Anna Calvi Finds Her Voice

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Anna Calvi likes to moan. Not necessarily in moments of weakness or sultry intimacy, but more in the way of a ghost. In Calvi’s case, these moans substitute actual words, which the British singer-songwriter swears just don’t mean as much.

“The way you say something is just as important as the words that you say,” Calvi, 28, tells Hive from her home in London. “So much feeling and emotion can be expressed just through annunciation. It’s so much more than words. Just by being a violin player or guitar player, you have to express every emotion that you feel just by the execution of those notes.”

Call it meaning through moaning. But Calvi’s got more arsenal with guitar chops that bleed in and out of classic blues stylings. While all of the above has led early press comparisons to PJ Harvey and New Wave pioneer Siouxsie Sioux, Calvi’s established herself unique, gaining support from folks like Nick Cave and Brian Eno along the way.

While those familiar, dungy guitar moments run through the course of Anna Calvi’s eponymous debut, she cites her influences as stemming more from Django Reinhart and Edith Piaf than any modern acts. Calvi’s a self-taught guitar player who’s been strumming for twenty years, and who only five years ago decided to try and sing.

“I was scared to [sing], but I just locked myself away for six hours a day, listening to singers I love,” she says softly, as she explains the origins of her moaning style. “I had days I thought I wasn’t getting anywhere. I want to feel passionate but an element of danger, perhaps of pain and also hope. It’s important to me to get that across.”

Close listens reveal a Nina Simone quality about these moaners, specifically on “The Devil,” the (mostly) instrumental opener “Rider to the Sea” and the Joshua Tree-like “Blackout.” And should they leave you bleary-eyed, well, that’s intentional.

“It’s like when someone’s hypnotized … you can’t expect to immediately see in that hypnotized state,” she says. “You have to take them to this other world. [I like] drawing the listener in, and taking them somewhere else.”

Anna Calvi is out now on Domino Records.