Dec 13, 2013 Issue #48 - November/December 2013 - HAIM
Few debut albums are met with the same level of success as Anna Calvi's self-titled 2011 record. The U.K. singer and guitarist's debut was released to universal praise, nominated for a BRIT Award and the Mercury Music Prize, and broke her into the international spotlight. While some artists would cave under the pressure of following up such an acclaimed debut, Calvi actually found the experience of making her sophomore album easier than her first. While she wrote One Breath over the course of a year, recording only took six weeks.
"Having been in the studio before made that experience a lot easier," she says. "And I suppose being on tour for a year and a half meant I was more confident as a musician, and it was easier to get things down. I learned from past experiences when to let things go. Sometimes you become too much of a perfectionist, and go around and around things that actually aren't that important."
One Breath was recorded at Studio Black Box in the French Anjou region with producer John Congleton, who then mixed the album in Dallas, Texas. The album took Calvi out of her comfort zone in her efforts to bring more color to the record's sound.
"There are moments which are more orchestral, and moments where the guitar is heavier," she says. "There are even moments where it's more electronic. I was just trying to go further in lots of directions that I was interested in and take some risks with that."
The whole album finds Calvi expanding the borders of the first record's sonic territory. "Piece By Piece" is a strong example of her increased scope: a lovely layer of strings and the singer's breathy vocals are juxtaposed with a distorted lead guitar part and electronic beats.
"For me, the music has to tell a story as much as the lyrics," she says. "That song is about memory, and how you can't hold on to memories. The song is built up from the pieces of memories which slowly get deconstructed as the song goes on. And so I wanted the texture of the song to sound like pieces falling apart."
She admits the lyrics are more introspective this time around. She finds songwriting to be a way of exploring sides of her psyche that perhaps in normal life might be difficult.
"Unconsciously, I was writing from a more personal perspective, which is just a natural progression when so much is happening in your life," she says. "It kind of finds its way onto the record even if you're not really aware of it. As a songwriter, I think it's important that you're trying to work towards honesty in your writing. So when I saw that was happening, I didn't try to fight it or obscure it."
The title, One Breath, refers to the moment of hesitation just before opening yourself up, and all of the feelings that can be tied up in that split second.
"Life is full of moments where you feel out of control, and it brings out the best and the worst," she explains. "When you're in love, that's how it feels. When you're really scared for whatever reason, that's how it feels. That feeling can come from the same place, and it's something I wanted to explore while I was writing."
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