As funny as it may sound, Anaïs Mitchell has spent the last 15 years in a kind of hell. Ok, not real hell, but the multi-faceted world of Hadesvillea musical project she started in Vermont in 2006 that has become a Tony-and Grammys-an award-winning Broadway phenom with touring editions that now delight audiences as far away as South Korea.
She was named to TIME’s prestigious 2020 TIME100 list, and her first book, Working on a Song – Hadestown Lyrics was published by Penguin/Plume the same year.
Dubbed by NPR as “one of the greatest songwriters of his generation”, Mitchell’s new self-titled album is produced by Josh Kaufman. It was made with close collaborators Bon Iver, The National and his own band Bonny Light Horseman, and is Mitchell’s first collection of all-new material under his own name since 2012. Young man in America. Mitchell will debut the new songs on her 2022 tours of the United States and Europe, during which she will be accompanied by performers from the album.
BroadwayWorld’s Kevin Pollack recently sat down with Mitchell to talk about the new album, Hadesville and Bonny Light Horseman.
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BWW: Tell us how this new album was born?
When the pandemic hit New York, I was *just* about to give birth to our second child, and we made the 11th-hour decision to move to my family’s farm in Vermont to have the baby. . The baby was born a week later, and then we all moved into a little house on the farm that belonged to my grandparents when they were alive (my parents and my brother’s family also have houses on the farm). Suddenly we were there, in this extraordinary immobility. I started writing songs again and got into a flow I hadn’t felt in years. All but one of these songs were written in the summer and fall of 2020.
BWW: What influences did you have for your new album?
I think most of the time the stillness and rediscovery of what is is to write a song that can be whatever it wants to be i.e. doesn’t have to do too advance the plot or develop the character. I also think these songs are influenced by my work in my collaborative (and when we started, traditional) band Bonny Light Horseman. My bandmate Josh Kaufman produced it, he uses a lot of open tunings, and the main band is also made up of the same people who played on our BLH record. So there’s a bit of a sonic cachet there.
BWW: Where does the concept of Hadestovn the beginning, and what was the whole process like?
I was in my twenties and just starting out as a singer-songwriter when I started working on Hadesville. I was curious to use songs to tell a longer story, and so when I was driving from gig to gig and some lines fell from the sky that seemed to be about the Orpheus + Eurydice myth, I just started working on that . I contacted my first collaborators Michael Chorney (who remained orchestrator and guitarist until Broadway) and Ben t. Matchstick, the first director of the series. We asked all of our friends to play the characters and put on the show for two years in a row in Vermont. It was a very DIY community theater situation, and the show was much shorter and more abstract at the time. The next thing that happened was I did a studio recording with producer Todd Sickafoose (who became our other orchestrator!) and all these guest musicians and singers, so the whole show went completely moved into the music business for a few years as we were making and touring with this record Then I moved to New York, met Rachel Chavkin and the lead producers who helped develop the show for Broadway, and I started a phase that lasted another six years, as we prepared the show for off-Broadway, Edmonton, London and finally Broadway. So it was a long, slow, organic journey for us…
BWW: In your opinion, what makes Hadesville different from any other musical out there?
Well, it’s definitely a show that came out of the music world first and foremost, and I think you can feel that in the songs, the orchestrations, and also the way the music pointed the way to certain sets and staging ideas…sort of De, the show culture, which Rachel was very adamant about, had to straddle the worlds of music and theater.
BWW: Which song from the new album means the most to you and why?
There’s a song called “Revenant” which is kind of dreamy and hazy, it’s still mysterious to me and I think that’s why it means so much. It’s a bit about my grandmother, my childhood memories in and out of my grandparents’ house, it’s also about me kind of “seeing” the child that I was and want to kiss her, tell her that I receive her, this mysterious encounter between me at the age that I have and me as a child.
BWW: What are your musical influences?
I’m very influenced by the kind of verbose, epic ‘songwriters of songwriters’ like Joni Mitchell, Townes Van Zandt, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, the folk ballad of the British Isles. I also fell in love with Rickie Lee Jones, Ani Difranco, Tori Amos at an impressionable age. In terms of songwriting, I would say Wretched, Sweeney Todd, The Threepenny Operawere all very important to me.
BWW: You released an album with Bonny Light Horseman. How did you get involved in this group?
I started working with Josh Kaufman when we were both living in Brooklyn, playing traditional music. Josh brought his friend Eric into the band which really got me excited as I had recently discovered and fallen in love with his band Fruit Bats. I think I was looking for something COMPLETELY different from Hadesville, and that’s what Bonny Light Horseman was, at least in the beginning. We have now made a second album, which is made up of co-written original songs rather than traditional material, and it will be released later this year!
BWW: What do you think will be the future of musical theatre?
I’m very impressed with how flexible and fluid Broadway seems to be becoming in terms of embracing shows that come through unusual channels, potentially coming from all corners of the music world. I think people are discovering how to tell stories using all kinds of music and it’s so exciting. I also think that with live captures and many musicals adapted for cinema, it forces us to seriously think about what makes a live performance in a theater different, moving and essential, and to look at the magic of that…people together in a room…that’s what the concert experience has always been.
BWW: Now that you have a Grammy and a Tony Award, is film and TV next?
I would love to work in film and television if the right project crossed my path and if I had the time and space to do it! I find the combination of music and film/TV so moving. But I haven’t quite found my way yet.
BWW: What awaits you on the horizon?
I’m currently on tour with this self-titled record, but I also have an album coming out later this year with my folk band Bonny Light Horseman! So we’re going to shoot this record as well. I’m having so much fun writing and recording right now…and collaborating!!
2/4 – Iowa City, IA – Englert Theater
2/5 – Eau Claire, WI – Pablo Center at Confluent
2/7 – Ann Arbor, MI – The Ark
2/8 – Cincinnati, OH – Longworth-Anderson Series at Memorial Hall
2/10 – Springfield, OH – Kuss Auditorium
2/11- North Bethesda, MD – The Strathmore Music Center
2/12 – Princeton, NJ – McCarter Theater Center
2/14 – New York, NY – Webster Hall
2/15 – Hanover, NH – Hopkins Center for the Arts
2/16 – Tarrytown, NY – Tarrytown Music Hall
2/17 – Portland, ME – Merrill Auditorium
2/18 – Boston, MA – Berklee Performance Center
2/19 – Burlington, Vermont – Flynn Center for the Performing Arts
2/20 – Kingston, NY – Old Dutch Church
2/23 – Roanoke, Va. – Jefferson Center
2/24 – Charlotte, NC – Knight Theater
2/26 – Athens, Georgia – Hugh Hodgson School of Music
2/27 – Auburn, AL – Auburn University Jay and Susie Gogue Center for the Performing Arts
2/28 – Greenville, SC – The Peace Center
4/28 – Evanston, IL – Space
4/29 – Milwaukee, WI – Shank Hall
5/01 – Minneapolis, MN – Lawn Club
5/04 – Seattle, WA – The Crocodile
5/05 – Portland, OR – Revolution Hall
5/07 – San Francisco, CA – The Chapel
5/09 – Los Angeles, California – Masonic Lodge at Hollywood Forever
To learn more, please visit www.anaismitchell.com