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Catherine Anne Davies

Catherine Anne Davies

Multi-instrumentalist, Writer and Producer
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Catherine Anne Davies

Catherine Anne Davies aka The Anchoress is a multi-instrumentalist, writer and producer who has collaborated with the likes of Manic Street Preachers, Simple Minds and Nitin Sawhney. She released her debut solo album Confessions of a Romance Novelist in 2016 and is currently working on a second.

The Anchoress, Manic Street Preachers, Simple Minds, Nitin Sawhney, Paul Draper, Steven Wilson
Catherine Uses
Spirit
Learning on the Job

I started playing at around age 7 - I was a classically-trained flautist. I got very good very quickly and ended up playing in orchestras and then, when I was around 12, I found my sister's guitar. From that moment onwards, I very much turned away from traditional music lessons and was just self-taught on everything since then - the piano, guitar. For my 18th birthday, I had the choice between driving lessons and a multi-track recorder. I made the fatal choice of no driving lessons! I still can’t drive, but I’ve ended up making my living out of recording music so it didn't turn out too badly!

Music was always a hobby I pursued alongside whatever else I was doing, until I went to London to study English at university. Whilst I was there, music just grew as a second pathway. I was asked to perform as artist-in-residence at the Southbank Centre, where I got to work with Nitin Sawhney alongside the London Philharmonic.

From then on, I began doing quite a bit of co-writing, as well as working out of Stanley House studio in West London owned by Hugh Padgham and Chris Porter. That’s where I began my studio career, learning, watching and spending as much time as I could in the production rooms there. I was learning on the job basically!

Dropping the Anchor

It’s been very much a case of teaching myself, through the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. I released my debut album as The Anchoress - 'Confessions of a Romance Novelist' in 2016. As soon as I did that, I got into co-writing and co-producing Paul Draper’s solo album "Spooky Action". I've also had a great working relationship with Paul ‘P. Dub’ Walton who's worked with Bjork, Birdy, No Doubt, The Cure and loads of great people over the years. I learned so much from working with him, he has been very generous with allowing me into his engineering techniques in recording.

When I won the PRS Writer/Producer award in 2018, that felt like a great achievement for me - to be recognised not only as an artist but also for my studio work. I should probably also mention my duet collaboration with Manic Street Preachers on their last album 'Resistance Is Futile', which was a huge deal for me. I never could have imagined that would happen and when it did, it was a bit like, okay, there’s nothing really left to aim for anymore - I'll retire! I’m so grateful that the album did so well. It went straight to Number 2 in the charts, just pipped by ‘The Greatest Showman’ Soundtrack!

Manic Street Preachers were really important to me growing up, culturally, not just musically. The Manics opened up a whole world through their music, they encouraged me to read and to think it was glamorous and not something that you would get bullied for! It was something that was cool and Rock and Roll. It was an unusual way of looking at the world for me, and it changed my life, completely. I know they’ve done that for countless other people too.

Wearing many hats

I don’t have a set way of working. I think the thing that marks me out in the way I approach records, that attracts whoever I’m working with, is the creative flexibility. What is really important if you’re producing a session is to not bring your ego in to the room, to think about how you’re serving the song first of all and what the artist wants to achieve.

For most people I talk to now, in terms of how you carve a career working in music, they have what you call "portfolio" careers. You’ll very rarely see someone who is ‘just an engineer’, or ‘just a mastering engineer’ coming up now. Even people working at the top of their game are having to straddle many roles - so you’ll do mixing AND production, there may be a bit of co-writing too. The way the industry has changed, particularly with decreasing revenue streams, people are having to diversify so it’s becoming more normal to do what was actually quite natural for me all along, which was to have a foot in many camps.

I’ve just set up my own independent production room and have been co-writing with different artists. I’m trying to transition away from the touring life I’ve had for the past 4 years… My life has been pretty much, tour bus, tour bus, tour bus… Don’t go home, go to the studio. Rinse and repeat. But I do get to do what I love and that’s make records.

I have a second album coming out as ‘The Anchoress’ later this year and I will continue to write and produce for other artists. It’s just the life of a modern music maker, you wear many hats!

Sturdy little f*****s

I do love collecting gear, so I have lots of guitars, vintage synths, and microphones of course. I have my beautiful Chandler Redd 47 mic pre. It’s a piece of gear that just sounds incredible. That has been a standard part of my vocal chain for the past two years or so.

With gear, it's just about being honest. And when it’s word of mouth people are just more honest. Certainly when I was chatting to Ged Grimes (Simple Minds) I remember him telling me whilst we were on tour that he was really impressed with the Aston mics, so I had to check it out for myself.

I have a pair of the Spirits now permanently set up on the Upright Challen piano. So that’s been good for me. I have a pair of U87’s that I use normally but it means I can’t use them on anything else ‘cause I hate changing my set up mid session. So it’s good for me to have something I can have just there permanently ready.

We ended up doing a shootout with them and the U87’s. Because I knew that’s what I wanted them for, I always have a specific purpose in mind and they’ve just been perfect. I don’t have to worry about them moving or even being knocked. They’re sturdy little f*****s aren’t they?!

Out-takes

Q: Who are your favourite artists?
A: I’ve really been in love with the recent Moses Sumney record, ‘Aromanticism’. If you look at a lot of the arrangements in that, there’s that kind of Brian Wilson influence where it’s very subtle. The Voice used as instruments, as an arrangement tool.

Q: If you weren’t working in music what would you be doing?
A: I have my PHD in English Literature, so I probably would stay on the academic route, maybe as a lecturer. Be a Professor in some nice horn-rimmed glasses and a cardigan.

Q. What would your fantacy mic be?
A: One that could simultaneously record the inside of your voice and the outside. Like when you put your ear to someone’s chest and they speak.  

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