Antony has one of the most powerful voices on the planet, and he’s on a first name basis with Lou Reed. On his new album he and Boy George do a duet and they refer to each other as sister without even a hint of irony. I had to know more.
ONLY: Were you caught in traffic?
Antony: Yeah, for a while.
ONLY: That’s a bummer.
A: Well it’s all good now. I’m actually just looking at your e-mails.
ONLY: Oh cool. So where were you coming from today?
A: We were coming from Pittsburgh. We did this gig at the Warhol Museum.
ONLY: That’s cool.
A: I’m just checking your magazine’s website. Only. It’s pretty. It’s very arty looking.
ONLY: Yeah we do our best.
A: Is it like a free weekly?
ONLY: Yeah it’s a free weekly.
A: For Vancouver?
ONLY: Yeah. Well Vancouver’s got a couple free weeklies going on here. I actually just moved here from New York in September.
A: Why’d you move there?
ONLY: Well my Mom’s from Vancouver… so you’ve been doing loads of gigs?
A: We’ve been doing a couple weeks of shows.
ONLY: Have they all been since the record came out?
A: Yeah the record came out in the beginning of the month.
ONLY: So the rest of The Johnsons aren’t along on this one?
A: The group is me and my friend Julia Kent, the cellist, and then Rob Moose is playing guitar, and then myself on piano.
ONLY: So this isn’t the same amazingly good looking group that you’ve played with before?
A: No they’re still really cute.
ONLY: I guess it’s not the most important part.
A: No it’s kinda one of the most important things. So yeah they’re both really gorgeous. They’re both definitely cuter than me.
ONLY: During what period of time were you writing the songs for the new album?
A: Well, through the nineties, but a couple of songs are much newer than that. They really span several years from different things, but mostly concentrated in the mid nineties.
ONLY: I think that it’s interesting that the album has come out now, just because, well… were you in New York this past summer?
A: Yeah I was here.
ONLY: I loved New York this summer. Everyone was just so sure that everything was gonna go right. Everyone knew that Bush was done, and that everything was gonna get better. And then it didn’t.
A: There were great things happening. It was a very exciting New York summer, and really just an exciting American summer. You had Devendra [Banhart] and Joanna [Newsome] and Vetiver on tour. That tour was so amazing! And you had certain people’s work coming more to the forefront. I just think that it’s definitely a good time right now in culture.
ONLY: Do you think that people like Devendra and Joanna getting so much positive attention from fans and the press is opening the doors for people like you?
A: I think that Devendra’s one of the reasons that people are listening to me. People like Lou have taken it upon themselves to get my music heard, and it’s been so that over the years it’s accumulated. And I think that at first people were wary, or just didn’t know how to approach my music. And I guess now people have just approached it, and they’re willing to come see me, see what it’s all about, and see if they’re interested in it. People just seem more open now than they were able to be a few years ago.
ONLY: Well you had the quote that hope and sincerity are the new punk, and in a way that’s becoming true. Popular music seems like it was so devoid of emotion for a good number of years, and now people are searching for something more meaningful.
A: Right. Well I think it’s something that you have to take on with your eyes wide open, you know?
A: Well cause it’s a heavy time right now! And so it’s like deep sea diving looking for something hopeful. So I think when I say it’s punk, I mean that I see the artists really seeking a sense of connection, and it’s also something that seems contemporary. I think it’s a really valuable contribution right now because people desperately need that. It’s an awakening thing. It’s a life-sustaining thing. And it’s very easy to get on the other side of that. There’s so much in dominant culture right now on television that is so deadening, not to mention socially, politically and environmentally. So when I say hope I don’t say it lightly. And the emotion is a good part of that, and the emotion is the beginning of that. For people to feel their feelings is relevant and valuable because it’s an awakening, it’s personal, it’s connective. And then above and beyond that looking out into the world, and how can something different be metabolized? Pushing towards something like that is what’s really exciting to me. And I think that’s something that someone like Devendra is doing in spades in a very intuitive way. He’s generating a sense of community, and a set of goals and values that are nurturing.
ONLY: For artists generally?
A: Well just for people interested. I just think it’s a good thing… I mean, we were just listening to Joanna’s CD on the way back from Pittsburgh and it just blows my fucking mind!
ONLY: Oh man it’s incredible! And there’s all this bad shit going on in the world and you just have to hate it, but its also so exciting since sour times always seem to produce the best art.
A: Yeah that’s true, but I think that the dialogue that’s really interesting to me right now is the question of whether or not people are going into denial in order to have a sense of inner life. People literally have to shut out a lot of aspects of culture and society, and just go back to something very local. And the question is what’s the value in that? Is there a reality to that that’s beneficial? Or could it somehow affect some sort of positive change?
ONLY: What do you think?
A: I think it’s a mixture of survival mechanisms, and also just that you have to start at home.
ONLY: That was the most shocking part of the election: that it wasn’t the international issues, but these issues coming from within that were so divisive.
A: Crazy! Insane stuff! Just driving through Pennsylvania. How many signs did we see about gospel and wrath?
ONLY: You’re so oblivious to it in New York.
A: It’s bizarre. People were just freaking me out in this really fundamentalist way… I just don’t remember it being this bad. And how can it be that America’s become a more fundamentalist country? But I think it’s true.
ONLY: Well in New York you sort of live in this bubble. I spent all my life in America, but all I ever really saw was New York.
A: Well, New York has always served as the final hub of reason, and it’s always been the one state that the rest of the union wanted to fall off into the ocean… So we’ll see what happens. I’m just happy that for the time being, there are these artists emerging, and they’re trying to affect change in one way or another.
Antony and the Johnsons play at The Red Room, 398 Richards, on Sunday, March 6, 2005 with the lovely P:ano