Anna Calvi

Anna Margaret Michelle Calvi is an English singer-songwriter and guitarist. Originally from Twickenham, Calvi began playing guitar as a child and studied music in college. Calvi worked as a guitar instructor while recording her eponymous debut album over a period of several years. The album was released in the United Kingdom in January 2011 to critical praise, entering the Album Charts at number 40 and later being nominated for the Mercury Music Prize and the BRIT Award.

Her second album, One Breath was released on 7 October 2013 in the United Kingdom and United States through Domino Records. Calvi has gained critical attention for her voice, guitar playing and live performances.

Anna Calvi
Anna Calvi Assembly Hall October 2013.png

Calvi performing at Islington Assembly Hall, London, October 2013
Background information
Born 24 September 1980 (age 33)
Twickenham, England, United Kingdom
Genres Art rock, alternative rock, indie rock, indie pop
Occupations Singer, songwriter, musician, guitarist
Instruments Vocals, guitar, violin, bass, piano, sitar, organ
Years active 2005–present
Labels Domino
Associated acts Noah and the Whale, The Invisible, Brian Eno, Johnny Flynn, Cheap Hotel, Cherry Brakewells, Swampus Trio, Lunatic Crash

Early life

Anna Calvi was born Anna Margaret Michelle Calvi on 24 September 1980 in Twickenham to an English mother and Italian father, both of whom are therapists. She spent most of the first three years of her life in a hospital undergoing treatment and surgeries to correct congenital hip dysplasia. “The way I dealt with that was to create my own world. And that’s what my relationship with music is – a world of my own creation that I escape into. I was always a dreamer. The early things stick with you,” she later remembered. Calvi grew up being exposed to a multitude of genres of music by her music-loving Italian father; this eclectic array ranged from Captain Beefheart to The Rolling Stones to Maria Callas, combined with an early understanding of classical music, “I was so taken by the sound. Whenever I saw an instrument I would get so excited and my heart would beat really fast.” Calvi first picked up the violin at 6, and guitar at 8. “Something would take me over whenever I’d seen an electric guitar,” she later recalled. By the age of 10 she was using a double cassette karaoke machine to overdub her playing. All the while, attracted “to the impressionistic element of the music”, she came to be much influenced by 20th century composers Messiaen, Ravel, and Debussy, the feel of which she would try to recreate on the guitar, an instrument she was compelled to learn on discovering Django Reinhardt and Jimi Hendrix at the age of 13.

Calvi originally intended to study art, but instead opted for a degree in music. She attended University of Southampton where she studied violin and guitar, graduating with honors with a Bachelor of Arts in Music in 2003.

Music career

2008-2010: Early projects

Calvi did not begin singing until her mid-twenties. “I had a phobia about it until five years ago. I wouldn’t sing in school or even in the shower. I had this emotional block about hearing my voice. So the guitar became my voice when I was a teenager, it was how I could express myself.” Striving to find her own voice, Calvi said she locked herself in a room for long periods of time, singing along to records by Edith Piaf and Nina Simone. Calvi formed several bands including Cheap Hotel, which released one download-only single, New York, which did not chart. Calvi then went on to meet multi-instrumentalist Mally Harpaz and drummer Daniel Maiden-Wood, who then formed her band.

At an early gig, Calvi caught the attention of Bill Ryder-Jones who urged Laurence Bell of Domino Records to sign her. Early support also came from renowned music legend Brian Eno, who heard about Calvi through a friend. He has since become her unofficial mentor describing her during a BBC 6 Music interview as, “the biggest thing since Patti Smith.”

In the autumn of 2009, Calvi recorded a series of filmed Attic Sessions that were uploaded onto YouTube including a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Joan of Arc, Elvis Presley’s Surrender, TV on the Radio’s Wolf Like Me and David Bowie’s Sound & Vision.

Calvi played guitar on the track The Prizefighter and the Heiress on Johnny Flynn’s album Been Listening.In October 2009, she also supported Flynn on tour.

In 2010, Calvi supported Interpol on their UK tour and label-mates the Arctic Monkeys at the Royal Albert Hall. Nick Cave also invited her to support Grinderman across Europe in October 2010.

On 11 October 2010, Calvi released debut single Jezebel, a 1951 song originally written by Wayne Shanklin and made famous by Frankie Laine and French chanteuse Edith Piaf. Both Jezebel and the B-side Moulinette were recorded by Rob Ellis, and released on limited edition 7″ and digital download. Live versions of both Jezebel and Moulinette were filmed at The Luminaire venue in London by Emma Nathan, who also created the vinyl artwork, and used as promo for the single.

2011-2012: Debut album

Calvi live in 2011.

Anna Calvi was released in the UK and Europe through Domino Records to critical acclaim on 17 January 2011. It entered the official UK charts at number 40. The album achieved success across Europe, charting at 17 in France, 33 in Austria, 40 in Switzerland, 55 in Sweden and 70 in Germany. Calvi co-produced the album with long-term PJ Harvey collaborator Rob Ellis. Brian Eno sang backing vocals on Desire and Suzanne & I. Dave Okumu from the band The Invisible sang backing vocals on the song No More Words. Long-term collaborator Emma Nathan created the album artwork. “I see music quite visually and I like to create atmospheres… I like to try and create a whole world in the space of a song” Calvi stated of writing the album, while discussing in an interview with the Telegraph, “‘I imagine the different instruments as colours, and so it feels like painting. I need music to come from a really emotional place. With my music I do like to hypnotise people and take them somewhere else. I like to slowly draw people into a world.”

NME gave the album 9 out of 10 stating, “this self-titled collection of 10 songs is perhaps the first great record of 2011.” NME described it as “sumptuous, seductive and a bit scary, this velvety debut will stalk your dreams.” Uncut magazine said, “This isn’t just a great debut. It’s a fearless rejection of current pop trends, fashioning a benchmark of intensity and originality that the rest of this year’s albums will struggle to match.” The Fly magazine called it an “arresting, sparse and darkly captivating listen.” The Evening Standard said “the raw talent is undeniable: 2011 is Calvi’s for the taking”.

Calvi launched the album to sold out show at the intimate Hoxton Hall in London on 27 January 2011. In France, according to Q magazine, Calvi “has become an overnight star, the album debuting in the Top 20.”

The album was released in USA, Australia, and Japan on 1 March 2011.

The album was nominated for the Mercury Prize, which went instead to PJ Harvey.

In January 2012, Calvi was awarded the European Border Breakers Award.

Calvi was nominated in the Best British Breakthrough category at the BRIT Awards 2012.

In the summer of 2012, Calvi was one of the judges for the Mercury Music Prize.

Calvi took time off recording in November 2012 to sing on a Noah and The Whale song called “Heart of Nowhere”, released in May 2013.

2013-present: One Breath

Calvi announced on 5 August, that her second album titled One Breath was to be released on 7 October 2013 on Domino Records. Her announcement was accompanied by a trailer filmed by Emma Nathan. The record was produced by John Congleton and recorded in Blackbox Studios, France as well as Elmwood Recording Studios, Texas. When speaking about the record, Calvi said “One Breath is the moment before you’ve got to open yourself up, and it’s about how terrifying that is. It’s scary and it’s thrilling. It’s also full of hope, because whatever has to happen hasn’t happened yet.”

“Eliza” the first single from the album followed by “Suddenly”, both featuring videos directed by long time collaborator Emma Nathan.

Calvi told Mojo magazine that whereas Anna Calvi was recorded on and off over three years, One Breath took just six weeks and was less of a challenge to complete than its predecessor. Calvi stated that she had been listening to composer John Adams, Steve Reich, as well as choral music for inspiration while writing the record.

One Breath received critical acclaim upon release, with The Independent calling the new album “an LP that rumbles with lusty insistence, swoons with bliss, luxuriates in cinematic style and nudges Calvi’s emotive voice to fresh operatic heights”.[46]

Live shows

Calvi performing at the O2 Shepherds Bush Empire in November 2011

Calvi is known for her intense guitar playing and live performance. She has said that she tries to create the sounds of other instruments through her guitar. Visually, Calvi nods to the world of flamenco in her stage outfits. However, rather than wearing the traditional frilly dress, she opts for the high trousers and blouse of a male dancer.

Following her debut album release show at Hoxton Hall in London, Calvi won over critics with her “performance of superb self-possession and dramatic timing.” The Independent called her a “strumming seductress” who was “born to be heard in person” playing “with every ounce of passion.”

Calvi’s European tour in Autumn 2011 was filmed and released as a 2 part series called “Somewhere Along The Line”.

Calvi will perform a short headline tour in France, Spain and Portugal in November and December 2013.

Anna begins 2014 with a Tour of the UK in February before heading to Europe throughout March.

Style and influences

Calvi frequently uses a Fender Telecaster guitar (90s US) and uses a vintage red Vox AC30 amp both live and in the studio. She is a virtuoso guitarist – although her first instrument is the violin of which she has a university degree in. Calvi also imagines playing guitar as an orchestra and is noted for her particular style of playing which involves hitting the strings in a circular motion, rather than strumming up and down. The result has been described by Q as “the prodigious wash of sound that recall Ennio Morricone, Duane Eddy, even Jimi Hendrix in its fluidity.”

Calvi has been compared to other female singers PJ Harvey and Siouxsie.

Calvi’s style has been described as dark, romantic, atmospheric pop. The singer has stated that the powers of lust are an inspiration and her performances are deliberately sexually charged. Calvi has cited Nina Simone, Maria Callas, the rock of Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, the blues of Captain Beefheart, the stage performances of Nick Cave, David Bowie and Scott Walker as well as classical composers Carlo Gesualdo, Messiaen, Ravel and Debussy as among her influences.

Calvi has stated that the films of Gus Van Sant, Wong Kar-Wai and David Lynch have also influenced her music. She admires “people that make beautiful films where the cinematography tells the story” and tries to do the same in her own work.

In 2011, a portrait of Calvi was painted by British artist Joe Simpson (artist), the painting was exhibited around the UK including a solo exhibition at The Royal Albert Hall.


On 1 December 2010, Calvi performed at the Colette showcase in Paris as part of The Room of Curiosities exhibition by Thomas Erber. Calvi was invited to play at the Gucci dinner, hosted by Vogue during the 2011 Haute Couture Paris fashion week. Frida Giannini, creative director at Gucci, has chosen outfits for Calvi to wear during the May 2011 US tour. Calvi also opened the new Gucci Sydney store on 30 November 2011.

The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld has said he is a fan of her music, and has photographed Calvi for the Maison Michel Fall Winter 2011 lookbook. Sir Paul Smith photographed Calvi for the cover of L’Express Styles. Calvi was invited on the Chanel table for the Amfar charity event at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.


Studio albums

List of studio albums, with selected chart positions and certifications
Title Album details Peak chart positions Certifications
Anna Calvi
  • Released: 17 January 2011
  • Label: Domino Records
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download
40 33 9 36 17 70 72 55 40 42
One Breath
  • Released: 7 October 2013
  • Label: Domino Records
  • Formats: CD, LP, digital download
32 69 20 40 33 79 31 56 30


List of singles, showing year released and album name
Year Single Album
2010 “Jezebel/ Moulinette”

  • Released: 11 October
non-album track
2011 “Blackout / Surrender”

  • Released: 21 March
Anna Calvi
“Desire / Joan of Arc”

  • Released: 20 June
“Suzanne and I” / “Baby It’s You”

  • Released: 12 September
2012 “Jezebel (Version Française) / Wolf Like Me”

  • Released: 20 February
non-album track
2013 “Eliza / A Kiss To Your Twin”

  • Released: 1 October
One Breath
“Endless World / 1970s Wind”

  • Released: 7 October
Bonus 7″ vinyl with Special Edition LP of One Breath
“Suddenly / Fire”

  • Released: 23 December
One Breath

Awards and nominations

Year Organisation Nominated work Award Result
2010 BBC Sound of 2011 Anna Calvi Sound of 2011 Nominated
2011 Mercury Prize Anna Calvi Best Album Nominated
2011 UK Festival Awards Anna Calvi Best Breakthrough Artist Nominated
2011 European Festivals Awards Anna Calvi Newcomer of The Year Nominated
2012 Eurosonic Noorderslag Anna Calvi European Border Breakers Award (UK) Won
2012 The Guardian Anna Calvi First Album Award Nominated
2012 Brit Awards Anna Calvi British Breakthrough Act Nominated
2012 European Festivals Awards Anna Calvi Newcomer of The Year Nominated