Annette Brown, Lifetime The story of June Carter Cash comes to life in the…
- Posted on Jan 15th 2009 4:00PM by Steve Baltin
Antony Hegarty, a transgendered singer with a truly celestial voice, still admits to being shocked by the positive response to the album. The surprising success weighed on the band, which took three long years to record a follow-up, 'The Crying Light.' Antony talked to Spinner about the new album, his own fragility, ridding himself of technology and his friendship with Lou Reed.
The first time I saw you was at Hal Wilner's Halloween show here in L.A., where you sang with Lou Reed. To see the way 'I Am a Bird Now' took off was amazing. Did the success of that album have any bearing on your approach to 'The Crying Light'?
It did intimidate me, the whole thing, like, "What do people want from me all of a sudden?" But I had to let that go for the sake of the work, because the work is very different than the last album. It's very much where I am today, whereas 'I Am a Bird Now' is sort of a reflection of where I was in the mid-'90s. Even when I released it, those songs were like artifacts from a different period of my life. I decided with this album to really skip to the present and record the songs that I'd written most recently. I felt like there was some sort of urgency to expressing the present right now.
I was watching the video for 'Another World.' While most of the press has seen it as a lamentation on death, I saw it more as a view on the environment.
It's all about the environment. The whole album kind of circles my feelings about the natural world, my relationship to it -- physically, spiritually, psychically. That song is probably the most consciously written song I've ever made. Usually a song kind of spills out of me, and I don't really know what I'm saying until later. With that song I really wrote it carefully, 'cause I just wanted to be clear.
Talk a little bit about your relationship with the world today and how that's manifested in this album.
I wrote this song 'Everglade,' and it's basically a song about coming to a realization that I'm home. That I was born of the world, that I'm not a visitor here ... There's a brokenness to humanity, or I find a brokenness in myself, that often prevents me from being present. I'm always searching and scrambling, sort of half asleep, or almost acting like a hungry ghost -- that's what they call them in Buddhism, I think. I don't really know what I'm getting at. But the last record was really about me looking in, the inner side of archetypes, about motherhood, fatherhood and the child inside. In a way, this album was created of a similar intention, but it's more looking at the world outside me. It's trying to navigate, come to terms with, clarify or discover something about my spiritual relationship to the world.
Did the success of 'I Am a Bird Now' help ease that brokenness at all, because you got to see so many people identify with the way you were feeling?
I think it emboldened me, maybe. I was very surprised with my last record, that it was received the way it was. I never really dreamed that there could've been such a broad general response to it. And I think it was a real lesson for me in terms of universality. I spent the last 10, 15 years of my life just sitting in lower Manhattan. I was on the end of the pirate plank, in a way. [But] by touring the world, you see so many tens of thousands of people from so many radically different walks of life finding a relationship to something that you're saying. It certainly makes you aware that a lot of people feel isolated.
Has music always been that way of communicating or feeling connected for you?
I've gone to music, and especially live music, as a way to feel connected to the world, and to connect as a human being. But in this society we've relegated feeling to the corners of our cultural preoccupation. The vast majority of our waking life is filled with experiences and activities in which we are required not to feel in any really expressive way. Even in the way that we consume art. In the old days everyone would be singing, dancing, expressing. Now, in capitalism, [only select performers] are allowed to do it, and everyone watches them and tries to get the vicarious experience of expressing through them. I think that's a sign of where we are now as a society, as a species, that we're not allowed to live the majority of our lives expressively, and emotions are something that we've relegated to a luxury.
But I go to a concert so that I can step out of my pedestrian sense of time. I can start to breathe more deeply. I can sit with my feelings in a fullness and allow them to emerge within me, while watching this person before me who's an emotional catalyst ... It's quite a formal relationship, the relationship as an artist that you have with the public. It's a really beautiful opportunity as a performer, and it's very impersonal too. It's made me more aware of other people. It's amazing, actually, that so many people still feel isolated, that we somehow haven't realized how bound we are collectively.
I wonder how much of that is technology and the thought of "friends" you'll never meet.
It is really surreal, like we are unaware of what we're preparing. There's this kind of culture of inevitability that we've been taught to accept as the radical truth -- that technology is an inevitability, that our life has to evolve and succumb to this belief that our quality of life is improving, when in fact it's sort of deteriorating. The computer now is so much more intelligent than a human, and it doesn't care about you. It's not like a library, where the nature of humanity is embodied in the form of it. With the Internet, there's no way one of us can possibly absorb or hold this much information. All it does is just blow us out of the water. Even the way we listen to music now, as Mac continues to devour the music industry and the quality, the process of really sitting with music. Who listens to a whole album anymore? Who even listens to a whole song anymore? People just skim through never-ending playlists. It's almost like it's the hoarding now that is more interesting to people than the listening.
I'm going into, like, a really Amish phase, though. I'm talking to you on a telephone from 1940 [laughs]. And as soon as I finish the final touches on this record, I keep swearing I'm going to throw away my computers and my cell phones, 'cause I feel like they're making me sick.
You've worked with people like Björk and Bryan Ferry, and you've been friends with Lou Reed. Is there anyone that you've learned a lot from as an artist?
Yes, Björk and Lou both have been huge teachers to me. Björk really inspires me with her commitment, the extremity of her commitment to the moment. She shocked me when I was in the studio with her, seeing her singing and feeling the heaviness of her vibe. She's really fearless in her willingness to tear something apart, make something new, try something, always exploring -- wild-eyed, like a fire-heart. She really encouraged me to step out and take more risks, I think. And with Lou, artistically his commitment to intuition is really profound. But he's a really deep guy, and he just gives me a lot of invaluable advice. And he looks out for me. I feel very fortunate to have him in my life.