ANNA VINCENT – An Interview with the artist
Interview by Miriam Cadoni
After spending the last decade in fronting indie bands such as Heavy Heart and My Tiger My Timing, Anna Vincent has decided to flying solo.
The London-based singer-songwriter debuted with her solo LP “Under the Glass” in October via Ultimate Blends. Musically speaking, it shows the artist in all her daintiness and at the same time, straightness.
Hi Anna, welcome to Femme Metal Webzine. How are you? And how this precarious times are treating you?
Hello, thank you for having me! I’m grateful to say that I’m well and managing to navigate these strange times without too much trouble.
One thing I’ve found comforting during the pandemic is that, to a certain extent, we’re all in this together. Indeed, we are experiencing the same feelings of worry, uncertainty, and loss. But we are also reconsidering the things that are important, and reimagining what our lives can be.
First of all, after so much time and experience in a band, how does it feel to flying solo?
It feels really scary, but also exciting. I have always been in bands. Heavy Heart most recently, and before that a band called My Tiger My Timing – and I love that way of making music. I was a shy and slightly lonely kid. So, the idea of being part of a musical gang always appealed to me.
And you can make a big noise when you’ve got several guitars and a drumkit behind you. Actually, it always makes me feel safe and protected somehow on stage. So going solo has made me feel quite vulnerable and exposed. Especially because these are the most personal songs I’ve ever written.
Actually, when I started working on this music, I truly had no intention of making an album, or of sharing any of these songs publicly. This, I think freed me up to explore different sounds and styles. But then when I decided to release the music, I suddenly realized I’d be putting myself out there in a way I never had before.
Also, what is the most important life lesson that you have learned?
I think the thing I learnt whilst making my album, is that you usually make your best work when you’re doing it for the love of it. And not writing for an audience. Or worrying what other people are going to think about it. Making music isn’t always fun, and I don’t think it necessarily should be. Well, an ex-boyfriend of mine many years ago once said to me that music was my “hobby”. And I don’t think I’ve ever had a worse insult. I tried to explain to him that hobbies are meant to be fun and relaxing. And music can often be extremely hard if not a bit soul-destroying.
But when you’re doing it for yourself, and relishing every moment, that’s when good things can come through. Making this record, I was freed from the idea of anyone ever hearing the songs. And this, it meant I wasn’t trying to second-guess what might fit in with a particular ‘scene’ or current sound. I just made the music I felt like making, and it took me back to when I was 14 or 15. When sitting in my bedroom recording songs nobody would ever hear onto my Tascam 4-track and having the best time in the world.
When exactly “Under the Glass” came to fruition? Then, when did you understand that was the right moment to disclose this piece of art?
At the start of the first lockdown in London, in March 2020, I initially felt quite lost, and I felt no desire to be creative or put anything into the world. It just seemed futile. But after a few weeks, I found myself picking up my guitar again. Initially I decided I’d just work on my technique, and I taught myself fingerpicking, but eventually those exercises turned into the songs you’ll hear on “Under the Glass”.
I set myself a rule that every song had to be finished and playable with just guitar and vocals before I recorded anything, but eventually I did make some rough demos too. Then, I showed them to my boyfriend Max Bloom – who is an amazingly talented musician, songwriter, and producer – and he was really supportive and excited about them, and he encouraged me to record them properly.
At this point, I should say that Max produced the whole album at our home studio here in Clapton, in east London, and he also played almost all of the instruments on the record. He’s a very good person to have around! Once we finished the songs, we agreed that they sounded too good to just stay on a hard drive forever, so we decided to release them on his label Ultimate Blends. Although this is a solo album, I really consider it to be a collaboration between me and Max, and these songs certainly would not have seen the light of day without him.
As per the press release, the album is inspired by acts such us Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. But, in truth, what is the main reason that trigged the whole album’s genesis?
A lot of the lyrics on this album were written in the middle of 2019 when my previous band Heavy Heart was coming to an end. I couldn’t seem to write any new music, so instead I decided to put my thoughts down as a series of loose poems.
It was a time of great change in my life, because as well as the band ending, I had come out of a long relationship, and I was falling in love with Max, so I felt like I had all these feelings just spilling out of me, and I’d fill up books and books with words and drawings just trying to document and understand what I was experiencing.
It was such an intense few months – a time of endings and new beginnings – and when I look back now it seems like a dream. I’ve loved artists like Joni Mitchell and CSN for a long time, but somehow their music and lyrics just spoke to me even more during those rollercoaster times. I didn’t look at those poems until several months later when I started to write music again, but when I did, they just seemed to fit perfectly.
In your official biography, you mention the words ‘weaknesses’ and ‘self-doubting’. Firstly, to what do you refer to? Then, how “Under the Glass” helped you to resolve, or at least, have some partial resolution about these matters?
I think most people have a certain amount of self-doubt, and musicians have double helpings! There’s a weird mixture of confidence and vulnerability that you need to have to be able to get on stage and perform. But also to examine your emotions and share quite intimate and honest thoughts.
I’m definitely aware of my weaknesses and my limitations, both as a musician and more generally. I have a tendency to despair. To get hung up on things which don’t matter to the detriment of those that do. Some days I feel okay about myself, but others I feel like I’m a failure, a phon-y… all those fun things!
As I’ve got older, I’ve learnt to be a bit kinder to myself. And I’ve also realized that everyone is basically faking it a bit. Making “Under the Glass” was a chance to get back to the things I love about music, so enjoy it for once. I’ve had a bad habit in the past of comparing myself to other people. To my peers and that really didn’t lead anywhere useful. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of healthy competition. But always looking at other people can really stop you looking yourself and just getting on with the work.
Once Covid stopped all the gigs and tours and everything, it was a chance to strip away all the bullshit that can go along with the music industry and remember that the only thing that was in my control was the songs. So that was the only thing I should really be concerned with. That process has really helped me rebuild my confidence and, probably, finally, grow up (a bit).
Out of “Under the Glass”, you have recently released the two singles “Naxos” and “Thin Skin”. Would you mind offer us an insight on both songs?
“Naxos” was the first song I wrote for the album. And the guitar part came from my initial explorations into fingerpicking. The lyrics were written about a holiday Max and I took back in September 2019, to the Greek islands. We had only been together a few months. So, on one level the song is about that, just being on an adventure and in love.
But I also really felt the powerful mythology of the island, and at points it was like we’d stepped back in time, it was dreamlike and magical. Even though it was the first time I’d set foot there, I had this feeling of being home. Then, being there with Max it felt like everything had just fallen into place. When I hear that song now, I can’t believe what a different world it was back then.
“Thin Skin” was written later in 2020 when I’d started to get into Teenage Fanclub. And I really wanted to do something jangly and super melodic. I’d been playing the guitar part for quite a while and I had a melody but no lyrics yet. One day when Max and I were at home, we heard this weird scratching sound in the hallway. And when we went to see what it was, we saw two magpies clawing and pecking at the cracked glass skylight trying to get in.
It was really surreal and quite scary, but it also seemed symbolic the idea of the outside coming in at the cracks in the windows. And I knew I had to put those birds into the song. I guess broadly, it’s about a growing agoraphobia and paranoia I was feeling after spending so much time at home. I loved my little bubble so much. To the point, I resented anything which tried to break into it or bring about change. It’s also an apology to Max about the ways my insecurities tend to manifest.
Despite the pandemic, what is it in the pipeline? Which is the thing that you are more looking forward? And, which are your next plans?
As live music slowly starts to happen again, I’m really looking forward to playing some shows. I actually did my first acoustic solo set the other day in London and it felt good. I’m not a natural extrovert, and I haven’t always loved playing live. But after more than 18 months it does feel quite exciting to be doing this again.
I think it’s the longest I’ve ever gone without playing a gig since I was a teenager. Otherwise, I guess I might start writing a new album. I already have a few demos, but I’m also keen not to fall back into my old ways. So, I want the process to be natural and I’ll only write when I have something to say.
So, Anna, we’re almost at the end. Please be free to say hi to your fans and listeners. Thank you so much for this interview.
Thank you so much for this. And thank you to everyone who has read to the end, and who has listened to my music. It really does make it worthwhile. I love seeing people around the world who have leant me their ears for a few minutes. It means so much to me.