The Anchoress has shared the video for the title track from her upcoming second album, ‘The Art of Losing’. Check it out first on NME below.
The follow up to Welsh multi-instrumentalist Catherine Anne Davies’ debut ‘Confessions of a Romance Novelist’ deals with the multiple losses and trauma that she has faced over the last few years – including the loss of her father and several miscarriages.
To launch the new video, Davies spoke to NME about the challenge – and joy – of writing an upbeat album about grief, the therapy which has finally enabled her to release the record and the comfort of working with frequent collaborator Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield on an album where ‘The Holy Bible’ was a touchstone.
Hello Catherine. How did this song come to be the title track?
Catherine Anne Davies: “I don’t think I consciously chose it. I guess it made itself known as the dominant theme of the album over the period of time in which it was written and recorded. I’ve always had that title in my head and it comes from an Elizabeth Bishop poem. ‘The art of losing’ is the first line of her poem ‘One Art’, which is about the idea that you can practice getting better at loss. It’s an ironic take on that because, obviously, that’s not possible. The song itself is really an interrogation of what we learn when we lose.”
The questions in the song – ‘Was there a purpose to losing my mind? What did you learn when life was unkind?’ – seem to bind the album thematically…
“I started with this idea, that kind of Nietzschean sentiment of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. By the time I finished writing this song, I had reached a place where I actually really rejected that notion, that there was something positive to take out of grief. It was actually the final song that I wrote, the night before I went into The Kinks’ Ray Davies’ Konk Studios to record. I think it was really about the coalescing of all of the things that had happened to me in the preceding years.”
Like many of the songs on the album, although it deals with grief and loss, it’s very upbeat…
“Yes, it’s got jokes and everything! It was about setting myself the challenge to not just write slow, sad songs, which is a natural inclination when you’re in the midst of grief. I wanted to portray some kind of sense of that chaotic spinning that happens in your mind when you go through trauma, the fragmentation that happens to your sense of self. Also, your sense of time and the way that you experience loss. The way that your memory wipes out huge swathes of chronology. Musically, I wanted to present some sense to the listener about what it feels like to go through trauma.”
What were your touchstones for the record?
“The artists I love who have tackled and broached the darker side of life, sonically, were people like Scott Walker with his chaotic maelstrom, or the last David Bowie record [‘Blackstar‘]. The ‘Holy Bible’ by the Manics too. A lot of people think of that as a really dark and challenging listen, but for me, it was always a record that I would return to as something which could help let out any difficult things I was going through. There’s actually something really joyous about listening to dark records. The challenge, in taking on a subject that naturally lends itself to downtempo, introspective ballads, was forcing myself to do something much more experimental, musically.”
Did working with familiar collaborators like James Dean Bradfield help when dealing with the difficult themes?
“I was still terrified to ask him! I still thought he would say no because I still hold them in such high regard and at arm’s length to a certain extent because I don’t want to spoil that sense that I have of them as still being the idols on my teenage bedroom wall. But of course, it was lovely to know that there were people in the industry that cared about what I was going through and at a time when I felt as if nobody did. I wanted to make it as good as possible for him to sing on as well. There’s nothing like that to egg you on in terms of doing your best work when you know that you’ve got a voice like James Dean Bradfield’s that’s going to be appearing on it.”
You were also on tour with them when you were writing this record, right?
‘Yes, I was spending much more time with the Manics at this stage. They really took me under their wing, both professionally and emotionally, to some extent. Checking in on me, looking out for me. Their work ethic, in terms of having their own studio space, working with the same people that they’ve worked with for the last twenty-odd years, really rubbed off on me and they’ve taught me a great deal.”
What can you tell us about working with David Bowie’s drummer Sterling Campbell on the record?
“The collaboration with Sterling came about after we spent time together on tour. I was already in touch with one of Sterling’s best friends – Bowie engineer and producer Mario McNulty [who mixed ‘The Art of Losing’]. I have a huge fascination and respect for Bowie’s work and they would tell me lots of wonderful stories about working with him and his sense of fun as well as his drive to constantly experiment. Stirling is a fantastic drummer. Anyone who has seen him play will know his touch is second-to-none. He’s a very emotionally-intelligent person too. He heard the lyrics on ‘The Exchange’ and could glean everything that he needed for his contribution.”
How do you feel about the thought of performing these very personal songs live?
“I needed some time initially to just be kind to myself, to go through some trauma therapy, to just be sensible after what I had gone through. So, there had been a planned delay already. The pandemic then placed a huge extension into the timeline that just meant I had much more time to go to therapy which helped enormously. Not only to think about how I can perform it, but also how I can talk about the record. I remember listening back to the first master. I was just weeping, sobbing uncontrollably – it was just not something that was comfortable for me to listen to then: I wasn’t ready.”
Do you think having an alter-ego help with the stage performances eventually?
“Yes, definitely because performance-wise, I don’t go on stage as myself, as Catherine. There’s already that layer of separation between my individual personhood and the kind of character that I can take on with The Anchoress. I think there’s always the armour of the character of your artistic identity. By the time I get to performing this, there’ll be such a distance between the events and feelings that I’m singing about that, hopefully, it won’t be too much of a challenge.”
‘The Art of Losing’ is released on March 12