Natalye Childress talks to Annika Henderson (Anika) about Berlin as creative muse…
It’s not entirely a stretch for artists to move around within the space of the creative realm, crossing over from one medium to another, but it is somewhat rare when someone with a stable profession suddenly makes a horizontal move into the art world.
Yet that is exactly what political journalist Annika Henderson did some three or four years ago, and she hasn’t looked back since.
After meeting with producer Geoff Barrow of Portishead–who was on the lookout for a vocalist for Beak>, his newest project at the time–the British German made an impression strong enough for Barrow to alter the preconceived undertaking into a solo project, with Henderson at the helm.
Together, the group known simply as Anika has released one album, 2010’s Anika. This week sees the release of the six-song Anika EP on Stones Throw Records, featuring four covers and two dub versions of songs from the full-length.
One listen to the minimalistic post-punk-inspired sound and it’s easy to understand why critics have thrown around comparisons to Nico more than once.
Natalye: You once split time between Bristol and Berlin, but now you are living in Berlin full-time. What brought you here originally, and when and why did you decide to live here permanently?
Annika: I am half German and half English, so one of the reasons was to understand things about myself that were not English and to use my German again. I was brought up initially just speaking German and learnt English second.
The other reason was that i was trying to move into politics and EU policy development and happened to get a placement in Berlin, so that was how it began. I decided to go back after releasing the album because i couldn’t afford to live in England and continue being an artist. The general consensus was, “OK, stop messing around now and get a proper job.”
Natalye: Where in Germany did you grow up, and how does that place compare to Berlin?
Annika: I was born and raised in Woking in England, but spent all my summers in a village by the Dutch border in Germany, called Haldern. They have a big music festival there. It was a big influence in some ways. I also went to Berlin for family weddings and things. It has changed a lot since then but I guess nowhere stays the same.
Natalye: What do you like and dislike about Berlin, particularly from the point of view as an artist or creative? In what ways does the city foster your creativity best? Conversely, do you ever find that Berlin works “against” artists, just because there are so many people trying to do the same kinds of things with plenty of distractions along the way?
Annika: I am here not to get ideas or feed off the city but to try to work with it and live in it. My inspiration comes from everywhere and from the places I travel. There are of course distractions, perhaps more than elsewhere. The thing is, there isn’t so much of a framework holding things up, which affords you much freedom, but with freedom you need a lot of self-discipline. I think it helps that I have family in Berlin and my old editor and publication is here, so i keep up the freelance work with him. This gives it some structure.
Natalye: You have a new EP coming out on April 16, along with an accompanying video for “I Go To Sleep,” filmed in Brandenburg. Can you share a little bit about what went into the recording for these songs and the filming of the video?
Annika: The songs were recorded in Bristol with Billy (Fuller) and Matt (Williams) from BEAK> and two Bristol-based musicians, Rasha (Shaheen) and Andy (Sutor). The songs were dealt with in much the same way as before: recorded in a couple of takes.
It was great working with Uli (M Schueppel) on the video. It was a strange and coincidental meeting. He came to a basement Berlin show and approached me, very out of the blue, about directing a video for “I Go To Sleep.”
He then invited me along to see his film about Brötzmann. I said perhaps. Then by chance, I was at a small cinema with my friend and we’d just bought tickets for Holy Motors when Uli came over and said he was showing his film there tonight in 5 minutes, and would I like to come.
I said no because I’d just bought tickets for this other film but really wanted to see it. I then checked out the live show of Brötzmann after the film and was intrigued, so he invited me again to the screening the next day and I luckily went. It was a very impressive film, [particularly] the way he dealt with quite a shy character and told [the] story without actually telling [it] or projecting something upon the person.
We don’t learn much about Brötzmann in the film but it is a very emotional film. So I thought [Schueppel would] be perfect!
Natalye: In the past, you have stated that a reason why you wanted to be in a band was to have a place for the lyrics you had written. Yet with the Anika project, a lot of your songs are covers. How do you find a place for your own material, or do you still see that as something necessary, this having an outlet?
Annika: It is a complete outlet for me. The way the words are sung, the songs constructed, the project performed. I’d call that an outlet.
Natalye: Where the unrehearsed and unrefined nature of your album is part of the charm of it, how can you put out an EP with this same kind of mindset? Do you still think your music is more genuine, vulnerable or pure because of this, or is it impossible to recreate that kind of feeling now?
Annika: It’s still possible. I just set up traps and fall into them.
Natalye: When it comes to performing in Berlin, what particular venues do you like to play? Is there someplace you haven’t yet played but want to?
Annika: We played in Berghain recently. That was somewhat surreal.
Natalye: When you are seeing live shows, where do you like to see bands?
Annika: Festsaal is usually good. Berghain and Bi Nuu too.
Natalye: In the two of three years since your debut album came out, how have you changed, developed, or grown the most, both as a person and as a musician? What are some examples of that?
Annika: It is natural to grow up. Lots has happened. Hopefully the next record will reflect this. Making music is growing up in public.
Natalye: What are 3-5 of your favorite places to go in Berlin to relax, think, write, unwind, etc.?
Annika: The galleries are great there, so I tend to try to see something once in a while. Also the classical music venues are really impressive. I love the big old libraries too. Brunch on Sunday with my brother or my friends is nice too. Berlin taught me how Sundays should be a day off, sitting in the sun, slowly drinking coffee all day with people you like. The big forests around Berlin are lovely too.