“It’s interesting that the success of a song isn’t just the melody, or the lyrics, or any of these things you would think is what makes a song, but [something else entirely]. When you perform it in a different way, it can completely change the mood,” says Anna Calvi as she reflects on the contrasts between her 2018 Mercury Prize-nominated album ‘Hunter’ and it’s denuded follow-up, ‘Hunted’.
Inspired by having some breathing space between records, and in somewhat of a serendipitous way, Calvi found herself being drawn to the primitive origins of what has since become an entirely different kind of beast. ‘Hunted’ is all at once a quietly alluring dive into sensuality, and the intoxicating power that comes in reclamation of the self. Throughout the album, her voice contains a deliberate power of address that radiates through the great expanse of the universe, almost as though she is seeking you out with her words.
As with most introverted people, such a bold expulsion of energy often comes a desire to reign it all in, as is most natural and comfortable for the way that they inhabit the world. Calvi’s choice to release the demos of ‘Hunter’ didn’t exactly come from this kind of internal urge. “I came across these records that I’d done as soon as I had written the songs, and I liked the rawness and the vulnerability that they had. It felt very different from the album that I had fully recorded.” She continues, “‘Hunter’ was very much a galvanising, strong record, but the whole idea of my record was that we are multifaceted and we don’t just have to be strong or vulnerable.”
So what follows is a body of work that takes on a kind of clandestine form – unearthed from the confines of quiescence. While going through the demos, Calvi thought hard about the artists she was most inspired by, who would help elevate the magic within these recordings. “I just sent them the songs, I didn’t get them any instructions. I like the idea of being surprised just seeing what the artists would do with the material. That was the most exciting part – to not give them any instruction.”
Enlisting help from the likes of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Julia Holter, Joe Talbot, and Courtney Barnett, ‘Hunted’ is an intimate take on the intensity that exudes from Calvi’s creative outlet. Based on a paronomasia of opposites, there is a kind of equilibrium that permeates through the art. Speaking of the collaboration with Courtney Barnett, Calva reflects: “There’s something really interesting about how her voice changes the dynamic of this song. It was interesting as well because the first single I released in 2018 was ‘Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy’ and I like the symmetry of this being the first song to come out on ‘Hunted’.”
Barnett’s contributions to the song itself are incredibly subtle, but help amplify the atmosphere with her husky voice adding a velveteen finish around Calvi’s. Something that she herself found a certain charm within, as it was her prerogative to capture an essence of purity. “I found that interesting – how the songs seem sadder and more vulnerable when there are less elements.” As someone who is outwardly quite introverted, there’s a raw energy that expels from her once she has a guitar in her hands.
“I find it important to express those sides – the strong and the vulnerable in music-making. It’s most interesting to work in opposites, and particularly for an album that’s about trying to be more fluid, and seeing the world in a more fluid way. It just felt like the right thing to write about and be inspired by.” Inspiration is a key topic of conversation that surrounds ‘Hunter’. Upon its release, a wider conversation was evolving about the fluidity of sexuality; gender; human nature; and the complexities that arise within those discussions.
Where ‘Hunter’ is a very physical album and extroverted in its nature, ‘Hunted’ appeals more to the introverted quietude of the world. Presenting both sides of her personality in this way is something that Calvi has explored throughout touring the former, which she says allowed her to be “more free, and more wild” on stage. “I just think that extroverts are praised more than introverts but, you know, you have to stop and listen if you’re ever gonna learn anything. The world needs introverts as much as they need extroverts. I guess I’m lucky in that I can express both. You know, when I’m on stage I’m not an introvert but in my daily life I don’t feel the need to be the centre of attention – that’s not what interests me in my daily life.”
Channelling the colour red was a source of power throughout the album cycle, and Calvi intends to stick with it throughout ‘Hunted’, as she believes that red can be intimate as well as powerful. With a glimmer of a smile in her voice, she says with quiet assertion: “Red will always be my theme.” The main goal of continuing to release music and push herself is to get closer to a sense of encapsulating an idea. “Obviously it means a lot to me that people like it but I do have to be careful of that – I don’t want to go into the mindset of wanting to please people because I don’t think that makes for good work. So, although I do let part of myself enjoy those good things, I don’t let myself get carried away. It’s not what defines me.”
She continues: “Just the idea of getting to some simple and honest truth in your songwriting. Where you feel like the song that I’ve written has completely capsulated that need or that feeling that I had, that I wanted to express. Each time you write a song, you’re trying to get closer to that idea. The thing is, I think if you do it well, people do enjoy it because they understand what that feeling is and that’s what they connect with.” For a lot of people, there is a distinct pleasure in being able to listen to demos of their favourite songs, as it allows them to disassemble and reassemble the pieces in a way that provides them with a snapshot into the minds of their idols.
In the attempt at capturing what it’s like to be prey and putting your most intimate moments out into the public, to allow your work to be devoured. There’s a sense of power that exudes from complete surrendering and succumbing to the elements and opinions of a multitude of people who are happy to pick out intricacies in a body of work, and twist them into something negative. The main element of it all for Calvi is that ‘Hunted’ feels like a “full circle of expressing the multifaceted nature of existence.” With no ulterior motives other than that, in her incredibly humble way; she adds: “I like the idea that it promotes introspection, I suppose.”
Taken from the April issue of Dork. Anna Calvi’s album ‘Hunted’ is out now.
Words: Tyler Damara Kelly