Back in the very earliest days of Joyzine we’d make regular expeditions to New Cross, where a seemingly unending parade of exciting new bands were springing up and there was a new discovery to be made with every trip. Many became firm Joyzine favourites and some are still going strong some 18 years later, while others disappeared off our musical radar entirely. One of the central figures amongst them was Anna Vincent, both through her own music – first solo, then with bands The Total Drop and My Tiger My Timing – and through the record label Snakes & Ladders which she founded with her bandmates. She played one of the first Joyzine gigs, an eventful night at a long since closed New Cross venue (perhaps a story for another time), and featured regularly within these pages for several years until we lost track of her musical trajectory somewhere along the way.
Imagine our delight then when news of her first solo album, Under The Glass, filtered through to the Joyzine inbox. Now based in East London, Anna has teamed up with new label Ultimate Blends, run by Max Bloom of Yuck (who also plays on the record), for the release, and we couldn’t be more delighted to be reunited with the beautiful retro folk-rock sounds contained within. It has a sunny, nostalgic feel, with a slightly wistful aura – a little like watching back some grainy home video footage of a much cherished childhood seaside holiday (or indeed those early-2000s New Cross nights) and reflecting on all that has changed since – it is a treat from start to finish.
We asked Anna to talk us through the record, track by track, and she kindly obliged.
The nine songs on ‘Under the Glass’ were written throughout 2020 and some of 2021, and recorded and produced by Max Bloom at our home studio in Clapton, east London. Max played almost all the instruments you hear on the album, except for the drums – which were recorded remotely by the brilliant Adam Gammage – and some lovely violins on the closing track, recorded by Robbie Stern.
Originally, I had no plans to put the songs together as an album, let alone release them; they were really just something to do so that I wouldn’t feel like that strange year had been totally wasted.
Before going solo, I had released albums with several bands – most recently Heavy Heart, and before that My Tiger My Timing – and was also a live member playing bass in Happyness, Ski Lift, and for Max’s solo project. When the pandemic hit, like many other musicians, I saw an entire year of plans disappear in an instant.
At first I felt quite lost, and I had no real desire to be creative or put anything into the world. It just seemed futile and pointless. Eventually, though, I found myself picking up the guitar again, and I got obsessed with watching fingerpicking videos on YouTube and trying to learn the technique. I think that process really opened up some new ideas for me musically, and led to all the songs you hear on this album. I loved going back to writing in that way, and I didn’t let myself open my laptop to make a demo until I had competed each song as a full guitar part with vocals and lyrics.
I’ve always loved being in bands, so making a solo record had never really occurred to me, and was done more out of necessity than choice, but I have found it to be a really rewarding process, and quite different to other records I’ve made (although I am proud of them all). There was something strangely comforting about still being able to create while the word was falling apart, with no real plan (why make plans when there might not be a future?) and for no reason other than it’s what I’ve always done, and what I love to do.
‘Naxos’ was the first song I recorded of the nine which ended up on the album, and the guitar part came from my initial forays into fingerpicking. The lyrics started life as a poem I’d written after the first holiday Max and I took together back in September 2019, to Naxos, in Greece. We just spent a week wandering around the island – which was covered with tiny white and blue churches – lying on the beach reading during the day, and drinking raki by night at these little beach bars, watching the moon over the dark sea. I can’t believe now what a different world it was then. We had only been going out for a few months at that point, so in some ways the song is just about that; being on an adventure and in love. But I also wanted to remember the mythology of the island; sometimes it was like we’d stepped back in time, it was so dreamlike and magical. I had this feeling of being home, even though I’d never been there before.
I actually had a version of this song a couple of years before I wrote this, but I could never get any further with it. The original idea was in a kind of shoegaze mode and I had everything swathed in reverb. When we came to record this, Max suggested stripping all of that away to reveal the song, but we kept the repetitive, spiralling guitar figure in the intro and bridges. In the past I’d had a tendency to massively overthink my lyrics, and although I’m proud of the stuff I ended up with, in the process I’d really struggle to find words to fit my melodies which also meant something to me. I was drinking wine one night at home and the lyrics for ‘A Window’ just kind of fell into my lap. The song is pretty downbeat, and explores feelings of wanting to give up, sitting in a dark room looking outside, then realising you missed out on the day. There’s a line in the chorus which says “obviously the trick is not to try” and I guess that kind of sums up what I was starting to learn about songwriting at that time, but also about music and life in general.
This is maybe the most personal song on the album, and maybe my favourite too. Like all of the songs here, I started out with the guitar part. It’s just pairs of notes plucked to give a chiming sound and I liked the dusty dreaminess it created (although it’s so hard to play and sing live). I tried for ages to add another part to this, but everything felt too much, so it’s really just the same guitar part throughout, but the melody changes, and other instruments gradually come in. I’m so proud of the sound we created with such a limited palette. The lyrics are very simple and direct; they’re about the night Max and I got together, and they started out as a poem – like most of the songs on this album – which I wrote the next day to try and keep hold of all these amazing new feelings. Max and I went from being friends to being in love in just a few seconds, and I remember in that moment seeing two of him: the person I knew, and a new person too. It might also have been the wine we were drinking, but that’s when I got this idea of ‘seeing double’. I’m proud of these lyrics because I said exactly what I wanted to say without hiding behind too many metaphors, and when I sing them I’m right back in that moment.
‘Thin Skin’ was written later in 2020 when I’d started to get into Teenage Fanclub and Wilco, and I really wanted to do something jangly and super melodic. I’d been playing the guitar part for quite a while and I had a melody but no lyrics yet. One day when Max and I were at home, we heard this weird scratching sound in the hallway, and when we went to see what it was, we saw two magpies clawing and pecking at the cracked glass skylight trying to get in (there’s actually a video of this on my Instagram). It was really surreal and quite scary, but it also seemed symbolic; the idea of the outside coming in at the cracks in the windows – especially given what was happening in the world – and I knew I had to put those birds into the song. I guess more broadly, it’s about a growing agoraphobia and paranoia I was feeling after spending so much time at home. I loved my little bubble so much and I resented anything which tried to break into it or bring about change. It’s also an apology to Max about the ways my insecurities tend to manifest. This is the “rock-est” song on the album I think, and when Max came up with the chiming electric guitar line in the chorus I cried, because suddenly the song came to life.
I couldn’t resist putting this one at the halfway point of the album, but actually the title arrived before I’d really considered these songs as a collection. This is one of the more sparse arrangements on the record, with just piano, guitar and a little organ, and the sound I think reflects what is a fairly gloomy theme. Being in my thirties, I do find myself taking stock a lot more, and worrying that time is slipping away. I know in the grand scheme of things I’m still young, but I’m definitely more aware of the passing of time than I was in my twenties, and I do worry that I’ve wasted a lot of it, lost touch with people, and burned a lot of energy on things which didn’t matter (to the detriment of those that did). I’ve been in bands since I was a teenager and at every stage, I felt like I was almost there; that “success” was just around the corner. And I definitely have had success, but I’m not sure I’ve always recognised it at the time, so I’ve often felt upset – bitter even – that my music didn’t reach a wider audience, that I didn’t “make it”. The good thing about getting older is that you gain some perspective on these things, and can embrace who you are a bit more. As long as you’re making work that you’re proud of then there’s really nothing else to worry about.
This is one of the later songs I wrote for the album, and it’s really addressing my own addiction to worrying, even (and sometimes especially) when nothing is wrong. It’s built around a circular, repetitive guitar riff which I felt mirrored those kinds of nagging thoughts. For ages, I couldn’t break out of that section or that mood, so the verse and bridge are actually built over the same part, but eventually I found a way through into the chorus, which I think lifts the song up, creating some respite from the gloom, and bringing a new, more positive frame of mind for a moment. I have a bad habit of seeing good times as a kind of calm before the storm, so I find I’m always bracing myself for the next wave of dread or disappointment. In this song I list a lot of the things which get me down about myself, but it’s also meant as a reminder to try to relax and enjoy the moment, to slow my pace and take in the view.
Told You So
We really let ourselves have fun with the arrangement on this one, so you’ll hear Max playing trumpet, me playing clarinet, some vintage drum machine sounds, even a theremin (well, it’s actually a Juno 60 but it does the job). I knew I wanted to do a song in a Bossa Nova rhythm, and in my mind this one is influenced by a lot of 60s songwriting, very early Beatles and stuff, with some nice major/minor changes and 7ths, so I wanted it to be a little nostalgic and fun. But somehow it actually ended up being one of the most honest and poignant songs on the album to me. I’ve always had this feeling that I’m a bit of a weirdo; my parents even told me that when I was a baby they sometimes thought I was an alien from outer space. Most of the time I feel I can pass as human, but now I’m in love with an Earthling it’s getting harder to hide my true nature. When we got together I wasn’t sure that everyone approved, and that made me sad. But Max would reassure me that it didn’t matter what anyone else thought. We may not always speak the same language, but we can communicate through music.
Love You Twice
While we were making Under the Glass, Max was also finishing and releasing his second solo album Pedestrian. It’s such an amazing record and seeing him make it was such a huge inspiration to me. In his song ‘Imposter Syndrome’, there’s a line which goes “Though I might be strong I hate myself, I hate myself,” and I find it almost unbearable to hear him sing those words. Max is such an amazing person – kind, talented, creative, generous – and everyone who knows him would agree, but he’s often very hard on himself, so I wanted to write a song letting him know that if he hates himself, I’ll just love him twice. This was one of the final tracks we recorded and musically it’s a kind of waltz. I wanted something really traditional, almost like a folk-rock ballad, and then it swirls up into this merry-go-round in the middle 8 which is quite magical. I sometimes think of a scene, like on the edge of a dream, of a fairground with all these bright lights and noises keeping us amused and distracted from the darkness outside and all around. In this song, though, we’re riding those painted horses home, and I feel like they are a protective symbol.
Under the Glass
I weirdly don’t remember a lot about writing this song, which probably means it arrived fairly fully formed. It’s another one which came out of my experiments with fingerpicking on the guitar, and I wrote it as a companion piece to ‘Halfway Through’. The themes and mood are quite similar, but I feel like this one goes further down the spiral. I wanted to explore my relationship with – and fear of – time, and of getting older. The lyrics are quite straightforward – “one more turn around the sun, here again” – and fairly bleak I guess. I had this image of a ghost and a child holding hands, but somehow they’re the same person: perhaps if time isn’t linear after all, we are always simultaneously at the beginning and the end of things. The middle 8 is my favourite part of the song, and it features some exquisitely played violins from Robbie Stern. The song title came from an idea I had about moments in time being like beautiful butterflies that we’re always trying (and often failing) to catch and pin underneath glass. As a songwriter, every single song is my attempt to capture that fleeting moment or feeling and preserve it for other people to experience, which is why Under the Glass seemed to work as a title for the album too.
Catch Anna Vincent live at The Waiting Room, Dalston on 1st November.
Under The Glass is out now on Ultimate Blends. Order on CD and digital download via Bandcamp.
Find out more on Anna’s official website
Introduction by Paul Maps
Photograph by Max Bloom