Anjimile on His Debut Album “Giver Taker” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Anjimile on His Debut Album “Giver Taker”

Nothing Dies

Dec 18, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Boston-based singer/songwriter Anjimile Chithambo released his debut record, Giver Taker, this September via Father/Daughter. The record is a transformative journey through life, death, and rebirth, reflecting on Anjimile’s growth as he got sober and came out as transmasculine and nonbinary. His pastoral folk style is fertile ground for Anjimile’s poetic lyrics to take deep root. Over the course of the record, he grows a simultaneously bold and nourishing artistic statement, containing stories of grief, hope, and spirituality. Under the Radar caught up with Anjimile to explore some of the stories that went into the record.

Caleb Campbell (Under the Radar): How have you been? I recently stumbled upon your Linked In while preparing and saw that you teach after school music classes. Are you still doing that with the pandemic?

Anjimile: I always forget I have a fucking LinkedIn. [Laughs] I got to get rid of that! Unfortunately, the staff got laid off because there’s just not enough interest because it’s pretty unsafe.

Understandable. What was your own music education like growing up? You were in choir, right?

Yeah! I joined something called The Plano Children’s Chorale in 5th Grade. And both of my older sisters were in choir, so I really looked up to them. I just fucking loved choir. I loved it so much. I loved singing all these weird Biblical songs and harmonizing with people. That was always my favorite class.

I hear that a little bit in your singing. I did choir back in high school and it reminds me a bit of my teacher getting on me about my tonality. It made me think, “Okay, he sounds really full and rich. This is what she wanted from me back then.”

Yeah, my high school choir teacher did not play. First of all, he was an asshole, but in an endearing way. He was the kind of guy that if we were singing and somebody was sharp or flat he would look at them in the middle of the song. So I was like, “I can never be looked at by him. I am not about to let this happen.”

I’ve also read in other interviews that growing up you also were into skating and punk. I’m curious as to your path from that towards the folk-influenced arena that Giver Taker takes place in.

So in middle school and high school I started listening to punk. I graduated from Blink-182 in middle school to Dead Kennedys and Crass in high school. I started listening to ska and thought I was so cool and alternative. Then I discovered Sufjan Stevens on the internet. I saw a picture of his album Illinois. And I was like, “This looks appealing. What is this?” It was a very child-friendly image. So I looked it up and I heard the song “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” and I thought, “This is really fucking cool.” So I started moving closer to the folk direction and exploring Iron and Wine and such. When I was in middle and high school I used to like to do music research, so if I liked a band I would figure out what bands they liked and figure out what bands they liked and go back and back in time. So that’s how I found Iron and Wine and Bob Dylan and all that.

I definitely hear a lot of Iron and Wine in your guitar playing, especially with your fingerpicking.

Yeah for sure!

Getting into the record a little bit, Giver Taker is the first project you’ve done with producers. Was it hard to give up the DIY creative control over your music?

It was not because DIY is a fucking pain in the ass. It’s somehow more expensive and difficult. By the time it was time to record Giver Taker a lot of these songs had existed for several years and I was pretty ready to let them go. But more importantly, I trusted the creative and artistic instincts of Gabe [Goodman] and Justine [Bowe]. So whenever they made a suggestion for a tune and started adding drums and bass and such I was like, well let’s just see what happens. If I wanted to release something that sounded like my old shit I would’ve just done it myself, but I wanted to do something more and develop my sound more. It was nice! I was like, “Thank God!”

So they were easy to work with, it was a very smooth collaboration?

They were very easy to work with. There were some points where I was like, “Oh shit! What’s happening to my song?” But I always thought, “Let me give it some time.” My first instinct is going to be like “Oh my God! What is this fucking harp sample in here?” But after a day I was like, “Oh, this is actually lit as fuck.”

That’s actually something I really enjoy about the record. It feels simultaneously stripped back and soothing, but it is also stuffed with a lot of really rich and detailed elements sonically. How did you find that combination?

I think it was the result of such a pristine collaboration between myself, Justine Bowe, and Gabe Goodman. It was decided as we were going into the recording process that we wanted to preserve the singer/songwriter vibe but focus all other elements of production, accompaniment, and arrangement around my voice. I think with that in mind they were able to build really cool instrumental lines and arrangements to support my vocals.

Yeah, I think it comes out really well on the record. Giver Taker is also the first project you’ve released since coming out as trans and getting sober. How do you see these big changes in your life reflected in your music?

I think the music feels a little more confessional and more personal than my older, more DIY, stuff. Because I think before I got sober I was less in touch with my feelings and once I got sober there was like a hundred feelings and I was like, “Oh my God. Christ!” So thanks to a bunch of therapy, I was able to begin processing those feelings, and the music is an extension of that therapeutic process.

A lot of the record deals with the idea of birth and death and rebirth, especially relating to identity. I hear a lot of that on “In Your Eyes” and “Maker.” If you’re comfortable can you walk me through some of those experiences while writing the album?

Yeah, so I think I kind of divide my life into two parts. Before sobriety, B.S. [laughs], and after. So, when I got sober it represented a…well let me go back a little bit. Before I got sober I was drinking a lot and I was really sad. Because I am an alcoholic and I was in active addiction. And I felt like I was experiencing a very slow spiritual death. I just felt worse and worse every day. So, when I finally decided to stop and I got some help, my entire life changed. To stay sober and improve my life, everything about me needed to change. My attitude, my behavior, my thoughts, my actions, my beliefs. That experience, in and of itself, I would describe as a rebirth. I’m still the same person, just a better version. I think the active alcoholic version of me was just the worst version. So that was one rebirth.

In terms of my gender and sexuality, when I was younger I was like, “Yeah I’m a girl, that’s fine.” When I was in high school I came out as a lesbian and I was like, “Okay, this seems right.” When I was 21, 22, I realized that I wasn’t a girl. I was like, “Actually I don’t think that really relates so much to me. I think I’m nonbinary.” That was the result of having radical, queer, nonbinary buddies in college who explained to me what that meant. And so, that felt like a graduation slash rebirth of my identity. As more years passed I realized I was leaning more towards transmasculine and identifying more with the word trans. So I started testosterone. That process resulted in the death of my old voice. My voice dropped an octave and a half. Everything about my singing voice changed and the fact that testosterone also changed parts of my personality and body. I’m just kind of different as a result of this medicine. That’s kind of a new thing, a new rebirth. I think the older I get the more I realize that it seems like fucking rebirths happen a lot. Yeah, it’s all over the record.

Was it difficult for you personally with your singing voice changing? Or are you enjoying being able to explore the newer possibilities?

Both. It was definitely very difficult in the beginning and I knew it would change my voice. I watched a bunch of YouTube videos of trans guys talking about the effects of T and they all said to just keep singing so that’s what I did. But it was still frustrating as a choir kid to no longer have what I would describe in the past as very acute vocal control and tonality. That dissipated and I was like “Fuck!” I would open my mouth to sing a note and an entirely different note would come out and I was like, “What kind of shit is this?” So it took some getting used to, but I eventually came to regard this experience with more compassion. I was like, “Okay, why don’t I just be gentle and keep singing.” So that’s been my mantra. I continued and I really like the sound of my voice now. I feel more myself than ever before. It’s fun to explore my falsetto and a new lower range.

That’s amazing! The record also obviously deals a lot with spirituality and faith. I know you grew up Christian but now identify as more generally spiritual. How would you describe your experience with the record regarding spirituality?

I think it’s kind of the backdrop and the context in which these tunes exist because a lot of these tunes are reflective of my new spiritual ideals. I think, for me, my spirituality is more related to my intuition and feeling good when I do good things and bad when I do bad things and trying not to complicate it too much. I’m mostly trying to do the next right thing. Before I got sober I was doing the wrong thing and avoiding my feelings. And so, in recovery, I’m able to feel all those feelings, which is pretty painful and a lot. Hence all the therapy. I think a lot of the emotional backdrop of the record is spiritual because I relate my spirituality to my feelings. It’s a lot.

How would you describe that spiritual ethos?

I believe the universe has good intentions and I believe that there is a force in the universe looking out for me, trying to help me do the right thing. So, when I don’t do the right thing, I feel like shit. I think that’s the universe being like, “Well, maybe you should’ve done something else.” Largely due to the fact that I survived alcoholism, when I could have died many times in the dangerous and reckless behavior I was exhibiting, I feel like the universe has got my back and that if I trust things are going to be alright and do the right thing I’m going to make it through. I don’t know if things are going to be alright. But I’m going to keep trying to do the right thing.

Even though you’ve described the record as sadboy music, it also has this underlying uplifting core to me. There is this through-line of learning to love and be loved that you see on “1978” and “To Meet You There.” Was there a turning point on the record that you felt brought that emotion out?

I think writing “1978” was a pivotal moment in my artistic process and also in my life. Just expressing that depth of feeling was not something I was used to. That tune is a reflection on my alcoholic past, where I’ve done a bunch of shitty things, and my recovery present, where I’m trying to move forward and do the right thing. It was a deeply spiritual tune for me to write. Especially because it’s about my grandmother, who I’ve never met. She passed away when my mom was really young, but I feel a connection to her and her presence in my family and heritage. I feel like she’s looking out for me too. So it’s also a song of thanks. I was in a lot of pain because I was coming to terms with all of the shitty things I did. But I’m also emotionally stable and healthy enough to come to terms with all the shitty things I did. So that’s where all the hope is from. Once again, I don’t know if everything is going to be alright. But I’m going to be alright.

Was there a lyric or song from the record that you feel defines these themes on Giver Taker?

Yeah, I think on the song “Your Tree.” The refrain “Nothing dies” I think is an accurate statement for this record because even in these cycles of rebirth that I’ve experienced, I am still here. I feel like everything changes all the time and everything flips. Experiences develop and memories of past experiences gain new perspective and things you used to think were dope are eventually whack. The lens of the beholder changes but perhaps the eye of the beholder itself doesn’t really change. The vessel holding the experience remains. I think that is the through-line throughout these songs.

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