Interview by Alexander Laurence / Photo by Angel Ceballos
Anika aka Annika Henderson used to be a political journalist and travel back and forth between Bristol and Berlin. She also went to college in Wales at some point and organized shows there and was a DJ too. As she was booking and promoting bands for clubs in Wales , Anika decided to try out for a band Beak> that was looking for a singer. The fellows in Beak> decided to stay instrument and to create a whole new record with Anika. They recorded the Anika in twelve days with no overdubs. They picked a bunch of cover songs including “Terry” by Lynn Ripley, “End of The World” by Skeeter Davis, “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan, “I Go To Sleep” by The Kinks, and “Yang Yang” by Yoko Ono. There were a few original songs like “No One’s There” and more. The stark confrontational style was very apparent. Anika was in the US early this year as a DJ. But now she is touring with a full band and even playing some festivals like ATP and Moog Fest. I got to speak with Anika right before she started her tour in America.
AL: How are the shows going?
Anika: We had one so far at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. It has been going reasonably well. We are on are way to Princeton. We are playing with Factory Floor and Dirty Beaches. We added a show at Glasslands since we are coming back to NYC anyway. We have toured extensively in Europe. We played a lot of festivals in Spain, France, and Switzerland. It’s harder to come over here because you have to deal with visa issues.
AL: How has the response been to music? Is there much difference in playing France and America?
Anika: It depends on what people like. You get cultural differences across France the same way you do across America. It will be interesting to see what happens when we play different parts of America. It was a surprise to see how exciteable New Yorkers were the other night. We will see how the LA shows goes.
AL: I heard that people were yelling out between songs in New York?
Anika: Yes. It was mental. It was crazy.
AL: When many English bands come over here, it’s often singers like Coldplay and Keane. It’s like emotional English ballads…. When someone doesn’t do something like that….
Anika: Actually some of our songs are based on stuff that Keane and Coldplay do. We want that kind of atmosphere. It’s great.
AL: You take these emotional songs and give them a disaffected treatment. It’s almost like Brechtian theater?
Anika: Yeah. There was a lot of thinjgs that I didn’t want to do when I started playing with the guys in Beak>. As an ex-promoter at clubs it would annoy me watching bands with spangly catsuits and guitars. I didn’t want to that sort of thing. It’s apparent to anyone who has heard the songs. I would probably not get through an X-Factor audition. But that doesn’t make it any less credible than a pop star. It’s like if you put Andy Warhol into a painting competition, he probably wouldn’t have won at the time. If there was someone who didn’t neccesarily replicate reality, it doesn’t make them any less credible or acceptable, because they are doing something different.
AL: Are you inspired by a specific period in music?
Anika: No. There are many good records coming out now. There was about ten years of really boring music. The last ten years has been quite predicable. It’s been safe and comfortable in the US and also England. The music was very bland.
AL: Was it a problem of copycats? Many successful bands would come out like Oasis and Libertines, and then there would be several copycats.
Anika: It was interesting when Oasis first came out. That was the 1990s. Blur and Oasis came out before the whole Britpop thing. They were challenging what was going on. They were mooning people at the Brit Awards. Then came the whole Lad culture of indie music and the whole point of it got lost. It got hijacked by people with nothing to say. There is always room for pop music. But all these people like Simon Cowell come along with the perfect recipe for music. When the experts come in with their ideas of pop perfection, it becomes predictable.
AL: So if I understand it right: Beak> was already a band. They were looking for a lead singer and you came in?
Anika: Then it became it’s own thing. It was a strange scenario. I wasn’t looking to form a band. I had written a load of lyrics. My friend called me up and said this band in Bristol is looking for a singer, and I should go and meet them. I didn’t know what Beak> was and I didn’t know Geoff Barrow.
AL: So when you first played with them, they started playing, and you did your vocal bit, did they look up and say “What the hell is this?”
Anika: That was what made it good. I just did the vocals like I would do when no one was around. They didn’t question it or try to understand it. They just said “great” and “let’s do another one.” That was nice. That is why it worked so well. We would just walk in and record it and walk out. We didn’t talk about it. I didn’t listen to it for a year. I was also jamming with another band in Cardiff. I had written loads of songs. It didn’t work and they didn’t understand what I was doing.
AL: How did you decide what songs you were going to do?
Anika: We would get to the studio. We would look through some songs on youtube. We would pick a few songs that we could mess with. We would print out the lyrics. We would try out several songs and record the songs. At the time I didn’t think it would get released. I didn’t do it in a way where I was thinking “People are going to love this.” We were experimental.
AL: How did you write songs together?
Anika: We listened to the track once. And everyone interpreted it in their own way. The whole point for me was I was against the way people were releasing records. It was a rejection of the way records were recorded and marketed. Why change the lyrics if you are going to distract people? Why do a cover song when you got the original to refer to? If I used all my lyrics if would have scared people away. The record might have not been noticed. It’s funny how everyone dwells on the cover songs. The amount of bands now that rip off songs and don’t declare that they do. It was more obvious what is going on in our band.
AL: So you were in the dark about the album for a year?
Anika: Yeah. I moved to Berlin right after that and I didn’t think about it very much. And then Geoff sent me some artwork to okay. I thought: “What is this? You are going to release a record?” Now it’s out there and we are playing shows. It has happened very fast.
AL: Are you doing another record?
Anika: Yeah. We are working on some new songs at the moment.
AL: Do you still DJ?
Anika: Sometimes. I think there is a lot of music that people forget about. It’s important to remind people about certain movements.
AL: Are you still doing journalism?
Anika: I have given up my job as a political journalist. We have been touring for a year. I don’t have as much time to make updates or read The Economist. I was living in Berlin. I have written about all about policy reform.
HERE'S THE BEAK> INTERVIEW FROM LAST YEAR: http://portable-infinite.blogspot.com/2010/10/beak-interview.html
ANIKA will be playing the Echoplex on October 22nd, 2011.