Taking leaves from the books of legends like Leonard Cohen and forging her own experimental sound between the regions of folk, pop and electronic music, Anna Westin certainly has a lot to say. With such an inviting palette it was impossible not to get chatting to the singer-songwriter as we approach the release of her second record; LEV…
UR: How did you get into music in the first place?
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have music. My dad sang us to sleep with Gregorian chants and we would read Dylan and Cohen lyrics together like poetry. My mom played the piano, and my sisters and I were always making up songs to sing in harmony. We just thought that’s what people do.
I grew up in Sweden where choral singing was a bit part of communal life, and then it continued when I moved back to North America. We were in Newfoundland for a long time and the Irish music tradition shaped everything there – always choirs and kitchen parties, shanty songs at the pub and school bands.
UR: Did you have other goals/dreams if it wasn’t going to be music?
I always wanted to be a writer! And a dancer.
UR: How do you spend most of your spare time outside of music?
At the moment I am lecturing in philosophy, so I would say I spend it reading a lot of books. I am training as a classical Pilates instructor as well, so love anything active, as well as learning more about playwriting.
UR: If you could share the stage with a deceased music star who would it be and why?
Definitely Leonard Cohen. He has influenced me in countless ways – he was Canadian, he showed us how the poet can sing his poetry, how the music can serve the word, and it felt like being a musician was part of his bigger journey of searching for who he was, and what it was to be human, in the modern and the ancient sense of an artist’s journey.
UR: What’s your method for discovering new music?
Often it is through recommendations from other musicians. Sometimes I’ll go through old record shops, or I’ll look at artists that are related to ones I am listening to. At the moment I am listening to a lot of Pablo Casals which is different from last year’s mostly folk vibe, and some new, younger Swedish folk artists. I love the soul of his playing and am trying to figure out how to hold more of that in what I write next.
UR: What did you learn about yourself as a person and as a musician from writing LEV?
I think mainly that working with others that you respect is such a gift. It really transforms the music-making process. This is a combined effort of each contributor – needing other people it turns out is a really good thing, and trusting others in the process, being able to be vulnerable as a musician and ask other people for help, or for insight, allows you to move beyond the same, limited way of doing things in your own strength and from your own experience.
I felt like that was important to learn as a person as well – and it felt particularly poignant that it came before and during the isolation of covid.
UR: What was the inspiration behind mixing traditional folk elements with electronic features?
My producers Ellie and Imogen Mason were big influences, as they come out of both traditions. But it felt like the mediums were serving the music – it made sense in an organic and intuitive way, because the album was both working through ancient themes and situating stories from current contexts. It is about life now – but it also isn’t. The electronic elements pull it into the present, but they can also serve the old – a drone can be like a cathedral organ, but also symbolise something completely different.
UR: If there’s one thing you could go back and change about LEV what would it be an why?
I think I would have been less critical of myself in the process, as well as perhaps bought some better headphones from the start – and trusted the process.
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