Anna B Savage on her debut album, A Common Turn
Ahead of her appearance at The Great Eastern in Edinburgh, we speak to Anna B Savage about her debut album, A Common Turn
The only person involved with A Common Turn who is still unaware of the praise that has been lavished upon it is its creator, Anna B Savage. The London singer-songwriter’s debut album has rightly been hailed as a provocative, grandiose and authentic first statement, but Savage herself refuses to engage with people’s reactions to it.
“I think it’s very unhealthy to be able to read what people think of you all the time,” she says. “My curiosity doesn’t dominate my self-protection. If people don’t like my album, it’s like, 'OK, you don’t like me as a person.' As a perpetual people pleaser, the worst thing in the world is for people not to like me.”
It is a policy that dates back to her debut EP in 2015. That release also got more than its fair share of positive feedback, including from the likes of Jenny Hval and Father John Misty, but Savage struggled to process the compliments. “The main thing was just having incredibly low self-esteem at that point in my life,” she reflects. “And then people having a positive reaction to it, it was a split between thinking, ‘they do not understand how shit I am’ and also, ‘well if they think it’s good, then I’m a piece of shit and I’m never going to be able to write something as good as that ever again’.”
Savage entered a period of radio silence as an artist for five full years following that EP. It was a difficult period of introspection, but after periods of therapy and “working really fucking hard” to like herself again, she found herself working on the set of songs that would become A Common Turn. Looking back, she accepts that she could never have given up making music for good, but at the same time, she never dared to expect that the album would be the success that it has been.
“There’s a difference between wanting it to happen, expecting it to happen and hoping it will happen. I was definitely in the want and hope categories, but I just didn’t see a way that it would. My main thing was getting the album done just for me.”
It is not altogether surprising that Savage would be so affected by outside opinions of her work, given the amount of her true self that is buried into the tracks. Her songs tell refreshingly honest tales of growth, self-doubt and sexuality, always striking a treacherous balance between fragility and defiance, all the while maintaining a wry, darkly comic worldview. Take Chelsea Hotel #3, an eye-wateringly frank account of a sexual encounter that finds her resorting to mental images of 'Tim Curry in lingerie' or Y Tu Mama Tambien for satisfaction.
With the album having been out since January, Savage recently completed her first run of live dates in over five years and is now gearing up to play at The Great Eastern Festival in Edinburgh on 27 November. “They were fucking amazing!” she says about her return shows. “I was quite nervous about it, but I feel like it really went incredibly well.”
Part of her band for the current shows is William Doyle, the Mercury Prize-nominated musician and composer who has also recorded under the name East India Youth. Savage reached out to Doyle when he wrote an Instagram post looking for artists who need a producer, and they hit it off immediately. “I was like, ‘He’s the missing piece! He’s the one who makes it sound how I imagine it sounding!” she says with a glint. Doyle’s production on A Common Turn was integral enough to the album’s DNA that Savage felt he had to be a part of its live incarnation as well.
Savage’s stunning vocal style is another essential element to the mix, a deep, vibrato croon that brings to mind the likes of Scott Walker and ANOHNI. She has been singing for as long as she can remember, thanks in part to both of her parents being professional classical singers. It was a childhood of choir camps and watching her parents’ opera productions, and she remembers filling her hours poring over Ella Fitzgerald and Whitney Houston records and trying to emulate them. “The Ain’t No Sunshine bit where Bill Withers does the 25 'I knows',” she says, “I remember sitting on my bed and repeating the song over and over again until I could do all that in one breath, and I was probably ten.” Any suggestions that she might follow her parents into the classical world, however, were soon quashed by a streak of teenage rebellion and she started to pursue the life that she now enjoys.
After the next live dates, thoughts will start to turn to putting together her second album. Where A Common Turn emerged from a process of “torture and pain”, she hopes the next project will be a more enjoyable affair, with more creative time spent in the studio and with the possibility of more open collaboration. Might such a change radically alter her sound? “I don’t know,” she says, “this is what I’m intrigued by. Would it still be so fucking melodramatic? I am a drama student, I do love a bit of melodrama, but I don’t know. I’m excited to find out!”
Anna B Savage plays The Great Eastern, Edinburgh, 27 Nov