Music by VICE

Anamai is the Musical Equivalent of a Revolving Door

They may not be very good at explaining their music, but the Toronto-based band sure seem to have a lot of fun making it.

by Aaron Cunningham
May 25 2015, 2:15pm

Photo courtesy of Buzz Records

“One of the basic conceptual ideas of the project is formlessness” explains producer and guitarist for Anamai, David Psutka. Formlessness by its very nature is difficult to define but that's exactly what you hear in the band's music, choosing to focus more on atmosphere than traditional song structure. And it's because of that flexibility why its so hard to get a straight answer on who actually plays in the band. “Every time the band plays, I play and David plays 90 percent of the time. It's more like a pie chart or venn diagram,” says vocalist, Anna Mayberry. According to her, these changes stem from a playful desire to improvise, to be inspired by the uniqueness of each situation, because “rehearsing too much completely destroys all of that.” This much is evident when Mayberry describes one of their live shows. "We had a performance in collaboration with a dance collective that me and some of my dance friends started. And basically, David played modular synth while four of us did this dance improv where we lied on the floor and this really low bass drone came in and we made really weird noises with our mouths. It was probably the weirdest thing to ever happen in St. Catharines, sandwiched on every side by like indie bands and projections of the sky.”

Initially bringing along a bunch of vocal ideas and melodies, Mayberry approached Psutka to help her with production work. Eventually, the role of producer started to become the role of collaborator as Psutka started to sub in different instruments and switch out sounds which would become the template for their sound. And towards the end of recording Anamai naturally transitioned into more of a duo, releasing their first album Sallows in March through Buzz Records. But if you ask Mayberry, the duo title is better reserved for another band. "We have the spirit of a collective although we haven't anointed it as such," says Mayberry. Separately, the two have also released an impressive amount of projects. Psutka has gained international attention with his electronic project Egyptrixx. Egyptrixx recently released Transfer of Power on the record label he runs, Halocline Trance and will be touring that album this summer. He is also set to release his first album under a new moniker Ceramic TL, which he says he's been writing for a long time. "It’s based on the concept of physical sound, so there are some similarities to Egyptrixx but its more drone-y and formless," Psutka explains. "If the starting point for some bands are melodies or instruments, I think with Ceramic TL it's mostly about frequencies and spectrum of sound.” Mayberry, on the other hand also serves as vocalist for Toronto’s noisy rockers HSY who have a new album coming out soon and will be touring in the fall. And while the type of music they play outside of Anamai may differ, it's their blend of free-spirited compositions that keep Mayberry and Psutka interesting.

Noisey: How did you two meet?
Anna Mayberry: We met through a friend in Montreal. David was playing a show and we went to see him but missed him, and we hung out afterwards and ended up getting really drunk. We got kicked out of Les Foufounes because we were smoking a joint on the patio. It was just really rowdy and then we became friends after that. I don’t think we have ever gotten kicked out of a bar or anything close to that level since then.
David Psutka: Yeah it’s pretty uncharacteristic for us.

What’s your creative process?
Mayberry: We are at a point where that is kind of shifting a bit. I mean anytime you make something and put it out, it feels like things should change a bit before you make a new record. It’s pretty much I sing a lot, without any instruments and kind of create melodies and write words and then bring them to David and we work on the arrangements.
Psutka: Yeah the whole first record Anna [Mayberry] just worked on composition and I helped build them into songs and come up with the sound palettes and arrangements.

David, I was told you have a love of black metal, how does that affect your songwriting in Anamai?
I think black metal is such a weird term and I think we are kind of on the fourth generation of that now. And the black metal that I’m actually attached to is like so far beyond black metal; I like the kinda camp-ish goofy Scandinavian stuff, but I don’t feel connected to it like some of the newer music coming out. I think that the one of the structural ideas from black metal that I’ve always liked is the formlessness and an emphasis on the atmosphere as opposed to song structure or progression and that influences this project.
Mayberry: I would say that I also appreciate it in like a different way. Through playing in HSY and with members of the band being really into that type of music I realized it was the first genre that appealed to me that could be very macho. Just less about evil and more atmospheres.

Historically, the Canadian music industry hasn’t been very supportive of electronic or experimental artists, what would you change about the Canadian music industry?
That they would give me more grants.
Mayberry: Yeah they would stop giving all the money to artists who are already making lots of money and give it to people who have horrible day jobs.
Psutka: Or just give it all to us.
Mayberry: Or just to David.

Aaron Cunningham is a writer living in Toronto - @sinsmusik