Following the deservedly rapturous reception that Anna B Savage‘s debut album A Common Turn received on its release in January, the London based singer-songwriter should be enjoying the noise, heat and chaos of annual Austin music industry shindig SXSW, as record labels and promoters from around the globe buzz around her hoping for the chance to make their pitch. Instead she’s at home online, like the rest of us, having recorded her 3-song set for the British Music Embassy showcase before the opening speeches had even begun, but this has done little to dampen her enthusiasm.
“It was pretty wild actually playing, I had to do quite a lot of admin planning to be able to get to record, but it was so incredibly gratifying to be asked to play and to be able to play, any which way!”
She makes it pretty clear how big of a deal this is for her between songs, proclaiming it a “bucket list moment,” before elaborating, “I’m absolutely shitting it!” Given the astonishing candour of her songs, which at times gives the listener the feeling of furtively flicking through her personal diary, we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised by her openness onstage.
“I’m not one to mince my enthusiasm, that’s for sure. Yes, it’s a massive deal to be playing SXSW in whatever capacity. It’s been on my bucket list, it can be a giant milestone career-wise, but it definitely feels like a milestone personally and emotionally. I am real, I exist, and I am real and exist enough to be asked to play SXSW. Obviously I would’ve loved (and still hope) to experience it some day. Truly being at a festival is something I miss acutely at the moment. The idea of feeling like I’m living in a world of music, where everything feels possible and tangible. I can only imagine that feeling is even more potent at SXSW than other festivals I’ve had the joy of playing at or attending.”
Anna’s set is one of 35 organised by The British Music Embassy, the largest contingent of any organisation showcasing artists at this year’s festival.
“I just got the email through my booking agent. So, I guess I was asked to play, and I said fuck yes. They were great, I think – so much preparation and care went in to this setup. I’m not sure about the other artists but I assume we got similar lovely treatment!”
But even with the best support and a top-notch studio set up, it’s a pretty strange environment – twelve minutes in a huge, empty space to show the world what you’re all about. “Is anyone listening?” she muses onstage before gently unfolding another heart-breaking slice of sparse, tender majesty.
“This was pretty different to what I’m used to. Although I’m also not one of those people who’s toured 300 days out of the year yet so it’s not like I’ve got crammed rooms in my blood. Yes, the idea of trying to distil oneself in to 12 minutes is difficult – but I think if you (I) think about it too much it’d make my brain melt. I just tried to put one foot in front of the other, play the songs as best I could. The setlist was hard, especially for someone with a penchant for long songs, like me, but you’ve gotta make a decision don’t you! I think putting too much on this one 12 minute slot would be bad for me, but similarly I just tried my best.“
And it turns out to be one of the most beautiful twelve minutes of the weekend. A moment of stillness amongst the digital hurly-burly of SXSW online, punctured at just the right moments by rough scrapes of electric guitar. The rich tones of her umami voice and the playful flicks of lyrics that are both dead-pan humorous and deeply personal without ever wallowing in self-indulgence seem to stop time, lift us from our lockdown cells and transport us to the sort of intimate live music venue that we should be enjoying this in right now.
And then it’s over and I’m back on my sofa in South London, feeling a little lighter than I was quarter of an hour before.
SXSW can be a key step on the road for artists in establishing themselves beyond their immediate location. What were Anna’s hopes for her festival experience?
“I guess, much like everyone who plays there, to get myself in front of more people, industry folk, hopefully give myself more of an opportunity to make music my long term career rather than just a side hustle. I would love to make connections with people on a more personal level too, but that’s decidedly harder in this year’s setup. I’ve had a few pals in the industry message me to say they liked it, yeah! But not an overwhelming response… yet. Expecting the doors to be battered down soon. (Kidding).”
So with a critically acclaimed album and a stunning SXSW performance ticked off the bucket list, what is next for Anna B Savage?
“A couple of very exciting things that I can’t really talk about… but things are happening! I’m also, of course, starting work on my second album. Which also very exciting if quite a scary prospect, too.”
If today’s performance is anything to go by, we should be just as excited to see what she has in store.
Anna B Savage’s debut album A Common Turn is out now on City Slang. She is due to play EartH in East London on 10th July before going on tour around the UK in October. Find out more at annabsavage.com
SXSW 2022 has just been announced for 11th-20th March – get all the latest details at sxsw.com
Interview by Paul Maps
Photography by Thomas Jackson at Tyne Sight Photographic