With her first album, ‘The Lake’, dating back to 2008, Anna Coddington is no viral sensation one-hit wonder – and she has never wanted to be. The decision to take a more gradual approach to audience outreach has ensured a sense of confidence – both for her listeners and from herself as Briar Lawry discovers.
Anna Coddington is an unfailingly creative, charismatic, and pragmatic woman. She has been a Silver Scroll finalist, calls all manner of Kiwi musical luminaries mates, has regularly been part of the evolving Fly My Pretties project, and she’s released two albums to critical acclaim. Her third is inevitably about to rack up just as much appreciation again.
“I decided a long time ago that the way forward for me was going to be winning people over one at a time. I figure that if I make music I like, there will be other people who do too.
“You do need to have a thick skin in this industry – and I think every songwriter and artist is insecure, to a point. Everyone wants people to like their music, after all. But my approach now is this: if you can really feel solidly confident in it yourself then it’s okay, even if some people don’t like it.
“You need to get to the point where if someone says ‘Oh, this record sucks!’, you just go, ‘No it doesn’t – it fucking rules!’ That’s the goal, anyway. For this record I’ve just done exactly what I wanted to do – and I haven’t let myself just settle for ‘Okay’ on any of the songs – so I’m confident that I’ve made something good.”
Her confidence in the record in question is well justified. Entitled ‘Luck/Time’, the album has had a sweeping journey from inception to release – with quite a change in vibe from the more traditional singer/songwriter, guitar-driven sound of her first two releases (2008’s ‘The Lake’ and 2011’s ‘Cat & Bird’). The comparatively longer genesis of ‘Luck/Time’ had one key driving factor – life’s ability to sometimes mix up the best laid plans. And Anna wouldn’t have it any other way…
“I started working on this album before my first son was born – and he’s going to be three in November. So it’s been a long time between drinks, so to speak.”
Those who have been paying attention to Anna’s singles over the past few years will hear some familiar tunes on the record – and may note that some songs they expected to hear don’t feature. The album has undergone a lot of change in the time since its first stages of development.
“I had five years worth of writing. I’m not an artist who’s constantly touring – because I can’t, really – I do write a lot. The ‘Album’ folder on my hard drive had songs constantly coming in and out of it, so while I did have 10 or 11 songs in there four years ago, I don’t know how many of them are on the actual album. But writing songs is my favourite bit, so I’m happy to be quite involved with that for a long time when I’m working on an album.”
The fact that the album was going to have quite a different approach from what had come before was clear from the get go. Her work to date had all been self-produced – so the fresh take on things kicked off with Anna stepping out from her comfort zone and testing out the wild world of external production.
The album’s first two tracks, Bird In Hand and Make You Mine were produced by Sean Donnelly aka SJD.
“In my mind, when I started doing those songs with Sean, that was the first step.”
It was not long after starting work on those tracks however that she found out that she was pregnant with her now older son, Arlo. Neither pregnancy nor motherhood stopped her – they just made her keep her eyes on the prize even more than before.
“I just kept plugging away at first, and that was a big reality check. I was kind of naive. I thought, I’ll just work on music while the baby sleeps, and it’ll be fine – I’m not going to let it hold me up! But motherhood is just one of those things you can’t fully understand until you do it – so I found that out!
“It actually made me much more efficient. Before kids, I was very fortunate to be in the position to be able to work on my music full-time, which is a real luxury. Once Arlo started daycare, I spent all of the hours while he was away working away at it, hardly even breaking for lunch.”
The tracks already undertaken with SJD meant she’d set the new album bar pretty high, but she kept working, and brought on a whole lot of talented muzo friends in a whole lot of different capacities. Initial Pro Tools sessions recorded by herself in her home studio were taken to Mt Eden studio The Lab to get the expert touch on some of the instrumentation. Finding the sweet spot between musical ownership and trusting in others’ expertise on certain instruments, or for certain parts of the process has, she says, opened up a whole new world of sound on the album.
“After we tracked drums and bass at The Lab, I brought them back home again, and tried really hard to be objective – which is just the hardest thing when you’re producing your own music.” Steph Brown of Lips-fame lent some synth and keyboard expertise, as did long-time collaborator Nigel Patterson, a member of Fly My Pretties.
“He’s always told me how he’s got these great analogue synths and Wurlitzers and Rhodes – all set up and ready to go. So I’d send off songs to him and he’d just use some initiative and put down what he wanted to play – and we ended up using most of it. All of the farming out to different people was definitely a fun way to work, even if it did take a really long time to work through it all.
“I’ve worked with some really cool people on this record, and found that it can really improve a good idea and make it great. Djeisan Suskov of Leisure mixed the album, and I asked him to do it because I really love their sound – and he really had a massive impact through mixing, really bumping up a few of the songs to exactly the way I wanted them to be.
“It’s great to work with people who are much better at something than you are – you can sort of catch some of that greatness by osmosis.”
‘Luck/Time’ seemed to be nearing a final shape part way through 2015 – and then she found out she was pregnant again. Sometimes, though, life has an excellent was of sticking you with unrelenting deadlines – and this time Anna had a better feeling for how a newborn would affect her processes.
“I had to rethink how much time I would need to be able to do this justice – and very nearly decided to just put it out on Bandcamp myself and that would be that – it would be done, at least. Instead, I ended up talking to Mikee [Tucker] at Loop.”
Working with a label was also something of a brave new world for Anna – both her earlier albums being self-released.
Even without kids it’s full on putting an album out independently – there’s just so much to organise, and I just can’t find the time these days for everything I would need to do. So it’s been really great.”
Loop have also helped land her opportunities that wouldn’t have come her way if she’d gone it alone. What started as a potential tour sponsorship deal has resulted in Anna being a brand ambassador for a Kiwi skincare company for instance.
“I feel like my boys have steered me towards the best possible outcome, in a way!”
The album’s diverse array of sounds and textures are musical reminders of the variety of production that went into each song. From the groove of Release Me, to the up tempo sound of The Runner to the lullaby-like qualities of the final track Run With You (presumably perfect for getting Arlo and little Eddie Ray to sleep), there is something for people who are into all kinds of flavours of music. Terms like ‘yacht rock’ and ‘reggae’ are bandied around for certain tracks, but each is underpinned by Anna’s gorgeous voice, thoughtful lyrics and her guitar. Despite whatever’s on the radio Anna calls what she writes pop music – and rightly so.
“Pop music is always what I’ve written – unashamedly melodic stuff. I try to write earworms, catchy hooks. It can fall between the gaps – it’s not like the pop that’s on mainstream radio, and it’s not necessarily ‘alternative’ enough for student radio either. But I like it – and if I can get in front of whoever those people are who do share similar tastes, they’ll like it, and they’ll get on board too.”
‘Luck/Time’ is refreshing, full of feeling and fun – just like Anna Coddington herself.