As a solo artist and a collaborator (with Lydia Lunch, Nick Cave, Kid Congo Powers, Nico, Gene Pitney, Marc Almond, Matt Johnson, members of the Pogues and Siouxsie and the Banshees, among others), Anni Hogan has formed a large musical family. She talks about members of that family and her new solo recording, produced by Soft Cell’s David Ball.
British musician/producer/composer Anni Hogan has been involved with many projects over the years, so it comes as no surprise that she tapped into her extended musical family for her new solo release, Lost In Blue. Produced by David Ball of synthpop legends Soft Cell, the album features appearances from such artists as Lydia Lunch, Wolfgang Flür (ex-Kraftwerk), Gavin Friday (Virgin Prunes), Kid Congo Powers (Gun Club, Cramps, Bad Seeds) and Richard Strange (Doctors of Madness).
Hogan has been classically trained on the piano since age 12 and from the start found that composing her own music came naturally. In 1979, she began DJing and promoting events in Leeds, which led her to connect with other musicians. In 1982, she became one of the only consistent members of Marc and the Mambas, a side project of Soft Cell’s Marc Almond. The group had a darker, less dance-oriented and more theatrical sound than Soft Cell and, for a time, featured Matt Johnson of The The.
Hogan made her solo debut in 1985 with the EP Annie Hogan Plays Kickabye. Originally on Cabaret Voltaire’s Doublevision label, the EP featured guest vocals from Almond and Nick Cave as well as percussion and harmonica from Siouxsie and The Banshees’ drummer Budgie. Hogan continued her working relationship with Almond throughout the ’80s as a key collaborator on his solo albums.
Her other collaborations from this era include playing keyboards on albums by Barry Adamson and Zeke Manyika and touring with Paul Weller and The Style Council (on vibraphone). In 1989 she founded Cactus Rain, who released an album, In Our Own Time, in 1989.
In recent years, Hogan has put out collaborative releases with artists such as Martin Bowes (Attrition), Itchy Ear, and Robin Rimbaud (Scanner). She has also teamed up with former Simple Minds bassist Derek Forbes for the multimedia project Zanti.
PKM: You’ve had releases with several different projects in recent years. What made you decide to do another solo album now?
Anni Hogan: I wanted to do a solo album which would involve collaborations. I love working with real people and involving some of the musical family that I’ve been working with for years. For example, Enrico Tomasso, who is just an amazing trumpet player. I’ve been working with him since Marc days. I mean, he’s been voted top British trumpet player four times, something like that. He’s so great. Working with him again, working with Dave again, and working with Gavin, which is exciting. Richard Strange, who I DJed for at Cabaret Futura, one of his clubs that he used to do. I kind of hooked up with familiar people and Dave introduced me to a few people along the way.
The whole idea was a solo album that is step up from Kickabye. That was a solo EP, which got expanded to a double album in 2009 when I was collating all my ’80s extra bits and bobs and stuff. For example, the track I did with Yello and the track I did with Simon Fisher Turner were put on there. [This time] I thought I needed to do something proper. I felt ready for it, if you know what I mean.
PKM: What is it like working with David Ball as producer?
Anni Hogan: His genius, we’ll say. I mean, he’s extremely musical. He gets it. He’s a great producer, in my opinion. He worked closely with his production partner Rick Mulhall, who has become a really good friend. They brought to it a proper old-fashioned producer style, which is what I wanted. Somebody who’s going to bring the best out in my music or the best out of me.
PKM: You’ve had releases with a few different projects recently. Were you working on this solo album at the same time, or did you block out time to completely focus on it?
Anni Hogan: No, I was totally focused on writing this album. It was quite a challenge. For example, the first track. I was chatting with David Coulter, who used to play with The Pogues and the Brodsky Quartet. He does tons of stuff. He’s a brilliant multi-instrumentalist. He sent me a moving viola part, basically. Just a sort of sustained, drone-y viola part that developed over a few minutes. I just immediately heard a vocal to that, which is very unusual for me. I heard the lyrics, everything at once. I did that even here at home with quilts wrapped around me and everything to try and dampen the sound. I just wanted to do it there and then. It developed just from the actual writing and working.
PKM: Could you discuss some of your collaborators on this album, in terms of how you came to work with them and what the experience was like?
Anni Hogan: I had met up again with Dave when we were both booked for a DJ gig in Dublin along with Wolfgang Flür. After the gig, I slipped a small note under Wolfgang’s hotel door suggesting we should get together and we did. The resulting friendship and first track together, “Golden Light” is on his album Eloquence and I worked another version with the electronic artist Robin Rimbaud on our LP Scanni. However, I still felt the song could be developed further and so included it in my files for the Lost In Blue album.
I had also previously sent Wolfgang a piano piece which he wrote and performed the beautiful “Silk Paper” to and that got the ‘John Barry’-esque production treatment which enhances the cinematic oeuvre. Apart from us all being crazy Kraftwerk fans and therefore happily enthused with one of the electronic ‘fab four’ being on the album, Wolfgang is a dear trusted friend and confidante and his encouragement really pushed me along with making this ‘solo’ album which is, of course, a mass collaborative construct as most ‘solo’ work is. His initial belief in me was another one of those pivotal moments, which helped instigate a huge creative release.
I had originally worked with Lydia previously on Immaculate Consumptive and some of her demos back in the ’80s. Always a fan and her album Queen of Siam is a favorite forever, I contacted Lydia through a mutual friend and sent her a little repetitive raw piano and melodica piece, and she loved it. Lydia sent it back enhanced with her own raw evocative vocal, and it was the first track I sent to the boys for a listen. Of course, they loved it, and Dave added the Lynchian bass guitar and JB aesthetics that we both so love and are influenced by. Dave and I originally bonded on Bond and other common musical ground, and he understands where I’m going with a song or where to intrinsically take it or expand it or the many variants of.
I had been friends with Kid since those hazy houseboat days, Gun Club and Bad Seeds days and had wanted to work with him ever since. I sent him a creeping dreamy solo piano piece which he wrapped in a semi-autobiographical spoken word narrative, delivering his unique coolest cat drawl. I am a huge fan of all things Kid from the Cramps to his latest band Kid Congo and The Pink Monkey Birds. He has stayed with me on the journey as the song has developed and is one of the kindest and most generous artists I know. The final piece is a huge filmic swath with full ‘JB orchestral’ experience and beautiful ‘Chet Baker’ tones from Enrico Tomasso.
Richard Strange and I had become friends when he brought me in as house DJ when he rebirthed his alternative cabaret night Cabaret Futura in 2010. Initially, Soft Cell actually played it. It was fun to be part of the re-run until album work took me back into the studio. It felt natural to ask Richard, and he initially performed to a demo piano version of the track in a small studio in London where my nephew was engineering. Richard wrote and this tremendous tale of a fading beauty, and I knew it needed musically transforming to match the grandeur of the narrative. I tucked it away, and eventually, it made its way down to Ricc’s studio in Richmond where the boys worked on the tracks, and I went when needed any extra musician sessions, mainly harp, horns, and backing vocals. Enrico suggested Al Nicholls on sax and Al came in, and we created a layered smoky jazzy vibe with my piano driving from the center. Dave wanted to create a ‘band’ feeling on the album, albeit John Barry’s band with additional orchestra and instruments. I think we achieved it. The album has a sound despite the diversity of components.
Mentioning harp brings me to Gavin Friday, a friend of Dave’s who was immediate in agreement to get involved in the album. I had met Gavin sometime somewhere back in the day, but only briefly so this was another new and special moment. I sent him a fairly complete piece, drum machine & piano, strong melodic line to suggest a vocal and strings. Gavin responded ‘I think we can do something magical’ which I jumped out of my chair in excitement and immediately called Dave & Ricc at the studio. Gavin went in the studio in Dublin and created a compelling complicated and utterly devastating beauty which actually made me cry when I first heard it. His voice and talent are so amazing. He suggested harp, and I contacted Maria Christina, and she came down to the studio at Richmond, and along with adding her own unique, amazing harp, she gave us all a harp lesson too! The production created an epic, weaving its spell, swirling and building to its triumphant despair and truly is a mini-movie on its own.
PKM: For Kickabye you’d worked with Nick Cave on the track “Vixo” – could you talk about that?
Anni Hogan: I met Nick Cave through Jessamy Calkin and friends of mine that lived on a houseboat on Chelsea Wharf. Nick and Jim [Thirlwell of Foetus] also frequented Some Bizarre in the Soho days when it was situated above Trident studios. Jessamy introduced me to Nick Cave and Anita Lane, and I stayed with them over in Brixton for a bit before I moved into Lydia Lunch’s flat during the Kickabye sessions. Nick and Anita were both gorgeous and generous to me, and while Anita gave me the EP’s Kickabye poetic branding, Nick allowed me insight into his incredible writing style which I think was at an embryonic moment as he was metamorphosing into a new solo venture. At Alvic studio in West London, I laid down an experimental bluesy piano line and a keyboard string part and then Billy McGee on double bass, Budgie perfect on a minimal kit with a loose jazz feel and harmonica. Nick was keen to experiment and put all the instruments through effects and loops, reversing his own harmonica part and then eventually adding vocals through a series of effects. He got on great with engineer Richard Preston, as did we all, and an otherworldly feral soundscape was constructed, Anne Stephenson and Gini Ball’s strings completed the dark musical narrative and meanwhile, Nick was constantly re-writing the lyric, on a small notebook writing this haunting film script that became the incredible ‘Vixo.’ I watched in awe as he wrote and then poured out that deep visceral agony, from his innate understanding of story and performance, which he has developed continuously throughout his career. I was fortunate to have been exposed to his intrinsic sense of music and song at this pivotal time. I’m sure it was good for him too, a chance to experiment without any ‘chains’ of purpose except the art of collaboration and enjoy the musical interpretation of his ideas surrounded by similarly instinctive musicians. That’s the genius of the collaborative process, each in turn, turns the other one on.
PKM: What was it like working with Matt Johnson of The The as part of Marc and the Mambas?
Anni Hogan: I met Matt originally through Soft Cell & Stevo from Some Bizarre, and we spent some time together hanging out and having a laugh, swapping music and all that jazz. Matt gave me a 7” of his Cold Spell Ahead track which I was totally inspired by & loved and played in my DJ sets, and of course, it evolved into the mesmerizing “Uncertain Smile.” When Marc Almond put the Mambas Untitled album together, he wisely asked Matt to come in on guitar and collaborate on a couple of tracks. Matt was at totally at home in the studio, an experimental artist combining new technology, drum machines with acoustic instruments, creating psychedelic loops & layers of colors & rhythms with simple melodies. He was a bit shy actually but focused, funny and a phenomenal talent to work with. Dark humor and probing musically. I learned a lot, it was only my third time in a studio and first time in a real bona fide ‘big records were recorded here’ studio. Along with housing Some Bizarre offices at the time, Trident, of course, has a plethora of iconic major artists on its roll call, including T Rex, Lou Reed and Bowie. On Untitled Matt wrote “Angels” and the wonderful title track. Both compositions revealed Matt’s huge talent of combining his pop sensibility with his natural soundscape/soundtrack composite style, for me resulting in a luscious listen. I can literally lose myself in his music. The one fingered symphony piano line on “Untitled” I think aches with melancholy and he inspired lyrics from Marc and a cinematic performance which all round delivered a highly underrated masterpiece in my opinion. It was a great experience to perform those empirical heady hazy gigs together [as the Mambas] at two theaters in London, Drury Lane & The Duke of Yorks.
PKM: You co-produced and wrote for Marc Almond’s The Stars We Are album, which is really considered a solo breakout for him. There was a huge hit single, and it was the only album of his to have made a dent in the US. Looking back, what are your thoughts on that album? Did you feel there was pressure to try to make a hit?
Anni Hogan: It’s a great album. It’s my equal favorite with Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters. Those are my two faves of working with Marc. I really enjoyed The Stars We Are because Billy McGee and I were kind of vibing. We were creating string arrangements and all the different keyboard parts and doing everything in the studio, which was great fun. I co-wrote, I think, five tracks on that album with Marc and produced it with Billy and Marc. It was a good experience in as much as I got to do a lot.
Obviously, Nico’s on the track ‘Your Kisses Burn.’ That was amazing working with Nico, but obviously, it was later on. In fact, I think it was the last thing she worked on. She was not in fantastic health or anything. It was a difficult process, we’ll say.
In the end, it was working with Nico, and Gene Pitney on ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart,’ of course. I mean, we had a number one top single with ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart,’ 400,000 copies at the time. I’ve got a gold disc sitting up there for that, and a silver disk sitting up there from the album. Those are the only discs I have, so that album was pretty great to me! Well, I’ve got another disc, which is top 10 international chart success, ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’ was a hit in 11 countries. That album was by far the most successful in kudos for me, should we say.
The pressure would have been on Marc and not on us. I don’t think Billy and I realized it. When I’ve done other things, and I’ve felt that record company pressure myself, and it nearly killed me. I could see that Marc was under a hell of a lot of pressure. I think it was a conscious effort to do something commercial. But it didn’t feel unnatural. It felt like a natural progression.
PKM: Looking back at your early days DJ’ing and working with Marc Almond, did you have any sense as to where the scene was heading (or where you wanted it to go)?
Anni Hogan: Along with being surrounded by alternative experimental creatives, I was and am one myself. I think we naturally navigate towards each other and push those artistic boundaries. Surrounded by this synthesis of art music and expression of social despair, it was impossible not to feel part of a burgeoning movement. The repressive politics of the day informed much of the music I was listening to and making. An electronically enhanced DIY musical output grew out of the post-punk chaos, and it was clear when DJing that people were open to a diverse selection of angry, intense thought-provoking musical ideas but also needed a chance to freak out and have a good time. So, the music tunneled out in many forms, but all with the same beating heart, society is fucked and needs rebooting, repairing or ripping up and starting again. The ‘outsider’ frequenting the meeting place of all outsiders, the seedy darkened night club. From DJing in Leeds and in London at the Batcave, it was clear various musical happenings were influencing the bigger picture, David Bowie’s ‘Ashes to Ashes’ being a key crossover from the kids to the charts. As always, cool things extend out to common practice and cease being as cool.
In Leeds, Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bauhaus spring to mind as key players transforming the sonics to the ‘Goth’ scene and I naturally informed this scene with my own take on it, as I was personally involved with the main protagonists whether musically or otherwise. It was such an incredibly fluid time, you felt like ‘anything goes’ sexually sensually and musically, so it was fine to mix up cabaret and electronic music, disco and cinematic, 60’s, etc and create a new soundtrack for the times we were experiencing.
Drugs played their part, of course, expanding minds maybe exploding them too, and gender was less defined and was being challenged, and gay rights fought for, increasingly the battle lines were forged on the dance floor. I don’t know if I had a sense of where I wanted it to go, but I had a sense that I was part of ‘it’ and that ‘it’ was a developing story and technology was enabling more and more strands to the musical adventures. I instinctively knew that as soon as a scene is recognized as such, it loses any mysticism and the only way forward is always to disrupt and subvert.
PKM: Did you attend Soft Cell’s big reunion/farewell show last fall?
Anni Hogan: Yes. It was very emotional, I’ve got to say. I was there … not from the very start, but I was there early on. I went to Leeds in ’79, so they were already going. I started DJing in late ’79 and met them around then. I was a big supporter. I’d booked them to play the place I was DJing at, actually, Amnesia. I remember them saying ‘We’re going to play our new record, Tainted Love.’ We were all living in a flat in Leeds when that charted. I was kind of feeling all those emotions. I saw a lot of old faces from Leeds.
PKM: Do you have any thoughts on the resurgences of interest in 80’s music over the years?
Anni Hogan: It’s a natural thing to have a historical interest in music, the nostalgic crusher that hits all those emotions. The technological changes which came out of the late 70s and 80s created a particular sound which informed music forever more. The political atmosphere of the times created both intense inwardly looking music which regaled against the machine and throws away corporate shite of course which represents much of the 80’s to me too. Obviously, it suits record companies to constantly repackage and rebrand the ’80s as vintage now, and many artists are enjoying a resurrection or resurgence because of this, its nothing new and the all the decades have enjoyed their own versions of this. However, I think because of that huge technological leap from giant computer to hand-held, etc has made this ’80s decade a phenomenon and cool and inspiring to the current youth. I know for example there is a really big underground ’80s scene in L.A. for all things electronic and 80s, early Joy Division, Soft Cell, B Movie, and Human League are huge with the kids there. It feels good to see those transformative musical times translate to now and inform a whole new audience. They are also studying ’80s music on university courses so I think it isn’t gonna go away soon!