Singer-guitarist Anna Calvi dreams big

While other kids were told to stop their silly daydreaming, Anna Calvi, who grew up with two licensed hypnotherapists for parents, was urged to pursue it.

“It was weird, with lots of dinnertime discussions about your feelings, your emotions,” says the guitar-slinging British sensation who appears at Cafe Du Nord on Sunday.

“That’s what it feels like to be under hypnosis – like being in a really vivid daydream,” she says. “But I think it’s nice to be in touch with that, because that means you’re in touch with your creativity, your imagination. So I found that it’s more important to cultivate that than to try and stop it.”

That might account for the dark, Morricone-ominous fever dreams she sketches with her booming ax and catacomb-deep vocals on her eponymous Domino debut, which she’ll tout in The City.

Her folks taught her less abstract skills, too: “Like how to read people and understand why they do the things they do, which I’ve definitely found helpful in my life,” she says. “But as a musician, as a writer, dreams are such a valuable tool to take from – it’s fascinating, the way your mind creates these poems from your life. So I’ve always been a dreamer, and happily so.”

Calvi – who still hasn’t decoded her recurring nightmare of being stalked by a Bengal tiger – dreamed big.

The shy child found her voice via strumming a six-string, and by 12 she created her own primitive home studio – a karaoke machine with twin tape decks and a guitar input jack.

“You could record and then overdub yourself as many times as you liked,” she says. “And I used to spend hours doing that – creating whole soundscapes with just my guitar and any other instruments I could find lying around.”

Naturally, Calvi, 28, studied orchestration/arrangement in music college. Still, the dusky trill heard on tracks like “Desire” and “The Devil” remained latent, untapped, since she was too timid to even sing in the shower.

“But five years ago, I decided to get over that fear,” she says. “I’d practice singing for hours and hours every day, and listen to singers that I loved, like Edith Piaf and Nina Simone, trying to find my own voice.” Now, her style – complemented by the flamenco outfits she sports onstage – has won her fans like Eno and Nick Cave.

Did Calvi’s parents ever hypnotize her into thinking that, say, a childhood bane like broccoli tasted good? She laughs. “No, that never actually happened.” But then she pauses. “Or maybe it did! And I just don’t know about it!”


Anna Calvi

Where: Café Du Nord, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 9 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $13 to $15
Contact: (415) 861-5016,

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