Calvi performing at Islington Assembly Hall, London, October 2013
24 September 1980 |
Twickenham, England, United Kingdom
|Genres||Art rock, alternative rock, indie rock, indie pop|
|Occupations||Singer, songwriter, musician, guitarist|
|Instruments||Vocals, guitar, violin, bass, piano, sitar, organ|
|Associated acts||David Byrne, Noah and the Whale, The Invisible, Brian Eno, Cheap Hotel, Cherry Brakewells, Swampus Trio, Lunatic Crash|
Anna Margaret Michelle Calvi is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. Originally from Twickenham, Calvi began playing guitar as a child and studied music at college. Calvi worked as a guitar tutor while recording her eponymous debut album over a period of several years. The album was released in the United Kingdom in January 2011 to critical praise, entering the Album Charts at number 40 and later being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and a BRIT Award.
Her second album One Breath was released on 7 October 2013 in the United Kingdom and United States through Domino Records. Calvi has gained critical acclaim for her voice, guitar playing and live performances.
Anna Calvi was born Anna Margaret Michelle Calvi on 24 September 1980 in Twickenham to an English mother and Italian father, both of whom are therapists. She spent most of the first three years of her life in a hospital undergoing treatment and surgeries to correct congenital hip dysplasia. "The way I dealt with that was to create my own world. And that's what my relationship with music is – a world of my own creation that I escape into. I was always a dreamer. The early things stick with you," she later remembered. Calvi grew up being exposed to a multitude of genres of music by her music-loving Italian father; this eclectic array ranged from Captain Beefheart to The Rolling Stones to Maria Callas, combined with an early understanding of classical music, "I was so taken by the sound. Whenever I saw an instrument I would get so excited and my heart would beat really fast."
Calvi first picked up the violin at 6, and guitar at 8. "Something would take me over whenever I'd seen an electric guitar," she later recalled. By the age of 10 she was using a double cassette karaoke machine to overdub her playing. She came to be much influenced by 20th century composers Messiaen, Ravel, and Debussy, attracted "to the impressionistic element of the music", and would try to recreate this feeling on the guitar, an instrument she was compelled to learn on discovering Django Reinhardt and Jimi Hendrix at the age of 13.
Calvi originally intended to study art, but instead opted for a degree in music. She attended University of Southampton where she studied violin and guitar, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 2003. After graduating, Calvi worked as a guitar teacher, giving private lessons to help finance her music career until 2010.
2008-2010: Early projects
Calvi did not begin singing until her mid-twenties. "I had a phobia about it until five years ago. I wouldn't sing in school or even in the shower. I had this emotional block about hearing my voice. So the guitar became my voice when I was a teenager, it was how I could express myself." In an effort to find her own voice Calvi has spoken of how she would lock herself in a room for long periods of time, singing along to records by Edith Piaf and Nina Simone.
Calvi formed several bands, including Cheap Hotel, who released one download-only single (New York), which did not chart. Calvi later met multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz and drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood, who eventually formed her band.
At an early gig, Calvi caught the attention of Bill Ryder-Jones who urged Laurence Bell of Domino Records to sign her. Early support also came from renowned music legend Brian Eno, who heard about Calvi through a friend. He has since become her unofficial mentor describing her during a BBC 6 Music interview as "the biggest thing since Patti Smith."
In the autumn of 2009 Calvi recorded a series of filmed Attic Sessions that were uploaded onto YouTube, including a cover of Leonard Cohen's Joan of Arc, Elvis Presley's Surrender, TV on the Radio's Wolf Like Me and David Bowie's Sound & Vision.
In 2010 Calvi supported Interpol on their UK tour, as well as label-mates the Arctic Monkeys at the Royal Albert Hall. Nick Cave also invited her to support Grinderman across Europe in October 2010.
On 11 October 2010, Calvi released her debut solo single Jezebel, a 1951 song originally written by Wayne Shanklin and made famous by Frankie Laine and French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Both Jezebel and the B-side Moulinette were recorded by Rob Ellis, and released on limited edition 7" and digital download. Live versions of both Jezebel and Moulinette were filmed at The Luminaire venue in London by Emma Nathan, who also created the vinyl artwork.
2011-2012: Debut album
Anna Calvi was released in the UK and Europe through Domino Records on 17 January 2011, to critical acclaim. It entered the official UK charts at number 40, and achieved similar success across Europe, charting at 17 in France, 33 in Austria, 40 in Switzerland, 55 in Sweden and 70 in Germany. In France, according to Q magazine, Calvi "has become an overnight star, the album debuting in the Top 20." The album was released in USA, Australia, and Japan on 1 March 2011.
Calvi co-produced the album with long-term PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis. Brian Eno sang backing vocals on Desire and Suzanne & I, Dave Okumu from the band The Invisible sang backing vocals on the song No More Words, and long-term collaborator Emma Nathan created the album artwork. "I see music quite visually and I like to create atmospheres... I like to try and create a whole world in the space of a song," explained Calvi. In an interview with the Telegraph Calvi said of writing the album "'I imagine the different instruments as colours, and so it feels like painting. I need music to come from a really emotional place. With my music I do like to hypnotise people and take them somewhere else. I like to slowly draw people into a world."
NME gave the album 9 out of 10, describing it as NME described it as "sumptuous, seductive and a bit scary, this velvety debut will stalk your dreams.", and stating that "this self-titled collection of 10 songs is perhaps the first great record of 2011." Uncut magazine said "This isn't just a great debut. It's a fearless rejection of current pop trends, fashioning a benchmark of intensity and originality that the rest of this year's albums will struggle to match.", whilst The Fly magazine called it an "arresting, sparse and darkly captivating listen." The Evening Standard said "the raw talent is undeniable: 2011 is Calvi’s for the taking".
The album was nominated for the Mercury Prize, which went instead to PJ Harvey. In January 2012, Calvi was awarded the European Border Breakers Award. Calvi was nominated in the Best British Breakthrough category at the BRIT Awards 2012.
In the summer of 2012, Calvi was one of the judges for the Mercury Music Prize.
Calvi took time off recording in November 2012 to sing on a Noah and The Whale song called "Heart of Nowhere", released in May 2013.
2013-present: One Breath
Calvi announced on 5 August 2013 that her second album titled One Breath was to be released on Domino Records on 7 October. Her announcement was accompanied by a trailer filmed by Emma Nathan. The record was produced by John Congleton and recorded in Blackbox Studios, France as well as Elmwood Recording Studios, Texas. Calvi has explained the title as: "One Breath is the moment before you've got to open yourself up, and it's about how terrifying that is. It's scary and it's thrilling. It's also full of hope, because whatever has to happen hasn't happened yet."
Calvi told Mojo magazine that whereas Anna Calvi was recorded on and off over three years, One Breath took just six weeks and was less of a challenge to complete than its predecessor. Calvi has said that she had been listening to composers John Adams and Steve Reich, as well as choral music, for inspiration while writing the record.
"One Breath" received critical praise upon release, with The Independent calling the new album “an LP that rumbles with lusty insistence, swoons with bliss, luxuriates in cinematic style and nudges Calvi’s emotive voice to fresh operatic heights”.
Calvi is known for her intense guitar playing and live performance. She has said that she tries to create the sounds of other instruments through her guitar. Visually, Calvi nods to the world of flamenco in her stage outfits, opting for the high trousers and blouse of a male dancer rather than the traditional frilled dress.
Following her debut album release show at Hoxton Hall in London, Calvi won over critics with her "performance of superb self-possession and dramatic timing." The Independent called her a "strumming seductress" who was "born to be heard in person" playing "with every ounce of passion."
Calvi's European tour in Autumn 2011 was filmed and released as a 2 part series called "Somewhere Along The Line".
Calvi performed a short headline tour in France, Spain and Portugal in November and December 2013.
Anna began 2014 with a Tour of the UK in February before heading to Europe throughout March. The Guardian gave Anna's February performance at London's Troxy theatre a four star review, stating that it "confirm[ed] Calvi as a modern guitar hero of exceptional talent and imagination". After the show at the Troxy, Anna played an intimate "solo show" to 150 fans at the George Tavern. Reviewing this special performance, Gigwise said that "up close and personal, the microscope highlights the nuances and flourishes that make Calvi the rarest of talent".
On 24 March 2014, Anna Calvi announced two shows in May in Sydney and Melbourne, as part of her Australian Tour. She also performed on June 1 as a vocal guest alongside the Heritage Orchestra for their Giorgio Moroder tribute.
Anna Calvi returned to Glastonbury Festival on 28 June 2014 for a performance on the Park stage.
Style and influences
Calvi frequently uses a (90s US) Fender Telecaster guitar and a vintage red Vox AC30 amp, both live and in the studio. She is a virtuoso guitarist, although her first instrument is the violin, in which she has a university degree. Calvi imagines playing guitar as an orchestra and is noted for her particular style of playing which involves hitting the strings in a circular motion, rather than strumming up and down. The result has been described by Q as "the prodigious wash of sound that recall Ennio Morricone, Duane Eddy, even Jimi Hendrix in its fluidity."
Calvi's style has been described as dark, romantic, atmospheric pop. The singer has said that the powers of lust are an inspiration, and her performances are deliberately sexually charged. Calvi has cited Nina Simone, Maria Callas, the rock of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, the blues of Captain Beefheart, the stage performances of Nick Cave, David Bowie and Scott Walker as well as classical composers Carlo Gesualdo, Messiaen, Ravel and Debussy as among her influences.
Calvi has also spoken of the influence of the films of Gus Van Sant, Wong Kar-Wai and David Lynch on her music. She admires "people that make beautiful films where the cinematography tells the story", and tries to do the same in her own work.
Calvi was invited to play at the Gucci dinner which was hosted by Vogue during the 2011 Haute Couture Paris fashion week. Frida Giannini, creative director at Gucci, also chose outfits for Calvi to wear during her May 2011 US tour. Calvi opened the new Gucci Sydney store on 30 November 2011.
Calvi also performed at the Fendi auction in May 2014 at Sotheby's in London.
|Title||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications|
|2010||"Jezebel / Moulinette"
|2011||"Blackout / Surrender"
|"Desire / Joan of Arc"
|"Suzanne and I" / "Baby It's You"
|2012||"Jezebel (Version Française) / Wolf Like Me"
|2013||"Eliza / A Kiss To Your Twin"
|"Endless World / 1970s Wind"
||Bonus 7" vinyl with Special Edition LP of One Breath|
|"Suddenly / Fire"
|2014||"Piece by Piece"
Awards and nominations
|2010||BBC Sound of 2011||Anna Calvi||Sound of 2011||Nominated|
|2011||Mercury Prize||Anna Calvi||Best Album||Nominated|
|2011||UK Festival Awards||Anna Calvi||Best Breakthrough Artist||Nominated|
|2011||European Festivals Awards||Anna Calvi||Newcomer of The Year||Nominated|
|2012||Eurosonic Noorderslag||Anna Calvi||European Border Breakers Award (UK)||Won|
|2012||The Guardian||Anna Calvi||First Album Award||Nominated|
|2012||Brit Awards||Anna Calvi||British Breakthrough Act||Nominated|
|2012||European Festivals Awards||Anna Calvi||Newcomer of The Year||Nominated|
|2014||AIM Independent Music Award||One Breath||Best 'Difficult' Second Album||Nominated|
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