Interpol’s Paul Banks Interviews U.K. Music Sensation Anna Calvi

In an industry overrun by pop-princess zombies, British singer and guitarist Anna Calvi has quickly set herself apart with a seductive homespun sound, at once vulnerable and predatory. Although she’s petite and timid off stage, the moment Calvi steps into the bright lights, she transforms into a veritable force field of carnal energy. It’s fitting, then, that she’s embraced a matador aesthetic: slicked-back hair, boleros, and high-waisted trousers.

In the past six months, the 28-year-old performer has released her self-titled debut album, kicked off her first headlining tour, and earned accolades from the likes of Nick Cave, Brian Eno, and Karl Lagerfeld. Anna Calvi, which entered the UK charts in the Top 40, is the culmination of three years spent writing and recording in a basement in Fulham, London.

Although she opened for Interpol in Brixton last December, Calvi never actually met the rock trio’s lead singer, Paul Banks. From his getaway home in Panama, Banks called Calvi—just a few minutes before she took the stage in Cologne, Germany—to chat about the power of performance, restraint, and the dangerous appeal of reading your own reviews.

PAUL BANKS: Where are you? ANNA CALVI: I’m in Germany at the moment. I just got back from a month in Europe, so I feel for you. How long have you been on the road? It’s only been a week so far, but we’ve got another year to go.

Touring can be wonderful, but it can also be taxing. The shows make everything else worthwhile, but the day-to-day bus-and-hotel lifestyle gets old pretty quick. Does it get easier?

It changes, that’s for sure. I’ve often thought that I’d be in jail by now if I hadn’t found an outlet in singing. It’s that emotional release that sustains me over long tours. Performance is a very emotional thing for me, and it’s an experience that I wouldn’t be able to get in any other situation. It definitely helps get me through the harder parts of touring. All in all, I love doing it.

Is it true that you were in a punk band before working on this album? I did several different things just for the experience, but none of them were too serious. I waited until I felt confident enough as a singer to release my own material.

I read somewhere that you pushed aside other creative passions to focus on your music. I used to paint, but I felt most passionate about music—it felt natural to me. I do, however, see every aspect of the record-making process as art, and that includes how I dress and the artwork I put on the album cover. Do you have other creative pursuits? image

I have plans to go into some form of writing at some point in my life, and I started with graphic art, but music came most naturally in that it was almost a biological function. I figured the art thing wasn’t going to happen, and so I focused on music, which allows me to shut off some of the less pleasant aspects of my consciousness. Whether or not I ever got a record deal, I knew that music was going to come through me. I recorded half of this album before signing with a label. I knew there was a good probability that no one would ever hear it, but my need to make it was such that it didn’t even matter who was listening. You can hear it in the songs when a band makes music solely for their careers. I respect musicians who create because of passion, not vocation.

You can see the passion in your live shows, which are different than those of your average popstars. There’s a lot of improvisation when my band and I play live, which keeps it interesting. It’s difficult to find real chemistry with other musicians, and it’s even rarer when you get to keep it, so I feel lucky to love the musicians I play with. I would hate to be in a band with people I hardly knew and didn’t like that much.

Without an emotional connection, it would be impossible to play your kind of music. To what degree are you trained? I taught myself guitar.

Damn. I listened to a lot of guitarists—Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt—when I was a kid, and I really got into making the guitar sound like other instruments and using it as an extension of my voice. I think not having taken lessons really helped me develop my own style and my own language with the instrument.

I’m also self-taught but I don’t have the chops you have on the guitar. It’s a testament to the sophistication of what you’re trying to express that you’ve pushed your technique to this level—yours is some virtuoso-level shit. I love dynamism in music, and the best way to achieve that is to go from nothing to everything. I love space in music.

Restraint is easier said than done. It’s never been my forte, but it’s a stylistic thing I really admire because it takes a lot of confidence to allow the melody to carry itself. Your music sounds like you have total ownership over the songs, like there’s only one way to make them sound. Are you reading your press? I’m aware that people don’t hate the music. At first, I found that people didn’t know what to make of me, which was frustrating. They were saying it was really dark and gothic, and I never really knew what “gothic” meant.

It’s a tricky thing, reading one’s own press. It’s not great for the artistic process. You’ve said that caring about how your album is received is “the kiss of death.” I assume you mean from a creative standpoint? If you start trying to please people or prove them wrong, it means you’re no longer doing things for yourself, but the whole point of making music is to satisfy yourself creatively. That’s why I made this album, and that’s something I never want to forget.

Top photo: Jacket by Emporio Armani. Necklace by Giles & Brother by Philip Crang. Hair by Kayla Michele @ Atelier Management. Makeup by Walter Oba L @ Atelier Management using Dior. Stylist’s Assistant: Jaclyn Konopka . Photography by Aaron Richter.

The Kills Cover BlackBook’s May Music Issue!

What luck! In a week that turned out to be all about the kill, we’re introducing our brand new Music Issue on newsstands now, featuring cover stars The Kills. Coincidence? We think so! Anyway, read all about the everlasting musical union between Mr. Hince and Ms. Mosshart — and the new album they made — here. Also in our May issue:

Before Mark Ruffalo hulks and smashes in next summer’s Avengers, he pauses for his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious; read a revealing interview with the actor about the rock drama and the darkness that inspired it. UK music sensation Anna Calvi has opened for Interpol, but she never met lead singer Paul Banks — until now. The Arctic Monkeys, rockstars before they turned twenty, evolve on their new album, Suck It and See. New York’s Gang Gang Dance explain where their trippy, tribal, genre-defying sound comes from. Our sometime fashion guru Gavin McInnes puts SXSW on blast. Avant-garde musical artist Planningtorock takes us on an impromptu tour of Berlin.

Plus Rose Byrne, Taylor Momsen, Chloe Sevigny, Death Cab for Cutie, Dolly Parton, Richard Ashcroft, Tinie Tempah, and more!

Model Art: Helena Christensen Paints a Pretty Picture

She is blessed with the ability to transmit beauty from either side of the camera, dates a rock star, and is one of the biggest models in the world. But Helena Christensen is not above life’s petty annoyances. “Oh my god, I just spent 10 minutes in a cab that was playing one long, new-age jazz fusion number,” she says, her piercing green eyes fiery with rage, as she strides into Dactyl Foundation gallery to discuss her current photography show “Far From, Close” (up until the end of January; she’s pictured above with Dactyl’s Neil Grayson). “It was a live concert, so people were yelling and clapping the whole way through. It was so bad, I literally wanted to leave the cab.” After that harrowing journey from her West Village digs, the Danish beauty, dressed head-to-toe in black, sits down to chat and notices her fly is down. “I’m always doing that!” she says with a laugh.

The show has a quiet power and meditative quality about it. I cannot meditate or do anything of that sense with myself, but it’s nice to know I’m doing it with my work. I really find it peaceful to take photographs, but there is no way I can just sit down and zone myself out.

Is your brain always hyperactive? Totally. My body might not be, but my brain is. It’s pretty hectic in there.

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Where do these images come from? A lot of them are from my home country, Denmark. Then there are a lot of from upstate — from very calm areas. I didn’t set out to shoot these for something specific. I just selected the ones that had that calm to them.

Are they all your residences? The ones in upstate New York and in Denmark are my little cottages, but the others are just nature that I happened to pass by.

Where is your place upstate? Near Phoenicia.

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It makes me so curious to hear you say that you can’t really have a meditative quality in your own life. I can’t. I can’t switch it off. Literally from when I get up until I go to bed.

These photographs feel like individual meditations to me in a way. I like that so many of them are one being in expansive surroundings. I did have a psyche in mind of people that you can’t really identify with. They are so far away, and most of them are turned away so they become part of the scenery. For me, it’s healthy to define a photograph by whether I would like it hanging on my wall. I don’t want to look at something that’s too intense every day. I want it to put me in a state of calm, and for it to be something that doesn’t create a whole lot of emotions inside of me, but makes me feel mellow. I find it so exciting that you can literally shoot anything and create different emotions for the viewer, but when it’s about hanging them on the wall, I think people make definite choices of, “Okay, what do I want to look at?” I like old school paintings, because they’re all pretty calm and mellow, and I like faded colors.

What kind of old school paintings? Well, I really like portrait paintings by Egon Scheile and Lucien Freud. I bought a painting yesterday from the antique market on 26th Street from the 1920s, and it’s literally just houses and nature. And that, to me, is just perfect. I like when it’s serene and the colors are tones that I would want to paint my wall with. Of the photography that I have hanging on my walls, the ones that are of humans have their faces cut off. I do not want to look at something that’s too personal.

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What else inspires you? I really love spaces. I love lines and texture. If you saw my apartment, you would also understand, in a way. There’s a lot going on. I think that the photography is a little oasis of calm in the midst of all the chaos.

What’s your apartment like? I collect. I’m always finding little pieces. I have a job that, for many years, I did nothing but travel, and I would just pick up objects along the way. I’m very, very attracted to curious objects. Textures, colors. Things that make you wonder why you like them, and make you want to analyze. I have a lot of strange objects, but at the end of the day, all of them together make me feel very happy. The way that they’re all working together is very harmonious to me, and I really feel like I’m at home in the midst of my objects. Everything I look at makes me happy. There are a lot of things that get thrown at us during the day that makes us feel pretty damn depressed. The media, newspapers …

New Age music in a cab? That made me seriously down. If I had been on my way home, I would have just run up and immediately thought, “This makes me happy. I can forget about that confusion.”

It’s interesting that you say you don’t want to focus on the faces in your own photography. Does that have anything to do with being a model and being the focus? It may be in a way, but I think in terms of magazines, there is some intense face staring at you on every page. That’s been my job for the last 18 years. I don’t want any limits to anything in my photography. I want to have all of the emotions to be there. I want to feel moved or aggravated or somehow, I want it to touch me. This is only one side of my work, I could have picked photos where there’s more aggression in people’s faces, or where it’s more intense. That will be the next show. So, we’ll meet here again in a couple of years and we’ll talk about how I really love the aggravated faces on the wall.

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The landscapes are the focus of many of these pieces. I really like catching moments. I guess a lot of these are more the stillness of the world, of life. Nature always evolves, but it always goes back to the same, and that for me is an important ideal. I envy nature. It dies in the winter and it comes straight back. I know people who believe in reincarnation would say, “Well, that’s what we do.” But we’re meant to become ashes first. We really have to die. A tree will still stay standing and then start blooming again. If I choose to look at it pessimistically, I would think, “Then how the hell do we know if we’re gonna come back or not?” And, “Who says we’re going to come back as what we want to come back as?” But, a tree always comes back to itself. Maybe I’ll come back as a tree in my next life, and I’ll be happy.

What motivated you to take pictures in the first place? I was just shooting like everyone else does. When I started traveling a lot with my work, it became really interesting because I would go to places all over the world and just wanted to capture visually where life took me. It was very hectic for a long time, and this was my way of stopping moments, and freezing seconds for later on. I’m very fascinated by the whole technical side behind photography where you can freeze one moment and put it down in a flat piece of paper and keep it forever. That’s why photography is more inspiring to me than moving images. I’ve never actually picked up a video camera and filmed anything.

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What do you shoot with? I think there are seven or eight different methods in here alone. Polaroid camera, Pentax, Lyca, my mobile phone, and Holga.

What’s next for you? I’m working with the Opus people, who make the huge special-edition books. Over 60 percent of the images have never been seen before. We’re working on a book on Dubai. I went to Dubai to photograph his Excellency, the Sheikh, riding horses in the desert, and then I went up into the largest tower in the world — 163 floors. The next book is on Ferrari, so I’ll go to Italy to the Ferrari factory where Enzo Ferrari created the first models.

Are you interested in cars? I’m into vintage cars. I’m going to have a hard time buying a modern car at some point. I like the organic shape and the colors of older cars. For the Ferrari shoot, I’m thinking: nature, garden, factory. I want the juxtaposition of something industrial in the middle of Enzo’s grounds. I’ve proposed to them that I want to shoot at dusk so I get the car almost as if it’s in a painting.

Do you ever go on tour with your boyfriend, Paul Banks of Interpol? Do you do any rock and roll photography? I’ve shot many of my friends that are musicians. I’ve gone away with them and taken photographs as I follow on tour. It’s always interesting to shoot because it’s the same scenery — in a way — but always different. You get different reactions with people in the audience. I did shoot Interpol a lot on their last tour.

Where is home for you? I am in the West Village. For ten years. I was lucky to get Jim Dines’s work studio, ten years ago. He had it with Diana Michener — who’s an amazing photographer. I walked into the space, and all of their artwork was hanging up on the walls. I said, “Wow, these people are really good.” Not knowing it was them, and I thought, “I hope they leave something.”

Did they leave anything? Not even a paint spot anywhere. Have you seen the exhibition of Jim at the Pace Wildenstein gallery? It’s really inspiring. He is a very productive older artist. There’s not one empty space on the walls. It’s all over, covering everything, even the ceilings. I went straight from the exhibition to hang my own and I asked, “Should we hang something from the ceiling?” Mine is the complete opposite, so for a moment there I was like, ‘”Maybe we’ll just take all the objects from my home and hang them.” And I thought to myself, “Calm down, this is one thing and that is another. And maybe next time we could just do a show with things hanging from the ceiling.”

It’s good to take a step back sometimes. Like Paul actually said yesterday, “You have to sacrifice your children sometimes.” Meaning, sometimes with something that seems like a great idea or that could be some great work of yours, you just have to go away from it and show something else. He was doing that with a song. And I said, “I’m sure a woman didn’t say that.” You know, you have to sacrifice your children sometimes. There’s some kind of beauty in sacrificing something so profound. But what the hell.

All profits from Helena Christensen’s show go to CCPI Chernobyl Children’s Project International and The Point; additional works will be available soon on CharityBuzz.com to help support these two children’s organizations.

Industry Insiders: Jason Baron, Dark Knight

Jason Baron, owner of two of the Lower East Side’s finest music dens, has all the makings of a rising nightlife macher: great timing, the party bug, plus tons of famous music-making pals. Five years down the road, the Annex and Darkroom owner reveals what it takes to stay current in the ever-shifting LES.

Point of Origin: I’m from Detroit originally. I moved back here about six years ago from London where I went to university. After I finished, I assisted a fashion photographer, but found I didn’t like fashion, so I got into music. When I moved back to New York, I was still photographing bands, including all the Interpol shows. That was what helped me get a scene down here.

The Darkroom used to be another bar before, and a friend of mine was familiar with one of the owners. They wanted to sell. The only places on the street were Max Fish, Motor City, and Pianos. I found out the place was open, so I just dove headlong in. I had had experience in nightlife in London and New York doing parties with friends and DJing, but I mostly learned as I went. It turned out to be an experience because I studied economics; I didn’t study food service management or anything.

The first night [at the Darkroom] was the Libertines after party, and after that it spun out of control. Even last Monday, there were people from Stone Temple Pilots and Spiritualized®. There are always 10 to 15 bands here. It’s usually people from out of town — people from London or Los Angeles. They still come back here because it’s their only point of reference in New York and they know it will be a good time.

Occupations: We hit the ground running and became a part of the scene down here. Even to this day, with everything being built up, we still are a big part. Things went so well here we were able to find the Annex. It used to be another bar that had closed down and we rebuilt. The previous owners were six, seven months behind on rent. They hadn’t paid the liquor bills in forever but it made it really easy to get the place because the landlord was like, “Please, take it over”. Their concept was a little bit different. I don’t want to say it was tacky or anything. It was the same problem you see with places like Libation. They are trying to cater to a crowd that is only here on Friday and Saturdays. Everywhere is crowded on Friday and Saturday. You really make your money on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I think that’s what killed them over there [at Bar Eleven]. It was more of a party than a job for Simon [owner of Eleven]. I think he took off and moved to the Jersey shore to sell T-shirts.

The idea with the Annex was to have an independent music venue because most of the other venues were controlled by Bowery Presents and AEG. Fortunately, knowing a lot of key people in the industry got us secret shows and after parties and really brought the name up. Thursday nights we have “Club NME,” and that has a huge profile. And Friday, we have “Ruff Club” — you see it in travel magazines on British Airways. Saturdays we have “Tis Was,” and it’s still doing quite well. We have bands seven days a week, and now and we have club nights after the bands Tuesday through Saturday.

What do you think has people coming back? I think it has kind of a clubhouse feel. They see other people here in their industry. Plus, they are well taken care of. It’s a destination point. When you go to certain cities, there are places you always go back to, especially if you are in the music and fashion business. We’ve never had a door policy. We charge gigs over there [at the Annex] so the bands can get paid, but that’s it. People always feel at home. There’s never a lot of press written about it. There used to be when Tricia [Romano] was at the Village Voice. She’d write “so and so was there,” and I would always get really mad. I like keeping it low-key so people know they can turn up at any time and be themselves. They don’t have to worry about someone saying they were drunk the next day to the press. Places that stick around for a long time and have a good name will grow on their own. All you have to do is keep on top of the new things — the new DJs and the new scenes. If you look at the big clubs on the west side, they blow the places up, make them huge, and pay people to come and hang out. But, then they usually close after two years. The lease at Darkroom has another 12 years and the Annex has another 15.

Known Associates: I work with Spencer Product from Ruff Club and Dimitry from High Voltage. Really everyone in the industry is just an acquaintance. A lot of the richer, older, more established club owners have more of a clique.

Where do you hang out? I go to shows, mostly. It feels like every freaking day there is someone coming in from out of town — bands calling me up to come down [to the bar]. I’d love to have a night off. I’d say I spend most of my time going to Bowery Ballroom just to keep on top of what’s happening with the music scene. As far as bars, I don’t really have a frequent hang. If anything, I go to ‘inoteca to have dinner. Is it trendy bars I’m supposed to say? I’ve been to every bar. I’ve done a lot of research.

Do you still have the exclusive basement open? No, that’s been done for a while. We used to be a lot looser with the way things worked around here, but as you grow up, you realize the consequences. I used to live upstairs from Darkroom and then upstairs from the Annex up until a year ago. The weirdest people would turn up in the middle of the night. Dave Attell did a TV show once in my apartment. Axl Rose was there one night. It used to be the most surreal shit. And usually it would just Paul [Banks] and I sitting around, going “Who are these people?” We’d be hanging out watching TV and a band would be on Saturday Night Live and then they would show up an hour later in my shitty little apartment. There are a lot of stories. Now, I’m a gentleman.

Industry Icons: Ian Schrager. He’s diversified so much, but if you remember, he was just a guy who owned a bar in Jersey and then he opened up Studio 54. He’s also a genius as far as design is concerned. Look what he’s done to the Gramercy Park Hotel. It’s amazing. He has longevity. You get the people that come in and out, open a club here, then one in LA, not focusing on anything. I know he has done things in London, but he’s always been really focused on NY. Also, Tony Wilson is an influence, the man behind Factory Records and the Hacienda Club in Manchester.

Projections: I’m working on an English pub that’s going to be in the neighborhood. I can’t really say any more about that. Someone asked me to do a bar in a hotel that will be in the area too. I think it’s the natural progression to be moving from bars to being a restaurateur to an hotelier one day. I’m engaged now. I just bought a ring. I look at it like a career. I’m still down here seven days a week.

What are you doing tonight? I’m going over to see my friend Simon [White]. He’s picking up a new band called Amazing Baby. He manages Bloc Party, CSS, and Broken Social Scene. He’s come over from London and I’m doing a special showcase for him. Supposedly, they’re amazing and going to be huge. They are playing with Bloc Party tomorrow so this is supposed to be their warm up show.