I had a carefree and forthright chat with Anya Jasmine a couple of weeks ago. This London-based, 20-year-old (!) extremely talented musician with a captivating voice is rocking Instagram with her easy-going reels and random unusual musical inspirations from found-objects-around-the-house videos that provided pleasant distraction during the lockdown. Anya shines through intellect, an old-soul understanding of music (balanced and future-oriented), and refreshing directness. As usual, this chat is marvelously conversational and weaves in and out of conventional lines – ok, more out than in. We begin with how Anya and I were in the middle of exchanging opinions on Instagram’s algorithm and how it led – indirectly and ironically – to our conversation. Enjoy the read.
FROM INSTAGRAM’S ALGORITHM TO A CONVERSATION
JS: Instagram’s algorithm seems very – how to define it – choosy? You try your best with what you have, and you can do it, and somehow, despite your best efforts, your content walks out the door.
Anya: Instagram does not allow for much flexibility and is annoying. So, I thought I should record almost every guitar performance or review and then push a little to get exposure. Still, there is no rhyme to it.
JS: I noticed a video series you made on your Instagram a while back. You took random objects and things in your household and turned them into unexpected and impressive tunes?
Anya: This was during my account’s early days and the UK lockdown. And that’s when I started truly getting into making music, and I guess I wanted to find more creativity in my posts. I wanted to be more creative myself. I was used to doing the same things and thought, “How can I think outside the box? Do something a bit different? People might like to see that.”
JS: You mentioned on Instagram that you were taking a break. Was it a lull in creativity or more studies and, therefore, less time?
Anya: It was more about taking a break from Spotify than making music. It has been challenging to try and manage time as well. Instagram posts can take anywhere from an hour to several hours. It is not just the audio, the music, then the video, but I also like to polish things quite a bit. I want to record the guitar, or two guitars, on my computer, produce a little bit, and then record the video. So rather than going directly to video, it is a more extensive process; there are four stages to that. I think it takes that combined with how much work I have at university – which, to be fair, is the same work to make music. I don’t know, we had so much work and so many things to complete, and that’s not just that but also written pieces and essays: everything piled up so much, and I could not keep up with it! It has been a good thing, though, because I think I didn’t have a massive audience on Spotify – my audience is on Instagram. It also gives me more room to figure out what style of music I’d like to release. It is not black and white because my music mixes rock, pop, and electronic music. It is hard to find actual references or a correct path that I can go down because there is not much to which I can compare.
JS: All of my conversations have been based on some random connection. It is crucial to find relatable or shared traits and interests and to make room for them, wherever, however, whenever, and whatever the reason. You are it today – you certainly deserve more exposure and not just from self-promotion.
Anya: Aww, thanks!
FROM FIRST MUSICAL STEPS TO ARTISTIC IDENTITY
JS: I am over 50, and I could be your mother or – gasp – even nan. Yet, I can relate to your music. People say, “You should like classical music?” I often respond cheekily, “I am old, not dead.” I grew up with everything under the sun, musically speaking. I enjoy Evanescence, Within Temptation, Metallica, symphonic rock, pop, house, and yes, even classical, traditional compositions. That said, it isn’t easy to reconnect people my age with today’s music evolution. Music is ageless. When did you figure out that music is the thing you wanted to do?
Anya: So, compared to other people who decided to study music (which is what I am doing now) early, I figured it out quite late. I guess I blame that on the persistent noise of people around me saying things like, “you can’t make money in that,” or “oh, it’s too difficult,” or “it’s too challenging,” or whatever. I didn’t feel like anyone directly turned me away from it, they hadn’t seen what I was able to do, and I wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t even tried. I must have been – when I started getting into music – probably around 14 or 15 when I joined the first band in school, sort of a school rock band. And then I thought, “Oh, I quite like this!”. I spent all of my lunch breaks and after school in the music department, experimenting with different instruments; they had basses, guitars, drums, and pianos – so they showed me things to play around with. I began to get curious about music and was inspired by the other band members; they were very talented. I wanted to learn bass, guitar, and drums! By the time I got into 11th grade, I had started a music production course, working with Logic [a digital audio workstation and MIDI sequencer software application for the macOS platform], and that’s when everything just clicked, and I was on it; I was charting music! I remember my classmates were struggling because I was reading the language on the computer, and I felt at ease. They asked me, “Anya, are you ok?” And I was like, “I don’t know! I don’t know what happened! I guess the piano lessons paid off!” It made sense to me! By the time I turned 17, I knew that I needed to go into music production. And now, I am going into my final year of university and will graduate with a music production degree. That’s the long story of how that happened.
JS: Indeed, people did! Did you start playing an instrument first or start singing first? Which one led to the other? Did it?
Anya: Technically, I started playing piano as the first instrument. My parents wanted me to have a go at learning an instrument in school, and I was very young, maybe about 6. I wasn’t very good and played with that teacher for 2 or 3 years. The teacher was strictly classical and didn’t spark massive interest in me because I couldn’t see that I could do more than just one thing by playing the piano. The next thing that came – I am not exaggerating, genuinely – was very, very out-of-tune singing. When my parents would go out, I would ask, “Can I try and sing?” I had always been a big music lover, especially when I was younger. I was into the whole pop stuff. I tried late 2000 and early 2010s pop music. It was pretty appalling! Seriously! I was trying to do some Ariana Grande stuff, and it was terrible; it was awful! I would get to a section that would sound pretty good and then go wrong. Yet I thought, “oh, but I can get it done!” I was also scared to sing because I had been around good singers. It was not until I joined that band eventually in school, when I was 15, that I said, “OK, I can try,” and I can actively sing now.
JS: So, did you decide to school your voice, or did your voice attune itself?
Anya: My voice just worked itself out. I have certainly improved on it, but I have not had lessons aside from a few sessions at university. I am not very good at the routine – I thought I’d go through the sets or play with a band rather than be strategic about it. I am not good at that, but I need to do more.
JS: You are part of a band called “Rapid Escape.” So is Anya the band, or is the band Anya?
Anya: Anya is in the band. The band is not a serious, “professional” thing – it is more of an everyday thing. I think we are doing it more out of a desire to be able to play. We do some originals, but most of what we do is covers of songs, just well-known things that people can dance to. There is not necessarily a leader (what an awful word). It’s more like a group of friends with whom I have good chemistry. We have fun and work hard, and I take it seriously in that sense. It’s genuinely more for passion than anything else. Plan A is that I would like to work hard, get myself out there, get exposure, and work independently as a content creator and artist. It is my dream, but it is so hard! I guess I’ll do my absolute best and see how it goes.
JS: However, it helps a little bit financially.
Anya: A little bit, though we do not gig massively. The band is consistently made of two people: the lead guitarist and I; we work and write together, and then we see how to work out the gigs. Currently, we are having a few hiccups. In our most recent outing, our regular drummer was replaced by his brother, who is 12 years old. It was crazy, honestly. But he held his own.
JS: Your ultimate dream is for you to be your own person?
Anya: The only reason I think I don’t see myself necessarily in a band in the future is the style I am trying to achieve. While we play, say, ZZ Top and Nirvana style, that’s not something I write in stylistically. Obviously, I like to play it, not necessarily work with it.
JS: What is your direction? What lights you up?
Anya: I have been going through different genres and beats. I want to use my voice and use the power of my voice, and that is often influenced by someone such as Amy Lee from Evanescence; she embodies that type of expression. That is the big feature. I also love to combine instruments, particularly piano and guitar, sometimes with distortion, occasionally clean. I love to merge those sounds with synthesizers and electronic instruments like drums, and that’s where the fusion of rock, pop, and electronic comes in. That is consistent throughout my music, and those genres are what I love. And speaking of lyrics and how I write them, they are usually quite metaphorical, and I like to make the chorus a little likable and catchier but not a monotone recount. I want to tell a story but not in black or white, and this is the big thing I do with my music. So, I would like the chorus to be more defined. Still, then I want to experiment a bit more between the lines, interpreting things in that way because that coloring outside the lines can be enjoyable in itself – like, say, having the gist in the chorus and then saying what’s going on metaphorically with the rest, sparking interest in people that are into the lyrics but not necessarily into the musical experience. I think it can be very relatable, which is a big part of the audience connecting with the music they are listening to.
FROM ARTISTIC IDENTITY TO THE FIRST ORIGINAL SONGS
JS: You have released four pieces that are yours. The first thing that stood out to me, which is funny, so forgive me: all your titles are one word. Is there intentionality in that, or is it just how it worked out?
Anya: I think it is just how it worked out! They are all quite linked, but I would like to do something like that, a sequence, a 4-5 song EP. I have an idea for an EP which maybe I will work on next year. We have to write or produce something like 50 minutes of music, so there is another opportunity to experiment. I’d imagine those projects will require some element of continuity or some link between the songs, and I think that will be my chance.
JS: Back to the songs you already wrote – and premising the fact that I did not dig deep into the details then because I would much rather have this type of conversation which comes naturally: you mentioned that one of the songs was written during a difficult period for you – I don’t remember its title.
Anya: I am trying to think of which one it would be… and I am not going to lie. I guess three out of the four came from a place of pain.
JS: Is it only sometimes the case, however? We end up writing or composing from strong emotions, i.e., pain? There are not many happy-go-lucky circumstances that spark our creative process. And when writing from the innermost places, we risk judgment and misunderstanding. In other words, we may be able to jot down a few lines and compose a rough sketch in 15 minutes – and then, an hour later, we think, “Meh, that’s not quite it,” right? I am trying to say here that regardless of what prompted that creative moment, we must polish it quite a bit before we can follow through and be proud of the final version. How does it work for you?
Anya: Yes, that emotion is needed. I need to have that as the initial spark for a perfect song. Because of the electronic nature of my music, I also work on the computer to access those elements. It is the beginning stage that I find most challenging. I will make a small creation, which might be just a few words or a combination of chords; sometimes it will have a melody, sometimes it won’t – it may be just some instrumental stuff; I may then add to it later. If I can access that emotion deeply, that spark will lead to something. I have reached a different level of creativity. Once I get it down like that, and I have some structure, even if rudimentary, then it doesn’t take massively long. A structure such as a chord sequence, some instruments, and some elements with the right sound does not necessarily need emotion to sustain the process. It’s the initial start and lyric writing which I find most challenging, but not necessarily in the wrong way – that’s the challenge. Once the challenge is done, it’s on the screen, and I can take it from there.
JS: It is relatively easy for the audience to relate to the music or like the beat or the lyrics. When I ask people, “what do you like about this song?” I get answers along the lines of “Oh, I don’t know, it just sounded cool,” or “I like the voice, but not the beat,” or “Without the drummer or that bass solo, it would be more pleasing.” It seems to nitpick versus a complete enjoyment of a piece, whether sung or instrumental. I think that when having that perception, most listeners do not truly listen to the intent and message contained in the entire play. I can listen to just about anything and be left with an indifferent feeling, meaning yes, it was pleasing to hear, but I can move on to something else. When I listen to you, and I am speaking about your original pieces, not covers, because those are always open to interpretation and do not give an accurate measure of your talent, I am left wanting to listen again and hear more – and that to me makes a powerful piece of music.
Anya: Thank you, I am happy to hear that.
JS: What I find fascinating in your music is your songwriting: your rhythm is unusual but highly pleasing. I like music that makes me think, and I don’t mean it in the relatable everyday context. You make me feel. You have four original tracks that you developed over time. At some point, I realized that you produced them yourself. I remember seeing one of your reels where you have a screen scroll of an incredible number of tracks in Logic – and it was pretty lengthy. How did you get into the production side of things?
Anya: That is an essential part for me. I think there are only particular kinds of music that are all live instruments over which you can have creative control, produce, and then master. Although creative control is within that, mixing and mastering have different dimensions. I think the main element in making music is just layering other instruments and experimenting with them. I produce the mix as I go, and I do it also in post at the end of the process, yet I prefer as I go. Many other producers work with electronic instruments, which have a considerable track count, work thru, and then post-produce. I guess I couldn’t leave the production to the end; it wouldn’t work for me. If I have that sound in my head, I can’t just leave it, you know? I don’t know that I am even consciously thinking when I am producing or making a track – if I am in the flow, I am not anywhere but there; I am inside my head very much. Leaving the entire mixing and production process to the end would be very bizarre. For example, just setting a simple delay time can change sound and the rhythm – so if you are not doing it while you are going or as you are getting the idea, you are changing the shape of what the final product will sound like. You are giving birth to the song along the way, you cannot just look at the result.
JS: Sure. It is akin to forgetting the “pregnancy” preceding the birth and finding oneself with the baby in hand, exclaiming, “oh, there you are!” as if you had gone without development.
Anya: Exactly! When you are pregnant, you are eating, going through prenatal care, you are taking care of your body and your mind, and you cannot just … This is the way I think about it: if you have an idea, get it out, go with it, as it is part of the process. That’s always been my process of making music. Back to the original question, I started writing music within Logic on my computer when I was about not even 15, and it was part of the examination in school. I probably worked on three or four Logic projects between 15 and 16, and it was not producing as much as it was writing. From there, I was nearly 17 when I took a music production course, and to be fair, most of what I did was from my own experience and applying myself. I think that gave me the spark, so many creative ideas, and what I could do with my skill. That’s how I started, and I think it was not until 2019 that I started actively writing music and producing in Logic. So, it’s been 3, 3-and-a-half years.
JS: I guess it must have felt a long time and no time at all at the same time?
Anya: I have to remind myself that it is not professional sounding and tell myself, “Anya, shut up; there are people that have been doing this for far longer.” Yeah, I have to keep myself in check, realize that there is a lot of work to do, keep things in perspective, and rein in my expectations.
JS: Overanalyzing, overthinking – if we were to focus on that, we would never get anything done. You said it had been three years, and you have learned many things. The point could be made, however, that there are people out there that have been doing this for ten, twenty, x years and still haven’t gotten it. I am not speaking in terms of technologically aided but as a process. Some cannot be bothered to spend more than strictly necessary in the studio and are relieved to put out something which does not reflect care or investment in time and skill. Pat yourself on the back for wanting to stick to the creative process and simultaneously produce a result that is thought through. Changing the subject for a second, you play live gigs with the band; what about Anya? Have you been able to go out on your own?
Anya: I want to do that, I want to be able to play live, but I haven’t gotten to that stage – yet. I have been consistently busy these last two years with my studies. I have even thought about gigging just in this last year due to the pandemic before then. I think I’ve been preferring to spend time right now focusing on getting more songs made and working on my sound. As I mentioned before because I am not in a specific genre, I have done a fusion of different things, and I am still trying to work that out. I am trying to get together a collection of music that represents me and what I am doing, and that sounds like me; it is polished. I am getting there. I have two tracks right now that have gone through various stages and are ready for production, and these are the first few tracks where I can say it honestly sounds like me, going back to the early days of experimentation. I want my root to be slightly less electronic, maybe more pop but beyond, even trying a little bit of rap. Not an auto-tuned rap sort of thing but more interesting. I don’t know how to explain it; something like your classic female strong rap, not in an auto-tuned way. Maybe a bit like Jessie J; it’s like popstar rapping but could work in various genres, anything with upbeat power. I am getting closer and closer to what I want now. Once I am there and have the song I am comfortable releasing, I will have a path to go and perform a bit more. I guess I am taking it to step by step; I am focusing on building the audience a little more.
JS: Certainly, there is – and has been frequently said – a unique synergy created in a live environment that allows instant criticism or feedback and maybe accelerates the in-depth cognitive process of enabling a gratifying understanding between artist and audience.
Anya: One of the things that maybe are in the way, and keeping in mind that my style is a combination of genres, is how to recreate that “live.” There are ways to go around that by having a backing track and me playing guitar or keys to that, and I could pull that off nicely. Yet you cannot do the same say in a stadium or at an open-mic event. These are just a few issues; then there’s also money and a cost. Just thinking about equipment, I have a few things I could use that would work quite well. But it isn’t easy and requires money and quite a bit of preparation, and it’s not the top of my priority. Another route would be to play sessions with a guitarist, a drummer, and a keyboardist, and some of the synth parts could be interfaced to render just as they do on the track. Again, though it may be cheaper and feasible, it requires preparation and practice to make it sound good.
JS: Aside from technical and financial elements, is it not fair to say that self-confidence and anxiety also come into play at some point?
Anya: Oh yeah. It is a challenge in itself. The whole thing is a bit of a challenge. I’d be nervous, but I think at the same time, I am pretty confident with my stage performance. The only thing I worry about if I can call it a worry, is to be able to have my voice perform as I intend it to. After all, the voice is a muscle and if I do keep on top of my regular practice, maintaining that level of control and ability is tough, it’s tough, I think.
JS: No doubt. I am reminded of a performance by Adele; it was an ITV special in front of celebrity friends last year when she had to stop after the first few notes of “Easy on me” because, and I quote Adele, “I’m shitting myself” when nerves got the better of her, she went off-pitch and felt the need to restart. That in itself requires a greater level of courage and self-confidence. You are in good company. Anya, I do not want to keep you for too long as you are busy, yet I am enjoying this conversation with you, so I’d like to continue for a bit.
Anya: Oh no, this is nice. I am happy having somebody willing to take an interest and ask questions that are not just the typical thing that is done, and I appreciate that a lot. It feels like a conversation, not a conventional interview, which is good.
JS: I would instead like to get to know the person behind the artist and then go through the list of the basic questions that are commonplace and, quite frankly, boring. I like to know what makes you tick, what ticks you off—speaking of, what does?
Anya: Oh gosh, are we speaking in general or music? Hmm, in terms of music, I think what really ticks me off, and I don’t know if this is just me or rude, is when I see an artist that is big and has so much exposure and so much money and promotion, but they do not seem to do anything themselves.
I am not saying that they are not doing their job, of course, and I am not talking about everyone but just a few; it feels like they have everything taken care of and all they need to do is perform on stage. And as soon as you hear some lyrics, you think, “what the hell? That is just garbage!”
I think people like it and listen because most people are not actively listening to the lyrics; they are probably just pulling out some words and phrases which they may find relatable. So even if it’s not written very well, and a whole team of people may have worked at it, and sometimes there is good music to go with it, it’s not coming from the power of the person that is getting all the fame for it.
I find it frustrating; I think it’s inauthentic. I think there ought to be more people out there, up in the charts, doing the whole creative process themselves, writing themselves, and producing themselves. People who come from independent backgrounds are not pushed through because of money. We need more actual musical talent. Don’t get me wrong; we have some fantastic people, but those few where you ask, “How did you even get there?”
JS: I am going to expand on that thought and share with you that I think along the lines of “How are you still there?” Aside from the fact that some have had access to financial means that most artists may not have, those who got where they have been enjoying continued success that is not necessarily born out of true talent. At the same time, a significant number of artists are not even given a chance. In previous interviews with musicians, the often unspoken but common trait is that music seems to be reduced to simply pressing “play.”
Anya: I totally agree. I think it is like that. It isn’t easy, and I imagine it is similar for many creative artists. The only way we open people’s eyes is to show that there is more to it, and some of us do. I think there needs to be a recognition, like this is the producer and mention their name. Those big-name artists need to do more about it – it’s not just centered on money and profit but authenticity. It is certainly easier for people to watch a video of a lovely, attractive song than it is to look at the faces of the producers, that are reasonably likely a bit zombie-ish in appearance. Still, it’s not their fault as they are working bloody hard.
JS: I have often said that what makes a better, more genuine, relatable relationship between an artist and its audience is availability on a human level. We are attracted more to an extemporaneous 15-second reel or video promoting a piece of music by having the artist running out the door muttering “I am late, but new song coming soon” than a trite advert that is impersonal. I am not saying artists should go to great lengths, but a small step would do.
View this post on Instagram
As it relates to you and your reel that caught my interest, I read through the comments left that you were being given grief for “down-picking” but not appreciated for the delicious riff.
Anya: That bit of the post was brutal. A good 80, 90% of people are part of my relatively small following that I do not know, and it is normal to be exposed to criticism and negative comments. I have adapted to shutting that side off because it is part of it, and I am not bothered by that type of comment. What does matter is that the post got loads of views and likes, and my count went up by quite a few followers. So, thank you, critics.
This “infamous” Instagram post by @anyajmusic on Instagram prompted our conversation! A mild chuckle here. Anya is talented, no doubt. This reel speaks to one of the many sides of Anya – fun, authentic, and determined. We will see and hear more of Anya in the future – of that, I am sure.
There may be a few surprises in the future (time and opportunities permitting) that may see us plotting a collab: her genius, my tired but willing brain. Stay tuned!