Anna Ross – interview
Vivacious singer/songwriter Anna Ross has just celebrated the release of her new single entitled First Day, a powerful and inspirational explosion of sonic and lyrical enlightenment. You might be familiar with Anna for her presence on stage with super iconic, audaciously masterful, and one of the most talented and popular bands ever unleashed in the music industry to date, Duran Duran, during a four time world tour. The world tours have carried her to arenas including: Coachella, Live Aid, Lollapaloza, Live Earth, and the opening of the Olympics. She has been featured on the group’s last three albums and has made television appearances with the band on Ellen DeGeneres, Good Morning America, Jimmy Fallon, The Tonight Show, and Jonathan Ross. Anna has also done touring backup vocals for Tina Turner, Tom Jones, Lisa Stansfield, and Stereophonics at Glastonbury Festival.
Co-writer of First Day, Duran’s magical vocalist Simon Le Bon completely supports the ambient, heartfelt artist’s solo release. Her larger than life, soulful voice is overflowing with compelling ingenuity and captivating authenticity throughout the vibrant song.
Born in London, Anna was encouraged by her parents to explore music at a very young age. In doing so she left school at 16 and joined various local bands, but eventually became part of a duo called V Corporation. After doing vocals for world renowned artists, such as those mentioned above, she gained two degrees, one in Psychology and the other in English Literature. She was then summoned to audition for Simon Le Bon, and has been touring with Duran Duran ever since.
Louder Than War caught Anna Ross while in Hawaii on tour, and after some technical and reception debacles, we were eventually able to have an in depth conversation. We spoke of her past success, her current endeavours and her hopes for the future…I was honoured to have been the first journalist to interview Anna at the launching of her solo career.
Louder Than War: If I were in Hawaii, I certainly would not want to speak to me, or anyone for that matter,
Oh no, I definitely wanted to talk to you, but I haven’t been here before, and so obviously I wanted to experience some of the things that are going on here, and get out and about and have a look around.
What made you decide to do a solo album?
I’d worked with the band for a while, when suddenly it kind of dawned on me that I would regret it if I didn’t put that time and energy into exploring and progressing as a writer because it was one of those things I had always been meaning to do. To prioritize time and develop writing and seeing if there was anything in that for me, and how I would feel about doing that. I just never got around to doing it. When it dawned on me that I would regret it if I hadn’t done it, then it suddenly became a really easy decision for me to progress and get on with it. My friend recently posted something about a ‘toilet list’. Everyone knows about the bucket list, all of those things that you got on your list to do before you die. The ‘toilet list’ is the things you know you’re never going to do but, that you’re ok with. She said work out which one it is. Is making an album on your bucket list or your toilet list? Even though I don’t have any plans to die soon, I certainly realized that I would regret it if I didn’t do it. So I decided I better get on with it really.
I love the song to death!
Well obviously with the single I’ve made my commitment to writing, and I do know that you have to be able to get into the whole idea of being authentic. I am at the beginning of this writing project and I wanted to try and do a track that felt soulful for me, and that felt heartfelt for me. I also wanted it to be about implementing change because it was current to what I was doing in the process of writing. It was the first track that I did actually write, so it’s very fitting and quite literal in that sense. I wanted to create a soulful track that was about taking responsibility and not really attributing it to outside forces whatever they maybe. I like the idea of it having all the soulfulness of something. I like the idea of it being that kind of track to be soulful and spiritual but also be very much grounded in people and in reality, and not attributing life outside. I’m not saying that I don’t think that happens, but I like the idea of creating a song that was based in taking responsibility for your own life.
To me it feels very inspirational, not in a religious way but in a louder than life kind of way.
It’s a beginning project and Simon Le Bon who I co-wrote it with, at the end of our first writing session, I was talking about getting advice about the project generally. He said just before I left, “Anna if you want to do a project a really good piece of advice I can give you is that it really has to come from you! If you work on that basis then people hopefully will get on board, if you work on the basis that it’s got to come from you and try and be the driving force then that’s a good start, rather than thinking the world owes you a favour“. That became incorporated into the spirit of the song. That’s how I arrived at the lyrical content in the song.
What was the inspiration for your success?
A few different things. I always knew from an early age that I wanted to be involved in music in some way. Actually when I began I was interested in harmony at an early age. I left school quite young and I got involved in bands and that kind of thing, I think not necessarily unlike any other musician. If you’re going as a self-employed musician you kind of have to carve out your own way. You’re not contracted when you start out, but you get used to the habit of finding your own way in that sense. It becomes quite a habitual pattern that I guess was instilled in me from an early age. Also not too dissimilar to most people when they do things, you have your parental influences. My father was always encouraging me to explore and even though sometime you get scared to do new things, he encouraged me to go ahead and do them anyway, and to dive right in. So I kind of had it instilled in me in my upbringing and also as a consequence of the kind of career route that I took. That’s led me to where I am now. Even if I do feel certain resistance for some reasons about trying something new, it doesn’t tend to put me off. I guess a lot of people do it, but I don’t always think things through a hundred percent. I don’t regret that because sometimes I think you can overthink these things, and you can think your way out of doing things. I’d rather be somebody that didn’t do that.
Do you think that music has changed a lot over the years?
It has. Some of my musical influences, like Annie Lennox, growing up I thought she was a beautiful artist on a musical level. She has a beautiful voice, and also her increasing human rights awareness as well. Not that I think that’s compulsory being an artist, but it can enrich a person’s subject matter. Obviously music changes, we wouldn’t want it to stay the same anyway, but it can function in different ways. It could be very synonymous with civil rights, obviously like in the 60s and all that kind of thing, and it can also be really, really good fun. The last tour that we did with Duran, we also shared the bill with Chic. I stuck a couple of fun songs on the album, I kind of made myself do that. I had been talking with Duran and Chic, and their songs are fantastic, all of them. A lot of their songs are good time, fun songs. That is also such an important component to music and how brilliant it is that music can function in that way, as well all the serious and poignant reasons that it functions.
So, are you based in London?
I am in London, I’ve been there for a long time.
What was it like working with Tina Turner?
It was incredible. I didn’t do a world tour with Tina Turner, we did a few shows around Europe and in London. We did a TV show where the whole concert was recorded. Really to meet her was just amazing. She is such an impressive woman on so many different levels. Really joyous. When we rehearsed for the TV show we only had two days to get the live show together. She had her band and for some reason one of her regular back up vocalists couldn’t make it. She needed to find another backing vocalist. I got that through an agent that I was working with at the time. As soon as I was in the rehearsal what struck me straight away when we went to the songs, we might as well have been in Wembley or in the Hollywood Bowl, and we were only in the rehearsal room. When we started the set, the amount of energy she put into the rehearsal we might as well have been in front of an audience of 100,000. This woman puts 150% into everything. There was no sitting down, or sipping on a cup of coffee, we were at the show….not the rehearsal. That stuck with me because it meant that everybody’s energy, and their game was raised right in the rehearsal. Then we would break for lunch, and then again. To get to sing those songs, You’re Simply The Best, River Deep, Mountain High, to sing all of her hits, it was ridiculous. I couldn’t even really put that into words, how amazing that was to actually sing those songs. You’ve seen this performer all through your childhood, really being quite in awe. If you’re a musician or not, when you see the ‘greats’, it’s really something else to be in the company of them, let alone to perform with them. It was in my interest actually to be thrown in at the deep end and only have two days and not longer to reflect on working with her. I think I would have been more nervous, but I only had two days to learn the set before we did a live TV. I really just needed to focus on getting everything up to speed.
How did you hook up with Duran Duran?
It’s interesting how things come around when you take your foot off the gas. I had stopped doing sessions actually. I had decided to study for a bit. I had never taken my academic ability much further than the qualifications and I decided to take a break. I was just finishing a degree in English Literature, and I had done a lot of sessions before I had gotten that degree. I just got a call out of the blue, just as I was thinking about going into publishing. I got a call out of the blue from somebody that I used to do a lot of lead vocal demos for. He said that Duran Duran were looking for a new back up vocalist. He asked if I’d fancy going to meet Simon. I thought it was amazing and so unexpected. I wasn’t even in music career mode. I remember when I used to do sessions with him, this guy who called, he used to tell me that he needed me in an hour. I’d be somewhere else in the country at the time. So he told me that the audition was tomorrow. So the next day, from nor being in the music business for a while, I found myself at Simon Le Bon’s house. I started singing backing vocals to Ordinary World, to Rio, and to Come Undone with him in A Cappella. I was pretty nervous, but he was really lovely. Again like the Tina Turner thing it was so quick. That’s the thing sometimes with sessions. Sometimes you can find that stuff so quick, so again there wasn’t much time to get that nervous. You just focus on what’s coming up. So I went through those tracks and it was mainly A cappella with just a little beatbox. At the end of the audition I was assuming that he had a load of other people to see, so I wasn’t saying anything. I was thinking “Thanks it’s been brilliant to meet you”. Then he said, “Yeah, I think we’ve just found our new backing vocalist”. I was really over the moon, and I really couldn’t believe that it had happened. Then four world tours later, here I am in Hawaii.
Do you plan on doing a solo tour to support the album?
I’d love to. It’s quite a learning curve for me at the moment. I’m doing everything independently. I’m managing myself. At this moment a lot of my energy is taken with the managing side. I’m really ready to do some more writing actually. There’s only so many hours in the day. It’s different being an artist now. The industry has changed a lot. With digital distribution everything’s changed. My point being is that I’m taking it step-by-step. All of my energy is really going into organizing around the release of this album. I’m still mastering tracks. Focusing on trying to get that side of things absolutely right. I would consider probably doing smaller shows to start off with. I just want to get the album done now and do social media promotion and finish this world tour with Duran, and then think about the live side on the back end of this year.
As you mentioned, you have no intention of dying anytime soon, however how would you like to be remembered for your time on this Earth? You have already done so much and had so much success.
I haven’t thought of myself in that respect or what other people think of me. I’d like to be remembered as someone that is interested in the world and in other people. I’m interested in the cultural environment. Also for being inquisitive. That’s how I’d like to be remembered.
Hear John Taylor’s mix here.
All words by Eileen Shapiro. More of Eileen’s writing can be found in her author’s archive.