Anna Wise is one of the music industry’s most talented singers. Her vocals are sweet yet mystical, brewed with hidden observations about girlhood, independence, and the complexities of love. Her head-space surrounding her career and life is just as fascinating as the music she makes. Anna Wise challenges everything that the music industry doesn’t want a woman to be, which is “in control”. This is what I like about Wise the most. She speaks her mind without any apologies and offers listeners her innermost thoughts as a form of healing and true connection. Whether she’s talking about harnessing her power as a female musician or winning her first Grammy, Wise’s energy is distinct and permeates from both her music and words.
After an hour long interview backstage at a concert in San Francisco, CA, earlier this year in late May, I was convinced that I needed to spread the gospel that Wise is simply, ‘the truth’. I had been so interested as to why the Kendrick Lamar-collaborator kept to herself throughout the years of working with the TDE camp on projects such as Good Kid, M.A.A.D City or To Pimp a Butterfly. However, I received my answer that night. Anna Wise is fully autonomous and has taken the often overlooked step of protecting her trajectory.
The Sunnymoon singer now continues 2016 with a Grammy award for her contributions on Kendrick Lamar’s “These Walls” track, along with a stellar EP by the name of The Feminine Act I. You can get to know Anna Wise a little better in our exclusive interview below.
Tell us about your recent music and the vibe you’ve been going with lately.
Anna Wise: I just put out my first EP The Feminine Act I. It’s a collection of my observations of the female existence as best as I can interpret it, without claiming all women. I have a unique experience but I’m also trying to be very careful with that because I don’t want to be misunderstood as speaking for all women. I’m just speaking for myself.
Are you finding joy in asserting your opinion on a lot of your latest records?
Of course! I’m just finding joy in doing what I want.
What was the inspiration behind your song “Bitch Slut”?
“Bitch Slut” is specifically derived from an experience I had walking home from middle school. I grew up in the North Bay. I lived really close to my middle school. I was walking home one day and this truck full of guys rolled up on me and said something to the effect of “I want to put my tongue in your pussy you little slut”. I had just learned some swears so I kind of just put it all out there and flipped them off. One of them yelled “fuck you bitch!” as they drove away. I cried.
When I first started this project the entire thing was going to be called “BitchSlut”. I had no “BitchSlut” song and I didn’t think there would be one. When I was making my trip around to see all my friends to have them help co-produce the songs with me, I was driving from LA to San Jose to my friend B. Lewis’s house. Driving is a powerful creative time for a lot of people. Your brain has a lot of different states of waves and when you are driving your brain goes into theta wave mode where its like these smooth slower ripples and then you get all the best ideas. So the songs, the lyrics, the melody, the idea, the harmony, the backgrounds — everything came to me all at once. When that happens its a blessing from God or another dimension, the universe, whatever you want to call it.
When it comes to me I have to rush to get it down. I pulled over and pulled out my voice memo and sang everything, sped to my friend’s house. As soon as I got into his studio we recorded the song. It took us like 30 minutes and that was it.
Who are some of your vocal influences? I hear so many different things in your voice. It’s so unique and I can’t pin you to one single person.
My first obsession was Lauryn Hill and that was through swim camp. I was always late to meet at the grocery store where all the counselors would drive us to the pool. This one counselor had this soft spot for me and was like “aw man she’s going to be late again I’ll just wait for her guys, whatever”. I was very weird and quiet but then would have explosions of energy. I think he must’ve seen something creative in me because he was like, “have you ever listened to the Fugees”. He played me their record in his car and I was just in awe.
When Lauryn came out with her solo album I begged my parents to let me have it. I remember telling them, “there’s this song about Zion, she’s talking about god! Let me have it”. I’ve listened to that record hundreds of times.
How were the Grammys?
When I arrived at the Grammy’s I rushed through the red carpet, took the pictures, felt so awkward and weird because I didn’t know how to stand or what to do. I then walked to the pre-Grammy ceremony where they give out most of the awards, which is so crazy because they should televise Best Opera Solo, that’s dope!
Initially, I kind of went to the Grammys with this mindset of it being a corporation, a business or whatever, and not really caring. But then you go to all these parties and you meet all these people, like the Grammy Governors who represent different chapters throughout the US, and you realize they’re just people. If you are nice and don’t come in all like “Well I am nominated for this”, you’ll realize how nice they are. I really did eat my words because I had a lot of fun and made some new friends.
What was going through your head when they announced that “These Walls” had won a Grammy?
I was happy. It was so cool to run out to the aisle and give Thundercat and Bilal such huge hugs, and come up to the stage. Ali and Sounwave had already won an award for Best Rap Song. They were backstage and came out to meet us and we all hugged and it was just like…
Regardless of the politics, regardless of it being a business or whatever, we all have been friends for a while so to have this moment of acknowledgment of something we created out of thin air together was special. I mean, there were times when Kendrick and I would work in the studio for 18 hours. We would sleep basically foot to foot on this one couch and wake up in the morning and get back to work. To have that relationship with him and create something through that relationship and have that creation be validated by this very large group of people, which can be very political, makes me really happy.
You threw yourself into this deep recording process with Kendrick. Do you still find yourself in 18 hour sessions for some of your own personal music?
“Precious Possession” is one of our favorite songs to arrive this year. Is it reflective of the sound and direction you are going in this year?
It was one of those songs that just came. I think about when we recorded it and I don’t even remember! I wouldn’t say its indicative of my direction though.
What has been the happiest moment since your career has taken off and you’ve gotten to showcase your creativity and lovely vocals to the world?
Dane and I are doing this tour together. It’s just him and I driving. We drove here from Brooklyn! Before the tour started we visited some of our best friends around the country. In Austin, we were with two of our friends in their car, on our way to a restaurant, and I got so overwhelmed with happiness. I started to cry because I was so happy. I was like “I love my life”.
I’m proud that I’m in control. I’m working with this company called Stem, which is this digital distribution company. I have this app on my phone that shows me how much money I am making per month on Spotify, Google Play, iTunes, everything.
Instead of waiting and having the reports come to you like most artist do…
And the reports never come. That’s the thing about the music industry, the most pure thing is art and music, but it’s set up to strip young musicians of their ideas, talents, and expression to make money for people who are already rich.
I know so many musicians who are screwed for the next 2-3 years as a result of one contract. They weren’t able to develop and grow. The empowerment that you’re talking about really shows in the confidence that comes out of your music.
What we are doing as women is rare and new. Women have been imprisoned for thousands of years. We used to be the shit before. We used to be worshiped. People used to recognize that the vagina was the center and the beginning and the catalyst for all of life, and they revered it and praised women. And now we’re just like disposable. What the fuck!
You’re truly so mesmerizing on stage and you captivate an audience in such an unbelievable way. It’s so natural and organic too! It doesn’t seem forced at all…
That thing on stage, that’s that spirit that comes to me and through me. I hope I never lose it.