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Antony and the Johnsons

Standing in the Light

Feb 01, 2009 Winter 2009 - Anticipated Albums of 2009 Photography by Crackerfarm Bookmark and Share


You can count them on one hand, the artists whose music cuts such a clear and inimitable path through the sea of middling imitators and uninspired also-rans that they are instantly recognizable upon opening their mouths. Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, Billie Holiday, Howlin’ Wolf—it’s a short list, one that comes packaged with the burden of inadvertently creating a cult of personality that casts a creative shadow so deep that it ends up diminishing the light that illuminated that artist in the first place. With 2005’s I Am a Bird Now, an album that introduced us to a songwriter with an otherworldly vibrato and an ear for songs that ached with an uneasy desire for transformation and transcendence, Antony Hegarty entered his name on the list of artists who will never be mistaken for someone else. But it was a deeply personal release, one whose songs were made even more fascinating by Hegarty’s status as an openly transgender artist whose story was written boldly in the album’s themes. Just how does an artist expose the most fascinating elements of his life without creating a persona that outshines every other facet of his art?

“I’m not much interested in people listening to my songs for the sake of better understanding me,” he says when asked about this possibility. “Nothing could interest me less than people understanding me better,” he laughs. “There are certain things that I like to put forward, just because it’s a good time to put them forward. I like to tell people that I’m transgender, and I like people to write that down because other transgender people are glad to see that when you say that. It’s good for visibility and involvement. But in a more personal way, I find it a little boring when people are obsessing over my details. It’s like, ‘why are you wandering into my underwear drawer?’” he laughs. “But, whatever, most people don’t bother with that,” he says, seemingly brushing off the proposition. “That was a different era. I don’t think people are still into that shit anymore.”

Whatever the case, Hegarty steps ever so carefully away from the self-examination of his previous work on The Crying Light, an album that is stacked deep in metaphors drawn from the natural and elemental world, whether he’s dreaming of finding a home among the lilies in the Everglades or retreating back to the womb. At other times, he’s back longing for transformation, lamenting the degradation of the environment and wondering where we’ll go when we’ve exhausted its resources. Water, fire, the sun, and birds figure heavily in the album’s imagery, and there are love songs that express an unexpected wistfulness and contentment. But despite the relative lack of throbbing catharsis, Hegarty remains the album’s centerpiece, the human filter through which these observations arrive.

“It reflects my age. I think it sounds like an album of songs I wrote in my 30s. The last album was really songs I wrote in my mid-20s, and I think my concerns and interests have evolved,” he says, then corrects himself. “I don’t even know if they’ve evolved, they’ve just shifted. The themes of the record are quite specific, and they revolve around my relationship to my mother and my father, and by extension, my relationship to my environment as my parent. That intersects with the theme of me looking out at the world through my eyeballs and trying to be present. The last album was a group of songs that were very much glancing inside,” he says with a deep sigh that suggests he has grown weary of discussing those themes. “It was a dialog within myself, and this one is really my own exploration of the world around me. It’s a different focus. I feel like it’s really personal. In a weird way, this record is a much more personal album for me than the last one.”

By his own admission, the years since the Mercury Prize-winning I Am a Bird Now have been a bit disorienting. After all, at that point Hegarty had already been kicking around New York’s avant-garde art scene for years, had released one overlooked album, and was quickly approaching an age when most artists have to find a better way to make a living. Then Lou Reed asked him to perform vocals on his The Raven album, Secretly Canadian signed him and gave him better distribution, and Hegarty’s riveting performances were soon filling theaters around the world. His songs were chosen for movie soundtracks, and he performed in a few films himself. But despite his accolades and visibility, he has never forgotten his avant-garde roots, and he found inspiration in legendary Japanese Butoh artist Kuzuo Ohno.

“He’s one of my heroes,” Hegarty says of the 102-year-old dancer whose beautifully ghoulish image is featured on The Crying Light’s cover. “When he’s on stage, it’s like he’s stepping into a beautiful light, and in that light he finds freedom to express the dreams of his creative heart. He steps into his music, to be vulnerable and experience things wondrously. I like that idea of a light. I can create a light inside my heart or I can create a sanctuary inside myself where a childlike aspect or a creative spirit can flourish. I can experience the fullness of my feelings in a safe environment. It’s just an idea, like a secret garden or a sanctuary that can exist within a person or on a stage, or, hopefully, one day in the world—where you can feel your feelings.”

Whatever the interpretation or intent of his writing, sentiments like those ultimately cut to the core of Hegarty’s persona, revealing an artist who uses his music as a vessel to reach a place where he can express what he can’t easily articulate in everyday conversation. He’s more than willing to discuss how The Crying Light’s track list was whittled down from 30 songs and how he would spend up to two weeks mixing a single track, but his true interest seems to be in discussing ideals that go beyond the creation of piano-driven pop music. He may have turned from himself as the focus on his songwriting, but it’s obvious that he’s still using his art mainly as a way to better understand his place in the world that often hasn’t understood him. But while he seems utterly comfortable with the work he has created, he seems equally uncomfortable with the idea that his persona may drown out what he’s communicating, often apologizing for his flowery language and asking if he sounds silly.

“I’m trying to restore a place in my own heart where I can feel alive,” he says plainly. “Hopefully I’ll have more empathy for the world around me. Does that make sense? I’m just trying that as an idea. I’m just messing around. Does it seem too cheesy what I said?” he asks, as if acknowledging that he doesn’t want to add unnecessarily to a myth he never intended to make. “I hope I didn’t seem too crackers. Have mercy, Percy.”



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July 24th 2010
3:36am

It is her newest album, and except the title, which other songs are there by thois amous singer in her album???

AI need help, for my daughter, to download, pls!!!
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Adriana
May 4th 2012
5:03am

I just happened to come acsors Iyeoka by accident and have instantly come to love her lyrics, her sound, and the heart of what she does.  It is awesome when you find an artist that can convey her heart in her music and sound this way.  She instantly reached me and I cannot wait to hear more.  Iyeoka, I hope you come to Atlanta one day soon!  I have a group of friends that would love seeing you perform!