Following the release of her album FIBS, the Scottish composer puts together a mix of Tim Hecker, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Destiny’s Child, and more
Two words that go some way to describing Anna Meredith’s music are ‘organised chaos’. The Scottish composer, who first made her mark in the classical field with her bold, maximalist arrangements, has a work ethic that’s as relentless as the music she makes.
Since the release of her first studio album as a solo artist, 2016’s Varmints, she’s released a recording of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons and the soundtrack for comedian Bo Burnham coming-of-age debut film, Eighth Grade. Last year, she opened the Proms with her bold and imaginative Five Telegrams, a 20-minute animated spectacle about the first world war, and in January, she’ll be rocking up to Buckingham Palace to accept an MBE from the Queen (joining her on the day is actor Olivia Coleman, who Meredith says she’s requested to sit next to during the ceremony).
We’re in London’s Somerset House to talk through the release of her second solo album, FIBS, which, 30 minutes prior, had been stomping its way down my headphones. Listening to it feels a little like the crazed parade sequence in Paprika, where the living objects march their way from dreamstate to reality. It’s a rollercoaster of chugging rhythms, arranged with a complexity and precision unique to Meredith.
Below, we speak to the musician on FIBS, and about her new Dazed Mix, which features the likes of Tim Hecker, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and Destiny’s Child.
In the three-and-a-half years since we last spoke, you’ve composed a film score, opened the Proms, and recorded a new album, FIBS. Can you tell me about all those?
Anna Meredith: The biggest thing was an orchestra and visuals piece, “Five Telegrams”, which started at the Proms and then Edinburgh festival. That was a lot of last year, and it was pretty full on. Then there was a film score for Bo Burnham’s Eighth Grade, and we also released a thing called “Anno”, which was a piece that’s half me and half Vivaldi’s music. We’re going to Japan to do that next week, which will be really cool. My sister did the visuals for it. She does all my album artwork, but she did the visuals for this too. The audience sit in the middle and there’s lots of screens. The players all stand around it and sit on the stalls.
I also heard rumours that you’re getting an MBE.
Anna Meredith: It was totally unexpected and cool, but yeah, I go to a thing in Buckingham Palace and I get a medal. I’ve already got the letters, not that I’ve actually done anything with it. I should try and get into a restaurant, or get an upgrade on a flight. You have to go to this thing, wear a hat, wear a posh dress. Olivia Coleman’s getting one at the same time as me, so I’m going to ask to be seated next to her.
FIBS sounds so different to Varmints. Was this deliberate?
Anna Meredith: I feel like the cornerstones of what I like writing are still there – like fast instrumental stuff, slow instrumental stuff, sort of poppier vocal stuff, quiet vocal stuff – but I think, especially with the vocal stuff, I’ve gotten better and stronger.
I feel (that with) the instrumental stuff, I’ve always known how to do that and that’s kind of my comfort zone, but I’ve managed to do a better, stronger, more confident job with the pop stuff. I don’t know if that’s the stuff that feels different to you, but that’s what feels different to me.
And you have a band now.
Anna Meredith: There’s five of us. So me, a drummer, a tuba player, a cellist, and an electric guitar. We’ve done loads of gigs together now and getting their input on the album, I think it’s really different to last time, when I did it (kind of) all on my own.
Where did the name FIBS come from?
Anna Meredith: I think there’s something about things not being one thing or the other, like being in a grey area. Also, I’ve always liked the idea of fibs as neither a good or bad thing. The album is emotionally a bit ambiguous. I’ve not set out to do one thing, and a lot of the music doesn’t match the music. There are a lot of dark lyrics up against upbeat music. I think all of us live a little bit in that grey area. With the album, I spent a lot of time planning, and I’d draw these sketches and pace how the tracks related to each other.
The ordering of the entire album feels so smooth.
Anna Meredith: I knew the order of the objects, so it was kind of like a fast thing will be juxtaposed, then we need a breather after that, and so on. I shifted the order a bit but it was trying to make sure the whole thing had moments to catch your breath, moments of palate cleansing.
I also think there’s a shape throughout the whole album that, for me, feels positive. A lot of the tracks are rather self-critical and inward-looking, in some respects – maybe outward-looking energy-wise, but there’s a lot of conflict with the voices inside your own head. But ending with “Unfold” feels positive, like it’s gonna be okay.
“The album is emotionally a bit ambiguous... I think all of us live a little bit in that grey area” – Anna Meredith
The way you’ve described that sounds so much like every creative profession, ever.
Anna Meredith: Exactly. It’s like the self-doubt. It’s taken me a really long time to work out the conditions I need to write well and the confidence I need to be feeling, I need to be absolutely pumped.
Speaking of feeling pumped, I was happy to see Ryuichi Sakamoto, Tim Hecker, and Destiny’s Child on your Dazed Mix.
Anna Meredith: Well, I have to thank my friends, ’cause I don’t listen to a tonne of music, so the first thing I put down was George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” and Shaggy. I listen to George Michael all the time. For a while I went through a period of just listening to that album that’s ‘for the heart, for the feet’, and I just listen to the ‘for the heart’ one. I come back drunk on the night bus and wander around my flat listening to like “Cowboys and Angels” or “Different Corner”. I love him. I love his voice, I think it’s effortless.
Anna Meredith: They’re just bangers, amazing. But yeah, “Careless Whisper” and Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me” was gonna be my starting points, and then I chatted to Tom, my tuba player, and he was like, ‘Okay I’ve got some other ideas’, so it’s absolutely thanks to his input.
How do you feel about Varmints, three-and-a-half years later?
Anna Meredith: I’m still really proud of it! My background is in things where everything’s commissioned, that’s how I make my living, and I hadn’t really appreciated until I did Varmints how much support and infrastructure you need. When someone commissions an orchestra piece, there’s a deadline, there’s a venue, paid-for musicians, publishers who are going to print the music – basically, there’s someone else hiring you, so know everything’s taken care of. Whereas making an album on your own – and this is so obvious, but it’s such an eye opener – just the self-belief and commitment to do it and turning down all this paid work, realistically paying for it yourself, is a huge leap of faith.
It’s funny. I thought it’d feel binary, I thought I’d feel like it would either end well or badly. I think it has gone well and people have liked the album a lot, which is amazing to me. The fact we can tour it is another eye-opening thing, because most of the music I write is only played once. Thinking about touring the new music a year ahead is amazing.
So it’s a good feeling.
Anna Meredith: I think it’s a relief. I want to write well, and if I just keep pushing for new, new, new, at this rate, I might not do a good job, so it’s lovely. I’m in a band and we tour the same set, and some people know all the words, which is so humbling. I’m excited about getting into this album and sharing it with people in person. I really hope it goes well. It feels like there’s a lot of unknowns. It’s nail-biting, there’s no guarantees, but I’m optimistic that it’ll lead to new opportunities.
01. Usher – “Confessions” (Interlude)
02. Kelela – “A Lie”
03. Tim Hecker – “The Truth of Accountants”
04. Russell Haswell – “Alternative Ways to the Truth”
05. Raime – “See Through Me I Dare You”
06. SKRS – “Undercover Lovers”
07. Fennesz – “Homage a Cyndi Lauper”
08. Destiny’s Child – “Confessions” (feat. Missy Elliot)
09. Ryuichi Sakamoto – “A Flower is Not a Flower”
10. Duckett – “Magic Headlines Foul the Air”