Nada Mucho

2005 Favorites – Antony & The Johnsons

Posted by January 4th, 2006 No Comments »

Antony burrows his way out of a Fabricland storeroom[url=http://www.antonyandthejohnsons.com/]Antony[/url] – One Name, One Album, One Leg
A NadaMucho.com Interview By Tyson Lynn

With a voice somewhere between Mark Mulcahy and Nina Simone, Antony Hegarty, better known simply by his first name, garnered wild sweeps of critical praise for his 2005 album, I am a Bird Now, including his recent nomination and win of Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize.

NadaMucho.com’s Tyson Lynn spoke with Antony in Fall of 2005.

Nada Mucho: I am a Bird Now has received some wonderful reviews. Has that surprised you at all? You have been performing since 1990.

Antony: I was still a student in 1990. I have been performing since I was a kid. This is the first album I’ve ever really released in any kind of a more general way. I had one other album I released in 2000, but it was more of a limited art release. So this is the first album I’ve ever released in a general way, and I’m very excited about how it’s been received.

NM: It seems like it’s been universally loved.

Antony: Well, mostly. There are certain people who didn’t like it but some people liked it too. So that’s nice.

Antony burrows his way out of a Fabricland storeroom[url=http://www.antonyandthejohnsons.com/]Antony[/url] – One Name, One Album, One Leg
A NadaMucho.com Interview By Tyson Lynn

With a voice somewhere between Mark Mulcahy and Nina Simone, Antony Hegarty, better known simply by his first name, garnered wild sweeps of critical praise for his 2005 album, I am a Bird Now, including his recent nomination and win of Britain’s prestigious Mercury Prize.

NadaMucho.com’s Tyson Lynn spoke with Antony in Fall of 2005.

Nada Mucho: I am a Bird Now has received some wonderful reviews. Has that surprised you at all? You have been performing since 1990.

Antony: I was still a student in 1990. I have been performing since I was a kid. This is the first album I’ve ever really released in any kind of a more general way. I had one other album I released in 2000, but it was more of a limited art release. So this is the first album I’ve ever released in a general way, and I’m very excited about how it’s been received.

NM: It seems like it’s been universally loved.

Antony: Well, mostly. There are certain people who didn’t like it but some people liked it too. So that’s nice.

NM: Well it seems that for what you would consider your debut release, you came out very strong. You had four guest performers and all four of them are major names.

Antony: It was at a point in the record where I wasn’t sure I was going to finish it. I mean I worked really hard on it for a long time, but I wasn’t satisfied with it, and it was at that point that I threw the doors open and asked the world for a little help. And it was amazing the way people stepped in and just ushered the record to the finish line. Including, for instance, the artwork on the cover. The Peter Hujan photograph. Just so many things like that. I think it became a process of transforming it from this personal voice into a collective voice. So this record was what it became in the process of having other people participate.

NM: Two of those people you’ve mentioned in the past as your idols: Boy George and Lou Reed. How was it working with the two of them?

Antony: It was really wonderful. George has been one of my heroes since I was a kid and it was very magical to be in the studio with him. It was very emotional for me. With Lou, Lou’s someone I’ve been working with for the last few years and he’s one of my greatest mentors and someone I continue to learn from every time I’m with him. He’s just a genius. So, it’s very exciting to work with all of the artists on the record. Including the other musicians: Julia Kent, Maxim Moston, Doug Wieselman, the horn player who did an amazing arrangement. There are just so many people on the record.

NM: There’s an incredible amount and it’s incredibly done, musically. When it comes to your live performances, are those the same people we can expect to see, or is it more of a shifting line-up that you have for the Johnsons?

Antony: For the shows in Seattle, I performed with Julia, and Kevin Barker, from Currituck Country, who recorded the Lake with me. I don’t know if you’ve heard my recording of a song called “The Lake”?

NM: I have.

Antony: Well, that’s Kevin playing guitar. He’s really my favorite guitar player in America. This boy, Rob Moose, who’s playing violin and guitar also. For the tour, I’m bringing a couple of other musicians too. Jeff Langston, who’s my bass player, and I’m bringing this accordion player we’ve found just recently.

NM: You said for your album, you threw open the doors, and that’s how you got people to join you. Is it the same thing for this band?

Antony: I think so, yeah. It’s definitely (pause) my piano playing is naive in a way. (Pause) By bringing in other musicians I think the music is so much richer and I find it more engaging, as a performer, to have other musicians to respond to.

NM: You said your piano playing is naive, which I think is interesting, given that your performance on record seems very wise, very knowing, and almost sorrowful.

Antony: I just mean that my piano skills are very rudimentary.

NM: I think there are a few people who would disagree with that.

Antony: Well you’d see if you saw me play piano. I’m basically self-taught, and I don’t have a lot of chops on the piano. I can play something with feeling, but not with a lot of sophistication. But, you know, I’m not complaining. I think that playing with some other instruments really gives the music a chance to become slightly more innate, and a little bit more mysterious. And it allows it to step away from the chord progression I tend to be hammering at.

NM: Did you receive teaching either for your voice or piano?

Antony: No, not really. For a little while, for a couple months, I was studying with a singing teacher and he encouraged me to sing. Mostly, I did a lot of singing in choirs when I was growing up, chorale groups. I think I was very into music by doing that, but I didn’t study per se.

NM: How about for your lyric writing? Was that all self-taught, or did you do any writing programs?

Antony: Again, it was intuitive. There wasn’t a lot of thought behind it. Or rather, there wasn’t any academic training. I’ve just been the kind of person, since I was a kid, who carried around a little diary. I think it’s a good idea for everyone to do. Scribble down what you’re thinking, or if you have a dream, write that down in the book. Just take every opportunity to follow a flight of fancy; I think that’s so important in this life.

NM: On your album, it seems that many of your songs are autobiographical. How much of a difference is there between Antony, who you truly are, and the persona you portray on the album and on stage?

Antony: Well, I wear a fake leg on stage, but in real life I have only one leg. So that’s the big difference: you’ll see me on stage and I’ll have two legs but in real life I use crutches and walk around on one leg.

NM: I sense that perhaps you’re joshing me a fair bit on that.

Antony: No, no, I’m completely serious dude. I just wanted to share that with you.

(Laughs)

NM: Well, again, I really do want to know: do you have a good amount of you in the song lyrics, or do you try it mostly separate from what you put out in the public, and what you keep to yourself?

Antony: Well, you know, I try to (pause) even though on stage, I have this wooden leg, I try to occupy the space where my leg once was, I try to embody as much of the soulfulness of that leg as I possibly can. But it is a flight of fancy.

NM: Indeed. So what can we expect next from you? Do you have another album in the works, or is it just the touring?

Antony: Really what’s going on for me right now is that I have this tremendous touring schedule. I’m going to be pretty immersed in that for the next few months. Then I’m thinking about some very special projects I’m excited to start working on. One of them is a show I did last year called “Turning”, a collaboration with this wonderful filmmaker named Charles Atlas. It’s a collaborative piece we’re thinking of doing in many of the major cities of the world, and I think we may have found some people to help us out with that. That’s going to be a film project, so I’ve got that I’m working on. Then, I’m working on a new record. I’m really interested in, for instance the concert that we did in Seattle, it really excites me to do bigger events with the people you care about, the community you want to be a part of and want to draw together. As much I possibly can, I’d like to facilitate events like that, bringing together different musicians, almost like creating little festivals wherever you go. I mean, I really like so many different artists. I like Animal Collective, and I love Cat Power. In England recently, I did a concert, and we did a song with Marc Almond. That was so exciting. There’s something about the idea of community in music and in art that really excites me.

NM: It seems like it might be a little bit difficult to bring together little festivals wherever you go. Are you going to try to do that?

Antony: I was just talking off the top of my head. I don’t have any plans. But I’m just thinking about it. I’m thinking, how can we facilitate more of this? I think as an audience member, that one of the reasons I listen to music is to participate in the sense of collective, in the sense of a collective emotional experience. As a listener, I’m participating in the emotional life of the person I’m listening to. And as a performer too, I think there’s something invigorating about extending the parameters to include other performers and other artists. I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.


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