Anna B Savage photo by Katie Silvester

INTERVIEW: Anna B Savage

If you’re a regular reader and listener here at Picky Bastards, you can’t have missed the name Anna B Savage. She won our podcast Album of the Year award in 2021 with her debut A Common Turn and we have talked about her music almost non-stop. If you haven’t heard that album yet, then you really should.

But Anna has moved on to her sophomore release now – it came out last Friday. Our Editor, Fran Slater, spoke to her just a few days before inFLUX hit the shelves:

Hi Anna. Firstly, I just want to kick off by saying congratulations on the new album and assuring you that most of my questions today will focus on it. But I just wanted to ask a bit about things have been since we last spoke – obviously, you hadn’t toured yet at that point, the album was out but has received more attention since then. So I wondered if you could talk to me a bit about some of the highlights and low points?

It’s been really good, obviously. But then it has been difficult, too. In that, when releasing an album during a pandemic you don’t get any of that immediate response stuff – other than from critics, I suppose. That made things pretty confusing for me – I didn’t get to play a show for people for eleven months and then suddenly there were all these people singing my lyrics back to me. So that was a bit ‘what the fuck?’

But it’s been really lovely – the response to A Common Turn has been lovely and I’m really proud of it.

But then, it’s the music industry and it’s 2023 and it’s fucking hard to make a living and make music. It feels pretty bleak, to be honest – to try and tour and organise stuff – both pandemic wise and Brexit wise. It’s pretty hardcore at the moment. It feels quite scary – like I spent most of a decade trying to get here, to get into the industry, and now I’m here and I’m like ‘really, is this what we’re doing? That is fucking insane.’

Yeah, totally. These days you’re even seeing pretty big bands cancelling tours of America because they can’t afford to cover it. So for someone like yourself who is taking that time to establish yourself, who is building a fanbase and getting great reactions, it must be a really frustrating time…

It’s weird to be pooh-poohing it all right now, but it is hard not to feel like that. All my friends who are musicians, every time we see each other we are just saying ‘oh my god, what are we going to do?’ And I never tried to have another career – so it feels like I either need to start retraining now to do music alongside it or… I don’t know.

It’s sad to hear that. We do what we do at Picky Bastards because we love discovering and talking about new artists, so to think that it is so bleak out there is hard. And I suppose when I thought of this question, I was just thinking of the positive side of the last two years for you – as someone who heard the album quite early, watched it grow, and came to see you on tour. I was thinking that this was a cheery question – ha ha. But it’s your career, isn’t it – it shouldn’t be a side hustle.

Yeah, exactly. And it’s funny – I feel almost ungrateful saying all of that, and so many musicians don’t. Even some of my friends, when I tell them about the industry – or about the money that is going out against the money that is coming in – they’re all just saying ‘what the fuck?’ Whereas you see artists on Twitter etc and think ‘wow, that person is killing it.’ So it’s a real battle within me to not always be like ‘but also, this’ and ‘this is really shit, too.’ And I’m a middle class white girl, I’m not the worst off by far – it’s bonkers.

Yeah, yeah. Definitely. One of the things that blew my mind recently was hearing about venues taking 25% of merch sales of artists and support artists at shows – I was always trying to buy merch at gigs because I thought the artist was getting more of the money, but no – turns out 25% of my cash has been going to The Apollo or wherever…

Yeah, I’ve played a couple of support shows at big venues where they say that in order to sell merch it’s going to be a £130 fee. So it’s either a flat fee or a percentage. And I’ve bought ten vinyl in the hope that I might sell six of them.

So you might potentially make your bus fare home…

Yeah. Exactly. It’s fucking insane.

But yeah. If we put all the business, financial side of things aside people have been wonderful. It’s been lovely. People have really interacted with A Common Turn in ways I didn’t expect, because I really thought it was so insular and specific to me – so it’s been amazing to have so many people feel like it speaks to them, too.

And having champions like Marc Riley being so kind about it – I mean, I heard my fucking song on the radio – it’s insane. And then he played Jeff Buckley! And getting to play a Tiny Desk, getting to play South x Southwest, these were things that were on my forever bucket list.

And tell me more about those comparisons to people like Jeff Buckley – how does that feel?

Unhinged! It’s completely wild. I struggle with it – I try not to listen to what people say because it fucks me up. But it’s amazing.

But then I also feel that people just like to put things together and categorise them because that’s how our minds work, so if people are saying Jeff Buckley I’m happy with that – if they’re saying Janis Joplin, Anonhi – that’s great – but I’m under no illusions. Saying something is like something else is a tool to get people to listen to things, it’s not factual. And all the people I am compared to sound completely different. So it’s interesting in that respect too – that I can sound like people who are so far apart.

I think for me it’s about the feeling that the music people gives them – I think I compared you to Aldous Harding when we last spoke, but in reality the music isn’t that similar. It’s just that it gives me a similar feeling – and I think that is why you see such a wide range of comparisons.

Yeah. That makes total sense. And some of the people I am compared to are not really people I’ve listened to, so that’s been cool as well.

And you’ve touched on the not reading reviews etc thing – so how has it been just having people tell you how they feel on social media? Is that hard? Is it good?

It’s pretty hard. I think because A Common Turn was so honest and personal to me.

And I felt like this in interviews at times as well – because it was so personal to me, and then there’s a very PG level psychology or psychoanalysis going on in interviews because I’m unable to see where things connect and then I’m talking to people and they’re saying – ‘well this relates to this, this links to this’ – and it’s things I’ve never thought of. So I’d be in an interview and someone would say something and I’d be like ‘oh, fuck!’

Ha ha – I feel like I did that an awful lot when we last spoke!

But no, you’re totally encouraged to do that – it’s so wonderful to have people looking so closely at the songs that I have made. But there’s an element of it, because the songs were so specific to me and so real and honest, that I’m constantly getting these moments of shock and clarity where I’m like ‘that person is totally right’ and they’re talking about these songs as songs while for me they are real life – real relationships. And that’s fine.

But it’s definitely much harder when it is someone random on the internet – when someone quotes a bit of a review at you, or they tag their friend in a post you’re tagged in and then have a conversation underneath it.

Okay – well, you’re probably in for a few months of that with the new album about to come out. But let’s talk about inFLUX for a little bit. Can you give me the elevator pitch?

Oh fuck. Ha ha ha. I’ve been trying to come up with one.

I guess the elevator pitch for inFLUX, kind of relates to A Common Turn really – when I was writing A Common Turn I was very solitary and it was only when I got in the studio with Will (William Doyle) that I was like ‘fuck, it’s actually really fun to be making music.

So I wanted to have more fun – that was M.O. number one for this album. And I wanted to bring in my producer a bit earlier in the process so I could have more of that, more of that joy.

And with inFLUX I feel like I really wanted to try and express the multiplicities of who I am and how I feel, and how we all feel. I feel like A Common Turn was slightly in danger of masking who I am – people would be surprised that I was kind of goofy and fun after hearing the album, and I was like ‘yeah, I’m a three-dimensional person’. So I wanted to bring a bit more of that to the new album. I’m full of inconsistencies – I am both things at once. And I wanted to bring those things together in the same creation.

Photo of Anna by Katie Silvester

I think you really pulled that off – one of the things that stood out to me while listening, very clearly in a few songs, was the contrast between the message of ‘I want to be alone, I’m happy on my own’ type lyrics and the other songs that seemed to be really crying out for connection. Is that one of the contradictions you’re talking about?

100%. That felt really important to me to express that. Because it is a pretty confusing thing – and not always an easy thing for people to hear when you say ‘I’m pretty sure I want to be alone, but I do also want connection.’ People seem to immediately think that’s you undercutting the want to be alone. Which is kind of an interesting thing.

And just to add more layers and more multiplicity, I am now happily partnered and have been for a couple of years. And one of the things we bonded over was the idea of loving being single and loving our independence.

Well that’s great news. But also fascinating in the context of the album! So how does your partner look at those songs of yours that talk about wanting to be alone?

He totally gets it. And he’s really understanding of the idea that my work is not necessarily real time and that there are multiplicities, and that I did really mean that and was really happy on my own. And then I just happen to have met him, and that was the really nice spanner in the works. And I think he felt the same. So it was kind of a weird thing to start a relationship where we were both saying we didn’t want to compromise our independence and freedom and that was how this relationship was going to work.

Sounds like a pretty good starting point, for sure. I’m happy to hear it. And to go back to the other part of your elevator pitch, about bringing the fun to the album, I think that is really noticeable too – in the title song, for example, I love the moment when you burst into laughter in the back of the song. Moments like that make this album feel more balanced than A Common Turn in a way – some of it feels more free. Did it feel more free for you? As a person or as an artist?

As a person, sure. As an artist – kind of. I guess because I’d already released an album. There’s that classic sophomore album ‘oh my god, it’s going to be terrifying blah, blah, blah’ – but not for me, I’ve climbed my fucking Everest. Getting that first album out – that was my real struggle. So after that I was just like ‘I want to enjoy this.’

Well this kind of ties into my next question, in a way – as I am fascinated about the writing process of this album. If I’m being totally honest with you, I wondered, knowing how long things took for you with A Common Turn, whether you might be one of those artists that takes so long to get to the next album that it would be a totally different landscape by the time we heard from you again. So I was very pleased to hear something was coming out. So was it a really different process this time? Are some of them older songs that have been with you a long time? Maybe just tell me a bit about how you wrote and put the album together…

Well, they’re all post A Common Turn. Which is nice. But when I say that, I mean they are all post-writing A Common Turn – that album didn’t come out for fucking ages.

I didn’t want to be precious with this album, I just wanted to get stuff out. I know I have a tendency to be too specific and too precious and get dragged into the weeds a little bit – so I just wanted to go for it and really get something. So I booked in some time with Mike Lindsay (of Lump and Tunng) in the studio before I really had an album and thought I could just panic myself into getting it together.

But I’ve been writing songs here and there for ages now, so I had a few that were kind of finished and had two to bring to the studio. Only one ended up on the album, though. Then Mike and I, maybe in November or December of 2021, we booked into spend more time in the studio and I had to push it back two or three weeks to make sure I had some kind of handle on songs that were going to come in with me.

So I ended up going back through a lot of stuff that I’ve written and it was really fun. I discovered I had enough stuff for a few albums if I put in enough work – and actually, I don’t think there will be another album that comes out of that set of songs, but it was really fun to go through them.

During the pandemic me and some friends did this ‘song a day’ thing where we would try and write a song a day and send them to each other by midnight, and probably about half of the songs from this album are from that. But I’d dismissed them at the time as I was thinking ‘they only took half a day, so they can’t be any good.’ They couldn’t possibly be worth anything because I didn’t pull my teeth out.’ But my friend who I’d done the exercise with told me they really thought I should look at those songs again. And none of them are in there exactly as they were, except for one which has only changed by a word.

So with enough coaxing, I slowly started to realise that not all of these things needed to be totally dismissed.

But basically, yeah – I just realised that I had things I could whip into shape and also knew that I had some sentiments I wanted to add in. So the concept was there from the beginning and then slowly and surely I got to add things in and work on the songs to make them fit.

So it felt like a really fun challenge this time – because having a blank page is the worst thing of all for me. So having songs that I’d already written and dismissed and then going back and giving them life – it felt like a real joy.

I think I was slightly encouraged in this by the Adrienne Lenker album ‘Songs’, which totally fucks me up and is amazing – and then I found out the songs were written and recorded in a day. ‘Holy Fuck!’

The way she writes is crazy, though – nobody should hold themselves against that standard!

Yeah, totally. But is was really nice to have that comparison. And I didn’t hear that story and think ‘oh, well that album is worthless now then because she didn’t spend five years changing one syllable at a time’. I could see that it was a beautiful album and that there’s worth and joy and beauty in stuff that is created quickly, just as much as there is in something that takes a lot of time.

Definitely. Sounds like a good realisation. I suppose my next question ties into this, too, as it is kind of about how much time you spent on something…

So I think one of the most successful things about this album is the sequencing – particularly the transitions between ‘I Can Hear The Birds Now’ and ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ and between ‘Say My Name’ and ‘inFLUX’. So I just wonder how much thought goes into this for you?

Well it’s kind of the thing that doesn’t get talked about as much, compared to the songwriting – but yeah. It’s such an important part. Well, if you’re interested in creating an album as a whole – then it’s a super important thing. I’ll be honest, though, it was something I had never thought about before putting together A Common Turn.

When we were putting together A Common Turn we had an hour’s worth of stuff and it felt really difficult because we had to cut songs, and with this one we have a couple of extra things that were cut too. But yeah, sequencing felt really important to me because of the concept of the album being about having slightly disparate, separate personalities that exist in the same thing – I wanted the album to feel like a proper journey and it was really difficult to pick out where to place things.

But I feel super pleased with the tracklisting, not least because the split in the middle – between ‘Say My Name’ and ‘inFLUX’ is the split between side a and side b and I do feel side a is a bit more insular and fraught and side b has a lot more of the self belief and solidness in my sense of self.

So weirdly it felt like the track list came together kind of easily in the end, because of that split.

And I suppose that it makes sense that it ends with ‘The Orange’, then if that is the transition that you see in the album. Given its themes. And I will actually be asking a bit about ‘The Orange’, and some other songs in my next question.

There’s something I wanted to try if that ‘s okay. There are a few lyrics on the album that, for various reasons, have hit me and stuck with me so I was hoping to quote them to you and see if there’s anything you want to tell me about them. Like how they came about etc. Does that sound okay?

Sure. Sounds good.

And knowing your music, I’m aware some of these might be the most personal moments in your life – so feel free to tell me to skip any.

But I’ll start with this one from ‘I Can Hear The Birds Now’: ‘I tried to pick the perfect postcard/a penguin one for you’ which you call back to later with ‘I tried to write the perfect postcard/which I won’t send to you’…

Well first of all, I should point that it was referring to Penguin publishing not the bird – despite my love of birds.

Ah, I was totally picturing you looking for a penguin on a postcard…

I know. And I suppose that was kind of on purpose, too – a bit of misdirection because I know that people expect me to write about birds. That was quite fun to do.

Well it worked on me. And I think the reason it stood out to me is because my daughter is currently obsessed with birds and it made me think about being in a shop trying to pick a card out for her. So there you go, another example of people attributing meaning to your words…

Yeah, but that’s good. Because it felt like quite a straightforward lyric to me. And then the bit about not sending it and then knowing how that feels for someone, that was a real realisation for me. Which felt quite freeing. It felt like ‘fuck it’, I am not going to pay attention to that person anymore.

Which is also why that song suddenly turns into a major at the end – literally the last chord is a major instead of the minor one that has been going on through the song, and that felt like a nice uptick to a song which had felt like a bit of longing and confusion.

I love that song, it makes me happy. And it’s also the one I wrote in a day for that only had one lyric changed.

It feels right that the one you wrote in a day is about birds! I like that. Okay, next lyric: this is the obvious one from ‘Crown Shyness’, but it’s one that definitely hits and I wanted to ask about it – ‘you’re in my dreams an awful lot at the moment/and if I know what this means, it means this dance is over for us’…

I guess it’s important to say that, in the song, I don’t go into the type of dreams this person was in because it’s just hard. So I guess that if there is a confusion around how you’re feeling about someone, and they are in your dreams and these dreams don’t represent the good, calm feelings that you’d hope for, I feel like that is me learning to trust my subconscious in a way. That it might be trying to tell me something that I am not listening to in my waking life and that maybe I should be.

A photo of Anna by Katie Silvester

That makes sense. And I suppose there’s another interesting contradiction at play, given that when most people sing about someone being in their dreams a lot they are definitely saying that’s a good thing – were you playing with that intentionally?

I wasn’t, but it’s definitely true. I love it.

This next one calls back to the contradictions as well, too – I know we have talked about those contradictions about wanting to be alone and wanting to connect in different songs, but it feels like this almost happens across the lyric here in the song ‘Hungry’: ‘I thought I’d feel lonely, but that’s not true/What’s true, and what I feel, is hunger for more time with you’

For me that almost felt like the opposite of lonely – this one is almost a love song to like twenty different people. I felt so far from lonely when I was with them that being away from them didn’t make me feel lonely, it just made me feel like I wanted more of that – I still felt held and a part of something. This wonderful sense of like a new found family. But at the same time, yeah – I was currently driving away from it and didn’t want to lose it.

Yeah, it was quite interesting that it stemmed not from a place of loneliness but a feeling of real belonging and love.

Yeah, that makes sense – because it feels like a happy song, in a weird way. In terms of the title and when you first hear it, it indicates it would be a sad song – but the more you listen the more the happiness comes across.

That makes very happy, because in my head it definitely is – even bittersweet would be too strong.

Great – I’ll stay on happy songs, then. And this is the final lyric I want to ask you about – it’s from ‘The Orange’, as I mentioned earlier. I love this lyric, as it took me back to some of my own feelings from the past and I wanted to know how and why you put this particular line together and what it means to you: ‘My nieces laugh, wind in the poplar trees, poetry, orange peel hat on my knee, I think I’m going to be fine.’

Well, this was an interesting song as I had about 85 verses that I wanted to put in and I had to whittle it down. There was so much I wanted to put into it and I found hard to know what to pick to say what I wanted to say. And up until that last verse it had all been super narrative driven.

But then I thought that things aren’t always a narrative, you don’t always know why these feelings of calm and contentment come up, it’s just sort of snippets and little snapshots. So I just wanted to think of a list of things that almost always bring me immense joy that can actually, and have often, happened together but are also independent of each other.

And I just wanted to put them next to each other to convey the feelings instead of saying exactly what happened, as sometimes I am in danger of overexplaining what happened instead of saying how it felt.

So, I’m glad you picked that little section out, as I am really proud of that little part.

And I think there’s something really great and important just about that particular mention of your niece’s laugh, as I can imagine in the context of some of your other lyrics about not wanting kids people might be surprised to see that. I know before I had a kid that people would always find it weird that I had such a good relationship with my nieces, but didn’t have kids myself – so I think that one line is doing something crucial in the album context as a whole.

Yeah, and my nieces are my number one joy in the world and I can’t get enough of them and I love them. And yeah, I’m pretty sure I don’t want kids but I’d like to be a teacher – or I love babysitting my nieces and hanging out with their friends. They all say mad shit that makes me laugh so much. I think the way that kids see the world can make me see things differently, and can make things seem both bigger and smaller at the same time.

Being around kids is one of the best things in the world, but I just don’t want to push one out!

And it’s nice when you get to give them back at the end of the day. Although, now I have a daughter, I should say that I don’t want to give her back at the end of the day – not every day, anyway. I was listening to the album with her this morning, by the way – she was having a proper boogie to ‘inFLUX’ in her high chair…

Aw, that’s so wonderful. Yeah, kids dancing – when and why do we lose the ability to dance like children, there is so much joy and abandon in it! We should all learn from them – kids don’t look cool dancing, but there is something about having that abandon and that joy coming out of you in all of your limbs. It’s epic.

It is, it is. Okay, let’s move on from lyrics and my child dancing! Last time we spoke you talked about your influences, but I wanted to ask if you felt they played any different kind of role in this album?

It’s quite funny, I really didn’t have any specific, broad influences in mind – but it did feel important to me to demonstrate something about what my other influences are. So things like a bit more jazz – and there are some really delicious, crunchy piano chords in this one that there wasn’t in the last. I guess this has more acoustic guitars, so elements of folk music. And I have my clarinet and my saxophone on this one, so that meant that I could bring in those kinds of things that I love – the slightly meandering, melodic lines on those kinds of instruments. It just felt like I was able to demonstrate those further corners of my influences that didn’t feel appropriate on A Common Turn.

That’s kind of why I wanted to ask the question actually – because when we last spoke you mentioned Radiohead, my favourite band, as an influence – and on A Common Turn I wouldn’t say that I saw any direct influence. But my favourite song on the new album is ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ and it sounds quite Radiohead-y in a way, you can hear the In Rainbows era in that song – I just wondered if that was something you were aware of or if it was purposeful at all.

Wow, no – but it’s quite funny, as we were practicing it the other day and one of my band said ‘this is really In Rainbows era Radiohead’ – and I’d never though of that. When we were recording it I felt it was such a weird song – like, ‘what the fuck am I doing?’ But I find it really interesting, because in my mind there is a lot more Radiohead influence in A Common Turn – so I am very intrigued, but also really happy!

It’s a giant compliment to me – In Rainbows is absolutely perfect from start to finish.

But there was definitely no attempt on my part to sound that way – and weirdly, with ‘Pavlov’s Dog’, I was trying to write something easier. Which is funny, because it has these weird time signatures and I am doing a polyrhythm on the guitar that I don’t really understand – so I don’t know how I thought that was easy.

It sounds like the least easy song on the album…

Ha ha. Yeah. And that was part of the ones that I wrote in day, although it’s changed a lot since then – even if the chords and the guitar part are the same. But I definitely remember sending that to my friends and saying ‘I’ve written the weirdest thing ever, I don’t know where that came from.’ But I think I just wanted to play around with a few chords and I ended up making some weird, complex thing.

Well and I think, for me, when first listening to the album, this song was the most immediately different and the marker that you hadn’t sat still from album one to two…

That makes me very happy – and I am also really intrigued that you find it the most different from the last album.

I think that was because it felt like this song, and the title song, started from the weird place that some of the songs on A Common Turn would take a while to get too – like when things change up in the middle of ‘Two’ – if that makes sense…

It does. And it’s great – it really is very interesting hearing what people think about it what I’ve made. Obviously, I see it in one way and then I speak to someone like you and it reminds me of all the multiplicities and the ways that people perceive stuff.

Well I’m glad. And you’ll be glad to hear that we’ve come to the last question – and it’s the standard question to end on really. Do we know what is next for you at this point?

Well I’ve got the tour – and I have hopes for further than the tour, but no plans. Just hoping that I get booked for lots of nice festivals and I can have a nice summer time.

And I guess I’m feeling more ready to tour this time and I’m excited to get to Europe, as we didn’t get to do that last time. And playing to people will make it feel real so I can know that I’ve not just been making it all up in my head!

So yeah, it’ll be good. And maybe with it being closer to album release date that I’m touring this time it’ll give me a real shot at making something happen.

I’ve got my fingers crossed for you. And there will be an almost full team of Picky Bs editors at your Manchester show, so we’ll look forward to seeing you there.

Perfect. Can’t wait.

Thanks, Anna!

Interview by Fran Slater

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s