In those days, Anohni admitted, she was more star-struck by encounters with Anderson, Reed’s partner and “an omnipresent voice” in Anohni’s household growing up. At 12, she wrote a school report on Anderson’s album “Big Science,” which she presented to her heroine decades later at Carnegie Hall. Anderson asked to take it, and returned it two months later with a letter grade: A.
Today, Anderson counts Anohni among her best friends. “She’s really one of the smartest people I know,” Anderson said. “Her point of view is coming from a lot of her pretty radical ideas about who’s doing what and why. And she’s always right, I have to say. I often ask for her take on things.”
AS A CHILD in the “petrochemical postwar bubble” of Chichester, England, “Boy George’s voice was a lifeline, and Alison Moyet’s was the same,” Anohni said, referring to the Yaz singer. “I remember sitting at my grandmother’s house, staring at the radio, listening to those songs come out, and crying, and not knowing why I felt that way. It was like there was permission to feel.”
Those English voices taught Anohni to sing. Making sense of how they drew from what she calls the “technology” of Black American soul music is a part of her current project. “I brought that to this album as an unfinished conversation, trying to understand where I come from and what I’m made out of,” she said. That notion electrifies the explosive “Can’t,” a heartbreaking narrative of refusing to accept a loved one’s self-inflicted death. “There’s something about the alchemy of mixing agony and joy that is a magic technology, a survival technology,” she said.
Anohni’s mother was a photographer and her father an engineer whose profession brought the family to Silicon Valley when Anohni was 10. By her early teens, she had rejected “a lot of Judeo-Christian stuff that was in my family.” Communing with redwood forests impacted her connection to nature profoundly. She entered a subcultural crowd interested in consciousness raising, “feminist pagan practices” and LSD. Anohni said certain of those experiences “helped me understand that the paradigms I had been raised with were constructs, like a really constricting filter, and I was trying to squeeze reality through this keyhole that I had been offered as the only way to see reality. And it just wasn’t that way.”
Among the binaries Anohni has more recently debunked for herself is day and night. “All days are night to me,” she said matter of factly. “When I realized that the blue sky was just an illusion, and behind, it was always night, that was a big deal.”