change.“As a songwriter it’s natural to develop and take influence from what happens around me,” she says. “A family member passed away, so that made me think about things to do with memory and change. It was something I wanted to explore.”
The result is a brilliantly fresh-sounding album that dives into the ether and cannot be defined by pop/rock standards. It’s a dizzying journey saturated with Calvi’s signature cinematic textures, with added suspense, high highs and low lows. There’s a beautiful unpredictability, a gothic and passionate sense of romance, sweeping orchestral elements (a nod to Calvi’s classical background) and her beloved axe used as a climactic tool.“I wanted the guitar to have a more visceral energy, exploit the wilder elements of the song and give the sense of wanting to break out,” she says. If Calvi’s last record was a Tarantino soundtrack, with powerful flamenco references and western cool, then One Breath is where Jean-Luc Godard would step in, maybe with Lars von Trier consulting.
“For me, everything’s about the music,” she says when asked how she approaches her look. “I dress in a way that I feel best represents the music I’m making.” Her last album saw her in tough matador tailoring in red, black and gold, but from now on, she says, we’ll probably see her in more colour and texture.That doesn’t mean she’s gone soft — there will always be drama. Calvi isn’t afraid of emotion; she thrives on it. Among her influences she counts great femmes fatales Edith Piaf, Maria Callas, Nina Simone and Grace Jones. Her onstage bravado isn’t an act, it’s an extension of herself as an artist. “I like the idea of the strong female; it’s a good representation of my music,” she says. “The idea of being strong through being passionate.”
One Breath is out now.