Still from a promo for the song CryBaby
Early last year I wrote about Sow – what I thought to be spoken word artist Anna Wildsmith‘s long-gone project. “Sick”, Sow‘s skin-peeled-back, beautifully raw 1998 album affects me to this day and I’d been wondering what had happened to Anna since its release. As luck would have it, she came across the post and got in touch. Below, a new song and interview with Anna. She talks about her upcoming album, “Dog”, new collaborations, music that makes her tick and evolving.
You’ve been gone from the public eye for over 5 years now – how much of that is intentional, and why?
SOW has always been a part-time project of mine. “Dog” took over three years in the making, simply because I live in France and the people I collaborated with on that album live in London. Finding time to work together that coincided with their schedules and mine was difficult.
What have you been up to during this break?
Living a nightmare, renovating a ruin that I should have demolished right from the start and writing and re-writing a never-ending, constantly mutating, increasingly irritating novel.
Listening to Sick for the first time was a thoroughly visceral experience. Every song on that album feels intensely personal – is there a specific experience or series of experiences that influenced you while writing?
I like to watch people, I like to watch myself and then use my imagination to do the rest and come up with lyrics that conjure up the type of atmosphere I wish to convey on any given track. Indeed, I have felt all the emotions I write about, but I have not necessarily experienced the lives of the characters I write about.
Your new album, Dog, takes SOW in a different direction. Sexy, angsty tracks like My House and Victim are sure to keep long-time fans happy, but now there are also catchy songs like Porno Star and More Candy, with a much lighter sound. Is this a natural part of your evolution as a musician, or did you specifically aim to make Dog more accessible?
I think it’s a bit of both really. After a while, you get bored with the same old sound of your words and voice ranting on. Tracks like The Kidnapping of Anna Wildsmith, Pornostar or More Candy were crucial in my attempt to becoming more light-hearted, having fun and being less psychotic in my approach to what I wanted to express with SOW. I didn’t specifically aim to make “Dog” more accessible; it just became so as it evolved in time, like me, I suppose.
Where did the album title come from?
My dog, Buster, was the love of my life. He died, last year, in my arms at the ripe old age of 15. I got him from a famous refuge in London called “Battersea dog’s home” and from the moment I saw him, he gave me much joy. He helped me get through some hard times in my life thanks to his un-adulterated loyalty towards me and without him, I would never have come to live in the middle of nowhere. Taking a walk just doesn’t feel right without him running around by my side, snuffling in the bushes and chasing after cats and rabbits. I wanted to pay hommage to him with this album by introducing some light-heartedness and humour to Sow, qualities, I believe he beheld. I miss you Buster: R.I.P. “Dogs are gods living out in space”.
Anna with her dogs, Buster in mid-air on the right
I love the acoustic elements in the song Blue Sheets. Could you talk about the history behind this dreamy piece?
Rob Henry and I met up in Paris to record in a studio but when we got there, the studio had supposedly never been booked by us but by another band who had settled in there nicely. There was no way of negotiating with the lying cunts and Rob only had three days to spare so it was too late to find another studio. I suggested sightseeing, but Rob got out his laptop and we recorded “Blue sheets” in a friend’s apartment with a lent microphone, a four track Mackie and a bewitching flamenco guitar sample.
What were you listening to while working on Dog? Is there any new music out there you find particularly inspiring?
All sorts of stuff. I have never really been into any one type of music. I’m not very up to date with what’s going on in the music world at present. One of my heroes would be Brian Eno; a genius in my mind. Including his own stuff, everything he has ever touched turns to gold (Devo, David Bowie, Roxy music, Talking Heads…). I listen to Iggy Pop and Patti Smith on Sundays and when I’m driving in my car, I play Big Black as loud as I can. A very, very important band in my world is PULP. I love Jarvis Cocker, his lyrics, his sense of humour, he represents the ideal husband. I like Damon Albarn’s eclectic work and I can spend hours listening to Underworld whilst plastering a wall. Although it may sound crass to some of you out there, I am a fan of Depeche Mode (always was, always will be), and I love Dave Gahan’s latest album “Hourglass”. I get nostalgic when I listen to bands like Joy Division and Magazine, but I cheer up when I listen to The Clash or The Ramones. I love Wham and everything George Michael’s done since. I laugh to Ian Dury and I sneer with glee when I listen to The Stranglers. I like to dance to Motown and 70’s disco too. I enjoy reading to silence and relaxing with Arvo Part. Otherwise, there’s nothing better than a good Sex Pistols track to start off the day. I must sound so old-fashioned.
Are there any spoken word artists you admire?
I never listen to spoken word artists, I can barely bear listening to myself.
Listen to “My House” – a previously unreleased track from Dog, then click the jump for the rest of the interview.
Your lyrics are so honest that, at times, they are downright heartbreaking. Is it liberating to open yourself this way and do you feel overexposed after?
I wouldn’t say that I find it liberating, but it is quite therapeutic. I never really feel overexposed because I don’t specifically write about myself, I write more about my vision of the world and how I imagine the fascinating people who live in it think and feel.
Do you consider yourself a feminist? What does the term itself mean to you?
There is no doubt in my mind that women are, theoretically, equal to men, but, unfortunately, this is rarely true in practice. There is an incredible amount of work to be done to open bigots’ eyes and give women worldwide equal rights to men, but it is not my job.
How did it feel to be reunited creatively with Raymond Watts? Has your work dynamic changed over the past 10 years?
We never split up on a creative level. I have always enjoyed working with Raymond as we have pretty much the same tastes in music and we understand each other in an intuitive way, having spent fourteen years living together. The most enjoyable part of working with Raymond is catching up on our respective lives and having a good laugh and a giggle. Raymond is highly amusing. He is my closest friend.
The only thing that has changed in my work dynamic is that my collaborators and I work more quickly together as we often have little time to get a track down. There is less fussing about and going up one’s own arsehole.
Your songs have powerful storytelling elements in them and you’ve done a bit of writing in the past – have you given literature any more thought in recent times?
Yes, as I mentioned earlier on, I am trying to write a novel in-between mixing cement, tiling, plastering, painting and sanding.
Are you interested in touring?
The problem with touring SOW is that it would be very expensive to get enough musicians on stage to reproduce my music. The only alternative (which I did several years ago on a PIGFACE tour) would be me, alone on stage, voicing my lyrics to a pre-recorded sound track and I think that for an audience that’s pretty boring.
Do you have any side projects at the moment?
I am working on a children’s book with my brother Simon who, I think, is a talented artist; check him out on simonwildsmith.com.
What do you hope for in terms of your future, musically and otherwise?
Musically, I hope to keep on working just like I have been. Otherwise, I’m looking forward to the wild boar season starting and trying out my new gun.
Still from a promo for the song CryBaby