Antony Hegarty, Transformer

Fresh from a disco smash, an NYC original evolves anew

Lyrically, he says he took inspiration from the Japanese art of butoh dancing, where pretty much anything goes in terms of style, presentation, and structure—a somewhat abstract and pastoral approach, of course, but one not entirely metaphorical either. "I think people might be surprised about how literal I can be in my thinking," he explains. "In butoh, they're always seeking to embody other aspects of the natural world. Finding a way to, or catching a momentum that propels creative expression. I can't say it properly, but dreaming of something—dreaming of an inner life of a tree or a stone, dreaming of the mud that is within that stone­—and catching that. Manifesting that expression, quite literally, in the creative process."

He quasi-apologizes for trying to explain something to me that ultimately, to him at least, isn't really something you can put into words very well. But on the serene, haunting "One Dove," the attempt is there: Antony's voice wrestles with tension and climax as he proclaims, "I see things you were too tired, too scared to see." On the similarly fraught "Another World," he solemnly lists all the things someone would miss when exiting this planet: the trees, the sun, animals, etc.—a haunting despair once again slowly transforming into something more uplifting. "You can imagine there's a dreamlike space around you," he tells me. "The past, the future could meet in a creative way—something that I wouldn't understand properly. But it carries me in a really magical way, especially as a performer. I have a hard time in the studio. I'm much more of a live performer, and I'm still just learning about the studio. When you're in front of an audience, you have a sense of abandonment. Whereas when you're in the studio, you're trying to capture something. It's hard to get lost, but sometimes you can."

Antony and the Johnsons play Town Hall on February 19 and 20

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