Anna Calvi HunterIf we can loosen the bonds of gender-related expectation, Anna Calvi believes, we’ll find a legitimate freedom of mind and body; the English artist spoke to Zoë Radas about her breathtaking new album, Hunter.

Mercury Prize-winning, English singer-songwriter and guitarist Anna Calvi has a singing voice renown for its enormous range and powerful, operatic brio. Her speaking voice, however, is taciturn – but it boasts huge scope and conviction in the things the musician has to say.

“I think that gender is definitely a spectrum,” she tells STACK. “I also think that there are some people who are very happy to exist on the extremes of the spectrum – and that’s fine. But there are people who, if we were born into a different world, maybe wouldn’t define themselves in this binary model; I guess what I found interesting [in writing Hunter] was really trying to get to the bottom of: What does it even mean to be a woman or a man?”

The themes on Hunter probe the layers within that question and unfold all kinds of tiers of being, connected by Calvi’s incredible lust for life. (Look no further than the album’s lead single, Don’t Beat The Girl Out Of My Boy, which aims to dismantle expectations around masculinity.) “It’s really difficult when we have a culture that just keeps on reinforcing these stereotypes that actually don’t have any relation to any real people,” Calvi says. “I think it’s quite confusing.”

Musically, her ideas are masterfully mixed; stand-out Indies Or Paradise features a slowly worming bassline (think Bjork’s Army Of Me) with a glinting, metallic guitar solo, and then the sudden major triad of the chorus’ vocal, streaming like a sunbeam through the leaves. “I see my songs really visually – I kind of imagine almost a mini-film,” Calvi explains. “For me, this song was about moving through a rainforest – the verses are crawling through the mud of your life, covered in sweat, and the chorus is looking up to the sky and believing that being in love with someone can somehow save you – this kind of beautiful optimism that everyone has, that things are going to get better.”

The terribly romantic Swimming Pool had its own visual inspiration: English painter David Hockney’s most famous works. “I really love the way he depicted his desire for men – completely unshamefully,” says Calvi. “It’s just about his pleasure and his enjoyment, and I found that really beautiful.” Hockney’s studies in shadow and light then informed the way Calvi treated her guitar. “I love impressionistic music, so I wanted to make the guitar sound like [Hockney’s] depictions of water – reflection and light. I guess all the decisions I made on that song were to further that image: the swimming pool, and being in love, and how pure and beautiful that feels.”

The first pieces of footage which have emerged of Calvi’s current live show illustrate an artist in total accord with her material. “I think this record especially unleashed something in me on stage that I didn’t have before – it feels stronger than me,” she says. “It’s a force, and I just have to follow it. I think because my record’s very much about trying to find something free and visceral, and breaking through any kind of restraint – the idea of a woman being a hunter and not being hunted, as we often see women portrayed in culture. I really wanted to express that sort of freedom beyond any sense of gender, so on stage that’s essentially what I want to express with my body – to feel really, really free.”

Hunter is out August 31 via Domino.

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