Barely set into small talk, the discussion with Ana Patan quickly gets real and deep, crossing the realm of music into geography, cooking, animal life, family, and even philosophy or politics.
She opens up about her experiences growing up in Romania under the Ceausescu regime, or about the different corners of the world where music has been taking her up to her forty first year of life.
I find out about Ana’s new home in a forest in Sweden, and I get to ask of her other home in Berlin and what this big city brings (or doesn’t) into an artist’s life.
I discover a serious, concerned musician and an easy going, funny person who addresses the sobering truth with sparkles of wit and vivid ingenuity.
Which is no surprise at all, after having listened to the first two songs introducing her new album “Spice, Gold and Tales Untold”, coming out in the next months.
Both pieces, “General Conspiracy” and “The Human”, are strong in groove and message, with intellectual understatements of delicious, cheeky and somewhat self-deprecating humor. Ana’s guitar playing sounds energetic and graceful, just as her singing voice has the right amounts of sand and glue, dissolved into a relaxed, pleasant tone.
Now we are introducing yet another new song, being launched today digitally on all music platforms. It is called “Colors on Hormones” and it stands up to its name, both sound wise and through its artwork.
Here’s part of the conversation touching on this event and around our favorite subject, music.
Ana, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind?
Because life without it would be unbearable, or at least very dull!
Oops, did that give me away? Hi, my name is Ana and I’m a chocoholic!
Is that what “Colors on Hormones” is about? The frantic groove gives the idea of obsession, and the title raises its own questions.
“Colors on Hormones” is about Hong Kong, a place so unusual for me, so paradoxical and full of life and color that it put my imagination under a strong mark. Impressions from a luxuriant, jungle-like park of orchids in bloom, with colorful parrots of all sorts, of a concert hall with a massive white piano, and of a hotel room on floor 43 or so, mixed up in my mind to make me question my sense of reality. Especially at night the city was so full of color, in the sharpest, boldest shades of the entire rainbow. It felt surreal, both pleasant and scary, both empowering and intimidating, and by the end of my first visit there, this song, all set up with lyrics and rhythms, was already forming in my ears.
Since you mentioned rhythms, that is some impressive teaming up of drums and bass, setting a captivating pace for the the cool vocals to float on top. Was that difficult to achieve?
Yes and no… up to a point it was trying to reach something I envisioned hearing… pretty vague, right? I was playing along with Zoltan (Csörsz, who does the amazing drumming on this record) trying to find that groove that would sustain my guitar rhythm but not go with it, more like fill in the holes… and so this quirky pattern flows out of him, that I had never heard anything like, just right and full of energy. Jonas Hellborg plays these bass lines with it, that keep it going on and on and on, then moving into a latin-like section and coming back again. Every time I hear it, it makes my heart pump out quickly, it’s so exhilarating, I don’t know if it’s subjective because of my memories or the struggle to express it, I just like to think that it’s just there for anybody to hear it.
Where do you get the inspiration for your songs? “General Conspiracy” is about being late for an appointment on a stressy day, while all kinds of things keep happening to delay and annoy you! Still, you somehow manage to present the funny side of the adventure! Same with “The Human”, which nevertheless has a very critical approach to humanity. How do you jump from trivial daily things to activistic messages and from frustration and criticism to laughter and humor?
They’re all there really, black, white and shades of colors together in all aspects of life, creating different combinations that are only waiting to be framed. I’m not doing more than observing the reality around me, or my version of it, and present a theme everyone knows well, from an angle I might find interesting.
Music gives me a certain courage for some sort of playful, mischievous exploration. Then I try to detach these subjects from my own persona to the point where they could be anybody’s, or pushing them on the other side, to absurdity, and see how they might affect our perception, experiences, quests, wonders. It’s a way of learning about oneself relating to each other, to society, to reality.
I do tend to stay away from one particular theme though, when I can, that of love. It’s a too well commented (and misunderstood) theme already. Besides, there is so much more to life than that.
Favorite music style and artists? An album you listen to a lot?
Right now I’m into classical music, Monty Python songs and old gramophone hits from the ’20s.
Regarding favourite artists, oh, it’s an endless list, though at the core there will probably always be names like Louis Prima, Chris Rea, Wilie Nelson, The Beatles…
I listen often to The Complete Gulda Mozart tapes, by Friedrich Gulda. It’s actually a series of six CDs, of which my favorite is probably number 3. It contains Mozart’s Piano Sonata K.310 (one of the few he wrote in minor), and his famous “Alla Turca”.
Why did you choose music?
It was the other way around, it was music that chose me! I actually made great efforts to run away from it, and get to live a “normal” life. I graduated from a mathematics high school, later from an economics university and then I even got a job in marketing. But all this time music kept luring me and winning me back!
Every song I made, every gig I played for my own enjoyment had after effects that kept pulling me forward and deeper into the music scene.
People would hear my music and write about it, promote and recommend it, invite me to larger events on larger stages. And so the whole thing grew into something at a national level back in Romania, where I got to know – and work with – my music idols, travel the country and get acquainted with many aspects of the music industry, pleasant and unpleasant.
Can you tell us how your music career has gone so far?
It had its ups and downs and in a way I consider myself lucky that none of it really made such an impact as to get me stuck into a certain role, character or style. Looking at what I’ve done in the past, I realize I’m not that anymore, I wouldn’t want to re-live it!
I moved on, I changed. Partly because I could afford to. It’s this level of independence and the freedom of metamorphosis that I really treasure in my music nowadays.
What instruments do you play?
Guitar, a little piano. And I’ve just started to fool around on the drums a bit. I have no shame or pride when it comes to playing or singing, whatever brings out the idea is fair game in my book. That doesn’t mean that I’m not concerned with getting better. But ultimately musical instruments, including vocals, are for me just tools for expressing what I feel, not a goal in itself.
Did you study music?
Not from the beginning. I started it in my twenties when I met my limits of technical interpretation, composition skills, music vocabulary etc.
I went to a number of different music schools for about 7 years, studying guitar, music theory and even sound engineering. And this process still continues with daily self-schooling. For example I’m deep into the study of counterpoint right now.
Have you played in bands, are you playing in one now?
I’ve been doing my fair share of that. From singing in a metal band, to being a member in a girls-trio (an accordion-harp- guitar formation), or from doing whole one-woman-band cover shows, to playing guitar in a punk band…
For now I’m only playing in my own project, which is the hardest, since I’m not a very forgiving boss.
What has been your best performance so far?
I’ll tell you (one of) my worst instead – since that’s what we learn from. I was desperate to make it into this national folk contest, back in Romania, and since I knew I tend to forget my lyrics, and that would lead to messing up the whole song, I practised them extra well, to the extent I was totally obsessed with them. Do you think that helped? Of course in front of the jury the entire song text simply vanished from my mind without a trace, so there I was, unable to carry the song and feeling very stupid!
Fortunately they were kind enough to see beyond my loss at words. I eventually got admitted as a contestant in the festival and ended up winning it.
Let’s talk about your new album “Spice, Gold and Tales Untold”, that’s going to be released in a few months. Who came up with the title, does it have a special meaning or message?
My music adviser Foxy (photo) decided on the title ;). I entrust him with the most important decisions about my music, cause he’s always proved to be right.
“Spice, Gold and Tales Untold” is a lyric from the song Undeciphered, referring to the mysteries in the eyes of a cat. It so happens that it defines just as well the content of this entire album.
Where has the album been recorded?
In the Bardo Music Studios, an all analog, fantastically equipped nest of music, with a great history. It was started in Lund, Sweden, in the 80’s by bassist Jonas Hellborg. Moved to New York in the late 80’s, to Paris late 90’s, to Germany 2006 and is now back in Sweden. It has guested legends such as Youssou Ndour, Ginger Baker, Bernie Worrell, Public Enemy and many many more. I did most of my recordings in Germany. The experience was for me very close to heaven, I actually got to record on Studer Tape Recorders, Neve and TAB mixers, Neumann Tube Microphones, EMT, AMS, Quantec and Lexicon Reverbs (the 224, the original) and lots of other goodies.
Well… I thought that meant it would produce itself! Ha ha!
I’ve had my share of experiences in the past with (otherwise capable) producers misinterpreting what I’m trying to say, or commercializing it – maybe also because I didn’t know how to make myself understood, or advance my own views. As a result, I never felt like releasing any of the materials/ albums I’ve been recording in the past. I couldn’t really believe in them.
This time I made myself take responsibility, try to understand what it takes to produce an album and then apply it, step by step, as the only way to do it exactly the way I imagined it. It was a scary, slow and problematic mountain to climb, during which process I also had to face my own self and evolve as a human being. That’s the reason why this production lasted around seven years.
Did you also make your own arrangements?
To the point that I could. Having only drums, bass, guitars and voice to work with made it both easy and difficult. Easy, because there’s so much space for each track to exist in, difficult since every instrument needs to stand out, fill its space, tell its own powerful story. And at the same time sustain each other without conflicting or mudding the song, while supporting the vocal line and its message.
So there were an initial plan, some written lines and basic rules on which all these amazing musicians involved felt free to experiment and contribute own ideas, therefore the sketches expanded into something more diverse and alive by the end of it all.
Which brings us to the next question, who worked with you on the album?
This is the most exciting part!
The drums were played by Swedish drummer of Hungarian origins Zoltan Csörsz, whose feel, timing and sound are excellent! There was no metronome involved, so he carries the songs’ pulse in a very groovy, organic way.
Some of the bass tracks were contributed by Jonathan Herrera, a very talented and intuitive multi-instrumentalist from San Francisco.
Then there’s some awe inspiring bass content from legendary Jonas Hellborg, of the beauty and energy only he’s capable of!
Can it get any better that that?!
Oh man! The list actually does continue with Devin Townsend himself, who came to the studio by himself, being his focused self and giving a very good demonstration of why he’s himself, by recording some amazing… bass! (yes you’ve heard that right).
Obviously the bass is the instrument that got the most attention on this album, and is rounded up by the smooth playing of Omeye Abbass, the musician who’s supporting me on my live shows, travelling, rehearsing and being a great trooper for the last three years or more.
So, there you go, this is what my own performance had to match up to! Definitely not an easy task, but it was entirely worth making a fool of myself by going into it!
Did it feel a bit intimidating to find yourself in a recording situation with an iconic figure like Jonas Hellborg? What did you learn?
To tell you the truth, yes it did! I wasn’t sure wether he’d find in my music the intrigue and complexity to get him really involved, but so it turns out the material proved challenging enough, and the whole experience turned into a most valuable lesson for me, which changed over time my entire vision about music. Jonas is also a pleasure to be around. As the sensitive and insightful music authority that he is, he knows how to bring out the best in people, being very encouraging, forgiving and helpfully constructive.
What he played, with that special kind of force, and how he adapted to what the song wanted to be, made everything sound greater than I would have hoped.
What I’ve learned is aspects and attitudes that can’t be put into words, that come from watching the great ones at work, see where their focus is, their reactions, and how the skills, though dazzling, are only servants of that higher vision, understanding and respect for music. I believe any musician needs this kind of experience, exposure to live artistic knowledge, more than music school itself!
What about Devin Townsend? It’s hard for me to imagine what it must be like to hang with him, let alone making music together!
I know, right?! Devin is a force of nature, he’s got this immense energy that drives you along before you know what’s going on, and this frighteningly sharp mind, and at the same time he’s the most gentle, humble, caring and generous person you’d want to have around! And whatever he plays, baam! It’s right there, it just sounds awesome! A level of focus, experience and seriousness that changed my attitude forever.
What instruments do you play on this album?
Only guitar, that’s already a handful, considering the high standards that the other instruments impose!
How many tracks will make it on this album and which of them is your favorite?
Nine to eleven, depending on how many of the recorded 20 songs will convince they want to be out there first.
If there’s a favorite one? This is like asking a mother which of her children she loves more… I’m enthusiastic about each and every one of them! Each song has a different personality and story, even an own will, about what they want to be, how they want to be dressed or behave – or un behave! to the point where I don’t have much saying in all that, which is great!
What do you think of your audience?
Considering the fact I haven’t been reaching out so much yet, I’m impressed about each person who gets to discover my music, because that means they did it more or less on their own, driven by their own curiosity. That’s a sort of individuality I deeply appreciate, since it’s relatively rare in our busy times, when our brains hardly get time to rest from all the informational bombarding they’re being exposed to, let alone having the energy to reach for more and seek new musical universes.
Where do you want to be in a few years as an artist?
I’m aiming for extended easiness in expression and more efficiency in finishing and putting out materials. I’ve got some really exciting projects lined up already, can’t wait!
In what formats will the album come out, and where will it be available for purchase?
It will definitely come out as a Vinyl, naturally the best format to enjoy the whole analog recording process behind it in its entirety. I am making extra efforts to produce it in a way that doesn’t involve digital conversion at the pressing. But there will also be the CD version and good quality downloads. All formats will be available on my webpage www.anapatan.com. As well as on my bandcamp page http://anapatan.bandcamp.com and of course, on the established online platforms like Amazon, iTunes etc.
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