Artist Spotlight: Anna B Savage

    Following the release of her debut EP in 2015, Anna B Savage was uncertain about how to move forward. The attention it brought her led to tours with the likes of Jenny Hval and Father John Misty, but the London singer-songwriter struggled with imposter syndrome and went through a painful breakup that made her lose confidence in herself and her abilities as a creative. In addition to showcasing her arresting voice, 2021’s A Common Turn, her William Doyle-produced debut for City Slang, found her delving into a wide range of emotions with daring vulnerability and richly detailed songwriting. Giving weight to each memory, the songs seemed to hold intimate conversations with the past – for the short film accompanying ‘Baby Grand’, she reunited with her ex-boyfriend and filmmaker Jem Talbot to untangle complicated, unexpressed feelings around their relationship.

    Savage’s emotional and musical journey extends through her new album, in|FLUX, released on Friday. Working with Mike Lindsay of Tunng and LUMP, she continues to explore the complexity of her psyche but is more inclined to follow her instincts, leaning into the edges of uncertainty, confusion, and comfort to striking effect. Sometimes she evokes the duality of its title as a constant push-and-pull; elsewhere it is more of a tender embrace than a dichotomous relationship, mirrored in warm, subtly expansive arrangements. As open-ended as they are open-hearted, her questions ultimately give way to an air of contentment: “It’s a small miracle to finally enjoy being me,” Savage concludes on ‘The Orange’, “If this is all that there is/ I think I’m gonna be fine.”

    We caught up with Anna B Savage for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about the relationship between therapy and creativity, the contradictions permeating in|FLUX, collaborating with Mike Lindsay, and more.

    Around the release your debut album, you talked about how you were affected by the positive response to your 2015 EP, and how it brought out a lot of insecurities. Would you be willing to share any specific things that have helped you stave off low self-esteem?

    Yeah, there’s quite a few things. Therapy – very expensive, very long-term answer, but that would be my number one answer. Much cheaper answer is the book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. Doing Morning Pages is an incredible practice, and I feel like that book is really good for pushing you through things. It’s a 12-week program, and it’s a fuck ton of work, so you have to be aware of that. And then the cheapest option, which is the most annoying option, is just keeping working. I feel like my low self-esteem really takes hold if I haven’t done any work for a little bit, and then I feel further and further away from it, and I feel less and less able to recognize that it’s always cyclical: you start something, you think it’s great, then you think it’s shit, then you think it’s great that you think it’s shit. But when I am further away from having written a song, I don’t remember that wobbliness, and I also don’t remember how difficult it is to start or finish stuff.

    A lot of artists talk about the role of therapy in their lives, especially nowadays, but what I find refreshing is the subtle ways it comes up in your music, like in ‘Feet of Clay’, when you sing, “I’m what’s called avoidant, I’ve been reading about attachment.” Can you talk about how creativity and therapy intersect in your life?

    They’re kind of inextricably linked. It’s funny, I feel like my creative practice is so integral to who I am. I do something creative every day, but it’s not always music, and I think a lot of people would dismiss what I do as not really a thing. But I love making stuff in different ways, so I try and do that as much as possible because it just brings me loads of joy. And similarly, therapy impacts my everyday life in many different ways that are sometimes very subtle and sometimes not so subtle. I think having things that I’m enthusiastic about – I don’t really want to not think about them. I don’t really want to not interact with them. And I am really enthusiastic about both therapy and creativity, so I try and shoehorn them into whatever I’m doing. They’re both present almost all the time, and I feel like they interact very beautifully together. Before I started therapy, I had five years where I didn’t release any music, because I was just destroying myself. I didn’t make anything, I wasn’t being creative, I was too busy destroying. And I tend to write about what’s in front of me or what’s happening in my life, so it was always going to sneak in there somehow.

    I’m interested in the relationship between A Common Turn and the new album, and one change in the way you’re processing your experience is hinted by the title, in|FLUX. On one hand, there’s a sense of introspection and the vulnerability that comes with it, and on the other, an awareness of emotional fluidity and variability. Was there a point where you struggled to figure out how these contradictions could make sense in the context of an album?

    You are so spot on, I appreciate that. For me, A Common Turn and in|FLUX, they feel almost like companion pieces – well, it’s not companion pieces because I don’t think they work the other way around, but it’s a journey. Not to be too GCSE about it, but a common turn, as a literal thing, is you’re just turning around, whereas in flux is a constant flux, which feels a perfect analogy for how I feel about what I’m trying to express on the albums. I think my biggest difficulty in trying to express all the contradictions that I feel on in|FLUX specifically comes in interviews. It’s really hard to succinctly express how contradictory I feel, and how contradictory I think all humans are, and fallible, and hypocritical – holding all of these different ideas that seemingly are completely opposite to each other, but holding them all at the same time and being like, “Look, these are all true, and they’re all happening right now.” For some reason, I feel like maybe that’s easier in a song, because there’s a lot of blank space, where you can make statements and then leave space around them. It feels like we managed make stuff sit really nicely on the album, like side A is a lot more of the A Common Turn world – it’s a lot more introspective, a lot more internal – and I think the second half is more external and self-assured and more embodied, and maybe more confusing as a result.

    There are some specific callbacks to A Common Turn, but at the same time, things are left uncertain or ambiguous. In ‘Crown Shyness’, for example, there’s the line “It’s straight out of our film/ But I’m not certain enough to tell you anything.” ‘I can hear the birds now’, which references the animal that comes up a lot on your first album, suggests a clarity on your part without really spelling it out. Were you conscious about carrying that thread from one album to the next while leaving things open?

    I don’t think I was, hugely. ‘I can hear the birds now’, that’s a perfect example, I don’t know that I actively tried to put that in as a kind of callback. But I love birds, they’re in my everyday life – again, I just put stuff that I love in songs, so they were always going to show up again. But this album, having moved slightly further away from birds, it definitely sticks out and then ties it back, which I don’t think I really realized until I had the album as a complete thing. And the other example, ‘Crown Shyness’, that was the only one where I was like, “This is a pretty obvious thing that I’m saying.” That felt a little bit more difficult, but my whole idea for this album was, I just wanted to show my progression, both musically and emotionally – emotionally outwardly but also emotionally inwardly, if that makes sense, so my emotions for other people but also my relation to myself.

    There’s one other example that I actually only realized a couple of days ago, and I was like, “I’m a fucking genius!” [laughs] The last songs on both of the albums – on A Common Turn the last one is called ‘One’, and on it, I talk about a sexual partner grabbing my stomach and calling it fat. And ‘The Orange’, which is the last song on the new album, is kind of the perfect antidote to that, because I do actually talk about my stomach on that, and I talk about slightly falling in love with it and thinking it’s soft and lovely. I feel like that’s quite a good example of the progression of my emotional state as well. But I don’t know that I set out to do any of those things intentionally.

    With ‘Crown Shyness’, which you said you were more conscious of, did you feel any trepidation about leaving that line in?

    Not so much, because part of me feels like I wasn’t treading any new ground in ‘Crown Shyness’. And I actually wrote it not that far away from a lot of A Common Turn stuff, so in that way I’m still saying like, “This is a bit confusing, I find this quite hard.” Also, the person who I wrote it about is very generous towards me and generous towards my music, and always has been. It was an element of trust on my part and on his part.

    One of my favorite contrasts is between ‘Say My Name’ and the title track, which have maybe the most intimate and defiant performances on the album, respectively. Is there a different kind of catharsis that came with making each of of those tracks?

    Another thing that I wanted to do with this album, I wanted to make it easier for myself. Part of the way that I decided to do that was, when I was writing melodies, and then when I was recording, I actually didn’t want to try and put in really difficult vocal runs or octave splits or some stuff that I’d put into A Common Turn to, I guess, prove that I could do all this stuff. I wanted it to feel intimate, I wanted to be right up close to the mic, and if I’m gonna have a bit more of a dramatic vocal take, it’s just going to happen. So, part of the joy of then listening to ‘Say My Name’ or ‘in|FLUX’ is that they do have a bit more release, and they do have a bit more of that dynamic range.

    When I recorded the demo of ‘Say My Name’, I wrote it at midnight or something, and I was living with my brother at the time, and he was asleep upstairs. The house that we were in was so old that I was like, “I need to fucking get the song down, but if I sing it too loud I’ll wake him up.” So in the demo, I’m playing the guitar as quietly as I possibly can, and I’m singing as quiet as I can. I remember playing it to my friend Henry, who was one of the directors on the film that I made, and Henry was like, “I’ve never heard of your voice sound like that. I’ve never heard you try and hold it in.” So I was like, “I want to do that on the on the actual album take.” Basically, the take that you hear now is what I thought was going to be the guide vocal. I just did it all the way through from start to end, and then burst into tears. And then Mike turned around and was like, “Yeah, we’re not changing that.” I guess ‘in|FLUX’ has an opposite vibe, the laugh and the “Oh, yeah” that you hear Mike do –

    I was wondering if that was him.

    Yeah, yeah. Basically, I’d been singing a vocal take for the ending and I’d fucked up, so I did an impression of myself and then I laughed, and then Mike was like, “Oh, yeah.” And then I did the glam rock thing, and the next time I listened to the song, those were still in there. So I was like, “Okay, let’s do it.” It felt very organic with the vocal deliveries and vocal takes. I’m not very good at doing it again and again and again, so I would do maybe five takes maximum of most of the songs. But honestly, I would happily do it once or twice and be done with it, because otherwise I start to lose my energy and the emotion of it.

    What was it like working with Mike? What do you feel like he ultimately brought to the album?

    It was absolutely joyful. He is such a positive and hard-working man. He was such a good influence and such a good collaborator to work with. It was just the two of us, and we just made all of it together and we kept showing up and kept doing the work. Mike worked so hard, even when I wasn’t there and I’d be like, “Thank goodness, we have a few days off,” I’d come back and he would have done loads of mixing, or he would have added in a couple of parts to something. He was always kind of churning it in his head. I don’t have that work ethic, so it’s really good that one of us had that. It felt like we both really encouraged each other to allow ideas to come out, and once we had our framework of the types of sounds that we wanted to include, it was really fun because we would just be running from instrument to instrument being like, “Let’s put some of this on.”

    Are there any fond memories from the making of this album that you could share?

    There’s one moment that really sticks out to me, which is kind of a funny one because it’s just a conversation that we had. But we were talking about the Get Back documentary, the Beatles one that came out around the same time that we were recording the album. I really hope it’s okay with him if I convey this story because I love it so much, but he was saying, “I always really loved John, John was my favorite because he’s mysterious and a bit tortured.” I was basically thinking, because I always wanted to be in a band, I never really wanted to work on my own, so working with Mike was amazing because I was like, I’m having this kind of band experience. I watched the first episode of Get Back and I was like, “Do you know what? All I want is a Paul. All I want is some very positive, lovely, very talented person to get me in check all the time.” He’s constantly bringing everyone back and being like, “Concentrate, everyone.” And I suddenly realized, Mike is a Paul. He’s my current Paul. He brings out the best in everyone. I was just sitting there being like, “Holy fuck, I think I’ve actually come across this thing that I’ve been looking for for a really long time.”

    The idea that our personalities are always in flux is at the heart of this album, but is there a part of yourself that, as you’re about to release it, you feel confident has remained constant throughout this whole process?

    It sounds sad – I feel like I’m forever going to be interacting with and dealing with my lack of self-confidence, and I feel like that’s been my main constant. It’s sad, but that’s part of the flux. When I started therapy, I thought that it would be like a light switch, and I could just turn that stuff off and never have to think about it ever again. Obviously, that’s not the case. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. But you learn to navigate it and you learn to listen to it, but maybe not give it the same amount of weight that you always used to. This is now the second time I’ve released an album, so I slightly know what’s coming, but still not quite. A lack of self-confidence is always going to be there, but I think it’s just part of me, and learning to kind of be okay with that and not attack myself for that feels like possibly the most valuable lesson I’ve ever learned.

    This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

    Anna B Savage’s in|FLUX is out now via City Slang.

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