Interview with Antony and the Johnsons

Antony Hegarty performs his favourite tunes in his new show, She's So Blue

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© Mark Seliger


The last time Antony Hegarty sang in Barcelona, it was among the muses of the Palau de la Musica to present 'The Crying Light' (2009), his third album and the one that followed 'I Am a Bird Now' (2005), which was how the whole world was introduced to his prodigious and androgynous voice.

Now Antony is back in the first edition of the Festival Jardins de Pedralbes, but he's not come to promote his latest album, 'Swanlights' (2010). Instead he will be performing She's So Blue, a show heavily weighted with covers that he premiered in Paris: this will be only the second time he has taken the show to the stage. 'Eighty per cent of the show is covers of songs that I like most in the world,' explains Antony from New York, 'but I'll also sing some of my own. Most are love songs.'

Feels like the first time
The set list will feature songs Antony has sung before, like The Velvet Underground's 'Candy Says', and 'If It Be Your Will', which he recorded for the Leonard Cohen tribute 'I'm Your Man' (2006). That documentary's musical director, Steven Bernstein - who has collaborated with  Lou Reed and a couple of albums with Antony - will lead the seven jazz musicians who will accompany the singer in Pedralbes.

'We worked for a long time on the arrangements to transmit honest emotions,' Antony explains. 'They're songs that I really connect with emotionally, that have changed me.' They'll also serve to honour Marianne Faithfull, Gloria Gaynor, Billie Holiday, English folk singer Shirley Collins and the contralto jazz singer Jimmy Scott, who Antony can easily identify with.

The significance of the covers in the set list of She's So Blue is what made the British singer decide to give the performance its name, the same name of the first concert he gave in New York and the name of a song he wrote as a teenager.

Freedom from interpretation
'What interests me when I do covers,' he says, 'is the ability to bring them closer to my own stor, to find a uniquely personal meaning to the lyrics, even though the composers meant something different when they wrote them.'

It's also liberating for him. 'When I work with my songs I have to deal with too many preconceived ideas about what they might mean. But with covers, there's an enormous freedom to interpret the meaning, which, for a performer can be very stimulating.'


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