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© Darran Armstrong/The Hell Gate/Corbis
Within the space of a few seconds, Anna Calvi's epic voice can go from harrowing to haunting, and her guitar style – a boldly expressive, idiosyncratic creation – can pull you close before it sends you flying across the room. Her bewitching ways of unwinding the mysteries of lust and heartache make her impossible to forget. The sound of her poignant sonic narratives leave an indelible mark on one's soul.
Calvi's musical journey started early – she remembers her parents playing her classical music when she was five. "It helped me sleep," she recalls. "Hearing Mozart is my first memory of music." When she was eight, her father played her one of his David Bowie records, which ignited a lifelong obsession with the chamelonic rocker. "I couldn't get enough of Bowie," she says. "As soon as I got my own pocket money, I started buying his records."
Growing up, Calvi continued to dip into her father's music collection – for rock, there were The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, but there was jazz, too, with the sounds of Duke Ellington and Miles Davis burrowing into her psyche. "I gravitated towards things that were dramatic," she says. "When I got a little older, I listened to a lot of Jeff Buckley, but I also liked singers like Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. I always liked a wide variety of styles.”
When writing songs for her captivating new album, One Breath, Calvi drew upon some of her favorites as source inspiration. I wanted more texture and color to come from the guitar, almost as if it wasn’t a guitar," she says. "I wanted it to be almost this wild animal. That’s why listening to an album like Rain Dogs came in handy. What Tom Waits did with the guitar on that record was so full of unexpected treatments."
For the emotionally draining Eliza, a song about "seeing something in someone else that reminds you of a part of yourself that you’ve lost," Calvi referenced the vivid sentimentality of Roy Orbison. "He could be very broad and painful but also and quite beautiful," she says. "His melodies would stretch further than what you might expect from pop music, almost like opera."
Sing To Me happens upon you like a mirage. It's a strange and spooky mood piece, one which was conceived as an homage to the renowned soprano Maria Calas. "I've always been very intrigued by the idea of healing somebody with your voice," Calvi explains. "Maria Calas had that kind of quality to her singing. What an amazing thing it must have been to see her perform in person.”
On the following pages read Anna Calvi: The 10 Records That Changed My Life. You can purchase her new album One Breath right here.