Alongside managing songwriter and producer Ed Harcourt (his 7th album is coming later this year on Polydor), I've been continuing the ethos of the Drowned in Sound label (Bat for Lashes, Kaiser Chiefs, Martha Wainwright, etc), and working with a new artist named The Anchoress. However, you don't exactly 'manage' a musician/auteur/polymath with a PhD with such a grand-yet-fully-formed vision, you just help as best you can and find yourself collaborating and nudging things along as best you can.
Today, The Anchoress releases her debut album Confessions of a Romance Novelist through the Kscope label. Rather than me wax lyrical about it (there are plenty of amazing reviews, including a 9/10 from BestFit doing that already) take some time to listen to the album. You can also read The Anchoress aka Catherine A.D's track by track guide to the record below.
Download the album from iTunes or stream the album on an alternative platform including AppleMusic, Tidal, Deezer and more. There's also a deluxe CD which includes a special reading list and lots more available from Amazon, HMV, Burning Shed, Rough Trade, Resident, RISE, and all good record shops.
TRACK BY TRACK ALBUM GUIDE
by Catherine Anne Davies aka The Anchoress
1) Long Year
"That I lost my center fighting the world. The dreams clash and are shattered— and that I tried to make a paradiso terrestre." - Ezra Pound
The title turned out to be somewhat prescient for the long and drawn out process of the album's making... Like all songs, it’s taken on additional meanings in hindsight. At the time of writing, however, I was reading a lot of Southern Gothic literature, especially Zora Neale Hurston. I'd just started playing a lot of slide guitar and wanted to create something hypnotic and chant-like. It's a redemption song of sorts but also about being in the middle of a maelstrom of bad news and enduring a long and horrific twelve month period. The original EP version was mixed by the incredible Gareth Jones (Interpol/Liars/Depeche Mode) to whom I gave the single instruction: MAKE IT MORE EVIL. The song structure rests on just three chords on a loop and the song itself arises out of the variations that sit atop. It’s undergone several re-incarnations, including a version with a string quartet and piano that’s been around in the live set for a while. I like to think of it as the prologue of sorts to the story that the album tells. Our narrator, the romance novelist, summons up the voices of the characters that will take us on our journey…
2) What Goes Around
"The man who was once starved may revenge himself upon the world not by stealing just once, or by stealing only what he needs, but by taking from the world an endless toll in payment of something irreplaceable, which is the lost faith." - Anais Nin
What do Newton's third law, a sketchy ex and Abba have in common? The first "new" song that I wrote for the album, it became a template for the idea of "revenge pop" that came to dominate the concept of the album's dominant themes. I wanted it to have three choruses (in homage to ABBA's writing ethos) but then decided to throw in a time signature change for the Middle 8 to sabotage any notion that it could be a pop song. Lyrically it's very tongue in cheek. The narrator maintains a level of bitterness throughout that would be pretty untenable in real life…. right?
3) Doesn't Kill You
"I put my heart and my soul into my work, and have lost my mind in the process." - Vincent Van Gogh
"But the beauty is not the madness / Tho’ my errors and wrecks lie about me" – Ezra Pound
Nietzsche takes front row in this one, alongside Bowie’s Low that I was also pretty obsessed with around this time…Written in the midst of a very difficult time in the album's making, when it looked like it might not get finished at all, it’s probably one of the most personal songs on the album that deviates somewhat from my original intention to have each song sung by a different character – what you might call a musical ghost writing of sorts… Cenzo Townshend did a beautiful mix of this despite having to make sense of mix notes sent at 3am from sketchy hotel wifi while I was on tour in Europe. There’s lots of my vintage omnichord in there that I inherited as ‘asshole tax’ from my ex. The title? I promise you it has nothing to do with Kelly Clarkson… The song is about taking the chaos you find yourself in and channelling it into something more positive. “You have to suffer…” The piano crash at the end was brought to you by a combination of red wine, codeine, and being forced to play through the pain of (what I didn't know at the time was) a detached ligament in my hand when it had all gone a bit Bobby Fischer…
4) You and Only You feat. Paul Draper
"It is terrible to be alone with another person" – T.S. Eliot
The only one I wrote entirely on the guitar, when my hand was too screwed to play the piano and I had to wear a metal cast for a few months. This song went through three different incarnations before it decided it wanted to be a duet (with co-producer Paul Draper on joint wailing duties). We ended up recording the final version in my snatched sleepless “days off” from the UK leg of the Simple Minds tour over the original drum, bass, and organ takes from the first studio sessions. Originally it was something I’d written for my best friend, who had just come out of her first long term relationship after enduring horrific brain surgery from a burst aneurysm. Lyrically, it continues with the album’s theme of deconstructing typical ideas of love and romance. No “baby, baby”’s here. This woman just basically wants you to leave her the fuck alone. There’s another duet version with a full string section that we recorded just before the one that you hear on the album. I said to Paul that we had to scrap it due him sounding too much like Barry Gibb on the middle 8. Christ knows what I’m saying in French at the end. I don’t actually remember recording that due to an overabundance of Tramadol.
5) One For Sorrow
SWEENEY: Birth, and copulation and death.
That’s all, that’s all, that’s all, that’s all
Birth, and copulation and death.
DORIS: I’d be bored.
T.S. Eliot - Sweeney Agonistes
This was the very last song recorded for the original album sessions. It started out life as a piano Motownesque track when I was obsessing over Carly Simon's ‘Why’ (if you haven’t seen the video, watch it as there are no words to describe its brilliance). 1 4 Sorrow, as it was formerly known, is also the album’s most obvious reference to my continuing obsession with Prince. The song is half proverb, half feminist manifesto. In part it’s about getting tired of people asking you when you’re going to “settle down” and have kids (as if this might be the only fulfilling destiny for a woman...) I’m also quite superstitious about magpies.
6) P.S. Fuck You
"He attacks me, he spends hours making me feel ashamed of everything in the world that has ever had power to touch me, and becomes indignant if I weep." - Rimbaud
I had the title first. The character of the song is describing that apocalyptic, destructive relationship that we’ve all endured as teenagers. Some of us just dragged it out into our twenties… We built it up from just the piano and voice to this overblown ballad. It’s purposefully overwrought and very much sung from the perspective of the vengeful, jilted lover. I would have loved to have had a horn section on this had there been the budget.
"It is better to be hated for what you are than loved for what you are not." - Andre Gide
One of my older songs that made it onto the album after Paul heard my original demo on a bunch of tracks I sent over to him. It came out of something my Mum used to say to me all the time during some particularly tough years at my first school. Kids seem to have some innate sixth sense for difference and decided I was “weird” from the outset. It ended up with me and this other autistic boy being taught separately in the art room…Tall, lanky, and good at maths. Never gonna be popular… Paul and I had a brilliant time producing this track as I hope you can hear from all the crazy voices and ad libs. It’s rare that something turns out exactly how you hear it in your head. I spent an additional week during mixing on piecing together and extending the end reprise section, much to the chagrin of Dub who had the patience of a mixing saint with me. “Just one more change… I promise..”
8) Bury Me
"The agony is exquisite is it not? A broken heart. You think you will die but you just keep on living, day after terrible day." - Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
We recorded this in my front room on my 1960s Challen baby grand piano, completely free-form, with no click track – a nightmare for editing later on… We had to EQ out the squeak on the foot pedal as it was a really dry, hot day. Production-wise, we stuck pretty closely to my original multitrack demo and imported a fair amount of the original audio (mostly because I had no idea what I’d actually played at 2am). This was always intended to be part of a 3-song suite, in the vein of Kate Bush’s The Ninth Wave.
9) Intermission (Notes To The Editor)
This one evolved of its own accord at a much later stage in the recording process as I realised I needed something to make the album hang together conceptually. The piano was an outtake from the ‘Bury Me’ session that just worked really well. This is the voice of the Romance Novelist, reflecting on her inner critic and sending notes to her editor about how the narratives of the characters in her book intertwine. There’s lots of pitch shifting on my voice here as I wanted to try and sonically explore the album’s thematic concerns with authority and the gendered voice – “a second rate writer”.
10) Waiting to Breathe
"I am mastering my love for you and turning it inwards as a constituent element of myself." Jean Paul Sartre to Simone De Beavoir
Another one of my older songs that Paul insisted we record for the album. It’s pretty much just me on piano, the string section. And a fog horn. The church bells were sampled from the village church near where I grew up. There’s a tiny edit between the verses that Paul and I argued over for about two weeks. One of the rare occasions he got his own way…
11) Chip On Your Shoulder
"Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." - Samuel Beckett
Very much lyrically-led, it’s about the process of striving for something (or finding yourself unemployable with an PhD). I guess you could say it’s a bit of a manifesto for the making of the album itself. I was quite heavily into Paul McCartney’s early solo albums at the time so it’s got that real Beatles-esque influence in the chord structure. This is another track that I played a fair bit of flute, as well as heavily featuring the inherited omnichord. We must have spent about a week overdubbing my voice in 25 layers of backing vocal harmonies. I wanted something in the vein of ELO or The Carpenters, although we stripped this back in the final mix.
12) Confessions of a Romance Novelist
"And when at last you find someone to whom you feel you can pour out your soul, you stop in shock at the words you utter – they are so rusty, so ugly, so meaningless and feeble from being kept in the small cramped dark inside you so long." Sylvia Plath
This one just kept growing and growing until it emerged as the psychedelic prog beast it is today. It started out as a demo called “Cry Cry Cry” with a completely different set of lyrics that I wasn’t happy with. By the final mixing session (it was the last to be tackled) we were tagging on an epic three minute coda section and overdubbing multiple vocals and studio outtakes. Lyrically it’s very tongue in cheek and full of my particular brand of dark humour and in-jokes that no one else thinks are funny (“I lost the plot to Jeffrey Archer”). I wanted to explore the idea of misreading people and the idea of never knowing someone by the outward signs they manifest – “my bedroom shrine to Margaret Thatcher” (this from a card carrying Labour party member). This is the narrator’s “theme song”, as it were. Loads of 80s references here from Jeffrey Archer and Barbara Cartland. I sound pretty stoned at the very end of the song here… no idea what was going on there. Hah… I have particularly happy memories of recording this vocal in the last session before we broke for the Christmas, just before my Dad was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. Something to mark the end of innocence and of childhood you could say… and the end of the album.
The Anchoress is the musical moniker of Welsh multi-instrumentalist Catherine Anne Davies. Over the past three years, Catherine has worked with Paul Draper co-producing her debut album Confessions of a Romance Novelist (out now).
Read more about the recording process in this Planet Gear and in this long read about the perils of self-producing for BestFit.
For social media links and more visit iamtheanchoress.com.