Anna Calvi’s second first impression
In 2011, Anna Calvi wowed fans and critics alike with her debut; two years on, and with the buzz about her follow-up at fever pitch, she’s ready to get excited all over again
The last time we had a chat with Anna Calvi was in deepest, darkest Dingle, where the potent, if pint-sized singer was all abuzz about her (then) imminent selftitled debut album. Almost two years later, with said album having picked up all manner of awards, gongs and plaudits (including a Mercury Music Prize nomination), Calvi is once more climbing out of the studio bunker and blinking in the sunlight.
Slight of frame, 5ft in her slip-ons, and something of a favourite in the fashion world (more about which later), Calvi recalls that almost alien period of time prior to the release of her debut album when she had no idea whether anyone was going to hear it.
“The success that came after was a huge surprise,” she says. “It was, obviously, really nice for people to respond so well to the record – especially when I was making it that I didn’t even know it was going to come out. I suppose it was a different mindset with the new one, in that the only formula I could reference was to try to make something that I’m personally happy with. You can’t control how the outside world is going to feel about any new music you make. The only success you can really have is to like what you do, because then you’ll be able to stand by it – even if other people don’t like it.
Anna Calvi - 'Eliza'
“Whether people like it or not is irrelevant to the way the work is created, but it’s obviously nice if people like what you do. That can’t be why you do it, mind, because you can never please everyone. Some people will love it, and some will hate it, no matter what you do – unless it’s so terrible that everyone will hate it! In general, even if it’s a tiny audience, there are people who will think it’s cool.”
Did Calvi say the word “cool” there? Yes, we do believe she did. Certainly, she isn’t short of it – natural, effortless, casual, the whole bundle accompanied by talent that smolders just before it ignites. Born to an English mother and an Italian father, 31-year-old Calvi was introduced to music and art at an early age, playing guitar and violin, and dabbling seriously with drawing and painting. Something of a prodigy, she admits she was the oddball product of a liberal household, eschewing the sounds of her teenage contemporaries and peers by obsessing over flamenco music and the collected works of Ravi Shankar.
The creative battle between art and music was won by the latter, with Calvi choosing to study at Southampton University. Her initial idea during her time there – enamored by the works of Stravinsky and Debussy – was to become a film composer, but on graduation she instead got a job as a guitar teacher (“I was rubbish”) and then, as a somewhat less ambitious sidebar career option, a sales assistant in a teddy bear shop. “Don’t ask!”