Milton Keynes singer-songwriter Anna Hester is fast establishing herself in the folk scene. Fatea writer Nic Rigby caught up with her as she launches her new EP Towards Today.
Anna Hester’s first EP In the Meantime won a rave review from Fatea Magazine’s Paul Rawcliffe in 2014 who spoke of her “powerful and confident voice that positively booms out songs”. Since then she has gone from strength to strength, gigging around the country and producing a new CD with producer, the talented singer-songwriter in his own right Dan Wilde. I first of all asked her how she got into music?
“We always had a really musical household, not necessarily in the sense of my parents being musicians, but my mum would be singing in the kitchen,” she says. “My dad has a huge vinyl record collection. And so we'd have a lot of family gatherings with my aunts and uncles and cousins. “And we'd dance around the living room to The Beatles and The Monkees and Dolly Parton and that kind of thing.” Anna started singing when she was young and her home always contained a piano. “There are some great films of me playing the piano before I ever had a lesson, just bashing it in time to the nursery rhymes,” she says.
“I think maybe recorder was the first instrument I played when I was about eight. “People always assume the recorder's a pretty horrible instrument, but we played beautiful stuff with descant, tenor, bass recorders in a group. “And it was a good way to learn a bit of, I suppose, modest musicianship. But then choirs were my real first love. So I think around the age of eight I joined a big choir, and I also started piano lessons. So that's when it really kicked off.”
When she was about 12 she also started learning the guitar.
“I think because I was writing songs a lot, and my parents bought me one for Christmas, a complete surprise. “But they just knew that a lot of the people I admired played guitar, like Thea Gilmore.”
Even as a child Anna loved writing songs. “I think my earliest memory is writing one when I was about nine,” she says. “I can still remember it, actually. And I had it in my head: ‘Oh, this would be a really good pop song for Britney Spears or someone.’ “But then I started writing stuff a bit more seriously when I was about 13 or 14, yeah. Then we had to write things for school projects. And then I started to collaborate with friends and joined my first band when I was 15.” Her first EP was an impressive debut in 2014, I asked Anna how the new EP, out this month (November) differed? “I'd like to think that the new EP is consistent. If you've heard the first one and you like it, then I think you'd like this one, too,” she says. “But in the last few years my voice has matured. My writing has matured. And I've just taken my time over this one, because I'm more experienced in how to navigate the studio and how to work with other people and that kind of thing.
“So I think the arrangements are richer. There's perhaps more thought gone into each aspect of it… “There was a lot more spontaneous throwing stuff together with the first one, which I think gives it a real vibrancy and energy. But there's a real considered quality to this, I hope. “I'm working with Dan Wilde. It's been brilliant because I just didn't think I'd ever want to work with a producer because I'm very particular about what I like. I like to do everything myself. I like to arrange and produce and make decisions. “But luckily I'd gotten to know Dan, seen him perform. He'd seen me perform. And I just really trust him as a songwriter. “So it's a real revelation to me when he said: ‘Oh, why not try that chord?’ or ‘Why not try this instrument in the mix?’ “But I often agreed. And when I didn't agree, he also handles that very well. And I think you get some people who, I don't know, have too much ego or something. “So yeah, that's been lovely, too, to have another voice in the mix and a really experienced musician influencing what I'm doing.”
Anna has been gigging to promote her EP, but is also looking forward to her first album. “I started this thing called the Postcard Project, where I write songs about postcards, often just the image but then sometimes the message on the back,” she says. “So ideally I like people to send me postcards. I set up a PO box for that thing.
“So I've probably already got about 10. So I'd really like for my next project to be an album and to have something to do with postcards and, perhaps, keep building up. Perhaps write 30 songs and then choose the best? I think that's what the best writers do often, write too much. So I'd like to move onto it quickly. I also want it to be ready when it's ready, if you know what I mean.”