Interview

Anna B Savage: “I’m melodramatic as fuck – it’s a release to me”

As she releases her second album, the ever-compelling songwriter is ready to push herself further than ever before

Ketamine. Psilocybin mushrooms. Bright lights, shining directly into your eyes. On the surface, it may seem like I’m describing a great night out; yet these items also form the basis of some of the more leftfield forms of therapy that have emerged in recent years, which I’m discussing with Anna B Savage

“Apparently it is like the best thing ever. I’m desperate to do that,” she says, referring to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). Though her own experiences over the past few years have mainly involved more conventional treatments, they have allowed her to embrace her more spiritual side. “If someone asked whether they could read my tarot a few years ago, I would burst into tears because I’d be so afraid,” she laughs. “Whereas now, I’m like, yeah, I wanna move my eyes to get rid of my trauma!”

Therapy has been an integral part of Anna’s creative process throughout the making of her second album, in|FLUX. Recognising that life and growth are non-linear helped to inform the wider themes of the album. “It has the flux of the old mental state that still feels very A Common Turn [her debut] – quite introspective and neurotic and nitpicky,” she explains, “but then also being able to level it out with this new state of being like, ‘That’s fine… It’s okay. Why not? Why not feel like that sometimes? But also I can feel a different way.’” 

With tours with Jenny Hval and Father John Misty, a master’s degree in Popular Music Practice and wide acclaim for her debut album all behind her, by the time it came to working on in|FLUX, a different approach was needed for Savage to avoid becoming overwhelmed and succumbing to the pressures she put upon herself.

Starting her current therapy journey in January 2020, it was hard to shake those initial preconceived notions of what therapy is and who it’s meant to help. “I kind of went there being like, ‘I’m fine, there’s nothing wrong, there’s nothing that I’m really struggling with,’” she says, “but maybe it would just be nice to have a little bit of support.” With current NHS therapy waiting lists spanning several years, and GPs quick to prescribe a few sessions of online CBT to those with severe mental ailments caused by generational trauma and austerity, Anna is quick to point out the privilege of not only having access to therapy but also a good working relationship with her therapist. “I find myself saying that it’s frivolous and it’s navel-gazing. Whereas actually I think if everyone had access to therapy? Fucking hell, things would be so different.” 

This emotional work and personal development can be heard throughout in|FLUX, often through its lyrical themes. Take the lingering remnants of past romantic relationships on ‘The Ghost’, or the attempt at moving on when feelings aren’t reciprocated on ‘I Can Hear The Birds Now’; even in our modern age of oversharing, there is a sincerity and earnestness here that feels distinct. Part of this came from her daily ‘Morning Pages’ taken from self-help book The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which resulted in a stream of consciousness that allowed Savage to trust herself and her own thought process. “It was so useful to be able to get that neurosis out, have it be seen and heard,” she says. “I still obviously second guessed everything I did because that’s just who I am. But it was a really, really useful tool to be able to access more of that trust.”

There is a distinct lack of polish on in|FLUX; a ‘take it as is’ approach which allows for new discoveries on every listen. “There are some things that I’ve put in that no one’s ever gonna know about except for me and [producer] Mike Lindsay, which is really fun. I purposefully set out to make it quite a different experience from A Common Turn and I couldn’t have asked for a better collaborator. He was so positive and such a ‘Yes Man’. Whatever suggestion I had, he was like, ‘yeah, let’s try it.’” One such Easter egg appears at the end of ‘Say My Name’, in which a sharp intake of breath is heard at the end, Anna trying to hold back tears whilst recording. 

“I’m melodramatic as fuck!”, she cackles, and attributes to both of her parents being opera singers, a style of performance prided in its theatrics. “I used to find it so embarrassing and I cry all the fucking time. But now I feel it’s my body showing me that I’m responding to something. It feels like a really important sentiment that I wanted to bring to the album. And it felt like a release to me.” 

A rawness that is felt throughout the new album, these happy accidents point to a humanity within her music that Anna herself didn’t previously have access to – a complete willingness to be unapologetically herself, a person that she didn’t truly know or understand before. “I’m basically putting myself into this scenario where I trust that I will come up with something that is hilarious and absolutely terrifying and not really something I think that I’d ever done before.”

With A Common Turn initially due for release back in 2020 but subsequently delayed until the following year, Anna found herself with more time to be creative and to learn – her favourite pastime. “I knew that music wasn’t gonna happen in the way that music had been happening so I was a bit like, ‘Fuck, what am I gonna do? I’ve changed my whole life for this’.” Embarking on an Ableton course, which she was admittedly terrified of, she credits her tutor Brian (“he’s the fucking best”) with helping her tackle the behemoth. As part of this course, Anna had to create a new song weekly, one of which turned out to be title track ‘in|FLUX’. “It’s one of the only songs I’ve ever written that has no guitar in it, which is definitely my preferred method of songwriting,” she says. It’s a track that goes against convention throughout, perfectly evidenced by a sonic switch-up part way through which follows a “glam metal shouty bit”, and it’s a slight departure from the rest of the album, inspired by her love of dancing. “I’ve got too many weird time signatures and no through line of a fucking tempo,” she says. “I needed to try and work something out. So I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna make a song that people could dance to.’” 

“Fuck it” is a sentiment that Anna seemingly adopts in her approach to just about everything nowadays. There’s the understanding that life is going to just do its thing so it’s up to us to find our own fulfilment within it. For Anna, much of this fulfilment came from being single despite the “insidious shit” in society that suggests that singledom is a miserable existence that you have to suffer through until someone’s son comes along to save you from eternal damnation. “It’s so good. I was just like, ‘I’m gonna move to Canada’, or ‘I’m gonna go to Ireland now,’” she says gleefully. “Just making decisions like that, not having to think about anything. It’s so weird that that feels like it is going against the grain in some way.” 

Believe it or not, being single can be fun when you know who you are, what you want and how to ask for it. ‘Touch Me’ speaks of the joy of the slow burn; the beauty of the build and anticipation in a time where everyone’s in such a rush. ‘Pavlov’s Dog’ speaks of a positive and communicative sexual experience. With many single women, particularly those dating heterosexual men, recounting their horror stories of emotionally unavailable Hinge matches who don’t wash their legs in the shower, it’s refreshing to hear someone suggest that sometimes casual sex can actually be quite…nice? 

“I had some incredibly intimate, wonderful connections with people,” says Anna. “It fills your soul up. It’s so wonderful.” The work of psychotherapist Esther Perel and her unpacking of eroticism as a practice that operates independently of intercourse served as inspiration here. “I think I’m completely obsessed with people, just that idea that you can have these connections with someone that only last for a certain amount of time, but for me anyway, they can really reboost my sense of self.” 

It’s this self-awareness that has enabled Anna to maintain this mindset now that she is in a relationship, which she suggests with slight frustration undercuts her previous statements, though acknowledging that life’s contradictions are all part of what being ‘in flux’ is all about. You can be happily single but also want some company and a cuddle. You can be happily partnered and need some alone time. There is no either/or when in a state of flux. The flux, as I have come to understand it, seems to consist of constant transitions mixed with pragmatism, which sounds chaotic in theory but in practice is the complete opposite. Simply put, Anna’s just going with the flow, which led her to a music residency in Canada in 2018 – one of 30 things that she hoped to achieve before her 30th birthday, and an experience she simply describes as “magical”. 

Finding herself on the social periphery for much of her life up to this point, the 20-strong group effectively became a chosen family; one she pays homage to on tracks ‘Hungry’ and ‘The Orange’, the latter with a nod to American composer John Luther Adams’ ‘The Wind in High Places’, which was introduced to her by a friend out there. “I just wanted to write a nice song,” she says. “I listened to loads of podcasts about [Adams] and I just wanted to give some sort of nod to how moved I still feel by that whole experience.” On the track, Anna also reveals that she doesn’t “want kids or a partner” and that this is always met with disbelief. We’re often told who and what to prioritise and that the nuclear family is a goal that all of us will come around to eventually, and that anything that defies this is anathema. She aligns with the term “relationship anarchist”, which sounds a little punk pastiche, but in reality is just more about not putting others on pedestals based on their relationship to you as opposed to their relationship with you. “It makes so much sense to me – giving your non-romantic and non-familial relationships the same gravitas as the romantic and familial,” she says, though she admits there is a “sadness” of not being able to see her “chosen Canadian family” regularly. “It drains a lot of energy for me trying to keep in touch on WhatsApp. But I do actually still speak to all these people, so it’s really love.”

Crediting this trip across the Atlantic with her ultimately being signed by her label City Slang, Anna is firmly where she wants to be on in|FLUX. “I think it shows off a bit of a different side of me, which feels more encompassing of who I am as a human,” she says. Yet despite the serious therapeutic undertones, Anna is ultimately quite laissez-faire about it, expertly mimicking the shrug emoji as a means of summing up the essence of the album. “It’s that feeling of – it’s not the end of the world. It’s fine. We’ll just move on to the next thing.” 

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