British singer Anika may have just released her first solo album, but she’s no newcomer to music or media. I met with Anika to discuss her unique background and self-titled new album while she was in Los Angeles on Feb 6th, which also happened to be her birthday. She apparently had a very tight schedule while in LA that included a DJ set at The Natural History Museum and various record company and press meetings. Despite seeming a little peeved about working on her birthday, Anika was pleasant and charming as well as a bit shy. “I’ve made a fake birthday in two weeks time so it’s ok,” she told me while looking down through shaggy blond hair at the ground.
All photography by Pamela Lin
Though she started in the music business, Anika never intended to become a singer. She first worked as a music promoter and booking agent for venues in Cardiff, Wales, where she attended college. She eventually became frustrated with the lack of original bands she was able to book and promote. So she switched her attention to political journalism and eventually became the UK Science and Education correspondent.
She always sang and wrote lyrics but her heart was in journalism, until she met Portishead member Geoff Barrow through a mutual friend. Barrow was looking for a singer for his new project Beak>, and Anika decided to go check out a rehearsal and things clicked immediately. Amusingly, Anika didn’t realize who Barrow or the other members were until she got home and looked them up online. Despite feeling a bit embarrassed about not knowing them right away, Anika thinks it ultimately helped her audition. She said “I think it was good because I was less nervous and also the way we just said ‘ok that was good, same time next week’ without even knowing who each other was made it a really genuine thing.” Though she is a Portishead fan, she says Barrow is such an easy going person most of the time that she doesn’t really think about him being from the legendary band, remarking “Geoff is such a laid back bloke I don’t always put the 2 and 2 together.”
Anika has always wanted to speak her mind and doesn’t intend to stop doing so just because she left journalism. She sees music as just a different format where she can still express herself, saying “[the music’s] intention was to remind people that music can be for other stuff besides escapism. For the last ten years a lot of mainstream music has just been escapism music. People forget you can actually make a point in a song.” She says she intends to go back to journalism some day, calling her foray into music a “detour.”
However, faced with the decision of either being promoted or demoted, she gave up her position as official Science and Education correspondent at the end of January to focus on music and says she will just be writing news pieces here and there. “I wouldn’t have bothered giving up political journalism after adamantly saying I’m going to quit the music industry unless it was something I really believed in,” she told me. Anika, released in late 2010, came about as spontaneously as the rest of her singing career during the Beak> sessions.
“Originally I was going to do all my own vocals [and lyrics], but my stuff was so different from what they were doing,” she remembers. “Because of my political background, I had different motives and different things I wanted to do with it and so it just kind of formed it own thing. Geoff has a label so he said ‘why don’t we just make it its own project and you’ve got free reign.’” What she created was her own version of pop music, a moody, fuzzy, almost psychedelic experience taking a cue from bands like The Velvet Underground in its loose structure and sound.
To give you a clue of how different it really is there is, a cover of Yoko Ono’s “Yang Yang” on the record. She claimed she “wanted to do something that was raw and might piss people off a little bit.” Despite the unconventional nature of the sound, Anika is able to pull it off live with a band that includes Billy Fuller and Matt Williams from Beak>. She’s already done sold out shows in Paris and London will be coming to the States in May.
You can watch a video with highlights from my interview with Anika below:
Or check it out via YouTube here.
Photos by Pamela Lin.