Monday, December 27, 2004

Interview: Anggun

A phone interview and a very generous editor at Pulp magazine = one of the best interviews I have ever had the chance to conduct. It's interviews like this that make me miss the days when I did a lot of freelance work covering the music scene. I'm replubishing this PULP piece here because... well... cos I can. ;)

Circa: 2002

The Indonesian orchid continues to bloom in France. If there is anything we’ve learned about Anggun it is this – she is intensely private. Even after releasing “Snow on the Sahara”, her first English language album, she continues to live behind a perfumed cloud of mystery. Ask her about her thoughts on music and she will talk for hours. Anything about her private life however, is taboo. At best, she is candid about her prized possession – a pillow she calls a “guling” that travels with her wherever she goes. But that hasn’t kept anyone from trying to breach her censor board.

Three years later, the release of Chrysalis and a phone call from France gives us another chance.

Kage: Hi.
Anggun: Hello. Sorry if I sound like I am talking with my nose. I catch a cold. I am not used to wearing turtlenecks and clothes for cold weather. I like to wear sandals. Things like that. I am Asian!

Kage : Do you feel the need to be a representative of Asian artists?
Anggun: No actually but whether I like it or not, I will be. The fact is there aren’t a lot of Asian artists in the European and American scene. I try to do my best but I don’t want to be alone in the scene anymore. Coco Lee is starting but you can still count on one hand who has. Lea Salonga with Broadway. But that is like a different kind of music too.

Kage: In what way is this new album different from the last one?
Anggun: Musically I think, technically speaking, it has less world music. You know how on Snow on the Sahara I had a lot of Indonesian instruments? In Chrysalis, I toned down the ethnic part. I don’t want to give a reason that just because I’m Indonesian that I have to put Indonesian music. It’s still very Indonesian since I wrote every song. The ideas, the point of view… I’m Indonesian so I don’t think we have to underline that again by putting the music. Now it is a subtle approach.

Kage : Do you find that taking your time to record makes for better quality albums?
Anggun: Well it gives me more satisfaction. I don’t know about quality. That’s subjective. I like to take my time. No rush. I like to make sure that everything is in place. I have to be 1000% (yes a thousand, not a hundred) convinced that it is good. My name is on it. I am the artist. So if it is not good then it reflects on me.

Kage : What was it like to co-write all the songs in Chrysalis?
Anggun: I like that I have artistic control. I am my best enemy and harshest critic. Which is bad in a sense because I am never satisfied. Then again, an artist is never satisfied. (It is) Good motivation to push yourself. I like being unsatisfied.

Kage : With music or in general?
Anggun: In general but mostly music. When you are unsatisfied you keep reaching for more.

Kage: Why the title?
Anggun: I like the idea of a creature inside a chrysalis. That you do not know what is inside. Maybe it will be a red and blue butterfly. Maybe a yellow one. I like the idea of how this creature starts as a worm then in the chrysalis, it becomes a butterfly. I like the before rather than after. The mystery. If you don’t believe in reincarnation at least believe in this… the transformation, becoming something else.

Kage : Are you transforming?
Anggun: I can see myself evolving, transforming. You should feed yourself with different experiences to make yourself more aware. Travel to different places. Be open to new experiences. I know that I have not done a lot or seen a lot so I have a long way to go. But I am aware of that.

Kage : Were there songs that didn’t make it to the album?
Anggun: A lot. I don’t know if I will use them for something else. Or put them in another album. For me writing songs is like freezing time. This is what happened to me at this time. A snapshot. For me, it has to be personal. I want to make sure that I deliver the right emotion. That the message gets through. But that doesn’t mean that I wont be able to sing past songs with the same emotion because I went through the experience and I recorded the song already. But I cant put an old song to a new album.

Kage : Does the need to sell your music dilute its quality? In other words, do you think about the commercial aspect when you are recording?
Anggun: I don’t actually but my producer does. Show & business. I deal with the show part, they deal with the business. It is teamwork. The good part is knowing that you have a good team with you. It’s a good start.

Kage: Is life easier now that you’ve successfully broken into the international scene or is life more complicated?
Anggun: Not complicated. Just less and less time for myself. But this is something that has been my life. I grew up doing shows, traveling, having interviews. I like that. This is my life. Whenever I am on tour, I give and I receive so much from the public so I don’t feel tired. It’s dangerous to your health if you aren’t careful. Oh excuse me.

(A dog starts to bark in the background. Anggun comes back after saying something I don’t understand.)

Anggun: That was my dog.

Kage: What kind of dog is she?
Anggun: A german sheperd. She doesn’t like other dogs but she likes people.

Kage: Do you speak to her in Indonesian or French?
Anggun: She was trained here so I speak to her in French if I want her to understand me. When I play with her, I speak in Indonesian. Baby talk.

Kage: You’ve been likened to Annie Lenox and Sade… any thoughts on that?
Anggun: I think that it’s a huge compliment. I think that its normal that at the beginning people tend to compare you to other artists because it takes such an effort to be recognized for yourself at the start. But yes, it is a huge compliment to be compared to them. They are artists that I really respect. I love Sade.

Kage: What risks have you taken lately?
Anggun: Changing teams. Willingness to work with new people. Breaking the security of the past.

Kage: What was the last cd you bought for yourself?
Anggun: I bought an album by this band called Clawfinger. It’s a Swedish rock band. A good album. I like to discover new things. There is this Italian band that is amazing. Quinto Rigo It’s a traditional quartet that does rock. Amazing but they are not very popular outside Italy. Maybe it is not commercial enough. But does it have to be like that? Good music is not measured in how many albums you make.

Kage: What question have you always wanted to be asked but never have? That way I can ask it now and we’ll both be happy.
Anggun: Are you in love?

Kage: But that’s a personal question and we know how you don’t like to be asked personal questions.
Anggun (laughs): That is true. But people ask me if I have a boyfriend or if I am married. But never if I am in love.

Kage: So, are you in love?
Anggun: Yes, I am.

Kage: And that’s all you are going to give me right?
Anggun (laughs) : Yes. Right.

Kage : At least give us this, do you still travel with your “guling”?
Anggun (laughs): Yes actually and its embarrassing because the people in my band make fun of me because it is so big. I have it right here right now.

** The interview ends here but we actually stayed on the phone just a little more to talk about men and love and the evils of shopping and self-esteem. Anggun is a wonderful human being and such an inspiration.

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