A Triste Daughter Site - Anna Kashfi

For the last half decade or so Manchester's music scene has been enhanced by the ethereal, yet deeply heart-felt, meditations on life of Anna Kashfi. Often lazily lumped in with other members of the city's Americana scene, the band's musical roots are more easily traced back to the quieter excursions of drone-rockers such as late-period Velvets, JAMC and Mazzy Star, than Gram Parsons, although country and world music textures are often woven into their sound. The core members of the band, Siân Webley and James Youngjohns, have recently been joined by Peter Martin and Sarah Kemp for live work and the recording of their debut album.
"Refined and sensitive to melancholy drifts of mood, Anna Kashfi songs are tender and softly beguiling with dark undercurrents. Singer Siân Webley is a real sweetheart, even when troubled by vague pre-sentiments of doom. Highly impressive."
Metro Northwest

"The sparse, acoustic tenderness across the six tracks [of Philokalia] ooze class and taste, Webley’s voice casting a seductive spell, controlled menace bubbling under the surface. Youngjohn’s accompaniment is suitably assured, built around an acoustic guitar framework with florishes of harmonica and keys."
Comes With A Smile

"In a word: irresistible."
City Life

"Anna Kashfi are probably one of the best, most understated and unfortunately still least well known americana bands in the UK at
the moment."


The Triste Interview - Anna Kashfi

Triste: If you flick through your various press reviews the critics struggle to really pin you down. They invoke comparisons with the usual people such as Mazzy Star, Sparklehorse and Kristen Hersch, but also throw in people, you wouldn't expect, like Suzanne Vega and Jewel - or they use the usual adjectives, dreamy, lush, melodic, dark to describe your music (or rather "soundscapes" or "washes of sound" in journalistic jargon). How would you describe your music to someone who's stumbled across this interview by chance?

Siân Webley: Describing music is as hard as trying to explain a peach to a child who has never tasted fruit. I'm always flattered by comparisons to people I admire. But if you like your mood to be influenced by the music you listen to and if sad songs make you happy, then we could be your band.

James: I'm happy enough to let other people do the descriptions. I don't think I own a Suzanne Vega or a Jewel album, but if people can see similarities that's fine - I couldn't really comment. Mazzy Star and Sparklehorse were big influences in terms of early direction. Personally I can hear elements of Spiritualized, Jesus & Mary Chain, Nick Cave, earlier stuff like Nico, Neil Young, and Dylan in what we do

Triste: Did you know Siân pre-Anna Kashfi? If not, how did you get together?

James: I've known Siân since the early nineties. We were originally in an indie band together, after that fell through we carried on writing and it eventually evolved into Anna Kashfi.

Siân: I consider James to be a long-standing and true friend. He's talked me down from many-a-roof over the years and I've talked him down from the odd one or two as well. Our writing relationship works well because we understand each other. If we didn't have Anna Kashfi together I'd still enjoy going round to his place for a beer.

Triste: How different was the music you were doing with the indie band compared to Anna Kashfi?

Siân: We wanted to be the Jesus and Mary Chain! So we were trying for a gnarlier, grungier sound than we have now.

Triste: And were you even close?

Siân: Yeah, I think so. Sort of a folkier, acoustic version though.

Triste: So when you came to form Anna Kashfi why did you name the band after Brando's first wife? Was it the fact she was a Cardiff actress who was a fantasist whose imaginary history convinced the most iconic film actor of his generation that appealed to you?

Siân: Or was she? And did she? I personally believe her story and I think that Marlon Brando knew the truth too. But whichever way you look at her, she must have had something special to have captured a lion.

Triste: So you're not going to give me a straight answer to this, are you?

Siân: No! (laughing)

Triste: Some of the earliest songs copyrighted from 1998 seem to capture that inimitable Anna Kashfi vibe straight away. Did you have definite ideas from the start on how you wanted the band to sound and the lyrical subject matter you wanted to comment on?

Siân: We really did want to be the Jesus & Mary Chain. We both loved them and were so impressed with Psychocandy. We were influenced by the sound they produced, but the lyrical subject matter has always been very personal to me and concerns my life.

Triste: So James, how do you about writing the songs with Siân? Are they done in the same room - early Lennon-McCartney style - or do you present Siân with the music already completed to add her lyrics?

James: Depends on the song, but usually Siân writes lyrics as pieces of poetry and I write musical sequences that can be developed into backing tracks. Some songs - such as "Three Wise Men" on "Philokalia" - had virtually complete backing tracks before Siân's heard any of it, others - such as the two new songs - will be just be rough ideas on the guitar. Siân usually writes her own melodies, I don't interfere with the lyrics beyond occasionally making suggestions to make them more concise. Siân and I have the same natural sense of rhythm and phrasing, so it's not difficult to match up the two halves.

Triste: How much input does Siân have into the arrangements of the songs?

James: Each band member works out their main part for the track, after which I tinker with them and try various different ideas to flesh out the song for the record.

Siân: James occasionally makes suggestions about lyrics but I don't listen, in much the same way that I occasionally make suggestions about a guitar note and James doesn't listen to me. I suppose it's rather like how I imagine many marriages survive

Triste: How often do you draw from life when writing songs?

Siân: Umm... all the time. I jokingly said at a recent gig that all my songs - all our Anna Kashfi songs - are about ME! It got a laugh, cos it's true? Even the ones that have literary references are about my perspective on life. If you read something that resonates, it's usually confirming something.

Triste: You mention that several of your songs contain literary references. Do you find yourself inspired to write by good books?

Siân: Not so much now. When I was younger... but yeah, I suppose you read something and it contains what is a great idea, so you're off then. Equally, you read something rubbish and you think "Why did I waste minutes of my life reading you?" and you're off as well then.

Triste: While we're talking about songs, in the song "About A Boy", who is the Nick-Drake style, dead boy "icon for English bands"?

Siân: I don't want to be too precious ... but I'm not saying too much. But you're in the right ball park.

Triste: In the album "Philokalia" were you thinking of the Salinger novel or the "Jesus Prayer" that lies beneath it?

Siân: We were fascinated at that time by the pursuit of true, pure love through the power of prayer. And I think every song we write is a form of hymn being offered up to the great cosmos. My Dad, who died recently, is currently umpiring that cosmos, trying to introduce fair play... I'm thinking of writing a song in tribute to my Dad. Something along the lines of "The Umpire Strikes Back".

Triste: Most of the songs are recorded at your home studio. Does this give you the freedom to experiment with the arrangements that wouldn't necessarily be the case in the studio, with a clock ticking money away?

James: The advantage to using our own setup is the time available to learn how to get the best out of the setup, so it suits us better this way.

Triste: Are the songs always complete when you get to record them or are you changing lyrics until the last possible moment?

Siân: The songs are complete, but if I'm overtaken by events in my life, I might change certain lyrics to make me laugh in an ironic way, like this - ha!

Triste: How difficult is it to put the songs over in a live context? I suppose the expansion of the group to include Peter and Sarah must have helped?

James: It seems to work well enough with just four of us - it's just a different way of presenting the songs.

Triste: But it must help with the arrangements. With only one guitarist you're only sketching what's on the records. Okay, sometimes, that's all that's needed (e.g. Something like "Broken Woman") - but a lot of the time there's a lot more going on. "About A Boy" has James playing six instruments, and there are others.

Siân: Well, I think of it like this. Our songs are written by James and myself in sometimes a quite intense and intimate (by that I mean in a closed off self-absorbed) kind of way. If those songs can work in a very pared down level, then they can get a whole new feel by the involvement of Peter and Sarah, who are both accomplished musicians who have distinct ideas about how things should sound too.

Triste: On a practical level - you've played a few gigs to standing audiences waiting to see the headline act who have often been Americana acts. How difficult is it to win over these audiences when your set is essentially comprised of torch ballads?

James: Ironically the worst audiences we've had recently have been at headline gigs outside Manchester. The problem with our sort of music is that if you have just two people carrying on oblivious to us it's very noticeable, but that said on the whole I think we're given a fairly generous hearing by the Americana crowd.

Triste: Personally, I admire the off-hand and flippant way you address the audience and demystify the separation of stage performer and audience. Do you think this sometimes disorients the audience who come to the show with their own set of expectations?

Siân: I think there are a lot of people within an audience who are frustrated performers. I think heckling is the most overt form; studiously ignoring a band or performer is another more covert way. Personally, I'd like to connect with an audience - obviously I like the traditional format whereby I perform and the audience claps or cheers, that's great - but if you feel you've got something to say then go and write a song about it and then get up on stage and perform it. It does take great, clanking bollocks of brass to get up in front of a crowd and reveal things about yourself. I defy anyone to not get slightly anxious or suffer from massive stage fright when they do that. But you're right, there are certain expectations and you don't always have to meet them, why should you? Essentially, I'm there to entertain and I don't think I've ever reneged on that aspect of the deal.

Triste: I believe that you've recorded some new material. Is this different in style to your previous work? Is there a progression?

James: Our next release is a 7" out on Stolen Wine Records at the end of May 2004 (Lakeside Call b/w Whitworth Park), which along with the Matt Hill cover we did last year is the only material released so far with the full band playing. We're about two thirds of the way through an album with the new line-up.

Siân: I think we have a very distinctive sound which is all Anna Kashfi's own, but in answer to your question, it's different to previous work in that it has a fuller richer sound on many of the tracks - aided in no small part by Peter and Sarah - but it's still stamped with the Anna Kashfi trademark of "dreamy, lush, melodic, dark soundscapes". Only new, improved and better!

Triste: And any more plans for the rest of 2004?

James: The single and a few gigs in May, after that, finish the album hopefully for release before the end of the year.

Interviewed by Steve Wilcock

Live Gigs & News - Anna Kashfi


The latest gigs lined up are:
20th May - Matt & Phred's, Manchester
23rd May - Lescar, Sheffield


Anna Kashfi release a 7" single "Lakeside Call"/"Whitworth Park" on May 24th on Stolenwine records. More details can be found at www.stolenwine.co.uk


Page last updated 19/5/04