Anna B Savage: A Soul Laid Bare

An intensely profound and outspoken artist, the brilliant Anna B Savage has recently released her much-anticipated debut album, A Common Turn. Following the release of her debut EP five years ago, A Common Turn has received great acclaim and for good reason. Produced in collaboration with William Doyle (FKA East India Youth), Savage wears her heart on her sleeve throughout, exploring thorny topics such as toxic relationships and female pleasure with subtlety and conviction.

Talking with Wax, she strikes me as a deeply perceptive and thoughtful individual for whom being vulnerable and open in her art is not only inevitable, but necessary. Furthermore, there is the sense that every element of her process has been considered with care and intelligence, crafted with a purpose in mind – A Common Turn reads like a journey of self-discovery, following Savage as she discovers new ways to express her innermost thoughts both lyrically and sonically. Over the past five years Savage encountered a number of personal challenges regarding her mental health and the album openly explores the impact that these relationships have had on her. There is something refreshingly unique about her music that stems partly from the rich, distinctive tone of her voice but also from the eclectic range of musical inspiration she pulls from.

The visual side to her music is equally fascinating having really blossomed alongside the release of this album. During the years since the release of her EP, Savage has been creating a film with two collaborators that can be read in conversation with A Common Turn. This is certainly an area of creativity that has fed into her artistic process with the music possessing an atmospheric, almost filmic quality at times. Tracks such as ‘Baby Grand’ and ‘A Common Tern’ in particular seem to flourish in combination with their visual counterparts.

Savage is truly a joyous artist to listen to and to understand on a deeper level. Her music is thought provoking and delightfully varied, providing the listener with a real glimpse into the human experience and an inimitable musical world.

Hey! Thanks so much for chatting to me today. First things first, huge congratulations on releasing the album! I’ve been listening to it all week and am really loving it.

Thank you, that’s super lovely to hear!

How has the last week been for you releasing the album during a pandemic?

I don’t really have anything to compare it to, but it feels really lovely! Everyone is being super kind about it and generous with their time, like actually giving it lots of listens. That’s more than I could have hoped for. It feels really good to finally have it out in the world.

How is the pandemic kind of been for you, in general? Have you felt creative at all or has it been quite opposite?

I definitely haven’t been creative at all. I have felt quite apathetic quite a lot of the time. But I’ve been trying to do stuff to challenge myself. I actually have moved to Dublin and I’m doing a Master’s! I was just like, I need something to focus on because I had plans and all these things that just suddenly might not happen for like, a year or two years! I thought, well fuck, I need a purpose because otherwise I’m just going to disintegrate. I moved here and started working on that which has been really fun and has made me feel like I have some sort of autonomy and some control over what I am doing.

You have been working on the album for about five years since your EP release, right?

Yeah, pretty much. It was actually all recorded by June 2019! It was mixed and mastered and stuff after that but yeah, my producer Will [Doyle], and I, we worked on it from January to June of 2019.

Wow, that must feel like a lifetime ago! Listening to the album now and doing promo, are there any things that that have cropped up that you have a new perspective on at all?

Yeah, definitely. It feels like I’ve been given this space where I can suddenly see things that I maybe couldn’t necessarily see at the time, which has been interesting. I don’t know if it’s a good thing, or a bad thing. It feels quite overly self-reflective maybe at times and I am in danger of getting a bit too inward spirally if I do a bit too much reflection. So yeah, it’s been it’s been an interesting one. Definitely a lot of stuff has cropped up that at the time I had thought, “I have no idea what I’m talking about here”, and now it’s so obvious!

What would you pinpoint as your main moments of inspiration behind the album?

It’s difficult because I feel like I’m a bit of a magpie. I take loads and loads of different bits, and squish them together. I don’t think there’s one defining kind of moment or anything, but, I’d say that a lot of it deals with an earnestness. It’s like a desire to try and maybe understand myself a little bit better. To try and actually hear myself, an exploration of what makes me tick. What makes me, me. Some of what makes me ‘me’ is having low self-esteem. That’s definitely a thing that I’ve experienced a lot of. So, it was like, okay I’m going to explore that and see how that comes out. That’s what I feel the most overarching thing is. An earnestness and a desire to try and understand and maybe dig a little bit deeper.

It’s funny you refer to yourself as a magpie because birds are definitely a recurrent theme across the album. How have birds played into your writing and what is the story behind the ‘Common Tern’?

I’d never seen a tern before. I didn’t know what it was. I just saw this bird basically just like hanging in the middle of the air and I was like, “that looks fucking bonkers”! It was amazing and because I was new to bird-watching and even liking birds, it felt like everything was a learning experience. That was something that was very evident throughout my whole experience of writing this album, because obviously, I haven’t done it before. But, it felt like the world was giving me little clues and little tidbits and I just had to be open enough or willing enough to notice them and take them in.

That was a couple of years before I actually wrote the song but I just remember this moment of being like, “wow, that is absolutely wild.” and I’ve never really seen anything like it. I didn’t really understand the significance of the tern when I wrote the song.

I was sitting in Frobisher Crescent, in the Barbican and I wrote pretty much the entire first verse, and then the chorus. I didn’t really know where it came from but at that point, I had been working really hard on the album for a good six months. I guess it was just like muscle memory. It feels really important to me and that’s why I made it the title track. As soon as I wrote the chorus I was like, this the title track of the album. I don’t really know why, it was just a kind of feeling. It felt slightly different track to all of the other songs to be honest because it dealt with a relationship that I got out of and that I’d been really reticent to talk about in my music for some reason. The sudden ability to express myself around that felt really amazing and really powerful. I guess if you’re working on like a massive project, those moments do crop up where you’re like, “I can do this thing or I can just talk about this thing, or I can kind of take it wherever I want.”

The music video also really explores the narrative of this relationship. What was your thought process behind the almost haunting imagery?

Not to be too completely explicit about it, but the song deals with an unhealthy relationship. Jem [Talbot], my co-director for the video and one of my creative partners, we were talking about how to express those more difficult aspects of a relationship and the visual cues for I guess an abusive relationship are quite on the nose. It’s quite difficult to kind of get away from that. Jem was just like, “I have this idea, I saw this Vito Acconci video where he’s blindfolded and he’s trying to catch balls”. I watched the video, we kind of talked it through and then the idea just kept growing and growing and growing. I love making the videos, I’ve had so much fun making them. Because I had done a couple by then, I was kind of like, I feel like I know how to do this. I feel like I have a voice at this stuff. Even now, when I watch it, I find it quite hard to watch. It’s quite visceral.

You really manage to tell a story through your videos, take me through the beautiful video for ‘Baby Grand’. What was the story behind it? It’s obviously quite personal to you!

Jem and I have been working on a film together and I guess the ‘Baby Grand’ music video acts as a trailer for the film as a whole. We’ve been working on it with another co-director called Henry [Krempels] for the last three years. We thought we were making one film, but then we ended up making ‘Baby Grand’, which was kind of about our relationship in the present day rather than the past because we were first loves. We initially thought that we were making a film about that but then because everything in the present day started to get a bit murky, it kept meandering into a different direction and morphing.

One of the really strong things about it is that like this, so A Common Turn, the album was written around the same time that we were making Baby Grand, the film. Baby Grand is named after one of the tracks on the album, which is a night that me and Jem talk about in the song and in the music video. That is footage from the actual night. There’s a really nice thing, where, I’m talking about it through my creative output, through my music and Jem is talking about the same thing through his filmmaking. They standalone as standalone things, but the two things are very much in conversation with each other. We always knew that it was going to be hard to kind of put it out and, like, it is very personal stuff. But at the moment, I don’t have qualms with how much I’ve shared.

Do you ever kind of hesitate about being so vulnerable and so honest in your work, or is it something that comes most naturally?

I’ve definitely had really good feedback from it, which also is kind of weird, because I feel like I’m talking about stuff that’s so specific to me and then suddenly, other people are like, “oh, I really get it”! There’s a universality in specificity that I hadn’t necessarily foreseen. I haven’t really had that much of an audience before so it hasn’t been that much of a problem, you know, laying my soul bare. If I do get an audience, maybe I’ll change my mind!

I guess a good example would be in ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’, the discussion of sexual experiences is really stark. Is that something that you purposefully explore in your music or is it something that just came from honesty?

I think I do search for specificity because I like that as a reader and as a listener. Those are the things that I feel really cements something in the real world. I think especially for ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’ I was just really pissed off and I really wanted to write something. I wanted it to be specific because I was like, I don’t want to feel fucking ashamed about any of this stuff. I think part of the power in that is the specificity because it’s like, I don’t want to feel ashamed about fancying Tim Curry in Rocky Horror Picture Show. He’s fucking hot. I have no qualms about that. When I wrote the song, the conversation around female sexuality and female pleasure and female desire wasn’t where it is now. It’s interesting because even in the space of two years, it’s changed so much, which is amazing and I feel so thankful about that. But there is still you know, a little bit of an intake of breath, or at least in my experience for me, talking about the specificities of this. People are a bit like, “oh, that’s quite bold”, but it’s not hurting anyone!

What about your musical influences? Where do you source your sonic influences?

Musically, I’m a bit of magpie as well. My parents are both classical singers so at home, we listened to basically classical music and then jazz, and the Beatles as well. My brother and my sister are both way older than me and they had their own little orbits. My brother was very much like, Nick Drake, John Martyn, Radiohead and then my sister was like, Stevie Wonder, India Arie, and Aretha Franklin. It was really interesting to have these three, like satellite things going into my brain when I was little. I definitely picked the things that I liked from what they listened to. I think I was 16 or 17, I found Limewire and started just downloading as much as I could possibly get my hands on. Finding stuff that I liked, and which was an addition to all of that stuff. I would listen to a lot of Owen Pallett and Arcade Fire. Then when I got a bit older, I started branching out even more. I was previously with a guy who was in a hardcore punk band so I did listen to quite a lot of hardcore punk. There are so many different influences and it just feels really fun to be able to express all of those different facets of my listening world in my music as well. It’s a true representation of what I do actually listen to, which is quite a lot of different stuff.

How about the actual production process? Do you kind of work in a certain way or was the album pulled from loads of different areas?

Will and I basically worked on it for about six months; maybe one day a week or two days a week. I had sent him all of my demos which were literally just me and a guitar and I’d also sent him a kind of aural world of where I wanted it to go. I knew what I wanted it to sound like as a whole, but I didn’t know how to express any of that stuff myself. When I sent the stuff to Will we started having conversations, we were kind of emailing back and forth and we would hang out. But then when we started working on it, we would basically go in and try to do as much of one song in a day as we could and then put that song to the side and not touch it again for a while until we needed to. The first day that we had in the studio, we did ‘BedStuy’, and then I don’t think we looked at it again for three months. It was very much both of us in the room asking what do we want this bit to sound like, and I would be a classic, annoying artist being like, “I really want this bit to sound kind of like, spiky and muddy, and like, a little bit shiny, like this bit, I want really metallic and light” and poor Will would have to try and translate that. There wasn’t so much a formula, the only thing that we that formulaically did was we would work on one song for a day, and then leave it for a while. That felt like a really nice way to work.

Will and yourself worked on the whole album together right? How did that collaboration come about and how did you find working together?

We had a mutual friend and we’d played at the same festival, like four years before or something. We’d been following each other on Instagram and vaguely interacting, but not really and I saw him post something on his stories being like, “I’m looking to do some production, if anyone is interested let me know”. I think within about 30 seconds of him posting it, I was like, “me, me, me!” I knew exactly what I wanted the album to sound like. I knew the bits that I could provide and the bits that I couldn’t, so having heard Will’s music I was like, he’s the perfect guy. He’s just fucking great and we just got on so well. He’s one of my best mates now. I’ve only ever really worked on music on my own, so suddenly realising that it can be a very joyful collaborative thing was mind blowing to me. I love it.

How have you found dealing with promotion side of everything, for instance using social media? What are your thoughts on the digital space?

The more I use it, the more I don’t want to use it – but I’m aware that I have to at the moment. I was talking to my therapist the other day, and she asked, “what does success mean to you in terms of your music” and I was like, “being able to pay for a one bed flat for myself, and being able to delete all my social media accounts!” That is like, the pinnacle of success to me because there are people who do this for a job because it is a job. There’s so much work that goes into it and it’s exhausting. Also, I feel like it makes my brain go like inwards and it just makes my attention span worse. It makes me just want to be on my phone all the time. It is addictive. So yeah, I feel not great about it, but I will definitely use it as much as humanly possible, especially now because I can’t tour or anything.

Are you missing that live side of music and interacting with your audience in person?

Yeah, definitely! I didn’t really do that many gigs before so I guess I’m not missing it on like a kind of day to day level. But that’s the stuff that makes me feel like alive. I’m definitely missing it for that. I love meeting new people and I love being in new places, and I love singing. So yeah, I feel like it would be a little bit dishonest if I was like “I miss it so much,” but I do I miss the potential of it.

Words: Hermione Kellow // Photos: Ebru Yildiz

Anna’s debut album, ‘A Common Turn’ is out now through City Slang. Stream or purchase the album through Bandcamp.

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