Poise. It’s not a word you hear too often in the breakneck world of popular music, but Anna Krantz has it to spare. It flows from her elegant songcraft and her graceful demeanour, and now the London-born singer-songwriter is pouring her fascinating life experiences into the self-produced album she has always wanted to make.
An artist who was exploring production technology at ten, who’s been a resident of New York and Nashville and the songwriting confidante of an unknown Ed Sheeran, Anna Krantz has lived a life less ordinary. Yet her songs and performances have that rare, unifying ability to observe our joy and pain, and to celebrate the things that make us human.
“Everything I write is always going to reflect on my life,” she muses. “But there’s more of a global consciousness feel to this record, which wasn’t intentional, it’s just where my head’s at. It’s more, let’s be aware we’ve all made of the same stuff, and what a wonderful thing that is.”
Anna’s storytelling instincts as a songwriter were inspired by such heroes as Elton John, Van Morrison and the Irish vocal stylist Mary Black, and she still considers Joni Mitchell’s ‘Both Sides Now’ to be the ultimate lyric ever written. “I aspire to write that song every time I write,” she says.
But there is far more to her DNA, in a life immersed in performance and sheer musical inquisitiveness from early on. Krantz was writing her own songs on the piano by the age of eight, and her next experience demands repeating, because it opened the door to the accomplished all-round musician she has become.
“I remember being maybe ten years old,” she says. “My brother had a Sony cassette recorder, and I had one too. I quickly figured out that if I recorded a vocal on one of them, pressed play, recorded on the other one and sang on top, you've got a harmony. You layer that up, you've got a four-part harmony.
“So I was doing that for a long time, then my parents clocked on and they bought me a four-track. That became Logic, before it was Logic Audio. So I'm probably about 13 and I'm in the basement playing with Logic on my four-track, which miraculously got upgraded to an eight-track.
“I got obsessed with production to the point where I would pick my favourite song, say 'Champagne Supernova' by Oasis, and I'd come home after school and recreate it. What do the drums do? What does the bass do? The piano? And I would play it all in, just programme it.
“Once I figured that out,” she recalls, “I took a crack at my own stuff. I'd disappear until the inconvenience of dinner was called, then, eventually, the knock on the door: 'Anna, you should probably go to bed.'”
From 11, she became much involved with the Chicken Shed Theatre Company, after its outreach programme came to Anna's school. It was another life-changer. The company asked her to skip the waiting list and join. She went on to become musical director of their youth band and to learn the undervalued art of communicating with musicians.
Krantz started gigging in her own right around the age of 18, and one night at the Ginglik in west London, was spotted by seasoned producer Peter Van Hooke, who promptly declared her to be the next Carole King. “He said 'I don't care how we do it, but we have to make a record, and we're going to do it at Abbey Road Studios, we're going to get the best of the best, I'm going to produce it.' And we did, and it was an incredible experience.”
For an independent release, the album did remarkably, helping Anna land the support slot on Will Young's tour and a spot on the BBC Radio 2 playlist, championed by the much-missed Terry Wogan. “I was very proud of the record,” but it never felt like how I used to make music in the basement,” she reflects. “It was too someone else.”
But it opened another door. In 2009, Krantz was signed as a songwriter by EMI Music Publishing, the next vital step in her evolution. She started writing with various partners, including a then-unknown hopeful called Ed Sheeran.
“He turns up with his guitar, I say 'Play me something' and he plays 'The A Team,' in my living room, on his Martin. I started crying in front of him, called my mum and said 'There's an angel in my house.' I was blown away. I said 'You don't need me, but let's write some songs,' and we did, we ended up writing maybe five songs together.”
By now, Anna was sharing a London house with Lucie Silvas, the singer-songwriter who enjoyed platinum-selling success in the mid-2000s. They became, and remain, soul mates, even after Krantz moved to New York, where the now-emerging Sheeran, ever loyal, invited her to open for him at both the Bowery Ballroom and Irving Plaza.
Silvas, by this time, had moved to Nashville to pursue her US career, and Krantz, finding that New York was not quite the 'Sex and the City' adventure she had envisioned, would often fly to Music City to visit. In 2013, she made the leap to moved there herself. Her first gig was opening for James McCartney at the fabled Bluebird Café.
“I used to struggle with collaboration,” she says. “I used to let my pride get in the way, I didn't want my essence tampered with. But Nashville really taught me the gift of collaborating. No one there writes on their own, so I was seen as weird, that I would still carve out days to write by myself, because to me it was important to keep that muscle flexed as well, for my own inner peace. But it's great to write with other people as a regular exercise.”
After three years in Nashville, during which time she collaborated with such A-list writers as Natalie Hemby and Barry Dean, Anna made her recent return to London. But not before she had learned one more key lesson that she is now putting into practice. “One day, I just said, 'I wonder what happens if I get in a studio and produce something,' and my life changed.
“I suddenly became that 12-year-old kid in my basement again, and realised that not only do I know all about what I want everyone to do, but I've got the ability to communicate with people very well. I realised a producer's job really is not necessarily to know the technical stuff, but to be able to hold a very clear vision of what the end goal is, and to get the best out of each player.
“Being in the studio is one of my favourite things, it's my most comfortable place to be, that and on stage,” she concludes. Now, in both locations, Anna Krantz is absolutely ready to become the sum of all her parts.