Ones to Watch: Anais Mitchell

Soaring ahead of the pack

Great song writing, a great voice and great guitar playing can make you a good folk singer. But Anais Mitchell’s ambition makes her soar ahead of the rest like a rabbit in a turtle race.

“It’s not instant gratification,” says Mitchell on her new record, “it was a new thing for me to try and tell a story over a course of a cycle of songs. I love that it picks you up in the beginning and drops you off somewhere else at the end. You have to be along for the ride.”

Artists like Anais Mitchell are a dying breed in the era of record companies strategically releasing singles and mass-promoting 79p-a-track downloads. She isn’t one to rest on her laurels either, not even in her thirties, yet she’s already released three acclaimed solo albums and in 2006, in a wild stroke of ambition, tried her hand at staging a folk opera called ‘Hadestown’.

“This project was from the get-go more of a collaborative effort,” she remarks. “Vermont has a small but vibrant little music scene and I just had a bunch of different friends from different bands that I envisioned singing the songs.”

A DIY-project in the truest sense of the word, Mitchell and her team lugged their equipment on and off a silver-painted tour bus from city to city. The music from that theatre show resulted in her latest album release ‘Music Of Hadestown’. Mitchell gathered some of the most revered names in folk music today to appear on the record. “I’m so lucky and totally honoured by everyone that touched the project from the beginning,” she says. “My friends in Vermont that sang the parts the first time round brought so much to the characters. And then of course the guest singers, everyone brought so much of themselves to the part, whatever their part was. There were moments in all of the sessions where I was like, ‘This doesn’t sound like I wrote it, this doesn’t sound like I imagined it’ and the next moment I’d think, ‘Oh my God, this sounds fucking… better.’ Let these people be who they are and express themselves.” The guest singers she so casually refers to are Greg Brown, Justin Vernon from Bon Iver and folk icon Ani Difranco, among others.

The album itself is somewhat of a hard sell; ‘Music Of Hadestown’ tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice set in post-apocalyptic Depression-era America. Obviously not everyone’s cup of tea, but Mitchell adapted the tale in her own way and got so involved with the story and characters that she makes it nearly impossible for you not to get immersed in the story. “I wanted to serve the language at any cost. So, it was really nice to work with people whose whole focus is just sound and instrumentation and music. It feels like the world is twice as big all of a sudden. There are tonnes of opportunities.”

It’s a bit odd to tag Anais Mitchell with the Ones To Watch label as she’s already released three albums and has toured with some of the biggest names in her field. But it is with this album that Mitchell has created something truly extraordinary that should get people to finally notice her potential. It’s unfair to try to describe this project in less than a thousand words, so we urge you to keep an eye out for Ms. Mitchell and to delve deeper into the work of this talented artist.

Words by Hemza Lasri

Where: Vermont
What: Opera folk
Unique Fact: Her very first album entitled ‘The Song They Sang… When Rome Fell’ was recorded in a single afternoon in 2002 and is now out of print.
Get 3 songs: ‘The Wall’, ‘Eurydice’, ‘How Long’

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