Genre-straddling composer Anna Meredith picks the passions that keep her focused and, well, erm, fuel her creative life… hold on to your hats
HIP HOP ABS
“I’ve never been remotely sporty and had resigned myself to being the person who endlessly gets hit on the head with a football and can never land a piece of paper in a bin, but I’ve become slightly obsessed with Shaun T, the American trainer behind the ‘Hip Hop Abs’ home workout programme. I discovered it through some horrendous infomercial, but I did it religiously for a year. I still try to workout nearly every day because it’s the only thing that makes me feel I’ve got any structure and it’s something I can feel good about, even if I fail to write a single note.”
“I’ve always been a complete wuss, a goody-goody, squeaky clean type of person, but I decided around 10 years ago to do a few things that scare me a little. I’ve always been petrified of anything theme park-related, so I started going to Thorpe Park and a few others. I now have this odd relationship with roller-coasters: I’m sort of fixated while being absolutely petrified. I spend a worrying amount of time watching online point-of-view videos of roller-coasters.
“The one I couldn’t get my head around was this flying roller-coaster at Six Flags in LA called Tatsu. I finally went on it this year. You climb into the seat, which then tips backwards so that your back is parallel with the coaster and your arms and legs are dangling. You genuinely feel like you’re flying. It was just as amazing and terrifying as I imagined. I do seem to have developed this Dickensian gluttony for punishment and pushing myself.”
“Denial is a very useful musical state to be in. When I’m doing anything creative, I manage to block out all the shit that I know could easily paralyse me. I’ve learnt to completely disengage with thoughts about how big an audience I’m playing to, which reviewers might be there etc. I’m quite an anxious person in general, but I don’t want to write anxious music so a state of blissful ignorance while composing is incredibly helpful to me. To do this, I’ve learned to create conditions where I can feel musically confident and swaggering. I avoid listening to music, I listen to podcasts and audio books instead. I get into this hermit-like state and get on with it.”
WATERING THE LAWN
“A year ago I moved into a new place and I finally got a tiny garden with a little, completely unremarkable lawn. I’ve become completely fixated with its wellbeing. I have this odd parental responsibility for it. When I went on holiday, the only thing I could think about was, ‘Would the lawn be OK when I got back?’. Having some low-level meditative thing to check in on is quite a useful thing I find.”
“I got into music by playing clarinet and percussion in wind bands. They’re the least fashionable of your high school music groups, but I’ve got such a soft spot for that sound. I think it’s that feeling of being immersed in the middle of this big, warm sound, like a bath. Those pieces I played as a teenager are so embedded in me. I’ve got a friend from that background and, in the coolest of ways, we like to sing our way through the clarinet parts of Holst’s ‘First Suite In E-Flat’ for example. There’s just something about the energy of a wind band that’s so deep-rooted. I’m very fond of it.”
“I’m a bit of a worrier and an over-thinker, so audio books have become a way for me to have something else in my head. When you’re writing music you reach this ‘Champagne cork’ moment, when you don’t have to think creatively anymore – your role becomes more administrative. Then you can swap all that exhausting concentration for sheer slog, and I’ve found that audio books fill that channel neatly. I plough through them and normally look for the beefier ones. Anything over the 10-hour mark works for me. Right now I’m listening to some Stephen King, before that it was Philip Pullman, some Sherlock Holmes and ‘Sapiens: A Brief History Of Humankind’ by Yuval Noah Harari.
“You can carry these things around with you, and have them as the first thing you hear when you wake up and the last before you go to sleep. It’s that British politeness gland kicking in – you feel that if someone’s talking to you it’d be rude to not listen. So audio books make me pay attention, in a way that printed books sadly do not, and they help occupy quite a bit of headspace for me.”
“I’m really into playing board games with friends. I get together with a bunch of composer pals and we put our phones away and have a games night once a week. We’re currently obsessed with this game called Pandemic. What’s lovely about it is that it’s cooperative, we’re all working together to ‘save the world’. So much of life is about competing and comparing yourself. The way the game escalates, it feels exponentially panicky, so it’s surprisingly absorbing. A nice wholesome activity.”
Anna Meredith’s ‘Anno’ is out on Moshi Moshi