B&L: What animal do you associate yourself with (given our ties to oxen)?
Mitchell: I know you know the answer to this! I grew up on a sheep farm… Sixty-five ewes and two rams… And, I’m an Aries.
B&L: Did you have any oxen on the farm you grew up on in Vermont? How does farming (or perhaps) the idealistic imagery/philosophies inform your art (if at all)?
Mitchell: No oxen. Sheep, chickens, and I had a horse at one point. I know for sure the imagery of it is deep in my bones though and therefore it gets in the songs. It is real life, which is comforting, powerful. “Connection to the earth” is hard to talk about without sounding like a hippie real fast.
B&L: It’s been mentioned that you are named after author, Anaïs Nin. That’s heavy. Are you a fan of her work?
Mitchell: Yeah, it’s true. And because she was my namesake I read almost ALL her books when I was too young to understand them… but they really made an impression. I read her erotica before I’d ever even made out with someone. It was better than the real thing. And you kind of get that feeling about her diaries, too… they’re SO intricately observed that you feel they (the diaries) must have been more poetic than the actual life. But you know? She is one of those early guiding lights for me. She shaped my notion of romance and nostalgia. And I identify with her poetic “femmie” feminism.
B&L: Why music? Why do you seek it? Why do you create it? How’d it come calling to you?
Mitchell: I’ve loved singing since I was a little kid, and loved music for being so immediately emotional. But I think I started writing songs because I wanted to be a writer. I come from a very bookish family; my dad was/is a writer; I was always the lightweight in the family when it came to books. I think songwriting was my way of continuing that tradition in a way that suited my own passions and attention span.
B&L: What’s the making of a great show? What do you look or hope for as the folks setting foot on that stage?
Mitchell: A sense of ease. A sense of being able to step outside yourself and enjoy the music you’re playing along with the audience. A warm and engaged and quiet but not too quiet audience. The night, the moment. The sense of rituals getting enacted (songs are rituals).
B&L: Is songwriting a relatively easy thing for you? How does that process unfold? What inspires the act of pushing a pen across paper for you?
Mitchell: Music has always been the easy part for me. I’m an untrained, ear-based musician, so maybe there’s an innocence there that makes it easy. I almost always have more musical ideas kicking around than I know what to do with. But words are the opposite, and I tend to be very painstaking with them, and it is crazy-making. But each line feels like it could alchemically change the entire song, depending upon its properties. What inspires me to write? Well it’s my work in this world, I feel guilty if I don’t have something in the works, however small or silly. I’m inspired by the idea that I could maybe make a classic thing, a thing of use, a thing that could live on in the world without me.
B&L: You’re one of our all-time favorites. Ever. We’re excited to welcome you back to the good ol’ Granite State for a return performance at the Stone Church. What excites you about the gig? What keeps you coming back to Seacoast, New Hampshire?
Mitchell: Y’all are my favorites too… I’ve known both of you, Chris and Ben, for many years and am impressed and inspired by how you roll—you are genuine music lovers trying to connect your NH folks w/ the goods. That you are teaming up is quite cosmic. I also have cosmic feelings about the Stone Church. I was pen-pals w/ the late great NH songwriter Bill Morrissey… we wrote letters back and forth during the last few years of his life… and for me that part of the country is enshrined in his letters, his songs, and his wonderful novel.
B&L: Your latest record “XOA” is a collection of previously released tunes recorded live and acoustic. What struck you to make the record? What were the goals?
Mitchell: I was about to take a bit of break or a slow-down or something to become a mom. And I had this urge to sort of, take stock… that was part of it. I also remember always loving, when I was young, solo acoustic recordings. My favorite records were solo acoustic and I always got a little bummed out when a songwriter I loved started making enough dough to turn their records into big productions. And then of course as soon as I could afford that I did it as well. But I wanted to just sit down and roll through a lot of those songs that either got really big and ornate on an album production wise, or some stuff from Hadestown that I hadn’t sung myself, and just present it like, “here, here’s what it sounded like when I first wrote it in my bedroom”.
B&L: Are you currently working on any new studio work? (What’s cookin’?)
Mitchell: I’ve been working for the past three years on an expanded theatrical version of Hadestown. It’s been a long road but it’s finally going up in the spring of 2016 at a little off-Broadway theater called New York Theater Workshop. I’m so excited. The cast (which is aaaaalmost assembled) is just glorious. As is the director Rachel Chavkin and the design team.
B&L: What’s one tune (or, heck, a couple) that exists out there in the ether that blows you away that you kind of wish you had written?
Moon River (Andy Williams)
True Colors (Cyndi Lauper)
And lately I dig hard on anything with a good prechorus or bridge. Old school folk music doesn’t have prechoruses or bridges and I think more people would listen if it did.
B&L: What can folks expect when they come out to see you perform at the Stone Church on December 6th? Bridget Kearny and Ben Davis are opening the show. You a Lake Street Dive fan?
Mitchell: I’m a Lake Street Dive fan and also a Bridget-Kearney-in-general fan. She has this wild, effortless creative pulse. And Ben and I go way back at this point, Ben played in the Young Man Band a few years ago when we were touring that record, and is playing in my trio now. And HE is another of those that just walks and breathes music, everything he touches sings. I’m so honored that those guys are gonna warm up these shows with this new, African influenced project of theirs.
B&L: Question number 12. If you could have a dozen of anything, what would that dozen of something be?
Mitchell: Easy, I’d take a dozen great new songs and go in a studio tomorrow.
If you’ve never seen Anaïs Mitchell take a stage before, you need to do yourself the favor. She not only takes the stage, she takes the room. Owns it. Draws you in. It’s otherworldly. She’s literally one of our favorites. And she’ll be one of yours too… Check her out at the Stone Church on Sunday, December 6th. For tickets: Click here.