After two decades making music, Anna Vincent has only just begun to know herself. There have been an abundance of revelations along the way, of course, and as many achievements fronting acclaimed DIY outfits My Tiger My Timing and Heavy Heart, but it’s only since going solo that the south London singer-songwriter has found the clarity she now realises she had always been seeking.
“There’s something about growing up and getting older,” she muses softly, speaking from the living room of her home in east London. “You start to become aware of time, and of who you truly are, and how that’s not going to change. Now it’s all about embracing who I am, with all the limitations that that entails.”
Embracing these so-called weaknesses is a theme Anna returns to again and again on ‘Under The Glass’, the exquisite solo debut she recorded during lockdown with her boyfriend Max Bloom, formerly of Yuck. On ‘Thin Skin’ she revels in her own vulnerability, with a defiant refrain that proudly states, “I’m just a mess, and I always have been.” During ‘Love You Twice’ she applies that same tenderness to her lover, promising to provide more than enough love to neutralise his self-loathing. Throughout, there’s an emotional honesty at play that still feels far too rare, and which is doubly refreshing when you realise how hard-won these revelations have been.
By her own admission, Anna has always struggled with self-doubt. Growing up in New Cross and Peckham, music functioned as an escape from those insecurities. Raised on classic records by the Beatles, Bowie, The Buzzcocks and Iggy Pop, she naturally gravitated towards guitar after learning piano and clarinet, and taught herself the instrument from the age of 14. Soon after she began writing poetry, which gradually developed into songwriting, though she wasn’t confident enough to share the fruits of her labour until her early 20s.
Anna performed in local bands throughout her late teens, and a degree in Sound Design followed, through which she honed her production and recording skills. Upon completing her studies, she began pursuing music more seriously, forming post-punk outfit The Total Drop with a group of collaborators that included her brother James. It was the line-up from that project that formed the basis for My Tiger My Timing, the five-piece, new-wave pop outfit which she fronted, and that took its name from an Arthur Russell lyric. They played Glastonbury in 2011, and shared their debut album ‘Celeste’ a year later, which Anna produced alone, from scratch.
Her next band was dream-pop trio Heavy Heart, a self-described “bedroom project” with her brother and her then-partner Patrick Fitzroy. They released their 90s-inspired debut, ‘Keepsake’, in 2017, but went on indefinite hiatus shortly after following the dissolution of Anna and Patrick’s relationship. Anna spent the next few years in the touring line-ups of groups like Happyness and Ski Lift, until COVID decimated the live industry in early 2020.
“Like everybody, I was feeling scared about where everything was going to go,” Anna recalls of the period. “I assumed it was going to be a wasted year. But then I dug out some words I’d written, and thought maybe there’s something I can do with these.” It was this “loose poetry”, which she’d been moved to write in 2019 when she first fell in love with Max, that would prove the basis for ‘Under The Glass’, a record which finds Anna abandoning everything she previously believed about composition and starting afresh.
“My tendency in the past with songwriting has been to go to the laptop and produce as I was going along,” she explains. “But I’d been listening to a lot of late 60s and early 70s folk and folk-rock type stuff by Joni Mitchell, Simon and Garfunkel, John Martyn, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. And I’d really gotten into Wilco, Elliott Smith and Teenage Fanclub that last year. Because of that I just knew I wanted to challenge myself to write completely on guitar. It was like, don’t even touch your laptop until you can play and sing the whole song and it's fully-formed.”
Initially, Anna had no intention of sharing these songs with the wider world, but the support she received from Max gradually altered her perspective. “He was so positive about them,” she smiles. “He encouraged me to record them. So all the instruments were recorded here in this room, except for the drums which were done separately by Adam Gammage. And Max is such a brilliant producer and musician, he made the process really lovely; unhurried and quite natural. It wasn't like any record I've made before.”
That easy, relaxed atmosphere spills into the sound world of the record, be it the sun-kissed Americana of ‘Naxos’ or the breezy intimacy of ‘Halfway Through’, which builds gradually from its base of finger-picked guitar and gentle piano. Meanwhile the balmy jangle of ‘Nothing Wrong’ is redolent of ‘Halcyon Digest’-era Deerhunter. And that sonic directness is replicated in lyrics which find Anna diving deep into her relationship with Max. “I've written about love before, but it's been a lot more metaphorical and vague. With this album, it’s like this is what happened; this is the story. I've never been this honest before.”
On ‘Thin Skin’ this honesty manifests itself in the admission that she fears the outer world will negatively impact upon that harmony. The title track, meanwhile, tackles the fleeting nature of the human experience, and her own attempts to capture moments in song for posterity, as if pinning butterflies under glass. Conversely, it’s only in the making of this album that Anna has learned that the passing of time is something she no longer fears.
“In the past, I was very hung up on things that younger people are hung up on, like being cool and being seen or part of something. I've always been very much looking for the next thing, and disappointed with what I've got now. Now I feel like I've come full circle; I've gone back to being that 14 year old who just wanted to be in my bedroom all the time writing songs, not for any other reason other than the joy of doing it. Because, in the end, it's the records I’ve made that I'm proudest of in my life.”
And she’s right to be proud. If ‘Under The Glass’ proves anything, it’s that - for the first time in her life - Anna’s self-belief is finally in sync with her vast capabilities.
By Gemma Samways