Anna Meredith on creating her own worlds on FIBS
Following on from her 2016 SAY Award-winning album Varmints, we speak to Anna Meredith about telling lies and creating her own worlds on its follow-up, FIBS
“When is it okay to do something a bit naughty?” asks Anna Meredith, or Anna Meredith MBE to use her full title.
“I hope you’re bowing as we speak,” she laughs, still in disbelief. It's a title she gained since we last spoke around a year ago – she suspects it's either due to her work last year on Five Telegrams (“a giant big piece about the war”), which opened both 2018's BBC Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival, or her “sparkling wit”. As well as sharing tales of trips to the bingo and her recent obsession with Zelda ("I’m like a weirdo who’s playing it on the loo"), Meredith is chatting pork pies. Not the delicious meat-filled kind, but the lies you might tell to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. A bending of the truth, or more simply put: a fib.
“We’ve all been in those situations where you’ve made this real web of lies,” Meredith says, following a short confessional of her disloyalty to hairdressers, where she tells us how she regularly pretends to be someone she's not, like "a baker" or "a swimmer", when she goes for a haircut. “Someone’s like, ‘Can I pop round?’ ‘No you can’t’, and you invent some elaborate reason, and then actually they’re coming round anyway and you’re going to have to pretend the builder’s in when they’re not and cover the whole house in sheets and paint pots. And your own web of lies catches you out. Awful. Definitely been there.”
On her latest album, FIBS, Anna Meredith hasn’t created her own web of lies so much as her own world, or perhaps more aptly, her own multiverse. Each song is its own universe, and across its entirety, Meredith – her vision, ideas and processes – is the constant. FIBS pulls you into Meredith’s worlds, none more so than on the album's second single moonmoons where, via an augmented reality app, you’re invited to view the universe of moonmoons through your own lens.
Images: FIBS ceramic objects by Eleanor Meredith
By placing a selection of obscure ceramic objects created by Meredith’s sister Eleanor wherever you like within your own world (your living room, kitchen, office, favourite park or even your hairdresser's), each of these objects control different aspects of the song. With infinite possible configurations, the app allows you to endlessly manipulate and change how you experience the track.
“I think there’s a sense of wanting to make its own world,” Meredith tells us, “of wanting to make the world the album, which even to me goes through to the artwork, which is recognisable but also a wee bit off-kilter. The shapes are recognisable but the detail is not quite what you expect. It’s sort of got its own parameters. It looks like a landscape that is self-governed. God, this is sounding very weighty,” she sidesteps as if having an out of body experience. “It doesn’t look random, it looks like something that’s got structure to it, and that’s what I believe. All these tracks and all this stuff fits together, so that there is a sort of construct,” she stops in her tracks exclaiming “WOW” as if audibly pinching herself. She continues, “... of this album, of this world, where these objects and these things all live together. And some of them are not one thing or another and there’s a lot of grey area, which musically is where I’m very happy to sit.”
The app for moonmoons was created by Arthur Carabott, who describes AR as a “way of tricking your brain into hearing virtual sounds as if they’re in the real world,” tying neatly back to this idea of a fib. “On some levels there’s a lot of fibbing to myself: ‘You’re nearly finished’. That kind of stuff as I was going with the writing, but yeah, I feel like each thing has been considered as a little invention. Each track has its own little rules, its own little infrastructure that’s been built around it. I don’t know if that makes it a lie or a fib. I’ve always liked the idea of fibs. It’s a good/bad thing.”
While there’s nothing “bad” to be found upon first listen to Meredith’s follow-up to her Scottish Album of the Year Award-winning Varmints, lyrically, if you dig a little deeper, there is a quite negative arc of self-criticism to be found running through FIBS. On songs like Inhale Exhale, which at times is fraught with tension, moments of euphoria shine through and, uplifted, you can breathe again. Callion then follows like a Jon Hopkins bubbler, filled with darkness and light, and you get the sense it wouldn’t work quite so well without these two sides of the story. Is this perhaps Meredith’s 'good/bad' when it comes to music? As Bob Ross once said: “You need the dark in order to show the light.”
Ross was a painter, and so is Meredith. Drawing “planning sketches” of each song in a first instance to make sure she gets “all the details right”, Meredith has a strong visual idea in mind of how she’d like a whole record to look and sound before anything is formally recorded. It’s unsurprising, really, as when listening to FIBS you can almost see shapes – her music really does paint a picture. Sounds throb in and out of focus and there’s a really strong tangential journey across the album, from its instrumentation to its lyrical content.
Beginning on the vigorous 90s trance of Sawbones, the feelings of being out of your depth are then explored on Inhale Exhale before the battering ram of Bump leads to the album's midpoint, the comparatively mellow and dainty moonmoons. “I’ve got this creepy whiteboard in front of me, which has drawings I do of each track, and the shapes of each track, and moonmoons actually looks like a beetle,” she says. The second half kicks off with Divining, and following the unrelenting penultimate assault that is Paramour, the whole thing comes to a neat conclusion with the more delicate and defiant Unfurl: ‘Something’s bound to break / It better not be me / Uncoil / Skybound / Unfurl.’
“What I was vaguely going for [on Inhale Exhale] was other people saying: ‘You say you’re dancing in the deep end, but to me it looks like drowning.’ It’s other people’s idea of what a good time is. What’s fun or what’s crazy or what’s living. What constitutes being bold and adventurous, and actually I’m a bit cautious... there’s a sort of detachment, a sense of introspection and tension, you’re right, that comes through,” Meredith says of the album’s themes. “Killjoy is holding yourself back and self-criticism again, and Divining is ending a relationship and boundaries, but yeah, Unfurl, is,” she pauses, “freedom, basically.
“Lyrically," Meredith says, "some of the stuff is actually quite self-critical and quite self-reflective and a bit negative, but I had this real sense that I wanted to end things on a positive – looking up and looking out – which obviously feels really mental given that the whole world feels like it’s fucked.
“I think there’s a kind of self-acceptance that comes by the end, a peace, after having gone through a lot of uncertainty and a lot of self-doubt. Whether that’s been done consciously, I mean I wouldn’t say I set out to make those things about the album, but I think you’re right, that is the journey through the whole thing.”
Whatever Meredith’s journey may have been to get here, we’re glad she took it, no word of a lie.
FIBS is released on 25 Oct via Moshi Moshi; Anna Meredith plays The Art School, Glasgow, 8 Feb 2020