On her new album, in|FLUX, London-based artist Anna B Savage zigs where many musicians zag. in|FLUX is all low end. There is a clarinet, a low saxophone and what sounds like a leopard’s growl. Lean in and you might hear a chime way in the background or something unexpected altogether.
Savage’s parents are singers. Both classical. On in|FLUX, her poetry is in the forefront, but from first listen the element that catches you is her voice. It’s settled and comfortably low, yet somehow it still yearns. That’s where I started when I spoke to Savage about the new record.
On The Record: A Q&A with Anna B Savage
Justin Barney: When someone gets in front of a microphone and starts singing, almost always their instinct is to go high with their voice. You go low. How did you find that register?
Anna B Savage: It’s funny, I’ve never had that instinct. If anything I’ve always tried to get lower.
I sang in the school choir when I was little. The lowest women’s part they had was alto and I would always sing tenor which is the higher male part. So I would always try to go a bit lower.
I’ve always been drawn to lower register things. Even with my guitar. At the beginning people asked me if I was sure I wanted it that low and said it was too low and muddy but I assured them that that was exactly what I wanted.
JB: On in|FLUX you even double down and add instruments that are lower.
ABS: Well this is the problem. I genuinely don’t really understand high noises. For me it’s a clarinet, a cello, my voice, the bass side of a guitar, a double bass. And luckily Mike let me have most of those things on the album.
There are just so many sounds on this album that are in front and buried in the mix. Like, how many instruments did you have on this thing?
Yeah, we set ourselves out a framework. We had instruments we know we wanted: voice, guitar, clarinet, saxophone, piano. That was our standard. Then I had this amazing electric kalimba pedal that my friend made specifically for me. They gave it to me at a show and I just thought it was the most generous present. I listened to it after the show and it made such strange and wonderful noise. So I knew I had to have that on it as well.
JB: On “Crown Shyness,” what is that growl?
ABS: That’s just a noise that Mike and I made. We were playing around with an OP1 just speaking into it and then just slowed it right down. We did the same with “I Can Hear The Birds Now.” At the beginning that’s actually a bird song that I recorded and then slowed right, right, right down. We slowed many sounds down to a point beyond recognition.
JB: In “The Ghost” the song follows a line of love and loss and not being able to let go that goes through the album. What is that big theme?
ABS: One of the most important things for me for this album was trying to express the more difficult gray areas of emotion.
For example, in “The Ghost” it’s a past relationship that is haunting me and feeling a little bit uncomfortable and yet in the middle you have this moment, “What am I supposed to do with how much I loved you?” which felt really important for me to express.
If a relationship hasn’t gone well, I think there is a tendency to turn to dismissal. At least for me, but that’s actually not how I felt at all. The thing that was actually so difficult was the confusion of wanting to dismiss while also loving this person so much. That is a really difficult thing to deal with. At the same time I wanted an exorcism but also I really really loved them. It’s tough to have those feelings at the same time.
JB: I think a lot of times we don’t want to admit that those gray spaces exist.
ABS: One HUNDRED percent. We want simplicity, right? But that is not how things work.
JB: There is also a bit of dream interpretation in this song. Are you a frequent dream interpreter?
Maybe not a dream interpreter, but I am a frequent dream documenter. Because in my waking life I have this dismissive truth that I seem to believe about myself. I believe that I don’t have any imagination. Then I wake up from my dreams and I’m like, “That was the wildest thing I have ever heard of or experienced. So I must have an imagination in there somewhere.
JB: A song that really stuck out to me on first listen was “Pavlov’s Dog.” It’s steamy. It’s a steamy song.
ABS: Yes it is.
JB: In the production, you have that panting. How did you land on that?
ABS: We just thought I would be really “LOL.” Given that the song is called “Pavlov’s Dog.” I panted through the whole song and then felt like I was gonna pass out for 45 minutes. I didn’t want to take the mickey out of the song but also I felt that rhythmically it made sense. Even if you don’t hear the panting in the fist listen the sound reverberates in you body, doesn’t it? It does for me anyway.
I also feel very excited to be a woman expressing desire or want or sexuality because historically that hasn’t been a thing that we’ve been allowed to do.
JB: I wanted to talk about the last song on the album, “The Orange.” Could you tell me what’s the magpie analogy?
ABS: So magpies are everywhere here and the age old idiom is that they steal shiny things. They collect them and put them in their nest. It’s actually not true. But it’s a nice and far-reaching falsity. I have heard people say, “I’m a bit of a magpie” when there is the propensity for collecting stuff.
The song is a collection of some of my favorite memories or places or people or things. The idea was showing off this collection of memories and moments and the magpie bit sets up the song to not just be a weird list of things but instead a curated and collected list of loves. It’s like a very unsexy bowerbird.
JB: I would love to end by knowing what’s the most recent song you couldn’t stop listening to?
ABS: Oh it’s Madison Cunningham. It’s her whole Revealer album. I saw her recently and she exploded my head into a million different pieces.
JB: What stood out at the show?
ABS: How ridiculously relaxed she is as she is playing 7/4 polyrhythms and singing absolutely clean vocals over the top. She’s doing it all while kind of…looking around…as if it’s no big deal.
Sometimes you get someone who is really good at guitar but isn’t really that good at singing but she is so mind-numbingly good at both. She will do like a run of eight vocal notes just clean. It’s real mastery. Not just artistry, but mastery.
JB: Let’s settle into one Madison Cunningham song.
ABS: I want to say “Life After Raechel” but it’s just too sad.
JB: No such thing.
ABS: Okay, “Life After Raechel.” It’s one of the most perfect songs I’ve ever heard.
It’s so specific. That kind of hyper specificity which therefore makes it kind of universal. Then there are moments like when she says, “Were your eyes green or were they blue?” Just absolutely piercing, heartbreaking stuff. Which is also couched in all of this warmth, love and affection. Then she admits, “I was too busy to take your call.” It’s got real love and affection while also having this undertone where she admits that she might not have done all that she could. An accountability.
I can’t listen to it without absolutely bawling my eyes out.