Anna Calvi Prefers Her Pop Unprocessed

The acclaimed singer and guitarist returns with a second album, and a party playlist that's equal parts pop and art: musicians who've have influenced her with their soft-spoken off-stage manner, innovative takes on pop music, and, in some cases, their quirky-cool personal styles... all just like her.

Photo: Roger Deckker
Photo: Roger Deckker

“One Breath” is the second record from English singer-songwriter Anna Calvi. Her debut recording in 2011 was a critical hit in her native UK, where it was nominated for both the Brit and Mercury prizes – which might explain why critics describe her already-operatic singing and controlled guitar work as as even more confident this time around.


Hi, I’m Anna Calvi, and I have a new album out called “One Breath.” I’ve been asked to bring some songs along, so this is my dinner party soundtrack.

David Bowie – Valentine’s Day

Number one is David Bowie’s “Valentine’s Day” from his new record, “The Next Day.” I think it would probably be played within the conversation of me saying, “I’m so super-happy that he put another record out.” I remember it was just after I finished recording my record; it felt like a treat.

I’ve been listening to his music since I was a little kid. For me as a singer, I learned a lot from him. He really manipulates his voice. If you hear different records, it’s almost like a different singer on each. He’s getting into a character — singing from the depths of that character. I guess that’s why he’s a good actor as well.

Also, I suppose the way he uses his body as a piece of art is very interesting. It was something I thought a lot about when I started dressing in this male flamenco style, which I felt represented the passion in my music.

Lykke Li – I Follow Rivers

The next song I would play is “I Follow Rivers” by Lykke Li.

You know, I don’t really listen to much pop music, but she’s right on the edge for me. When it sounds very computer, synthesized music, it kind of turns me off, but I think that’s kind of what’s good about this record. It sounds like real instruments are being played.

I think at this point, people are getting a bit drunk and a bit rowdy, and I think this is an appropriate song for this dinner party period. I guess that’s what’s good about pop music, is it doesn’t require your full attention constantly.

Leonard Cohen – True Love Leaves No Traces

The next song I would probably play – post drunk, everyone’s pretty tired, nobody can be bothered to move yet because they’ve got too much food in their stomachs – I think I would probably play “True Love Leaves No Traces.”  Which is Leonard Cohen, off “Death of a Ladies Man.”

The story of that album is he recorded it with Phil Spector.  And it sounds like a crazy experience, with Phil Spector kind of waving a gun around. I think Leonard Cohen maybe wasn’t really happy with [the record], but I really love it. I love the way he kind of pairs his voice with female singers.  It’s just a really sleazy and beautiful song.

Sometimes with Leonard Cohen, you feel like you have no idea what he’s talking about, but it sounds really clever and really beautiful.  Whereas on “Death of a Ladies Man,” they’re clever and beautiful and you understand what he’s talking about. They seem quite personal. The line I really like is, “As the mist leaves no scar on the dark green hill/So my body leaves no scar on you, and never will.” I don’t know… there’s something quite hypnotic about that.

Anna Calvi – Suddenly

I would probably have to be pretty drunk to want to put on my own album at my own dinner party, but let’s say that I was. I think I might play “Suddenly.”

The lyrics are kind of about trying to get over something difficult, trying to move on from someone.  It’s like, “Suddenly I leave it all behind.” Like, you just leave all the mess for someone else to clean up, while you go home to bed.