Wonderful Women Interview with Violinist and Composer, Anna Phoebe
Anna Phoebe is a violinist and composer on cross-genre collaborative projects, working across science, space, poetry, dance, film and art, and she’s a mum of two.
Anna has toured the world, both as a solo artist and with multi-platinum selling bands including Roxy Music, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Jethro Tull, and she has performed as solo violinist on top international stages and festivals including US arenas, Royal Albert Hall, Royal Festival Hall, Glastonbury, Fuji Rock Festival and Montreux Jazz Festival. She supported Bob Dylan at the Rock Legends Festival in Poland.
Anna’s instrumental duo AVAWAVES (with Aisling Brouwer) released their debut album Waves in July 2019 on One Little Independent Records (home of Bjork, Poppy Ackroyd, Tusks).
She is also currently touring and recording with Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement recipient, Nitin Sawhney CBE, multi-instrumentalist Erland Cooper and Oi Va Voi. Anna recorded the strings on Jorja Smith’s track The One from her debut hit album Lost and Found (string arrangement by Nitin Sawhney).
Anna also records violin and viola for film and television composers Martin Phipps, PJ Harvey, Flood and Nina Humphreys on productions including Black Earth Rising, Peaky Blinders, Black Mirror, War & Peace and ITV’s In Plain Sight.
It’s a joy to interview Anna here.
Describe a typical day?
There isn’t really such thing as a typical day-these past few months in lockdown is the first time I’ve had some sort of routine and not spent most of my time traveling. I feel very grateful to have been able to spend this time with the family and be there when the kids wake up every morning and there for every family meal. I love touring and I love traveling, but my favourite days are when I spend the whole day in the studio, interspersed by walks on the beach with the kids and dog.
What are your greatest achievements?
It took me a few days to figure out how to answer this – and I think it’s because I really don’t see my life as a series of ‘achievements’. There have been lots of amazing individual and pinch-me moments but ultimately I feel like I’ve learned most from experiences when things didn’t go how I expected or wanted, or when people I respect have given me criticism. I think I learn most from those experiences, and they help me continue to develop and evolve – both personally and musically.
If I had to be specific about memorable moments, they would probably be times like the first time I played in front of 15,000 people with pyrotechnic flames shooting up behind me, or descending amidst smoke and lasers from 50 feet in the air while headbanging and playing the violin….
Or flying out to China when my daughter was 8 months old to judge an international string competition – I was the only woman on the panel and it was five full days of judging more than 300 entrants. When the male judges took their cigarette breaks, I would run-up to the next floor in the conference centre to breastfeed my baby and then race back down again before they got back. Or playing in front of 350,000 in Puglia with Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music) Paul Simonon (The Clash), the late great drummer Tony Allen and Italian superstar Ligabue – with my 1 and 3-year-old daughters fast asleep side of stage.
Or flying to Moscow to play the violin at the famous Vladimir Klitschko boxing match – again my eldest daughter was 8 months old and I just remember breastfeeding her while sitting watching the match after I had performed surrounded by 10,000 Wayne Rooney lookalikes – it was just surreal! These adventures – especially the ones where I’ve combined parenthood and music – are all moments which make me smile.
What’s in your bag?
My laptop, usually a few hard drives, hand cream, an analogue diary, a few pens. And there’s always a few doggy poo-bags (unused!!) and half-eaten bag of nuts/chocolate lurking at the bottom somewhere.
What are your ambitions in life?
I would say that I am hardworking and ambitious but I don’t have a set ‘ambition’ – that seems too outcome-driven. I’d like to keep having adventures, to never stop being curious, to never stop learning and to use music as a way to connect to other people. In the last few years, I’ve been collaborating more with poets, scientists, activists, and using music as a platform to help other people’s voices be heard.
I had a massive insecurity for many years about not going to music college (I studied Social Policy & Government at the London School of Economics) – I wish I had been more confident and not spent so much energy on feeling anxious about being ‘found out’. I now realise that most successful people I respect and admire all suffer from ‘imposter syndrome’ – so I would say to my younger self not to fear it – instead embrace it and use it as an opportunity to stay humble and keep learning.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
More of everything I’m doing now! I feel lucky and privileged to be able to make the music that I love with people who I love working with. From AVAWAVES to working with Salena Godden, with film, dance, and the European Space Agency and a project I’m doing with theatre and young poets from migrant backgrounds. I hope that I will continue to work on projects where I am stretched creatively and which give me an opportunity to learn.
What advice would you offer a budding musician?
Embrace challenges, always be curious, and collaborate with as many people as you can. Surround yourself with people you respect and listen to criticism and take advice. Turn up on time and put in the hours to make sure you deliver. Do everything with the best intentions and be genuine. And don’t be obsessed with the outcome – sometimes it IS about being specific and learning a bunch of notes or just finishing an edit on time, but even those seemingly straightforward tasks can spark something else.
What advice would you give a new parent?
Don’t listen to any other parent who is desperate to give their advice – especially when it comes to advice on sleeping habits, feeding habits etc. Listen to your own instinct and listen to your baby and do what’s best for your own mental health. And no matter how hard the sleepless nights are, have faith that one day this will pass!
Happiness is… starting the day being woken up by my kids coming into the bed for a cuddle. That, and coffee really is the best start to any day.