Q&A: Antony Talks His New Thank You For Your Love EP, Moving to New York in the '90s, and Working With Björk
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New York's ever fragile, soul-purging cabaret genius Antony and his crack team of Johnsons are returning with fourth album, Swanlights (out October 12 via Secretly Canadian). The record, which will share a release date with a 144-page hardcover book of paintings, collages, photography, may be the most personal statement yet from an always personal band--described by Antony himself as one of his more volatile, improvisation heavy, and contradictory LPs yet. In the meantime, the teaser EP Thank You For Your Love is out today (also via SC) and leads with Swanlights' most rollicking song, the tender-to-tense emotional rollercoaster, "Thank You For Your Love." We caught up with Antony to dissect his haunting track, and found out what it's like laying down gibberish with Björk.
The artwork for the EP includes photos you took as a teenager when you first moved to New York in the early '90s.
Did you see the video? It's all part of the same time period. I've just been going through some of my archives and I found all these photographs and films I made when I was a student and I thought, "Oh this would be a good opportunity to use them." "Thank You For Your Love" is kind of a nostalgic song, so I thought it would be good to look at some of the imagery that the song is referring to.
What did New York mean to you back then?
I had just moved here, I was a student. It was just a big, dark, slightly ominous, unknown quantity full of exciting late night propositions. It just had a lot of promise. In those days there was more of a sense of anonymity here. The streets were a little scruffier. There was more late night culture in Manhattan.
So, what is the song about?
Oh, the song is just me thinking about a relationship with someone that really sustained me during a difficult time in my life. And me sort of saying thank you to them. It's really just exactly what it sounds like it is. It's from that time period. It was sort of a shadowy time. It's a double-edged sword that song. It's saying thank you but it's also acknowledging some of the scary shit that I went through--which probably a lot of people do when thinking about your early 20s. You're out of your mind, but you dream up some crazy stuff. You don't have any boundaries yet.
It's got a hard-rock edge to it...
Yeah, because to me, that period in my life is at times a little exciting and times a little traumatic. I think the song kind of ramps up into the memory of some of the trauma of the period--a little bit suggesting that overwhelming feeling. It turns into something else at the end: it's got a little bit of gleam in its teeth.
How did it come together?
We were improvising. This album is a whole lot of improvisation. There's a lot of learning the song in the studio and jamming on it in different ways. With this album, I just think it's a little more volatile than the last couple of records. The last couple of records I made are very formal and very conceptual and quite reigned in. And this album is a little more wide-rangingly emotional. It's got a whole bunch of almost-conflicting elements at work. It's a little bit more of a question mark than some of the other work I've done. I've been thinking of it as a document of where I've been the last couple of years. I think the best way to describe it is a black box of my life.
Is there more harder-edged stuff like this?
No, this is definitely the most guitar-rock oriented song. "Thank You For You Love" is, in a way, the most approachable song on the album--the most direct and kinda rousing. There's one song that's a little psychedelic, and there's some interesting compositions I did with Nico Muhly--weird new-classical, angular, joyful pieces. And there's some very morose and sad dirges. It's sort of all over the place. I have another song on the album called "The Spirit Was Gone," as kind of a tribute to [butoh legend] Kazuo Ohno, who died a couple months ago. He's like my hero. In some way he's like the inspiration for the last two records, his philosophy and his creative legacy.
There's a song I did with Björk, a ballad almost in gobbledygook language. It's Icelandic mixed with phonetics. Björk just did an improvisation, just kind of toning. Then I edited together her improvisation and traced it, phonetically, with my own voice. And then before we knew it we were kind of committed to this sound structure. We hadn't really considered the lyrics--then we ended up deciding we liked it the way it was. Kind of intuitive and sweet. That song is quite intimate.
Antony will join the St. Luke's Symphony on October 30th as part of the White Light Festival at Alice Tully Hall. They will perform the accompaniment to a screening of the Kazuo Ohno film A Portrait Of Mr. O.
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