Catherine Anne Davies aka The Anchoress, released her debut album, the brilliant 'Confessions of A Romance Novelist' on January 8, 2016. Mark Millar had a chat with Catherine before the release.
You initially released music as Catherine AD, so why did you change to the Anchoress?
CAD: It was a natural evolution, really. I started putting out music when I was at university, and you use your name when you first start, don’t you? I wasn't really taking it too seriously at that point. As soon as I started recording the album, I didn't want to put it out under my name. Partly because I wanted to create a distance from what I had been doing before sonically, because I’ve never been able to realise fully production-wise what I wanted to do, but also to create a bit of distance because of the concept behind the record which is all about identity and performing different characters, it felt more apt not to use my own name.
Interestingly, each song on the album is written from a different character's point of view.
CAD: The concept behind the record was that the overall narrator was the voice of the failed romance novelist, and that is what underpins the 12 tracks. I guess it’s a metaphor for being a songwriter, with the idea that you’re “ghosting” all of these different emotions and experiences through writing. I guess I also have a bone to pick with that idea that women only sing about their experiences and it’s all “confessional”, and there is no skill behind it, with no translation from the emotion through to the song-craft. And so I thought taking that literary notion with the ghost-writer was quite apt for the way I make records. Each of the songs on the album is about exploring a different character and deconstructing ideas about what typical pop songs are about and turning that on its head. There is a track on the album called ‘P.S. Fuck You’ which is obviously [laughs] not your typical love song.
I read that you said during the making of the album that there was a one-car crash, one death, one broken hand, 3 jobs and 2 arrests; you must be relieved that the album is finished.
CAD: Oh my God… yeah, it was a very traumatic period of time in my life which was topped off right in the middle of it all with my Dad being diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour, so that put a massive break in the making of the record, which is a big part of the reason why it’s taken so long. I took a fair amount of time out of the studio to sort out my life. It’s quite weird having finally finished the record having lived with it hanging over my head for so long - not necessarily working on it for all of that time, obviously but... It’s a strange feeling to have the last 3 years of my life wrapped up in a ball and compressed together and thrown out again through all of these songs. It’s really odd listening back to it now and thinking, “oh my God, it’s done, I can’t believe it”.
It felt endless; it felt like the universe was saying to me “you really shouldn’t be doing this”. There were definitely times when I thought I should give up and walk away from it because it just wasn’t worth the grief and the enormous trauma that I had to go through to try and get it done. I’m glad that I have managed to get there in the end and I hope other people will think it’s worth it.
It must have been frustrating for you when you broke your hand and couldn’t play for a while.
CAD: It was, but in a way, it informed how the record sounded. That was when I wrote ‘You and Only You’. I shifted back on to the guitar, which I had started on as an instrument anyway. It was really interesting how many setbacks in making the record informed the actual content and sound and the way it ended up turning out, which I guess is what a record should be: it’s literally a record of the period of time in which it was made. ‘You and Only You’ probably wouldn’t have been on the record if it wasn’t for that. I think that’s how I tried to approach most of the awful shit that happened while making it. I think it would be a very different record if it weren’t for these things that happened. I think that’s the only way you can stay sane by turning the trauma into something positive, which is what I guess songwriting is in general. That’s my philosophy.
Do you have a favourite song on the album?
CAD: ‘Popular’ is probably the one that feels most fully realised in terms of how I heard it in my head and to be able to achieve that in the production and translate that into the finished product is quite difficult. That was the first thing recorded together. That was when it knew it was going to work. I think I had sent about one hundred songs to Paul [Draper] that I had written and he went through them all and picked 15 in the first instance that we were going to record and ‘Popular’ was one of the tracks that we did in the first sessions. It was an old song that I was reluctant to go back and revisit, but Paul really liked it and thought we should record it. Once we had done that batch of songs it evolved quite naturally we ended up starting to write together, which is where you get the second half of the record: ‘What Goes Around’ is one of those, ‘You and Only You’ is another one.
Will you be touring the album?
CAD: Yes, certainly the plan is to show some live shows after the record comes out. It's quite a difficult album to bring to life live because I'm playing eight different instruments on some tracks. I need to get my head around how that will work and how we can do justice to the recordings because the production is really detailed. There is a lot going on and I don't ideally want to have four people on stage playing four instruments. It's trying to get the balance and compromise right between putting on a live show and being true to a live experience and staying true to the record at the same time.
How did you start working with Simple Minds?
CAD: That came about from some of my other co-writing activity. I was part of an album called ‘The Dark Flowers’ – Radioland’ with Pete Murphy from Bauhaus and Jim from Simple Minds. I had written four or five songs for that with the producer Paul Statham, and one of them ended up being a duet with Jim Kerr, and he heard a couple of the songs I did myself for the project and from that he started following my music. Then I got a request from his management to have a meeting. It was quite an honour to be asked. There’s my reinterpretation of [the Simple Minds song] ‘Rivers of Ice’ - which I play in the middle of the Simple Minds live set on my own on the piano - as a bonus track on the album. I try and join the dots with what I do with Simple Minds in that live thing and as an artist in my own right.
You are very busy, and now you have started recording your second album with Bernard Butler, how is that going?
CAD: Yeah, we are midway through that at the moment. I took some time out from working with Paul last autumn and went into the studio with Bernard and blitzed quite a lot of the initial stages. It was a completely different way of working, which was nice to turn it on its head and work spontaneously, which is not the way Paul and I work together at all. We are very intense and overly obsessive about everything and have really long studio days whereas with Bernard we would go in from 12-5 pm and have a track finished by the end of the day. It was really good for me to mix it up creatively speaking. I like the idea of exploring different methods of working.
Will you be exploring different themes with the next record or continuing from the first album?
CAD: Obviously it's a continuation in so far as it's very much my own voice. I have certain thematic preoccupations lyrically speaking and I sound a certain way and I have my core musical influences. There are definitely many more guitars on it because I have the incredible Bernard Butler at my disposal to play on the record, which you would be a fool not to use!
What music inspired you growing up?
CAD: A lot of it came from my parents’ record collection because I didn't have the money to buy my own albums. They had a lot of classic songwriters like Carole King, Harry Nilsson. My mum was very much into The Carpenters; I think that influenced my voice's development a lot in terms of my obsession with harmony and tone. My Dad would listen to the Beatles, Yes, ELO. Personally, the first record I really got obsessed with was ‘Vespertine’ by Bork; I really love that record. I was very much drawn to the idea of the female auteur - like Kate Bush - someone who creates her own world entirely. That was something that really appealed to me.
CAD: The Manic Street Preachers were also a huge influence, certainly for my female auteur ideas perhaps, but in terms of the world they opened up for me. Because of them, I grew up going to school on a council estate thinking “I can educate myself out of this situation”. I can educate myself into university. I was the first person in my family to go. That glamorous self-made myth that they perpetuated seemed one that I could reach for and emulate. It wasn't something you dreamed about; it was something that you could literally actively pursue every day by going to the library and reading books.
The Anchoress’ debut album ‘Confessions of a Romance Novelist’ is out now.
Order the CD with a 24-page booklet with a reading list, lyrics, and more from Amazon: http://smarturl.it/COARN_CD
Download from iTunes: http://smarturl.it/COARN_DIGITAL
Stream on Spotify, AppleMusic and more:http://smarturl.it/COARN_STREAM