Why Silvera is good as gold
Kentish Town composer, who first brought her Oracles song cycle to the Roundhouse in 2011, talks vinyl, Van Halen, and her new life in Denmark
17 May, 2018 — By Róisín Gadelrab
Ana Silvera will be touring her new arrangements across the UK from September
SEVEN years after Camden composer Ana Silvera first debuted her folk-classical song cycle, Oracles, at the Roundhouse, the musician is finally about to see her music immortalised in vinyl for the first time.
Ana, who divides her time between Kentish Town and Copenhagen, where her musician boyfriend Jasper lives, signed to King’s Cross-based Gearbox Records in December– a label renowned for their dedicated attention to vinyl.
Speaking from Copenhagen, Ana said: “I’m sitting looking out on some trees in an area of Copenhagen. It’s a beautiful day. I’m drinking Earl Grey tea, I’ve just got this electric guitar so I’m practising that.”
Splitting her life between Denmark and London seems to be the perfect contrast, she said, adding: “I love London so much but Copenhagen is such a nice contrast to it, so chilled and small and you can hop on your bike and move around. It’s much more gentle in some ways, a lot more laid-back.
“I’m discovering the music scene, it’s not as obvious as in London. You have to work harder to find the good people and what’s going on but when you do it’s great because you’re supported a lot more, you’re paid properly, but it doesn’t have the vibrancy and the ambition of London, obviously, so I’m in the ideal position of being able to experience both worlds.”
Commissioned by the Roundhouse, Oracles was first performed in 2011, a big production, requiring a choir, a band and some serious production.
“Oracles has gone through different incarnations,” says Ana. “It was originally written as a response to the death of my brother. It was kind of a really lucky thing that I was asked because it was a chance for me to channel different emotions, it was a bit of a narrative journey for me. It follows the courses of the seasons and the recovery of myself from grief to acceptance of what happened and all the stages in between.”
Ana has since returned to perform Oracles on the Roundhouse main stage in 2012, co-headlining with Imogen Heap, released debut album The Aviary, was commissioned by the Royal Ballet to create, compose and perform in ballet Cassandra and collaborated with Finsbury Park charity Freedom from Torture and Christine Bacon, artistic director of Ice & Fire theatre company, to bring to life the stories of torture survivors in 2016 work, Lost and Found.
Still, Oracles remains in Ana’s heart and she is finally bringing out the recording on vinyl, digital and CD.
“I always wanted to record it, but the logistics of recording such a big piece was an issue,” says Ana. “I finally got funding from PRS who put some money towards recording it live. I wanted to do it as live as I felt something very special, very intense between the audience and the band, which couldn’t be captured in a studio. So I came back to the Roundhouse in 2015 and got a fantastic band together – Jasper on the double bass, Snarky Puppy bassist Bill Lawrence and amazing singer Josephine Stephenson who also directed the choir. Then I had these raw recordings and was like, ‘OK I’m going to do something with them’.
“For some reason it took a long time to get around it. It’s an unusual piece and I wasn’t sure who to approach – is this something I’m going to release myself on my own little label? I couldn’t really figure out.
“It’s a mix of classical jazz-folk, it’s a song cycle, so it’s not a normal ‘album’ where you have a single, etc. I mulled it over. I like to do things properly but that tends to take time.”
Ana’s agent, Rebecca Kemp, mentioned it to Emily Barker’s manager Howard Mills and he suggested Gearbox Records might be interested.
“They were keen to meet. They’re a great operation, great guys, extraordinary in their attention to quality and detail. There’s a lot of indie labels these days but these guys are doing something really high level and I was very drawn to that,” says Ana.
“We talked it through and I signed with them just before Christmas. The album is coming out on 6th July.”
Gearbox are based at Tileyard Studios, off York Way, which also house Mark Ronson’s Studio. Anthony Gormley’s Studio is next door.
“Gearbox cut their own vinyl,” said Ana.
“They are real audiophiles. They’ve got a vinyl studio for cutting and mastering and they’re a label, putting out a lot of the up and coming jazz people such as Binker and Moses, and Butcher Brown. They’re kind of more slanted towards jazz but I’m more tilted to their jazz-folk side.”
She added: “There’s beautiful artwork by Alice Williamson, a talented photographer. I’m wearing a simple white dress and standing by this beautiful tree in Winchester. It was a freezing day, so cold, I was suffering for art but really happy with how it came out.”
An accompanying video for single Skeleton Song will be the first of a series of videos featuring dance pieces and will debut at the record launch at the Purcell Rooms, Queen Elizabeth Hall, on 4th July.
“This is the first time that I’ve had an LP cut, so it’s pretty exciting. I haven’t actually seen it because the pressing got lost in the post so I’m going to see it tomorrow for the first time. I’m most excited about seeing that artwork in the LP format. It seems like vinyl is such a growing thing now. It’s kind of amazing. You had record shops shutting down left, right and centre and now they’re opening up, the shortest demise ever.”
Conscious that the piece would be difficult to tour in its full form, Ana has revisited it. She said: “I’ve been working on how to strip it down to its bare essential and make it more folkish in the style of arrangement. I’m going to do a much more stripped-down version for the tour. It was such a big project, an eight-piece choir, five-piece band – that’s what’s on the recording released at the end of June, but to tour that requires a Van Halen-size tour bus and that’s an enormous thing.”
Ana will be touring her new arrangements across the UK from September.
“That’s going to be really stripped down, a duo situation. It’s been really fun revisiting the songs, you really do get back to the bones and rediscover some of the songs.
“I just want to make it the best it can be and put it out to the world. I realised that when you do these big-scale projects you can sometimes feel like you’re spending a year building up to three performances.
“I’m consciously wanting to get away from that, that’s why I’m going towards a more stripped-down version, I want to reach more people. Also, being able to do this video is something I’ve been talking about for years and for it to finally happen is magic.”