Anjani, Blue Alert, and Beyond
Blue Alert, an album of songs performed by Anjani Thomas with lyrics by Leonard Cohen, was released in May, 2006, was well received by critics and captivated many fans, including myself.
Since then, many of us have been awaiting Anjani’s next project.
That wait appears to be nearing an end. Anjani is currently working with Jerry Marotta on a CD to be released in “early 2012.”
And, she has graciously take time off from that effort to answer a few questions for Heck Of A Guy about the forthcoming work.
Anjani Thomas’s New Album Q&A
1. From your website and Facebook page, we know you are currently at work in Woodstock with producer Jerry Marotta recording tracks for a new CD release, your first since Blue Alert. On Facebook you wrote,
Hey Friends! The new website, anjani-music.com uploads next week! And since Facebook makes it so easy to stay in touch, I’ll be more active on the boards here,with the latest news about the followup CD to Blue Alert that I’m recording. These songs–half of which I wrote with Leonard Cohen–are being produced by Jerry Marotta at his beautiful studio Dreamland, in Woodstock …
Can you offer those of us who are not in the music business an idea of what goes on in a “typical recording session” (if there is such a thing) and how decisions (e.g., when a song rendition is good enough, when adjustments to the arrangement or lyrics are needed, etc) get made?
In the past, I’ve hired musicians for an 8 hour session, and we’d head to the studio where I’d hand them 2 or 3 lead sheets (sheet music) and after learning the tunes, we’d record them. The problem was, even though I was working with phenomenal musicians, the songs weren’t being developed in a way that can only happen with time and space and really exploring how to create parts for different instruments that coalesce and intertwine with the vocals, the rhythm, and the feel of the tune. Even the best session players often come to session thinking,
Chord Chart + Genre of Tune = Whatever I’d usually play in that vein.
Because the studio clock is ticking, there isn’t a lot of thought put into really defining what’s happening …. You just play the song down till it sounds pretty good and the chords are right; then you move on to the next song. But there are many ways to play one chord. And what happens if you want the drums to lay out and the guitar to only pick two notes on the offbeats and have the piano play the chord on the downbeat? See, there are a myriad of opportunities to consider in every bar.
But these sessions with Jerry are really unusual in that each song is a deep conversation—literally and musically–between us. We start by me singing and playing a tune, and then we’ll search for a sound on the synthesizer that fits the song (and so far we’ve both agreed simultaneously on what that sound is). Then we’ll record me singing and playing the keyboard in a way that implies the groove and bass part with my left hand (much of Blue Alert was recorded this way). After that, Jerry will put on a percussion or drum track, and I will replay my keyboard part again, but this time it’s more spacious and integrated with the vocal—so I don’t play much in the bass register or groove too much with my left hand – I try to create a part with enough space for all the tracking to come.
Jerry is also a great bassist, so he’ll do that, and maybe put down more percussion and drums. I’ll add piano or maybe some more keyboards…I have a penchant for playing guitar parts on my synth (like on Half The Perfect World), so I’ll fill that in too. then we might sing some background vocals together, and we just keep evolving it like we’re having an in depth conversation.
By the way, this is a really unique way of recording that Jerry has introduced me to. he’s taught me that by only having the two of us in the studio, the energy is very concentrated. if we had a whole band in there at the same time, we couldn’t keep track of what everyone is doing. That’s where the train ran off the tracks in my previous records. I’d be so focused on what i was playing and singing, that I could hardly follow what everyone else was doing, other than calling out a wrong note or something really out of place. and when you have say, five talented musicians who all love to play, well, THEY PLAY!
Creating a song is such a delicate dance, and it can stray far away from what the artist has in mind. And in my case, I don’t even know what I want to hear until I’ve heard it. It’s shocking for me to admit that after all these records I’ve made, it turns out I’ve been masquerading as a producer. Because after working with Jerry, I get that my chops as a singer/songwriter/musician don’t extend to the ability to hear all the disparate parts and make them a coherent whole. It’s just mindboggling to me to watch what he does. And I’m delighted to relinquish the role to someone who has the vision for it. I can’t say enough about his talent and innovative approach to recording. Jerry’s the rarest breed of drummer…one who has no attachment to whether he plays or not, and that shows his desire to honor the singer and the song.
2. To what extent is the new album a followup to Blue Alert Vs a completely distinct work? For example, will the mood, lyrical themes, or musical style of the new album be similar to Blue Alert?
I always dreamed of re-doing Blue Alert with a band, and if that ever happened, I know Jerry would be the one to bring it about successfully. Short of that, I can say this record has little resemblance to Blue Alert, other than the fact that Leonard wrote some lyrics and I wrote the music. Jerry is all about delicious, creative grooves, and that’s why I wanted to work with him. I love to dance, to move, and I wanted to make a record that reflected those impulses, because it’s tough to put on a show with a long string of ballads, followed by a few ballads and an encore ballad! I’ve done it before with Blue Alert, and though it’s a magical and special experience, it’s a challenge to hold an audience’s attention like that for a whole concert.
One thing I’m happy about is how every lyric has been perfectly driven by Jerry’s grooves. Because of the drums and percussion, we touch upon some genres that Blue Alert couldn’t venture into. And we’ve got more than enough tunes for this record so we’re already thinking ahead to the next one.
3. One of the most intriguing comments you’ve made about the genesis of the new album was your comment on Facebook: “This may sound extreme, but since Blue Alert I’ve actually made 2 CDs. And they are good…but to my ear, not good enough to release. There were all kinds of pressure to put them out anyway but I just couldn’t do it.”
How would you describe those two CDs and what was it about them that made you decide they were “not good enough to release.” Have any of the songs from those two CDs been included – in their original or revised forms – in the track list of your new album.
(I explained this in the first answer.) So far, only Love In Between is in. I recently donated another one called A Thousand Tears to www.amazingcomp.ca, a project to benefit cancer research.
4. The most recent release date reference I found on Facebook is your note, “We plan to put it [the album] out soon after Leonard’s next release, early 2012.” Are you still anticipating the album will be released in early 2012? Can you narrow down the likely release date?
Not at this time.
5. Can you share the album’s name?
We seem to be simultaneously developing two records. The songs are grouping themselves into distinct themes, and I’m not sure if we’ll mix them together or keep them separate. One feels more ambient and the other is more pop song-centric. I’m leaning toward I Came to Love for the latter title.
6. Your website lists a Toronto concert in June 2012. Are you planning to tour in support of your new album? If so, where else might you be performing?
Jerry and I are really excited about touring possibilities. I expect that dates will grow organically, so if anybody has any connections to clubs or halls, please feel free to contact Robert Kory. We want to ask our fans to help us spread the word about the project, and all ideas to promote it will be considered.
7. How do you plan to celebrate once the work on the new CD is finished?
I’ve been celebrating my good fortune ever since I got to Woodstock. How lucky am I to work with the caliber of artists like Leonard Cohen and Jerry Marotta? And soon as we’re done with this record we’re going right back to work on a few other projects we have planned. That’s my idea of celebrating.
Credit Due Department: The image atop this post is a screen capture from a June 1, 2007 appearance of Anjani on the Jools Holland Show. The other large photo of Anjani is from her Facebook page.