When I ring Anna Wise, she’s in the back of a car on her way to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, counting the minutes until she’s reunited with her three-month-old daughter. “I thought that I could micromanage my life, you know? But that’s so not possible with a newborn baby.” Motherhood may come quickly and easily, but there’s a learning to parenthood like anything else — one rooted in love. “It’s teaching me so many wonderful lessons,” continues Wise, “including today … We only brought one bottle of milk for eight hours, which is an insane idea.” You could say the same thing about music.
A Grammy award-winning singer and producer, Wise has always been a musician. Born into a musical family, the sonic powerhouse would go on to enrapture experimental scenesters of the early 2000s in every corner with Sonnymoon, her bedroom pop outfit formed with Dane Orr. Their album was enough to grab the auditory attention of the one and only Kendrick Lamar. Together, they’d capture the hearts and minds of the industry, the Recording Academy, and subsequently the whole world. Aided by new tools, new musicians, and the right lessons, Wise blossomed into the irascible innovator responsible for ingenious and indignant works like The Feminine Act I and II, which dealt explicitly with the unjust ways women are treated by society. Now, the genre-bending trailblazer is turning her microscope inward to release As If It Were Forever, her debut solo LP.
Only a few minutes into our conversation, that otherworldly trajectory isn’t hard to explain. As Anna mentally walks me through her day, there’s a striking openness to our conversation, a grace and warmth to the words she takes time to gently pluck and place in each sentence. The laughs and expletives are unabated and authentic in equal measure. We rap about baby fever, accepting our own shortcomings, the anxieties inherent in the act of creating — it’s enough to feel like a kindred spirit in mere moments. It’s that sacred human ability to make each person she speaks with feel, for a short while, like they’re the only one in the room that matters.
Hours later, bathed in the reds and blues of New York’s Le Poisson Rouge, this idea sees physical manifestation. I languish over a whisky sour and settle in the shadows of a slowly filled room. Hurried whispers from friends and fans alike all sound like the electric anticipation of a family come together to celebrate their precious sister. They’ve gathered tonight to celebrate Wise’s upcoming album, As If It Were Forever. Shortly after, Wise arrives, the lights dim, and with a solitary note, we’re taken to church.
Performed live, the hypnotic alchemy of As If It Were Forever is rivaled only by the inarguable chemistry among Wise and her bandmates. “I have the best band ever. We never argue,” she had proudly asserted on our phone call. “Everyone is super honest and lovely and always laughing.” It shows. Tonight, a new guitar player is taking the live stage for the second time ever. “She came out a week early to rehearse to my house in LA, and we worked through things emotionally and musically to get to a place where she and I felt she was ready to play. She’s ready now. It’s like she’s always been in the band.” Wise wasn’t lying.
If Anna Wise and the iron-clad families she’s created both on and off the stage can teach us anything, it’s a lesson in how genuine human connection can move us, and our visions, forward. We’re stronger in whatever we do — motherhood, music, or beyond — and against whatever may come when we stand tall together and ride the wave.
The Influence of Motherhood
It completely halted the production of [the album]. As I was working on it, I was like, “I’m gonna make a baby with my love, and then I’ll be pregnant, and everything will be the same except I’ll have a baby,” and that is not what happened at all. The pre-baby Anna died a slow painful death, and she was screaming all the way down to her last breath. When post-baby Anna came online, she didn’t even care that pre-baby Anna died.
I just don’t give a fuck anymore about anything, really. It’s so funny because I’m so relaxed about this release schedule. I never thought before having a baby I’d make another thing other than music my number-one priority, and as soon as I pushed her out of my vagina, it was like, “This is it, she is it, she’s my world” in the most amazing, lovely, and fulfilling way that just brings tears to my eyes constantly and palpitations to my heart. It makes everything else seem so silly. I’m not reaching for anything extra. I just want to make my baby happy, and I never thought I’d say that out loud.
On Moving Away from the Anger of Past Projects
I wrote the songs [on my previous projects] out of anger. I had a lot of anger about how women are treated, etc. I got to the point where, you know, we all grow and change as we get older. I just kind of realized, something inside of me was like, “Hey, you’re talking all this shit, but guess what? You ain’t shit either.” I had to reconcile with my own shortcomings. That made me not want to criticize the outside world so bluntly anymore and do a little surgery on myself to better myself as a person. I didn’t even realize that I was turning away from that. A lot of my lyrics and my music come from what I call “downloads,” where I [write] stream of consciousness-type lyrics. I wasn’t being intentional; I was just enjoying making the music. With the first two projects I put out, the EPs, I was very much like, “I’m going to write about women!” I love doing that, and I’m happy that I did that, but as this project came together, I realized that I was looking at myself and the ways that I could be better.
The Live Show That Stuck with Her Most
I’m such an Animal Collective fan. When I saw them between Merriweather Post Pavillion and Strawberry Jam in Prospect Park — that live performance was incredible. They always make a point to play unreleased music before it comes out, and that’s what inspired these performances. I wanted to play this music before it came out because of [Animal Collective].
On Time as a Sphere
That’s something I currently believe at this time. Who knows how that will change. Especially with emotions and experiences, particularly with trauma. You can be going through something, whatever steps someone feels they need to go through to do some sort of healing, and that trauma or sadness or loss or even the joy, like a memory, can just shoot straight through you and supersede time. Things aren’t always so linear. They can poke back out at any point, and it can feel just as intense as if it happened yesterday. Instead of looking at time as one straight line, it’s not even a circle. It’s like a 3-D sphere where things are interacting and melding.
The album is jumping around in my timesphere. It’s not like “this is the beginning of my journey” and “this is the end of my journey.” If you put my album on shuffle, and I don’t recommend doing this as I was very particular about my transitions, but if you feel like doing that, to me, it wouldn’t matter because it is all existing in this time sphere as opposed to this timeline.
On the Meaning Behind Her Album Title
The album was finished. I was listening to the mixes eight months pregnant with some very trusted friends of mine. One of them, my friend Emma who helped me write the lyrics to the second verse of “What’s Up with You”, she knows me really well. She just said, “What about As If It Were Forever?” Sometimes friends can give you insight on you and your projects. You know, you never see yourself the way other people do. She saw me in that moment.
To me, As If It Were Forever is [about] the many moments when I’m sitting with my child and I want her to stay this cute baby forever. The opposite of that is when her head was pushing through my vagina, and I didn’t take any drugs for giving birth. I studied like a crazy person, and so did my boyfriend. We did all the laboring alone. We allowed a midwife into our space to medically monitor me for the pushing process. And when my daughters head was coming out of my vagina, as stretched as it was going to be, the only thing that was keeping me going was “This will not last forever.” Just the idea that we want certain moments to last and certain moments to be over with. Hoping for forever and then hoping for things to end — stepping away from that and existing in every moment.
On Anna the Songwriter vs. Anna the Performer
Anna the Songwriter exists so that Anna the Performer can thrive. Anna the Songwriter has doubts. When I’m writing songs, there comes a point where I really do think, “I’m not shit.” It’s weird. You go back and forth between thinking, “I am seriously the best ever” and being like, “Wow, I’ve never written an original thing in my life.” Once everything’s finished, and I reach a place of acceptance, performing to me is the most wonderful experience. The songs are written so that I can perform them. I sing better live than I do in the studio. I always have. I record through the rig that I use live now because it makes me feel almost half as comfortable as I do when I’m on stage. When I’m Anna the Performer, I’m totally untouchable. I feel like a goddess.
On Getting Political
I went with [the GRAMMYs] to lobby for songwriters’ rights. That was a really interesting experience. I wanted to get into politics. I wanted to be involved and make a difference. I guess maybe I did. I would probably be a terrible politician. I become obsessed and investigate. Then I know too much, and it hurts. I end up shutting it all off.
On the Songs That Found Her at the Right Time
When I wasn’t around John Bap, I listened to his music constantly. I felt that I was soaring, that I was flying. I felt so calm and at peace but also bursting with sparks of joy and energy. Listening to his music allowed me to feel [he was there] without being present with him or speaking to him on the phone. We were living in two different places, but when we first met, we were constantly Face-timing, talking to each other whenever we could. I’d listen to his music, and it was the dopest moment and feeling. And music really does that. I can listen to a song that I listened to 10 years ago and remember what I was eating or what I smelled.
On Her Pre-Performance Rituals
Every single time, no matter how many times, my band and I get into a big group hug and I tell them how much I love them. It’s a gathering of energy. I usually don’t talk on show days. So today is a special exception. I thank the universe for giving me the gift it has given me and pledge to use it the best way I can. I call on my ancestors, my spirit guides, and my angels and ask them to support me in the channeling I’m about to enact. There’s a lot of energetic and spiritual preparation.
On Her Halloween Costume
I’m so bad with holidays. I’ve always protested Valentine’s day, but Halloween, I love. If we can get it together, we’ll do something cute. If not, the day will just go by, and the next day will come, and maybe we’ll dress up just for fun. We’ll make our own Halloween holiday. My boyfriend played with me on a show when I was a month and a half pregnant. I was so dizzy and so tired, we all got these onesies — I was a unicorn, he was a cow, we had a penguin, a llama, and a giraffe. So we’re going to get [our daughter] an animal onesie and go crazy one day. Go out all in onesies to the park.
Anna Wise’s solo full-length debut, As If It Were Forever, will be released on October 18th via Alpha Pup Records.