Anna Meredith - the truth about 'FIBS' and crossing the classical-pop divide

Friday, 1st November 2019, 4:05 pm
Updated Friday, 1st November 2019, 4:06 pm

‘It’s a little bit crazy at the moment,” says Anna Meredith, and she’s not exaggerating.

Of course, a busy diary isn’t unusual for an artist with an album whose second album - ‘Fibs’ is out any time now.

Although rather than touring the record like any conventional rock band, the composer will instead be performing selections from her debut - 2016’s ‘Varmints’ - in Holland and Tblisi.

“I’ve a huge following in Georgia,” she laughs - “no, it’s a British Council thing,” she explains. The UK’s cultural relations arm are perhaps more likely to commission a composer than a rock act for their events, even if Meredith - recipient of an MBE for services to music - is making the crossover.

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“There are people going in both directions,” she points out, citing Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood stint at the Proms, “but slightly less going the other way, from a classical background.”

Of course, this cross-genre spread must expand the fanbase of the South Queensferry-raised musician.

“It’s really nice that people come to band gigs and then come and see an orchestral show, and vice-versa, but genre distinction isn’t something that matters to me, it’s not something that factors into the writing I do.”

But however much the styles merge musically, there is quite a difference in the approach to making a record - effectively, Meredith had to commission ‘Fibs’ herself.

“Exactly,” she agrees, “I had to turn down a bunch of other work to make this thing.

“There’s a lot more money and support than there is in the indie or electronic worlds, so that’s been a real eye-opener - I’ve for a long time been supporting this album work through my classical commissions, which is the other way around from what people might think it would be.”

And unsurprisingly for the former composer-in-residence with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, creating music with her band - also classically trained - is a different process as well.

“I’m picturing their sound and type of playing and who we are as a band for the album - ‘Killjoy’ is sung by drummer Sam, ‘Moonmoons’ is very much written for cellist Maddie - they’ve been a huge influence on the record and fed into it as we were writing it.

“It’s all written on the classical notation rather than improvised; everything’s notated with crotchets and quavers.”

The resultant sound has perhaps become a bit more ‘pop’ since her debut ‘Varmints’, which won the Scottish Album of the Year Award.

“I wanted to have these four ‘compass points’: fast and slow instrumental, upbeat vocal, quieter vocal... so if there’s something quite long and gnarly then I’ll make sure there’s something simpler to balance it up.

“I definitely feel the vocal, poppier songs is one area I’ve got better at, the lyrics are stronger, the writing’s more confident, so I feel pretty confident writing and feel really proud at how some of the vocal stuff’s come out.

“I tried to write songs I’d like to listen to.”

That reminds me that Meredith was famously quoted as saying 'I don't listen to other music' - not, I should add, for snobbish reasons, but because it distracts from the writing process. But is that still the case?

“I don’t scream when the radio comes on,” she smiles. “I do listen to friends’ music but I don’t seek music out - so many people are writing great stuff but it doesn’t help me focus on my own.”

“But I’ll hear someone else’s good music,” she explains, “how they start a track, what kind of chorus... and end up with some watered down version of theirs.”

“So I just read a lot of audiobooks like a weirdo!”

But there must have been a point growing up where her love of music was formed.

“It was a mix of playing in orchestras and youth standards repertoire - I went to see Blur, Teenage Fanclub, Pulp, and all that... I was just a bit too young to go and see Nirvana but watched them from afar.”

And when not absorbing Britpop and grunge she was making music. She enthuses about the “amazing” after-school programme in Edinburgh. “With great youth orchestras and wind bands and choirs, all free, it was an amazing way to get into music.”

And it’s that mix of genres which is perhaps ideal for her work, where pop and classical meet on film soundtracks such as Olivia Coleman’s surreal Queen Anne biopic ‘The Favourite’, and the commissioned Paul Rudd Netflix series ‘Living With Yourself’.

And she’s happy that as her reputation grows she has free rein to produce the music she wants.

“There’s lots of really good composers who are good at being super-flexible and doing different styles, but I can’t do that, I’m rubbish at it.

“I’m not someone that can sound ‘a bit more like Michael Nyman’, I’d not be very good at it. I’d say ‘You might be better trying Michael Nyman!’”

‘Fibs’ is out now. More at annameredith.com

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