Time Spent With: Anabel EnglundBy William Ralston
After signing her solo record deal with Three Six Zero just this week, About Time finds out that there is a lot more to Anabel Englund than meets the eye.
“The ﬁt blonde bird?” said my fellow festival-goer as we stood there in pouring rain, partaking in the standard small talk compulsory for all males when situated side by side for any prolonged period of time. A painful reﬂection of the current state of the electronic dance music culture this comment most certainly is, but it is also a saddening, shallow description of Anabel Englund, the acclaimed singer/song-writer and wonderfully talented female vocalist of electronic super-group Hot Natured.
Arriving at the most easterly region of London for the interview, I was excited to meet Anabel. Following her on Twitter and witnessing her regular Instagram updates, it would be almost impossible for any grown male not to be. By anyone’s measure, Anabel is breathtakingly beautiful – the possessor of a model-like ﬁgure and warm, inviting green eyes – and she also appears highly expressive and free-spirited, two fundamental personality traits which make interviewing a genuine pleasure.
We meet Anabel in her make-up room, an area where she is hidden and protected from the wider world, a room where she is not continually being judged by the public at large. Her manager, Justin Goldberg – a steely chap with a wonderful sense of humour – has been delayed in Ibiza, and so all arrangements are made through Anabel directly. Highly welcoming from the very moment we enter, she invites us all to her Nandos – ‘It’s so fucking spicy,’ she jokes as she rubs ice cubes on her lips – and she asks her team to ‘Keep. It. Down,’ before turning to us, giggling like a naughty schoolgirl. ‘Honestly, I am not really this bitchy, but can these bitches just get out of the room,’ she jokes before giggling mischievously once again.
In between the never-ending interruptions by costume designers and make-up artists, we are lucky enough to witness a rare snap shot of the person beneath the public image – the genuine Anabel Englund, if you like. She is highly expressive, cheeky – but professional – and highly passionate about her career as a music artist. Our conversations together reveal a different, softer side to her character, reflective of an individual so far away from provocative temptress that has showcased herself across the globe ever since she met electronic producers Lee Foss and Jamie Jones at a 2011 gig in Los Angeles.
‘I went to go and see them [Lee and Jamie] perform because I loved them,’ she says. ‘Apparently a friend knew them and introduced me. We ended up recording ‘Electricity’ in Lee’s kitchen just a week later.’
From that very moment, Englund has been thrust into the electronic music scene, going on to provide her songwriting and vocal talents on highly-acclaimed tracks, ‘Reverse Skydiving,’ ‘Mercury Rising,’ and ‘Emerald City.’ She, too, grew to become the highly-recognisable face of the band – a great attraction in her own right. Hot Natured live sets became as much about the performance as it did their music, as much about watching Englund parade around provocatively in a leather cat-suit as it was about the smooth house beats.
‘[To begin with] there was a unanimous decision [amongst Lee and Jamie] that I wouldn’t be in the band [Hot Natured],’ she says. ‘But the more and more shows we played, they were asking me to go to go on tour with them to Australia and around Europe. It has been crazy to get used to. It is such a roller coaster with different time zones, venues and different audiences – everything it up and down. But I honestly wouldn’t trade it for the world.’
As discussions continue, I am struck by a great depth to Englund’s character. She expresses a profound love for places where there is ‘a really clean, beautiful ocean,’ before reminiscing about her times in Ecuador – ‘there are just lots of happy dogs running around everywhere,’ she says. Quizzed on her musical preferences, she notably shows an immediate love for old rock and roll over anything electronic – ‘I like music that make you feel and want to dance,’ she says. ‘Fleetwood Mac is amazing, and I love Led Zepplin, she adds. ‘I like hip hop, I like house music. I like it all,’ she adds.
Highly considerate at all times – Are they [her friends] being too loud?’ she continually asks – it quickly comes apparent that Englund’s on stage character is just a facade, a self-created alter-ego fueled by a Hollywood upbringing, a manufactured persona into which she has grown over time as she adapts to the surreal surroundings in which she ﬁnds herself. And people today expect this of her, and this is what she gives, but somewhere behind the make-up, the leather catsuits and the exaggerated self-expression lies a vulnerable, playful young girl who is victim of all the same doubts and fears that plague us all.
Asked what she does when she is not on tour or in the studio, ‘I just hide,’ she says. ‘I just stay in bed, eat as healthy as I can,’ she adds. ‘You know, I am working with people who are at least 13 years older than I am, and it gets pretty hard,’ she says with a sense of wonderful honesty. ‘My girls are over here [in London], and that is why I am so happy to be here. But when I want to contact my best friends in Los Angeles to say I am really depressed, they just cannot relate. They are like, ‘Why are you depressed, you’re in Paris?’ It’s hard for them to understand.’
Watching Anabel perform, or even viewing her activity on social media, it is so easy to forget the girl behind it all – Englund’s persona makes this vulnerability almost impossible to comprehend. Her grandmother – Academy-Award winning ﬁlm star, Cloris Leachman – always taught her that ‘being shy limits yourself,’ she says. And this penchant for self-expression and the growth of social media in the modern age has seen Anabel develop an incredible global following, all tuning in to either bask at her beauty or draw inspiration from her liberal, care-free, expressive nature. As much as her performances have seen her become the girl all boys want to be with, her expressive attitude has seen her become the girl all girls want to be.
But this, according to Englund, comes with a responsibility. ‘There are times where you have to keep the pop story,’ she says. ‘Social media these days is all about now, now, now. It is all about instant gratiﬁcation. It is an outlet. I am not going to be one of those girls tweeting about how she had a bad day. We all have those days but I understand I have a role to play. Even if you’re not having a good day, social media isn’t necessarily an outlet for it; you shouldn’t fucking say anything, you know?’
Thirty minutes later, I wrap up my questions and close my laptop. We all stand up, exchange pleasantries and a little small talk before taking some photos together. I express my sincere appreciation for her time, a sentiment which she quickly reciprocates, before we make our way outside and back into the big, wide world. And then, like a switch, it changes.
Within moments, Englund is swarmed by her team, one of whom brings over outﬁt suggestions – including a gas-mask and leather trousers. She is pulled in every different direction by a multitude of people, many of whom are present for little other reason than to ride Englund’s wave with her. Of the 60 people authorised backstage, I question whether there were more than ten with any sort of genuine purpose. In the blink of an eye, the vulnerable, playful young girl from inside the trailer has been visibly manipulated by the highly charged, demanding environment that is electronic music, as she provocatively poses for pictures, ﬂirting incessantly with the fortunate few who have been granted access, slipping effortlessly into the public Anabel England, a version so drastically different to the one that I found chomping a Nandos in her make-up room.
The transformation becomes even more acute as she presents herself on stage in leather trousers and a pretty, if not revealing, turquoise top. Her vocals, as expected, are spine-tingling beautiful, but the way she takes control of the crowd is simply spectacular. Spreading her legs, grinding the microphone poll and, at one stage, spanking her own arse after offering hugs to the expectant crowd just below, Englund is a natural performance artist, of that there is little doubt. Situated side stage, never have I ever witnessed so many cameras during one set of music, a point exaggerated only further when an alternative female vocalist momentarily graces the stage to few, if any camera phones at all.
Digging deeper, it becomes apparent that this on-stage persona – the crowd-pleaser – is just a simple vehicle of self-expression for a young girl with a highly-expressive nature. ‘It [her on stage persona] is not necessarily me,’ she says after some thought. ‘It is a way for me to express myself in a way that I can’t do in everyday life,’ she adds. ‘Even though it is provocative, everyone has that side to them.’
‘My other artists often ask whether I expect them to behave like Anabel,’ says her manager, ‘But I must always clarify that Anabel does it because she wants to, not because she is told to,’ he adds. ‘Nobody tells Anabel how to be Anabel – she is her own creative force and she is responsible for every lyric and image. She has the visual instinct of an Annie Liebovitz and the songwriting instinct of Madonna.’ He goes on to describe how ‘everyone’s jaws dropped’ when she once walked into a restaurant to perform wearing a see-through sequin dress and black underwear.‘It was absolutely incredible,’ he recalls. ‘It’s wonderfully shocking to some people, but it is deeper than that. Anabel understands how people think about sex, especially men, and there is an artful precision and purpose to her sexuality,’ he explains.
But while this side of Englund will always exist, it must be recognised that the public perception of Anabel Englund – ‘the ﬁt blonde bird’ – is only the speck on the shorts something far, far bigger. And this bigger thing to which a refer is an intelligent, highly talented, emotional songwriter with roots that lay outside of electronic music. As I make eye contact with her at one point during her set, I can almost feel a sense of unease deep within, a ﬁnely- tuned mutual acknowledgment between the both of us that there is so much more to her than meets the eye.
Englund is an analogue girl in a digital world – a natural performer whose talents don’t tend to reveal themselves until she is stripped back to the core, deep behind the make-up and styling and without the unnecessary distractions of bikinis and baselines. Prior to working with Hot Natured, she had already signed deals with the ABC Family to write theme songs for television shows, and her underground solo music catalogue to date includes a number of chillingly beautiful songs which are so genre-removed from Hot Natured that you could easily be fooled into believing it was a different Anabel Englund altogether
Having recently put pen to paper on her own recording contract, with Three Six Zero – the company behind such artists as Deadmau5, Nero and Calvin Harris – Englund’s immediate focus now lies with developing her catalogue and releasing a solo album. Asked about these plans in the interview, Englund’s eyes light up. It becomes glaringly clear that this is where the real passion lies – for now, at least. ‘Yes, it is something I am working on now,’ she says, ‘I have like 20 songs, all piano, ukelele, guitar that I have written myself. I just need to ﬁnd the right approach so that the music is just right,’ she adds.
Signing a record deal is a big step in any young artist’s career, but for Englund it particularly important. It is a path out of the electronic music scene, a exit from a genre where her undeniable artistsic talents are easily overlooked in favour of those more aesthetically pleasing ones, and a key stepping stone to a future as a solo artist where she can begin to express herself naturally as the wonderfully talented singer/song writer that she is.
Exciting times lay ahead for Englund and her team. Make no mistake – her music career to date has been an invaluable platform in the launch of her solo career, but Englund has worked hard to earn her musical independence. It must not be forgotten that she has also recently started working with Marc Kinchen (MK) and Lee Foss in another electro-house group ‘Pleasure State,’ something which she is keen to pursue further as a side-project to her solo work. ‘That [guitar/piano] music is what I did at the beginning, but it is much more fun to perform dance music,’ she says. ‘Maybe I can do a little bit of both. It doesn’t have to be one or the other.’
But the real work starts now – or next week, when Englund returns to Los Angeles. The door is finally open for this wonderful 21 year old to return to her roots and show the world what she can really do. It will, no doubt, take some time for both Englund herself and her fans to adjust to the stripped back, raw acoustic sound so present in her solo work, but having had the opportunity to listen to the progress so far, it will be the most pleasant of surprises.
‘A song can have two lines in the entire song, but those two lines could be the difference in your life,’ she says in reference her musical inspirations. Sat at home, listening to her collection whilst trying to portray Englund as accurately as possible, I hear the lines ‘But I have to go now and be with me.’
Chillingly ironic, I think.
But very exciting.
Words by William Ralston (@RalstonWilliam9)
Assistance provided by Thomas McKelvey
Photography by Gabriela Jones and Stuart McClay