Freshly released by City Slang, A Common Turn, the first Lp of the young London singer-songwriter Anna B Savage, is one of the most talked about and rightly praised records of the moment, both by critics and audience. The album discloses an in-depth look at intimate, dark, and painful topics without being afraid of revealing wounds and weaknesses; proof of the visceral and unstoppable strength of its author. Thanks to the production of William Doyle (aka East India Youth), A Common Turn ranges from stormy electric guitars to vibrant electronic echos, being Anna's gaunt dark folk and her deep, supple voice the absolute protagonists.
We took the opportunity to chat with Anna, who turns out to be not only talented but also generous and talkative. In fact, we began with her latest record and ended up talking about lockdowns, books, bird watching, vibrators, Leonard Cohen, pizza, you name it. Enjoy the reading!
Hi Anna, how are you doing? How are you spending these weird lockdown times?
Hello! I’m alright thanks, getting a little fatigued now by all the lockdowns, but who isn’t! (Aside from New Zealand…)
Let’s go straight to your Lp debut. “A Common Turn” has been literally a triumph, the critics loved it and the fans too. You are also very active on social networks, I guess this response has been somehow overwhelming. How are you living it? Did you expect it?
Ah, that’s so very lovely. I guess you’re right - people are being very kind indeed. Ha, I definitely am being very active on social networks - it feels like one of the only ways I’m actually able to reach people at this time. While I don’t think it’s necessarily the best thing for my brain, I think it’s good to do for now! The question ‘how are you living it?” Is definitely an interesting one: I don’t know that it feels real (potentially because of the aforementioned lockdowns!) but I’m trying to take a moment each day to think about how lucky I am. There have been a lot of tears. I didn’t expect it, no. I was worried that the album would ask too much of people: too much close listening, too much emotional output & maybe input. It feels really lovely and unexpected that people seem to be giving the record the time and care it deserves. I feel very pleased about that!
The songs on this album are often very intimate, personal, sometimes true pain shines through their lyrics. There is a lot of your private life, of your feelings in it. How does it feel to open yourself this way to the world? How is to sing such things live, with people looking at you straight in the eyes?
Yes, there’s definitely a lot of ‘me’ in these songs. I guess it’s nice that people are liking it, it’d feel quite personal if everyone was telling me they hated it ha. I don’t know that I truly believe that I’ve opened myself to the world still (maybe a naiveté on my part) but I feel no qualms so far about what I’ve put out there. The one thing I feel qualified to talk about is my own emotions and my responses to things: and I don’t feel like anyone could argue with me saying “I feel uncertain about X or Y”. I guess in that respect maybe it’s slightly self protective.
In “Chelsea Hotel N.3” you sing “I Will Take Care Of Myself (If You Know What I Mean)”. If I can ask, what do you really mean?
Ha! I mean, taking charge of my own sexual autonomy both in a metaphorical and a literal physical sense in this song!
Is the song connected with the Leonard Cohen’s one?
Yep, it’s vaguely connected to Leonard Cohen’s one for sure, I used that as a jumping off point. I was really interested in the idea of his ‘muse’ being Janis Joplin. In fact, I was interested in the idea of the gender dynamic in the muse/artist setup more generally. Historically, many muses have been passive women whose stories haven’t been told. I felt like this was analogous to my understanding and exploration of my own sexuality and sexual decide: I had been waiting for someone else to speak or act for me, for my entire life.
How did the lucky collaboration with William Doyle (East India Youth) begin?
Haha, I don’t think it was luck, I think it was just me accosting him ha. We had a mutual friend, thankfully, so when I approached him to maybe do some production stuff we had an intermediary who could vouch for me! Thankfully he was down for it, and then we started sending emails back and forth and eventually tried one song together, it went really well, so decided to go for the full album.
Your album is mainly a dark singer-songwriter record, but is also full of sudden and surprising shifts, of many variations. Sometimes with stormy electric guitars, sometimes with electronics. How did you and William work on it? Tell me something about the composite process.
We decided to work on each song just for one day, then move to the next the next day. We were only working 1 or 2 days per week so it was great, we didn’t hear songs for a month or so after we’d done them. Most of them didn’t go too far from that first day of working on them. It was really fun to work so quickly and freely like that. All Will’s idea!
You have been, so to say, “discovered and launched” from Father John Misty and Jenny Hval, which strongly wanted you to tour with them. How has it been to share dates and stages with such personalities? Are you still in touch with them?
Ah it was wonderful! I wasn’t with Jenny Hval for a long time sadly but it was a fun one! I’m a big fan of her polymathic tendencies and have loved her albums since then and also her book Paradise Rot! I toured with the Father John Misty crew for over a month. It was absolutely glorious - they were so welcoming and we had such a laugh. Also it felt like I was finally living the thing I’d always hoped to, so that was great. Also I am a huge FJM fan, loved his first album, actually loved his J. Tillman work, too, so it was an absolute blast hanging out with him all that time. Whenever they were playing in the UK I’d go and see their London date, (or once in Bath when there was no London show). It’s fucking great to see them, properly the loveliest bunch.
Your parents are lyric singers. Did this influence your formation?
I think it must have done, yeah! I was surrounded with music since I can remember,ber. My earliest memory is coming out of the bathroom washing my hands singing the Queen of the Night aria from Mozart’s Magic Flute.
A silly question. The special edition (both in vinyl and in cd) of your album comes together with a very special gadget . Why this fun and so particular choice?
Not a silly question at all! Since I’ve been interested in sex toys, I’ve been interested in making them. I was told I needed to make this edition a bit more special, and I was thinking about a relatively cost effective way of doing this. Also, if it gets a vibrator in to the hands of someone who otherwise wouldn’t have bought one then that’s my job done!
Digging in your lyrics, it’s possible to find out a lot of influences that go from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to the Spice Girls, from Edwyn Collins to Nick Drake. What comes out is a clear picture of your versatile and deep background. Is there any other important influence on your art that you would like to mention? Maybe some movies or books?
Ah, thank you. Yeah, I keep referring to myself as a magpie, and I think that’s true: if I like something, I’ll pick it up and store it away. I’m a big reader, always have been, of poetry and fiction (and increasingly non-fiction). Anything that facilitates learning, to be honest. Corncrakes arose from reading two books almost back to back: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot and The Summer Book by Tove Jansson. I had a book of Seamus Heaney’s poems with me when I was writing the lyrics, and also a Larkin’s The North Ship. I found that I Love Dick by Chris Kraus was super important in allowing me to feel able to write this album, too. I sent her a copy to say thank you.
In your album you also refer to bird watching. Do you really practice it? Is that any fun?
I really do! And yes, it is. Anything that facilitates slowing down, observing and brings a little bit of joy is fun in my book. I’ve not done huge pilgrimages to birding spots yet, just enjoying what’s around me, but I hope to change that once lockdown is lifted.
Is there anything new and interesting that you are listening to in this period. Any new band or artist you’d like to recommend to our readers?
I’m making a playlist and updating it every month with stuff that I like or am listening to, so that’s a great place to find out! It’s here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/29VGBtlMNqQxGdGXWytTAO?si=-4igOMa_QnyurfUaEY-oqA
Do you miss playing live?
I do, although I haven’t done it loads. Can’t wait to do it again!
Which is the live gig that you attended as an audience that has changed your life (if there is one)?
There are many, but the one that springs to mind is Owen Pallett at Union Chapel in London. The audience loved it so much he had to do three encores because we wouldn’t leave.
Have you ever played in Italy? If yes, any special memories about that?
Yeah I have a few times! One super special one was called Half Die Festival. It was on a roof in Rome and there were viaducts behind. After the show about 20 of us went to a Pizzeria and had pizzas. It felt very special and I felt completely looked after and at home.
That was it, thanks so much for you time. Have a good day!