Dark side of the croon

The story goes something like this: a friend of political journalist Annika Henderson told her that some guys in a band were looking for a weird singer. Henderson, who had been writing songs (though she'd never really wanted to be the singer of a band) showed up at a jam session of sorts to see what her words would sound like set to music. There was chemistry and a plan to meet again. Henderson went home and idly Googled the band called Beak — and realized she'd been playing with — OMG — Geoff Barrow of Portishead.

Yes, experimental band Beak is Barrow's side project, with Billy Fuller and Matt Williams; Beak produced Anika, Henderson’s debut album. As the title suggests, Henderson dropped her last name and that extra “N” for the stage; Beak (minus Barrow, who remains behind the scenes but wants Anika to be be about Anika) is Anika's backing band.

"I wanted to make something that totally went against all the stuff that annoyed me in the industry," says Henderson of her album. Like, the way bands worried more about what they wore than what they had to say. Anika's original lyrics are "trying to challenge the way people think about things … but I wouldn't want to do a whole record like that, because it's just too much." For her debut, Anika chose a selection of '60s and '70s covers, including Yoko Ono's "Yang Yang," "The End of the World" by Skeeter Davis and Greta Ann's "Sadness Hides the Sun."

"They're sweet songs," she says. "But for me, they're inherently political in the way we've reinterpreted them." In fact, the songs are performed dirge-like, over thick beats and industrial clanks, at once primal and futuristic. But it's Henderson's voice that so definitively divorces the songs from their bubbly, sugary beginnings. Her delivery is cold, deadpan — not exactly robotic, but reminiscent of tuneful a Rosa Klebb. Or the Borg’s Seven of Nine.

Or Nico, Andy Warhol's muse, and singer with The Velvet Underground. "In a way it's a lazy comparison," says Henderson. "OK, I'm German and blond and wear a lot of black." But, she adds, it's not the worst association. Despite an ultimately sad story, Nico's career was bohemian and artistic, crossing genres and pushing boundaries, much as Henderson wants to do.

And Henderson has the tools to succeed. In addition to her journalism background, she's also worked at a record label and as a tour manager. Knowing how the industry works, "my standards are quite high," she says. "There are certain details in the industry that are hidden from people. I come from a more realistic background. I get both sides of it."

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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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