We first came across Annie Gardiner as one half of Bristol-based duo The Hysterical Injury a couple of years back (check out our interview with them here). This year has seen the release of her debut solo album Bloodletting – John Clay caught up with her to find out more about the record.
So, Annie, you’ve distilled the heavy subject matter of post natal depression into addictive investigative cinematic soothers. Tell us about the genesis of your LP?
Ha! It didn’t start like that. I was sitting in my studio space and my acoustic was to hand. I started playing and singing and had some reverb on. It reminded me of Mazzy Star’s second album and so I put the mic on the edge of my desk to pick up both voice and guitar. The songs just emerged and I tried my best not to get in the way. I liked them, shaped them enough and just kept going until it wasn’t flowing anymore. When I listened back to them later I couldn’t believe how sad they were and they made me cry a lot. It was a long time until they didn’t have that effect on me. Once I could listen to them, I decided to make a record.
Thank you for being so open. Can you go into detail of your mission to ‘not get in the way’? Are we talking lyrical content or musical expression here?
I mean for both musically and lyrically… it has more impact lyrically because the ideas come out messily. In the process of sitting and following an idea something would come and I’d put it down and I’d have a distant thought about ‘is it ok?’ or ‘who the fuck am I to write music?’ And I’d swerve. I found the wherewithal to swerve that bullshit, steered right away from it. That led me to more of the idea. I feel like the more I’d write, the closer I get … to what? I don’t know … but it feels more and more true or satisfying or something. Haha! Spoken like a true dreamer!
How much of today’s discourse on what is and is not culturally acceptable plays into your writing process? Additionally, if that inner policing has been discovered within, how did you first notice it and how to switch it off?
Can you give me an example of the kind of discourse you mean? I’m not a political writer particularly as my stories usually come from feelings or ideas and then get opened out. Often the writing is inspired by things other writers may have said/written. Like Clarissa Pinkola Estes has been a huge inspiration and Doris Lessing for example. Both articulate complex feelings and relations with people, the wider world, the perpetual noise.
Considering how personal your songs are it’s no wonder that conversations of the political sphere wouldn’t necessarily apply to you. However, there appears to be a cultural obsession with joining a group or distinguishing one’s voice from those who clutch to a binary us versus them mentality. When writing about post natal depression we’re on the grounds of feminist theory. And so, if you may, tell us of what expectations you had of the work upon completion in the context of the pop culture it’s been released in?
Yes, I see, we are on the grounds of feminist theory and when I think of the personal aspect of this record, and some of the experiences I drew on, I never felt so shoved in the gender box as I did when I was pregnant. And it was horrible. It showed me that the sexist structures of society were alive and well and that now I was pregnant that was the end of me, that it was the end of my potential and that came at me like a fucking tirade. The rage in the cage I felt. It’s dark, this record … feelings that stuck to the ideas were dark. They wanted to come out and I found a lot of relief when writing it. But, it isn’t a ‘dear diary’ record ‘woe is me’. It mixes with other stuff too. I was really inspired by the work of Clarissa Pinkola Estes and Women Who Run With The Wolves. The stories interpreted from a non male perspective were so enriching and helped me understand the roots of conditioning much more clearly. Which in turn just helped me articulate the banished within myself. I feel like stories, histories, experiences are a great way to discover and be inspired!
Thank you for being so candid. Is there a particular knack to housing this dark material in music so pleasing to the ear? Not to dismiss the complicated and often well informed subject matter of his films, but there is a huge amount of symmetry in the look and feel of mid to late Wes Anderson movies which syncs up well with this LP of yours. In particular, the opening track emanates this display of everything being in its right place via the use of rustic sounds and a vocal pushed far up in the mix that you can’t escape the narrative aspect of the songwriting appeal. There really is a sense of this music being created for a film yet to exist. Discuss!
Oh well! That’s incredibly nice of you to say so, Wes Anderson has beautiful symmetry in his films and it’s not an easy thing to achieve without it wearing thin.
A few people have said the production is cinematic and I feel that as a real compliment having produced it. The demos were very different – just acoustic nylon string and vocals with a spring reverb on it. When it came to doing the final vocal takes I had just got a new mic (shure SM7b) which I used on the last Hysterical Injury album. It’s such a great mic, I actually preferred the vocal completely dry. It doesn’t even have compression on it, only a tiny bit of eq. So you get that closeness. The harmonies however, do have more treatment because I wanted to play with the sense of space around the closeness. The instruments were mixed around the voice.
I should also mention here that the parts were recorded by the performers and many of those parts written by the performers too. I loved that they were recorded in various bedrooms, kitchens and home studios. This also lent itself to the sound I think. The cellos by Drew Morgan came back beautifully mixed and ready for action, so when I popped them into the main mix, I hardly had to touch them. I think Drew’s work here contributes to the cinematic sound as he is a composer in real life and has a lot of television soundtracks as well as the Halo 4 game soundtrack. Billy and Jo on double bass by coincidence use the same Direct Input pick up so there was consistency there. Yvonna recorded with basic equipment in her kitchen so the stems came in with the sound of the room very much there which ended up fitting as the perfect counterpart to the meticulous cellos.
I love all these performers as musicians and people and was truly humbled that they agreed to play on this thing! In answer to your original question, is there a knack, I simply followed my ears and intuition and just listened very carefully to what was going on and responded as clearly as I could.
Have you had much feedback on the listening experience? For example, I’ve got a rare amount of time between assignments at the moment, so, I’ve hopped back into bed and put your record on. Much like a good book or a quirky film, your music does provide a fair amount of insulation from the world. It’s not background music to other activity, although others may have that relationship to it. Putting it on means paying attention to it.
Ah that’s really good to hear. It’s definitely a world, I love entering worlds that music can be, I aim to find the songs ‘world’ when I write and so it’s really good that is what it feels like for you. Yes, people have told me it’s beautiful, cinematic, intense, which is really nice.
Let’s get specific. ‘Day After Day’ opens the album. Was this always the plan and if so, without taking too much of the mystery away, tell us what you will about the imagery of the skeleton.
I was gonna open it with ‘Along the Forest Bed’ but changed my mind because ‘Day After Day’ is a more accessible way in. That said, I did release ATFB first with a video by artist Laura Phillips. It felt right that way.
The skeleton is The Skeleton Woman, a story that surfaces again and again in various cultures. Ultimately she won’t leave you alone until you’ve untangled all the fishing line or in other words, addressed all your issues! I love this story so when I was babbling the melody to this song, she came back to me and mixed with my feelings at the time!
Can you tell us of your first experience of this story and above all, how do you relate to it now?
I read it in the book Women Run With the Wolves’ by Clarissa Pinkola Estes In 2017. I found it really inspiring to think about your own issues as knots in a fishing line and that unless you sought to untangle them, understand them, face them that you could never be at peace with yourself, or like yourself. I think about it from time to time when I’m disappointed in myself or whatever. Try and address it. I think it’s a useful story and in life of course there’s no end, like you don’t ever solve these things completely, but your awareness is expanded and so is your understanding. I should add that in life there’s no ‘happily ever after’ end like the story, apart from the actual end, death.
… And this would be an opportunity to discuss the music video for the track. Tell us about the filmmaker and their brief.
Well, Sorrell Kerrison is a textile artist based in Liverpool and one day she posted one of her pieces on Instagram that she’d animated. We had a back and forth via comments and then started chatting and decided to go ahead and make a video. She learned how to animate just to make the video, originally we were talking about animating with embroidery but it developed into the drawings. I love it so much because it captures the innocence yet sadness and realness of the sentiment in the song.
Was there any practical or artistic reasoning behind the swap from embroidery to drawings you care to comment on? Transforming a fundamental aspect of a brief can be so risky, right?
Ultimately, it would take much longer to embroider an animation than animate the drawings. So that was it really. And I was very happy with the outcome anyway. You have to work with what you have and what’s possible at the time.
You’re a massive fan of David Lynch, so you’ve probably seen the clip of him making a wooden phone case. He could have just bought one, but it could be interpreted that he likes the spiritual aspect of making something to share with others. Is the DIY aspect of the lyric book a decision based on reclaiming the communal aspect of craft in a time of mass production? Is the benefit of making items for audiences an injection of the personal over the practical?
I think it is absolutely about recalling the craft element over mass production. I wanted to make something from my own hand for people to enjoy while listening to the music. I’ve always wanted to make a graphic novel or comic of sorts so I drew the things that came into my head with the lyrics. I really like things where you can trace the beginnings easily – that don’t lead you back to things that are sinister. Like local fresh grown produce or a record that an artist made and manufactured by their own hand. It’s important in global times I think, without pointing out the spending habits of certain streaming platform owners.
Also, I love drawing and I also love reading lyrics and I thought writing the lyric book would give options for a listener who might prefer to stream but misses the physical act of flicking through the lyrics.
Much thanks for such a thoughtful answer. In a sane world, we’d be able to go into extreme detail of the more fascinating aspects of each track. An accompanying book of your collected works would no doubt be worthwhile and re-readable. For now, pick three artists you’d love to support live with this music. Perhaps your fans might want to check out your recommendations? Go!
Well, I’d love to support LOW – but the very amazing and worthy band Divide and Dissolve will be supporting on the next tour. I love Divide and Dissolve! I had a blast supporting Billy Nomates on a few of her dates in October. They were amazing so I would be well up for it again.
I’d love to support Charlotte Gainsbourg as I reckon it would suit.
I’d love to support The Handsome Family as their album through the trees has been such an inspiration!
I’d love to support Lingua Ignota but it might be a strange mix but I think she’s one of the most crucial, brutal and authentic artists right now.
Fantastic. I hope the next tour goes well and people who witness your majesty cue up to the merch stall in their droves. If you happen to be reading this in the future and are on your way to see Annie live for the first time then be warned – she’s great! Take care mate, and may your Christmas and New Year’s celebrations be all they can be. Peace x
Thank you John! And thank you for taking the time with this interview.
Wishing you a fabulous festive season! X
Bloodletting is out now – order via Bandcamp on vinyl or digital download
Find out more on Annie Gardiner’s official website
Interview by John Clay: heylink.me/Johnclayartist
Photograph by Simon Holliday