Anna Meredith isn’t your traditional classical composer. The Scottish artist is ripe with talents, and she sees no point in keeping them in their respective columns. Instead, she blends her interests together: Synthesizers dance with tubas, cellos rally against staccato vocal harmonies, and the classical world meets a genre too modern to have a title… yet.
On her most recent album, Varmints, Meredith found a way to turn classical music into a playground full of happy shrieks and unexplored shadows. Because she worked with other musicians, she found herself faced with the struggle most bands are used to: getting everyone to commit to performance times. Meredith not only got her performers in line to help bring her ideas to life in the studio, but she turned Varmints into a record that takes sharp turns when you aren’t expecting it to—and you’re glad it did.
“I think in terms of colors of shape, and I try to realize those shapes,” she says of the songwriting process. “Rather than making a bassline, I’m thinking about what would make an effective buildup or atmosphere. Then I pick instrumentation to fit whatever color or shape it is I’m trying to make. It’s like blank paper with a timeline, and I draw graphic shapes that can help control the storytelling. It’s a planning tool to help me architect a song, piece out the parts, the energy of a song, the speed and energy. It’s a lot of fun and pretty chaotic.”
To help Meredith polish off her imagination before headlining Brighton Music Hall, we interviewed her for a round of Wheel of Tunes, a series where we ask bands questions inspired by their song titles. Her answer are as colorful as you would expect.
DIGBOSTON: Which of the nautilus mollusk’s traits would you like to have: poor memory, a built-in water jetpack, or protective slime?
MEREDITH: Poor memory? Maybe that would be good. I’m quite an anxious person and hold on to things. Being able to forget your troubles as you go would be amazing. Nobody wants to forget stuff in the moment—you don’t want to be Dory from Finding Nemo—but being able to amble forward without stressing would rule.
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever had something stolen from you? If so, did you ever get it back?
MEREDITH: Yeah, actually. My family went to Disney World and planned this big trip. I got this Mickey Mouse sweatshirt that I absolutely adored and wore every day. Because I was quite big, I got a size I could wear later in life as an adult. I wore it all the time. But I left it at a gig. When I returned, they said it was gone. Whenever I’m at a thrift shop, I always look for it. It was a ’90s-era black sweatshirt with a velvet Mickey Mouse on it and yellow and red stripes on the arms. Pretty cool, actually.
DIGBOSTON: If you got to create a scrimshaw, what designs or images would you carve in it?
MEREDITH: What a nice question! I would love to be able to. My sister is amazing at illustrating, and she does these very simple, mostly animal drawings that look anxious and weird. Whenever I draw, it’s a bit overworked. I would love to be able to do her stuff in that effortless way, all those facial expressions and so much movement with so few lines. Whenever I try to draw that way, I’m just hacking away [laughs].
4) “Something Helpful”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the most helpful piece of advice, intentional or not, you learned from someone last year?
MEREDITH: I think there’s something really nice about that, about overhearing advice. My cellist recently said something about an Apple app. When you’re a musician, you use the Voice Memos app on your phone for when you come up with a musical idea on the go. When you’re doing music work with kids, it’s a fast way to record stuff. Apple made a new version of that app that I can’t remember the name of, like Music Memo, that is designed for musicians to pick audio up more easily. It’s not the most helpful advice, but I imagine it’ll help.
DIGBOSTON: Name two adjectives that begin with the letter R to describe yourself.
MEREDITH: R is a hard one. I’m going to be a bit sneaky and say wry because it sounds like a hard R, because I’m a bit on the cynical side. For the other? Resolute. I’m quite stubborn and a bit single-minded, even though I’d like to think I’m more flexible than that.
DIGBOSTON: If you were only allowed to wear black clothing from here on out, how would that affect your wardrobe?
MEREDITH: Half of my current wardrobe is black and quite gothic. Picture a headmistress with billowing sleeves. The other 50 percent is very vibrant and maxed out. So I guess I would finally have to balance out the headmistress look and the children’s entertainer look. Half of me would be elated at the change. The other half would find it miserable. I’d have to keep the look up and never smile again.
7) “The Vapours”
DIGBOSTON: Are you a fan of vaporwave music?
MEREDITH: You know what, I actually never really listen to music. This is a genre I’ve probably never heard. Other music makes me panic about how good other people are at making it. Don’t get me wrong; I go to concerts. But when I get home, I will listen to stuff I liked when I was a kid, like Queen. When I listen, it’s because I’m interested in being happy or dancing or living with some music set to it.
8) “Honeyed Words”
DIGBOSTON: What’s the sweetest thing anybody has ever said to you?
MEREDITH: Pretty depressingly, whenever anyone compliments something that you don’t think of, like, “Are those real eyelashes?” or “You have nice elbows!” rather than complimenting your hair. When it’s quite detailed, it’s nice. Someone commented on my canines, and it was so nice. To be fair, I probably set that compliment up because my canine teeth are fake implants. I had a lot of hideous dental trauma and was probably talking about it, and then they complimented them.
9) “Last Rose”
DIGBOSTON: When is the last time you gave someone a rose?
MEREDITH: I think me and my sister bought my mom a rose to plant in the garden. It had a nice name. It might have been for her birthday. I have this horrible feeling that maybe my mom did it, not us, but I’m going to claim that it was our idea. It was one of those light-colored ones, because Scotland has these special robust ones. Maybe white?
DIGBOSTON: Have you ever acted as a shill to a friend or colleague?
MEREDITH: This is really low level, but you know that thing where you can’t remember somebody’s name so you signal your friend to introduce them? So you don’t have to admit you don’t know their name? Me and my friends have that figured out now. It’s a little signal, a raise of the eye for the other to help. You should train your friends up to help if they don’t!
DIGBOSTON: Which neighborhood in London doesn’t get enough love?
MEREDITH: Oooh, that’s nice. For nearly all of my time, I’ve lived in a place called Camberwell, in southeast London. I’ve just moved out of it after living there for 14 years. Most people don’t know it because the Tube doesn’t go there; you have to take a bus. It’s very mixed and eccentric. Like, there’s a guy with pink hair and a rat in his coat at the bar or the woman in the supermarket paints her eyebrows on. Those kinds of characters are out and about while you get your cornflakes. Me and my friends moved there when we were younger, and it was amazing. You could be isolated, but then meet up for lunch or drinks, and it’s a blast. Other areas in London have changed a lot over the years. Camberwell still feels like it’s permanently imbalanced: When one cool thing opens, another shuts down. I like that. Its metabolism feels good.
ANNA MEREDITH, MISS GEO. WED 1.31. BRIGHTON MUSIC HALL, 158 BRIGHTON AVE., ALLSTON. 7PM/18+/$15. CROSSROADSPRESENTS.COM