Welcome to another episode of music-book pairing. In this chapter I will try to link Anona’s free thinking Canterbury indie rock with the bestselling young adult novel series Mrs Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. The novel is full of mystery, (time) travels, children with weird powers, and an altogether idea that it is ok to be strange. I can’t shake of the feeling that Anona has embraced that same idea as well.
This self-titled EP by Anona is all kinds of strange, but beautiful as well. There is a mysterious edge to it, but a childlike naivete and lightless as well. There is some time traveling going on, past 60s Canterbury folk for example (the flute plays an important role), and dark smokey jazz combos from the 30s. And then there is the band that consists of all kinds of weird kids with special powers of their own, nine of them in total.
Both the novelist Ransom Riggs and the singer songwriter Ella Russel are story tellers. They take you, the spectator, by the hand and lead you just around the corner to a place that you would have never imagined on your own. Whether it is the story of The Boy And The Lion, or the story of Jacob Portman finding out his secret heritage, you will be sucked in and hanging on to every word…
So I had to dive into this Anona phenomenon. Who are they? Or who is she? Let’s find out. Bristol, UK resident Ella Russel takes us by the hand while she leads us on a tour through here life…
How are you? How has the pandemic period and its aftermath been for you as a musician?
Ah the big questions. Well, the cold has finally arrived here which brings mixed feelings. I love the winter storms and island weather, the winter skies are really crazy over the sea here, but the damp and darkness affects me after a while. The pandemic brought an end to some projects and a beginning to new ones. It definitely felt like life bookmarked a new era when it began, there was no choice. We finished recording the bulk of Anona two weeks before the first lockdown and then I worked on it throughout, so the EP kind of feels like a time capsule now. The pandemic of course has been a challenge, but I can also be a bit of a hermit and having so much time to work on my own things was kind of incredible. I only got back into playing shows this year, with my other band The New Eves. It has felt really powerful and we don’t take anything for granted. I love them.
Can you introduce yourself, is it just you or are there more people in Anona?
I’m Ella Russell, a musician and a painter living in Brighton, UK. Anona is my first solo project, but it features 9 of my friends & incredible musicians. Their names are Lau Zanin, Toma Sapir, Adam Campbell, George Lloyd-Owen, Todd Cowell, Freddie Willat, Isobel Jones and Hugo Ellis. Anona’s lineup will be constantly evolving around the music I write, but I’m hoping lot’s of these guys stick around.
What can you tell me about your musical background(s)?
I’ve always been very affected by music, and if you had asked me what I wanted to do when I was a child I would have said “an artist and a singer”, which is pretty much what I do now, except I have learnt some instruments along the way. I play the flute, guitar, drums and a little piano, all a bit unconventionally. I recently had my trombone debut! It was funny, I had painted myself green for halloween and looked like this tiny goblin playing the trombone.
I’m completely self taught and started playing in bands when I was about 19, learning everything as I went along. I started composing this EP when I was 21 and it was my first time writing music in full, doing everything myself. It began as a challenge to myself to see what I was capable of and ended up opening a whole inner world.
The most recent projects I have been involved with are The New Eves, Wax Machine and I did some recording with The Ancient Infinity Orchestra this summer, who are about to drop an incredible album.
What does a regular day in your life look like?
At the moment it’s different everyday! Which is how I like it, I strangely find lack of routine very inspiring. Like today I was sewing someone’s curtains and last week I was recording poetry for the BBC – though it’s definitely not always as exciting as that. Often I will be rehearsing and playing music with people in the evenings and when I have spare time I will be painting in my little studio. It’s quite a turbulent way to live, to be patching things together week by week, but I’m only 24 and just about have the energy to deal with the uncertainty my lifestyle brings. For now the adventures outweigh it all, I get to travel around a lot.
What is the best thing about your new EP?
That’s a hard question. Everything? That it’s finally being released? That it was so fun to make? That someone took the time to turn it into vinyl?
For me it was especially a pleasure to meet cellist George Lloyd-Owen. They were the only person that I didn’t know before making Anona, and we had such an instant creative connection. I can’t read music so I would just sing to them and they would translate it and make it a thousand times better. They blow my mind everytime we play together. I have long had the ambition to make music for strings and meeting them has made it feel possible.
Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?
I live in Brighton UK, which is where I was born and also where some of my ancestors are from. It’s by the sea which I love and is only a 45 minute train ride to London. It’s a small city but it’s got a big music scene and is ideal for meeting musicians, they are literally everywhere… though I have been spectacularly shit at going to shows recently. I’m lucky to have a life full of musicians, artists and like minded people, it feels abundant in that way and our community is strong, we are always collaborating and everyone helps each other out. A downside to Brighton is you don’t really get paid much for shows, or anything creative. Rents are going up and soon it will be too expensive to live here.
I have actually been waiting for the time to leave Brighton and city life for a while now, but things keep happening. The times i’ve felt most alive have always been outside of cities, probably on a mountain somewhere. But my family are still nearby and it will always be a home for me.
What are your favorite contemporary bands and albums right now?
Some of the best shows I’ve seen this year were by Abel Selaocoe, Modern Woman, Junior Brother, Bingo Fury and Broadside Hacks. Last year I saw Johnny Greenwood perform some of his soundtracks at a festival and it was probably one of the best hours of my life. My friend Ozzy is secretly a genius composer and his group Ancient Infinity Orchestra are going to be releasing an incredible album with Gondwana next year. I have a lot of friends releasing beautiful things at the moment; Daisy Rickman, Wax Machine and Platypus Complex are definitely ones to watch.
Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs?
For me it’s a very private process, it can take a long time and often feels like I’m unveiling something, like helping a flower to bloom. The music really has it’s own spirit. When I was writing this EP I was living in a garden cabin and would lock myself in there for hours at a time experimenting with different instruments and building a relationship with the sounds that wanted to come through. I had to muster a lot of faith to actually show it to people and conduct them, it was a great learning process. This whole project was created in gardens, for recording I found another garden cabin that had a piano and Lau (producer) and I built a little studio in there. Everyone learnt the material whilst we were recording, so what you hear on the record was incredibly fresh, it has a youthful spirit to it. It was really fun
What is “the dream” when it comes to being an artist?
I think having enough to eat, a roof over your head and time to create. The pleasures are very simple really, but quite hard to sustain in this world.
Tell me something nobody would have guessed about you?
Hmm… I’m really into Star Wars? And I’m terrible at reading clocks.
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?
Go outside and look at the sky, then listen to Anona.
The single ‘Ruby Mountain’ is out on Thursday 24th and the vinyl is being released the next day on the 25th. The only way for people to listen to the full EP is by getting the vinyl, until the whole thing is released online in January. A bit unusual, but it’s the way it’s happened 🙂