The Anchoress on covering New Order, her new album and how there’s “not a fucking chance” of touring Europe since Brexit

The Anchoress, aka Catherine Anne Davies, has spoken to NME about her new single – a cover of New Order’s ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’ – as well as her new album and upcoming Spring tour.

Davies has shared a number of covers over the past year as part of ‘Bandcamp Friday’ – with her rendition of New Order’s 1986 the latest in a line of indie classics. She recently received kudos from collaborators Manic Street Preachers for her take on ‘This Is Yesterday’.

“Whenever I’ve done covers, the criteria has always been: is this a great song, and is there something new or different I can bring to it?” Davies told NME, having already covered songs by the likes of The CureDepeche Mode and Blur. “I’ve tried to re-imagine them in a very different way to the original.”

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Despite dramatically changing some beloved songs, Davies said the covers have been a success with fans of the originals.

“When I’ve tackled a song where there is a big fan base, like with Depeche Mode or The Cure, you do always feel a little bit of trepidation – like you don’t want to ruin someone’s favourite song!

“But I’ve been really lucky in that all of the fan bases have been really kind, embracing the songs precisely because I have approached them very differently from the originals. I’m not trying to replicate or spoil the thing they love.”

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Davies said she liked ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’s’ “ambiguity as a kind of mysterious novella.”

She continued: “Great songs like this have that gap for the listener to insert their own interpretation. As every perfect song should, it allows the listener to project their own meaning and narrative onto it.”

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Davies’ version is especially synth-heavy – something the musician described as a tribute to the “uncelebrated genius” of New Order keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. “I remember following Tim Burgess’ listening party on Twitter and them showing a hand drawn picture of Gillian’s programming on ‘Blue Monday’ and it was extraordinary. Her role in innovating alternative dance music needs more recognition.”

The song’s accompanying video, which has been directed by JJ Eringa, was made “in the image of Manchester” as a homage to New Order, with touchstones to “abstract city images and brutalist influences” that were often found in their work, Davies added.

The track was produced by Davies and mixed by Mario McNulty, famed for his work with David BowieNine Inch Nails and Prince. “He just made it sound even more fucking awesome! I’ve been an admirer of his work since he worked on Bowie’s ‘The Next Day’. It was very special to work with him.”

David Bowie
David Bowie performs live in 1992. CREDIT: Michael Putland/Getty Images

While her other covers have come out via Bandcamp Friday, her latest release arrived via Drowned in Sound’s newly re-launched Singles Club label.

“There’s a great history of artists who launched their careers via the DiS Singles Club, like Martha Wainwright,” Davies explained. “It’s great to have it back. Sean Adams [label owner and her co-manager] always had a track record of innovative ways of working that felt very ahead of its time and this label is a reflection of that.”

Eventually, a selection of the covers will be re-recorded for a new album to be released later this year. Davies said that she hopes the project will help audiences value cover versions more.

“There’s always been a lot of snobbery with covers,” she continued. “People presume that you’re just doing to do a whimsical acoustic version or a paint-by numbers John Lewis Christmas ad.

“But you have a tried-and-tested, ready-made song in front of you, where you can flex your own vocal, production and arrangement skills meaning there is always huge scope for unique re-imaginings and reinterpretations that can add something new to the song, or can make you view it in a completely different light.”

Davies said she was also influenced by Tori Amos’ seminal cover’s album, ‘Strange Little Girls’.

“Like with ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, flipping the perspective from a male voice to a female one was something I’m really interested in. Most of the songs I’ve done have been by male vocalists, so I’m wondering if I’ve unconsciously followed in Tori’s footsteps a bit here, recasting them in a female light.”

Robert Smith of The Cure
Robert Smith of The Cure. CREDIT: Shlomi Pinto/Getty Images

While Davies may be still deciding on the final list of covers for the album, she said she was certain her version of The Cure’s ‘Friday I’m In Love’ will make the cut.

Robert Smith has been a really important person for me over the last few years,” Davies told NME. “I was asked to perform at his Meltdown in 2018 and when I made my last album, we exchanged emails and he was very encouraging.

“He’s a genius songwriter and producer and he’s given me lots of inspiration to produce my own work,” Davies said, in a week that’s seen her nominated for a Music Producer’s Guild award. “As we’ve seen recently with his challenging of Ticketmaster, he’s a very ethical and principled person and is helping to take on just one of the many problems with live touring at the moment.”

Davies will head out with a new band on her first tour since the pandemic this spring, with a headline slot at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. Being an entirely independent artist, Davies said she’s felt the struggles of the live music industry more than ever.

“The costs have just escalated so much,” she explained. “The margins were already tight but now with increased fuel, hotel costs and venues taking a percentage of merch money, it’s impossible to make ends meet.

“I think it’s good that artists are being more honest about this now, like Little Simz who spoke up recently about not being able to afford her US tour. The live touring model is fucked.”

Davies said she thinks her chance of touring Europe has also now vanished since the UK left the EU in 2016. “Tour Europe? There’s not a fucking chance since Brexit,” she continued.

“The logistics are just so extreme. The issue of carnets is incredibly complex and now there’s the very real risk your gear will get held up at customs, meaning you miss a show – just as we’ve seen with some artists already. Can we afford to play roulette every night on tour like this? We can’t and it makes me really sad.”

Davies said a system like they have in Canada, where their government invests heavily in culture is “desperately needed” in the UK.

“We need more subsidising of our creative outputs because otherwise music will just become the preserve of the upper middle classes,” she continued. “That obviously has a huge knock-on effect for the kind of music that we’re going to hear and the narratives that we are listening to. We’re already in desperate need of more diverse voices.”

Catherine Anne Davies aka The Anchoress performs at The Mayflower Theatre on June 1, 2017 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Harry Herd/Redferns)
Catherine Anne Davies aka The Anchoress performs at The Mayflower Theatre on June 1, 2017 in Southampton, England. (Photo by Harry Herd/Redferns)

Davies recently set up a Patreon to help fund her third original album of music following the critically acclaimed ‘‘The Art Of Losing’. She has followed a model set up by artists like Gary Numan and Public Service Broadcasting that hoped to unlock the process of making the record with fans.

“Bandcamp Fridays helped me to lift the curtain on how I made songs with fans more,” Davies said. “Not many artists did that beyond Radiohead when they released their demos. It’s opened up more dialogue with fans and enabled me to reflect more on my own process too.”

While the themes of her next album are “still emerging”, she said she’s certain it will be “more collaborative”, reflecting her recent work with Band Spectra on political anthem ‘Human Reciprocator’. “The themes on the last album were quite dark and it needed a more solitary process. The mantra for album three is to retrieve some of the joy of song writing again,” Davies explained.

“I’m finding that [joy] through my work with fellow female song-writers, producers and multi-instrumentalists like Eaves Wilder, who I’ve been working with.”

As for other collaborations, Davies would love to work with Elton John, who championed her last album on his radio show. “He’s just made such incredible records and is another who has been very supportive; it would be a dream to work with him. Who knows: maybe we could even do a cover together?!”

See The Anchoress’ upcoming tour dates, and visit here for tickets and information.

MAY
1 – The Parish, Huddersfield
9 – Boileroom, Guildford
10 – Komedia, Brighton
12 – Rescue Rooms, Nottingham 
13 – Deaf Institute, Manchester 
14 – Trades Club, Hebden Bridge
17 – Guildhall, Gloucester 
18 – Academy, Birmingham 
20 – Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 
21 – Thekla, Bristol 

SEPTEMBER
21 – Leaf, Liverpool
22 – Summerhall, Edinburgh 
23 – Central Library, Hull 
24 – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
30 – Acapella, Cardiff

OCTOBER
4 – Junction, Cambridge 

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