The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Escape Velocity

Ship-Shape & Bristol Fashion: Anika Interviewed
Luke Turner , January 18th, 2011 06:42

We've got Anika playing at the Lexington next week, here she talks about balancing her work as a musician and life as a political journalist

Anika doesn't have much time. The rest of her band is asleep backstage at the London Forum, but she's thinking about soundcheck in 20 minutes. The half-English, half-German singer and journalist arranges her diary, phone, book by Kate Adie and pen on the table in a Kentish Town café, and refuses a cup of tea. She's recently returned from Berlin to Bristol in order to focus on her music, leaving behind a job in the German capital working as a political reporter specialising in science and education.

"I'm conflicted because I want to do so many different things," Anika explains. "One part of me wants to do music, and one part of me wants to go and use my political knowledge. But that's what's good about the music — it reflects my political desire, in its nature it's controversial and provocative. People either love it or hate it, and that's okay. It's better than being indifferent. I wouldn't have put my political work on hold if the music wasn't something that I really believed in."

Anika put the politics 'on hold' after hooking up with Geoff Barrow of Portishead and Beak>, with whom she wrote her album and who are her live backing band. "A friend of mine phoned up and said, 'Oh a friend is looking for a singer, do you want to go?'" she explains. "I just rocked up, I didn't know who Geoff was until I looked on the MySpace afterwards."

Her debut album, simply called Anika, features a three-way sonic palette of dub, post-punk and pop, all sung in the sort of rich, deep androgynous tones last heard from Nico. This first record, out on the Invada label, largely features covers — of Bob Dylan's 'Masters Of War', Twinkle's 'Terry' and Yoko Ono's 'Yang Yang'.

Choosing the covers was done by "spending the night on YouTube trying to find the sweetest love songs that we could find, and making them sound like stalker songs, really evil. Using covers makes it that bit more provocative, because you're messing with people's favourite songs, and they'll hate you. But it's still a pop record, really."

Yet the track Anika herself wrote, 'No One's There', sounds just as strange as the covers. "I wrote it about the recession, and moral panic, and how people thought there was some ghostly figure behind it," she says. Anika has written songs since the age of 15 — "it's a cliché to say this, but it's a psychological unravelling" — but her musical experience was previously on the other side of the industry. Anika has worked in the music scene since she was a teenager with relatives who ran a festival in Germany, where she met Patti Smith backstage. She's now a shareholder in the festival, but got her cut of the business not through a nepotistic gift, but by "buying a share on the black market. I found a way in, even though they hated me." Back in the UK, Anika worked seven days a week booking bands at three venues in Cardiff. "That's why it was good to do this record, because it's political in that I wanted to be able to shake up the industry a bit. I've had enough of the same line-ups at every single festival. It's all become too Hawaiian shirts and maracas."

Anika - Yang Yang by stonesthrow

This experience means that Anika doesn't care two hoots if you're suspicious she's fronting a band featuring Barrow & Beak>. "It was good to do this project because to do something different and get it noticed, you need backing. You have to play with fire to do it."

With politics on the backburner for now, Anika is busy writing her own material, and her own songs seem to be turning out as dark as her covers: "There's a right weirdo who lived below me," she says of one of the characters who has inspired a new "pretty twisted" song. "He managed to get me to go into his flat. He dropped some stuff — I think it was a big set up — but anyway I helped him take it in. There was a wall of TV screens, and he's got video cameras lined up in all the hallways. He had the news on all these screens, it was like going into a media mogul's palace. I'm worried that the one screen that was off might be the camera in the shower."

Crazed neighbours notwithstanding, as Anika gets up to rouse Beak> for their soundcheck, it seems that the rest of us will be seeing a lot more of her in 2011 — if not, perhaps, the whole person: "I'm normally a behind-the-scenes type, which is why I changed my name by one letter. It's part of me, not all of me. You're indestructible if you split yourself into little bits."

Anika plays the Lexington alongside Gyratory System and Joseph Coward for a Quietus Presents night on January 26th. You can buy tickets here. This feature originally appeared in the November issue of the Stool Pigeon newspaper