Anna B Savage for in|FLUX

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Anna B Savage for in|FLUX

Anna B Savage for in|FLUX

In the gray matter

April 10, 2023

Photography by Katie Sylvester
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Anna B Savage lets her guard down. After the release of his debut EP in 2015, Savage spent a meticulous six years worrying that he would never complete his debut album, only to receive the critical acclaim of 2021. General turn. Deeply personal and often devastating, General turn it had a haunting interior that beckoned listeners to lean in closer.

Her new record, in|FLUX, is just as intimately devastating as her debut LP – but with a new focus on the liminality and contradictory nature of being human. The title itself sounds transitional and intermediate. Savage has entered a new soundscape that plays with these ideas as well, combining haunting acoustic picking with playful electronic sounds and ethereal woodwinds.

“I feel like it’s really important to me, especially now, in the social media world we live in, to not be like, ‘This is right, this is wrong,'” Savage says of the record’s thematic undercurrent. “At the end of the day, we’re all human. We err, we are inconsistent, we are hypocritical; we are like all gray matter [in our brains]. We can hold two completely opposite things in our heads at the same time and think they are both true.

“The name for the record was there before a lot of the songs were finished,” Savage admits, “which was quite helpful because it meant I could really lean into that gray matter…. One of the things I’ve learned doing therapy is that gray matter is where most things exist. And that’s not bad. It is a process of constantly affirming to myself that I am allowed to be in this gray space. I am allowed to think about things that are from different fields that are not simple and perfectly formed next to each other.

The song “Pavlov’s Dog” exists in the gray space it speaks of, detailing an enigmatic romantic relationship that seems hard to fathom on first listen. “This song is both active and passive,” says Savage. “He’s confident and also kind of quiet; it’s kind of sexy and a little bitter at the same time. During the song, Savage takes on the voice of the dog, and the chorus portrays the iconic image: “I’m here/waiting/drooling.”

“[The dog] is trained and feels quite clinical, quite Machiavellian. But the dog gets treats, man. Those are good things,” she laughs. “There is a man and a dog in the experiment. There is obviously a balance of power. But in the song, the equivalent person has no voice. I am the voice.”

Since releasing music, Savage has explored female sexuality and passivity. “Pavlov’s Dog” and many other songs in|FLUX feels like the natural progression of this exploration from her past records: from shyness and insecurity to the melancholic ‘One’ of EPto the declaration of self-determination that is “Chelsea Hotel #3” by General turnto sublimation of many types of sexual experiences and their individual value on in|FLUX. The idea of ​​passivity is turned upside down as Savage takes control of her own experiences.

In that sense, what really defines Savage’s change in approach this time around is her willingness to open up. For the first time, she co-wrote songs with someone. “Pretty much my whole goal for this album was to make the process easier and more fun,” she says. “Because before, with General turn, I wrote it all myself, and it wasn’t until I got into the studio to record it that I was like, ‘Damn, this is so good. Here is someone else I can talk to and laugh with over lunch. I regularly described [the songwriting process] like pulling teeth because I felt it was so hard. I thought, “Well, if I want to make this my career and I find it’s a bit like pulling teeth and I find the performance absolutely terrifying and I really hate social media, then what the hell am I doing? If I don’t enjoy any aspect of it, what’s the point?’ So I was like, “Okay, I’ve got to try and enjoy doing…” And I did, damn it. I was scared to death because I booked studio time before I was ready.’

That leap of faith paid off, with Savage and musician/producer Mike Lindsay (of the bands Tunng and LUMP) creating most of the album’s tracks together in the studio. “It was a case of trusting yourself, which I found to be a very powerful thing. And I only realized it in retrospect.

There’s a moment on the record’s title track that feels like a precise distillation of the recording process: about three-quarters of the way through, a synth breakdown appears along with Savage’s backing vocals. She moves over the top, at one point letting out a series of primal, glam rock screams. It sounds improvised, spontaneous, almost like it was made for laughs only to be removed later. “That’s exactly what happened,” laughs Savage. “We were doing a take and I only did it because I had screwed up something in the take and I was kind of embarrassed. But I said to myself, “I’ll keep going.” Next time [Mike] played the song for me they were still there.

В|FLUX it feels like a release because it is. Despite the isolation of General turn still present often, Savage’s musical medium is bigger and bolder. “I just wanted to try something new. I’m not interested in regurgitating the same thing over and over,” says Savage. “Some people, after listening a lot General turn, would talk to me and say, ‘Oh, you’re kind of goofy and kind of silly and… kind of funny.’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I like to dance, too!'” she laughs. “I didn’t feel like I was able to express that on the first album. I wanted to be able to express more of the wide spectrum of who I am and what I’m interested in [on in|FLUX].”

By focusing on “gray matter,” Savage opened up his own world and allowed all the peculiarities and contradictions of being human to seep into it.

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