Calvi can breathe easy

Calvi can breathe easy

Calvi can breathe easy

First published in Music

With a second album to her name, Anna Calvi can't wait to get back on tour. Andy Welch meets the wistful singer and discovers how writing has become a form of therapy.

Ever since Anna Calvi first started performing songs from her debut album over three years ago, she's earned a reputation as a very intense singer and guitar player.

You won't read a review of her albums or live shows that doesn't feature the words 'brooding' or 'dramatic', while on stage, she cuts an almost androgynous figure; hair scraped back, often sporting black trousers and a sexless, tailored shirt, almost like a matador, albeit one that wears ruby red lipstick, sings with an opera singer's range and power, and plays the guitar as if it's the last time she'll ever do so.

It's utterly captivating, watching her perform, and exhausting for her, although don't expect her to change that when she begins her upcoming tour.

"I don't get tired from it," she says, asked if emoting in such a way, night after night drains her. "I mean, it is tiring, but it's a replenishing feeling and it feels good to be able to express myself in that way. If it does feel draining, it's more in a fulfilling way, like when you've been active or done something positive. It's not like when you've had an argument with someone. Good draining not bad draining, basically. Satisfying."

If she's intense on stage, she's not much less formidable when speaking, although her mighty singing voice is contrasted by the gentle and soft speaking voice of someone much younger. The 33-year-old speaks in quite short sentences, concise and never prone to making conversation for the sake of it.

Calvi's second album, One Breath, came out in October last year. Like her Mercury Prize-nominated self-titled debut, released in 2011, One Breath's a fiery affair, a whirling, gothic drama that sees her come across as some sort of Telecaster-wielding femme fatale.

Her first album saw obvious comparisons made to PJ Harvey and Jeff Buckley, and while One Breath doesn't shake them off completely, it did find the London-born singer ploughing her own furrow more and more.

Eliza is one of the album's standout tracks, understandably released as the first single from the new album.

"It's about a woman I saw, who was beautiful, calm and serene, and that feeling where you wish you could just take your soul out and become them," she says when asked to elaborate on the song's meaning. Calvi says much of One Breath was written in a pit of depression after the death of a close relative.

"You get to a point where you're so stuck, you'd be happy to forsake everything you are in order to become someone else," she adds. "But then there's the idea that what they have is a part of you that you might be able to access if you tried. It's about realising your potential in a difficult situation. Making the album helped me overcome these feelings, I found it a release to be able to express such things."

Calvi says she enjoyed writing her way out of despair, and believes it's quite normal for creative people like her to feel unstable.

"I definitely have that, but I embrace it. It's not something I would want to change. I have real highs and lows in my life and it comes across in my music. The feeling of not being in control and how you deal with that is a huge part of what life is all about. It's about having no control and how terrifying that is, but then there's something so soothing about that too. I think that feeling of being out of control is what love is about, what death is about, everything..." she continues.

"It seems to be something that always comes back in my writing, and it's expressed a lot on this record."

Now she has two albums' worth of songs to play, Calvi says she's really looking forward to her new tour and, coming off the back of regional dates in France and America, she and her band are in exceptionally good shape. She particularly enjoyed playing at the Le Trianon in Paris around the time of One Breath's release, so much so she's going back there to play on Valentine's Day and the night after.

"Playing live is my favourite part of everything I do," she says. "The performance is just for that moment and then it disappears, so you feel less..." she trails off, unable to describe the emotion. "As a perfectionist, it's nice to know whatever you've done just disappears."

That presumably means there'll never be a live album?

"I might do if it sounds good enough, you never know," she says. "I really enjoy the way my songs develop the more I play them, and I really understand and get to know them. They change from how they were when I recorded them, but that doesn't mean I want to go back and change the albums. Once you make a record you have to let go, that's important - there's no point thinking about what could have been."

The logistical side of touring doesn't bother Calvi so much, and while she doesn't claim to enjoy the act of actually travelling, she's quite excited by the idea of sleeping somewhere new each night. The only thing that really bothers her is not being able to get some time alone.

"You're always with other people," she says, "but I do go for walks when I can, to stretch my legs, and I try to write a little, and I look after my voice, so no cheese, chocolate or orange juice," she adds, explaining how each is bad for the vocal cords.

"I don't think about how things are going," she adds, finally. "Album sales or awards or ticket sales. It's not that helpful. I think about a performance, or how well I sang, or the last song I wrote and how happy I am with it, but the rest of it comes and goes and you have no control over it," she says. "The only thing you can control is how much work you put in.

"Everything else, you have to leave to other people."

Extra Time - Anna Calvi

:: Anna Margaret Michelle Calvi was born in south west London in September, 1980, and grew up in Mortlake.

:: She spent large parts of her first three years in hospital to correct a hip problem she was born with.

:: Her parents - English mum, Italian dad - are both psychotherapists and would often hypnotise Calvi and her sister Nuala during their youth.

:: Calvi's debut album was nominated for the 2011 Mercury Music Prize and she received a BRIT nomination in 2012 for Best Breakthrough.

:: She appeared on Heart Of Nowhere, the title track of Noah And The Whale's 2013 album.

:: Anna Calvi begins her tour on February 1. Full dates below.

:: Anna Calvi's second album One Breath is out now

Tour dates

February:

1 - Dublin Vicar Street

2 - Belfast Empire

4 - Leeds Brudenell Social Club

5 - Glasgow The Arches

6 - Manchester Albert Hall

8 - London The Troxy

10 - Birmingham The Institute

11 - Brighton All Saints Church

12 - Bath Komedia

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