Anna Wise on letting your inner compass lead the way

There are a couple of words that you can use to describe Anna Wise forthcoming debut album, As If It Were Forever due later this year. Stream of consciousness. Meditation. Spirit. The new single, “What’s Up With You,” hints at a very sultry and non-conforming structure for a song that takes you wherever Wise’s inner compass led her too. In speaking with Wise, there was a huge theme of improvisation and the inspiration of just letting go. Sometimes that’s what artistry is. It’s not overthinking and letting your mind catch up with your inner compass.

With The Feminine: Act I and II, Wise strove to break things apart from an outer perspective, outside the limits the world can place upon a female. With her upcoming album, she speaks to her inner journey and much of the album sounds like a highway into something deeper, something heavenly. We caught up with Anna to talk extensively about her recording process for this album, life, collaboration, and how she views these songs before and after becoming a mother.

To start off, I wanted to say congrats on your newborn! With recording your debut album, did becoming a mother factor into the creative process? If any influence at all? 

I wrote all of it before I decided to get pregnant. It influenced the later process of mixing, mastering, and going through edits. When my partner and I decided we wanted to have a baby, I was like “this is going to be so sexy. It’s not going to take away at all from anything I want to do.” I’m just going to be pregnant and everything is going to be the same as it was.

That was absolutely not how it went down. I got super sick in my first trimester. Dizziness. Nausea. Everything. I played the Art of Cool festival five or six weeks pregnant at the time. My band and I drove back to NY in the RV. Afterward, I just could not leave New York because I was so sick. I was kind of stuck there and had all the songs ready, but I couldn’t make it out to the sessions to continue to work on them.

That was pretty interesting to be sitting with songs I wrote before I got pregnant. Have them in this one state waiting to finish them and it kind of gave me a huge amount of clarity. Just in terms of which songs to include.

When you listen to this album that’s on the horizon now with everything that’s happened, do you see it in a different light since you recorded those first tracks?

Yeah! I feel like I was setting myself up for what I decided to do in a weird way. I write so much from a subconscious perspective. I do a lot of free writing or improvising where I’ll decipher the lyrics later. Then I stick with my subconscious or higher self – whatever you want to call was trying to tell me. Through the gibberish. It certainly sounds like I was gearing up for a big life change.

Going into the first track, “Worms Playground” and touching on what you just mentioned with speaking from a subconscious standpoint, the lyricism touches on that. Especially viewing yourself from an inner voice. I feel a lot of this album is you finding who you are from a deeper point of view. The song goes into the next track, “Blue Rose” seamlessly and it feels like a free write. There’s an interlink with a lot of the tracks. Just from the first song, walk us through that experience.

So, I’ll set up some type of recording device. Whether it’s an iPhone or if I’m feeling super proper that day, setting up a microphone in the room. A Shure SM-57 is my favorite microphone, and it’s what I’ve been using live since I started singing with my band, Sunny Moon. I’m really comfortable with that microphone and I have all these fun pedals that I use.

I would set up in that way. Light a candle. Have a glass of wine or something to like loosen up or alter my state of consciousness. Try to zone into whatever I’m trying to tell myself. I come from a perspective of time not really being linear. I think of time like a sphere where things are coming in and out, but also poking in from different eras. Past, present, and the future.

I set up these things and I usually have an engineer with me or someone who’s going to contribute some sort of sound. Often, I’ll just build it by myself with building a loop. A lot of this album was based on me doing what I do live for so long. Building loops of my own voice. Making up melodies and lyrics on the spot.

Specifically with “Worms Playground,” I worked with two guys from Hiatus Kaiyote, Simon Mavin and Paul Bender. Also, my long-time collaborator and friend, Dane Orr who is in Sunny Moon with me. They all set up and I did the things I normally do to receive some sort of message. I knew that I wanted the chorus to be that really intense cluster of vocals. That was the first thing that we did together. I put my voice through Simon’s keyboard, so when I was singing, he was playing creating all the notes around me. We just jammed on that chord progression for a while. Then, these lyrics came out.

It’s just a miracle how lyrics come to you. It’s funny that I’m saying “return to mother” and talking about the earth as mother and how we all become the soil. We’re born here, we die here, and become a part of the earth again. Referencing mother, then I became a mother. It’s pretty cool.

When I listened to “Mirror,” I see it in two ways now. Obviously, it’s a mirror as you are looking inside of yourself, but there’s also a kid’s laughter in the background of the track. I likened it to your inner child, but also a letter to your unborn child as well. 

That was another completely improvised song with my friend, Johnson Ellington whose an incredible guitar player. He lives in Austin and a huge part of that scene. I definitely could have been talking to my child self or my unborn child. As I said, time is a sphere and we could be giving ourselves clues from the future if we tap in.

I wanted to talk about “Abracadabra” real quick. The song definitely taps into losing love from two different perspectives. You’re singing from this inner place where you’re saying that everything will be ok. Then, the verse from Little Simz comes in from another perspective that’s a little bit angrier. When you lose love, there’s a duality. You’re no stranger to collaborations. How did you formulate this track with Little Simz? 

It was done remotely, so it was through email. I sent her a track and it didn’t have my verse on it. I just told her words are spells. So, she went in that direction and I was like “oh shit. I have to come from this direction, too.” That’s how that came about.

You also have a couple more collaborations. Denzel Curry is on this album. The track with Jon Bap sees him taking more of the lead. When you approach a collaboration, especially from the terms of your debut album that I feel has a lot of connective tissue, do you give a starting point or with “Vivre D Amour Et D Eau Fraîche,” you’re like, “ok, you take the lead?”

So, it just varies with who I’m working with. It’s with what you just said, those things exist and everything in between exists. It’s really like the personality of the person I’m working with which is ever-changing just like mine. If I’m emailing them the track, they happen to have like pineapple for breakfast that morning and that changed their mindset and how they approached the collaboration.

With the Jon Bap song, that was one we did together. We wrote the lyrics and he wrote the melody and did the guitar and bass part. I respect him so much. Anything that he can contribute that I was working on, I think is perfect. It’s really about giving collaborations space to be themselves.

“Nerve” is a really fun and upbeat song. I understand you recorded all of that in one night. We talked about your recording process. This particular track is so fun and there’s so much crazy instrumentation. Take us into that night and recording “Nerve.” 

So that whole day, I was driving back from another festival I played. Jon Bap and another friend of mine who is going to play guitar in my band now. They had accompanied me to that festival in Vermont. It was a long drive back to Brooklyn and Jon and I really had been wanting to work with Nick Hakim. He’s been on my wish list of someone I wanted to get into the studio with. We’ve actually known each other in school. We met before I dropped out and maintained a friendship. We hung out a lot, but never worked on music.

Jon and I called him like, “what are you doing right now?” He happened to be at his studio. We went over there and I told Jon what I wanted the drumbeat to sound like. Instruments were played by both Jon and Nick. The melody just came into my head. When it’s good, it’s good.

Just like with “Worms Playground,” we hammered on this one motif for like hours. I just keep improvising and putting together lyrics. With “Nerve,” it feels hot. You feel like you’re on fire. You have to scribble furiously in your notebook. That’s what I did. Just writing really fast. It’s a pretty simple song and a simple melody. It was really fun to do that.

The first single off of the album, “What’s Up With You,” there are two things that you go into. In the first verse, don’t come into my life if you can’t handle my complexities. The second verse touches on someone over-promising from a sexual side and not being able to deliver. There’s a sexiness to this song and that permeates throughout the album. How do you feel about this song being the introduction of your new album? 

I feel excited. Happy. That was one that I asked my friends, “what do you think should be the first song?” Kind of once the music is done, I’m checked out. Once the album is done, I don’t know what is good or what’s the best song. I love them all like children. Equally. They all served something to me.

I just played some songs for a few of my friends and they all said “What’s Up With You” should be the first single. It was the unanimous choice.