After any musician releases a stunning debut album, the challenge inevitably arrives to craft a follow-up that can meet and hopefully surpass its predecessor. The sophomore slump has claimed many gifted songwriters. The question arises: can they capture lightning in a bottle twice? Anna Calvi released One Breath in October on Domino Records. It is her second album and a true testament to her ability to not only deliver lush and haunting melodies, but to grow as a musician and a songwriter.
"Well, I'm definitely a bit of a perfectionist, but to me the important thing I ask myself is if the rawness, the emotion, is coming out in the music," Anna said recently on a tour stop in L.A.
On songs like "Suddenly" and "Piece By Piece," her voice is tremendous and at times an operatic siren, demanding her audience's attention. Yet conversationally, she is extremely soft-spoken. Like her performances, she allows her music to candidly speak for itself.
On her self-titled album released in 2011, she honed bluesy songs, both personal and anthemic. But on One Breath, she charted new territory embracing dissonant tones and writing dark and atmospheric tracks. Her first steps into the world of music began with classical training, first on the violin and eventually on the guitar. This studious genesis set the tone for her complex guitar technique and her confident songwriting style.
"When you're playing classical music, you're interpreting someone else's music. So all of your creativity comes from the way that you play that piece," Anna said. "I think it's impossible to use that same imagination when interpreting your own work. That is why I combine both ways of approaching music."
During her live performances Calvi, elegantly dressed and seemingly subdued, commands the stage with sometimes-catchy, sometimes-ghostly songs that always tell stories. Her gorgeous guitar flourishes offer a potent unpredictability that continuously keeps her new songs feeling crisp and vital. For Calvi, the journey as a musician has been an emotional trek, driven primarily by her keen desire to deliver authentic emotion in her adventurous songs.
"I've become more comfortable with songwriting," she said, "more brave to try things out and make them new."