This is: Anna Majidson
ontreal is known across the world for its thriving music scene, having served as the starting city for artists like Kaytranada, HOMESHAKE, and Grimes. Among this decade’s class of artists is the singer Anna Majidson, a French-American artist that self-describes her sound as being in between Lauryn Hill and Françoise Hardy. Anna’s vision for her music is worldly and diverse; as a multi-instrumentalist from a young age, her music is an impressive blend of jazz, soul, pop, and electronic sounds.
Anna first achieved international recognition as half of the electronic R&B project Haute (alongside the producer Blasé); their hit song, Shut Me Down, obtained over twenty million plays on the COLORS YouTube channel. After graduating from McGill University, the duo moved from Montreal to Paris and quickly obtained a dedicated following on both sides of the Atlantic.
Haute was disbanded earlier this year so that they could pursue careers as solo artists. Anna has taken the last few months to recalibrate and figure out the next step in her musical journey. During quarantine, she found her footing and recorded a project called MANDOLIN TELECOM, which will be released in the upcoming months.
Myth spoke with Anna about the disbandment of Haute, the duality of being a signed artist, her experience with COLORS and more. Read below to see the full interview.
"Shut Me Down" performed by HAUTE for COLORS
How’s quarantine been for you as an artist? Working on anything new?
The first quarantine, because we're entering the second one, right?
So the first one was pretty timely for me because as you probably know... Romain [the other half of Haute] and I, we decided to part ways. It gave me time to recuperate from that because it was a big part of my life. I took the time to recalibrate - like “what do I want to do, what direction do I want to go in, and who do I want to work with?” It gave me time to kind of just process everything in life in a standstill environment, which was pretty perfect.
After the first month, I got back on my feet. I actually made a project based on the mandolin because it was the only instrument I had with me. So I wrote four songs, recorded them, and got a lot of people to collaborate with me. It’s mixed and mastered now and is ready to be released soon. I hate saying this because I know it was so hard for a lot of people, but for me, confinement came at a really convenient time in my life. I also think that there's not much of a difference for artists, except for the touring part. We're often, you know, in our rooms creating anyway, so it wasn't a huge change for me. I was just happy to be on the same level as everyone for once - where we're like all inside creating, and facing ourselves. It’s rare to have the time to just step back and say, like, “am I happy with where I'm going or what I'm doing?”
I think for a lot of people, confinement must have been... difficult. Because it was all so sudden - you can't go to work, or to the bar, or to the club. The usual methods we have to escape whatever might be in front of us - none of those methods were available to us anymore. I'm interested to see what the long term effects of that will be just on society as a whole.
So you're releasing it as like a little EP, or are they just going to be like four different single tracks? Would you mind sharing the working title?
I'm going to do one single and then an EP. It's called MANDOLIN TELECOM. It was made on the mandolin and I worked with other musicians - I’d ask them like, “can you put some chords here and some clarinet there? We should add this part.” There was a lot of like orchestrating through the telephone, hence the “Telecom” component of the title.
Your musical style is really diverse - from gypsy jazz to electronic-soul, to making DJ sets with old school rap. Can you tell us a little bit more about your influences through the years?
Yeah, it's hard for me to synthesize it. I grew up with the jazz background that you mentioned, which brought me to R&B because they're so closely related culturally. And then I've always had a love just for pop and just for songs as a whole, through whatever medium. I just love a good story through a song - I like jazz standards, like the older jazz like the 30s and 40s,, to the swing band era where it gets even cheesier. There's like a small window of [singers] like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday and such. I also have recently been listening to Pomme (who makes more folky French music), and Gabriel Garzon-Montano.
What we say in French is “interprete”, that the people interpret these songs and these stories. I think that's so powerful, and I think that's what I love the most. Regardless of style, I think [music] is more about like… the emotion and the message behind the song. That's why I've been so versatile about what I love expressing myself through. For me, as long as it's a song that has meaning, it's important.
Montreal is known as a really artistic city - there is a huge music scene and a lot of people support local artists. How does that differ from the scenes in Paris and London?
I've noticed that in Montreal, the indie scene and the major scene don't seem to coincide as much. They don't seem to mingle. I think the artists that are independent stay independent. Romain’s friend Rowjay (quebecois rapper) is a good example of this, or this producer we know named Freakey! But I feel like then they kind of plateau and have to break through this, like, glass ceiling. Like Kaytranada or High Klassified - they had to basically leave Montreal to places like Toronto or New York/LA, where there’s a bigger scene. For them in particular, I think they were working more with people they knew rather than being approached by the industry itself and working through the system, which is more similar to what happens in France. And I'm trying to figure out why that is, but I don't know.
In Paris, it'll be more like: you do your own thing, and then you start doing shows, and people in the industry will come and watch you play. Major labels or big independent labels will try to sign you, and then you know, try to make a profit from the following that you've already gathered. Then they try to encapsulate that into a real marketing strategy to push you forward, which is funny - they’re not so socialist about their shit in that way, there’s a very neo-liberal business approach to music.
But yeah, I wanted this for me. Creatively, I'm in love with Paris because there's such an energy - it's almost aggressive, like how badly people want to work and make it, and what they’re willing to do. Yeah, it’s amazing. I love it.
So did you move to Paris more so because you wanted that kind of energy from people who are grinding hard? Or did you move there because you thought it would be easier to help you get discovered and such?
Well - we got signed pretty early on and I didn't really know what that meant, but we were signed in France. Also, our friend Alice had an apartment where we could rent rooms (which if you know Paris, it can be hard to find a place to live it’s so dense).
Anyway, we had this kind of alignment of planets where it was like, “well, OK, our touring agency is there, our manager is there, our publishers are there, and our producer is there.” So logically, if we wanted to get anything done, we should go there. So that was kind of the plan, and I learned so much from it. And even though it's done, I loved that experience.
Arigato Massaï's "Horizons" featuring Anna Majidson
So what year did you guys get signed?
Our deal just ended last summer, but it must have been a five year deal (plus another two year deal)... so it was like seven years ago.
So are you independent now or signing something else?
Yeah, I’m negotiating with Sony, but it would be more of a distribution deal or a license - I don't know if you guys know the difference between the contracts in the industry, but I’ll tell you if you’re interested. This is France specific - it might be different than the States, but to put it briefly, there are a few types of contracts. Typically, the more money you get, the less rights you own to your music. So if you're like an artist, usually what happens is that you’ll get started in the scene, you get super excited, and somebody will approach you saying something like:
“Hey, we want to own all of your masters and everything you've done. And in exchange I'm going to give you 100K or whatever.” That’s what we call an “advance” - they recoup that money through owning your masters, and everything else that you’re generating in terms of revenue. They especially like to do this in the States, which is why you'll see young artists flexing the money they just got after getting signed. Unfortunately, if they are not as successful as the company thought they might be, then they don't see that money back ever. It’s like they're kind of in debt to the label until they make it back.
You also get way less say in terms of art direction. If you sign that kind of contract, your masters and your image are owned by that label. So let's say I sign with Universal and get an artist deal. They get to decide my image, my sound, you know, everything that goes along with that. And that’s their right of course - because they invested in the project, they own the project. I'd just be the frontwoman (already a huge task!) . But they can tell me what they want or what they don't want.
I didn't realize they had that much like power on that side.
I mean, I think I'm also overgeneralizing it. That stuff is in the contract and it’s what's written but you can't make a person do something, they don't want to. But yeah, you give more rights away if you take more money, which makes sense. Because that's how they get to ensure that their investment is a good one, by controlling aspects of it. So it's fair as well. I don't think it's, it's not necessarily a bad system; it's like if you invest on a horse in a horse race, you're going to, you know, pay for the training and whatever. That's how you're going to make your money back, by ensuring that the investment pays off.
The type of deal you take as an artist is kind of more reflective on what your end goal is, right?
Yeah, that's the way I see it. There's not one way to do it, there are so many solutions. Now it's like - if I have 500K followers on Instagram, a label might approach me and tell me that I don’t know how to write songs, and that they’ll write it for me. They’ll say that I don't know how to do my image, and that they'll do it for me. But in exchange, my marketing fund is going to be like out the wazoo. And if I want to be Britney Spears where I don't write my songs (I don't think she wrote her songs; I might be wrong, but that's why I'm using her as an example of what it’d be like if everything was done for me), it’d be a good deal and worth it because it might help me get famous/make money.
Let’s talk about Haute. I read on your Instagram a few months back that you and Romain decided to disband after releasing your self-titled album, Haute. Why did you come to that decision?
I think both of us came to a point where it didn't make sense to us to sign, because the way also that contracts were signed for three years, not just one. With three albums, that’d turn into ten years pretty fast, especially as both of us are twenty six now. It’s like we were a couple that was about to get married for ten years; we were like… nah.
I think any creative collaboration can be super hard, it's tough to compromise all the time. We were kind of brother and sister - our bond is like that, but we were constantly getting compared by people and it made us feel like we were in competition. I think that was kind of toxic, to be honest.
Also, more than that, we wanted to express our own solo desires. I think Romain had a lot to say musically that he couldn't say in Haute, and it’s the same for me as well. Which makes sense - we're so different, which was why we complemented each other so well. But I think it's also why we couldn't take that step and sign a contract that would tie the two of us together. It just wasn't… that wasn't what we wanted. It was time, it really was. We always wanted to use Haute like a trampoline, like a base, like a foundation for the rest of our careers. And I think it did exactly that.
So it wasn't really like a setback. It was more of just like a change in direction. Just new ideas.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think both of us were kind of relieved if anything. It was like, after Shut Me Down, things were tough because we had a lot of pressure from our teams. They’d often say like, oh, we want Shut Me Down number 2. It did so well in the COLORS video, give us two, three, four more of those. We just want an entire album of Shut Me Down. And it was like, OK, well clearly you guys have never written a song before. The two of you [referring to the interviewers] dance, it’d be like if I told you to choreograph the same dance twice, it'd be weird.
Getting on the COLORS YouTube channel is something that a lot of up and coming musicians would consider to be a major milestone. What was that like - who reached out to who and what was the overall experience like in Berlin?
So, yeah, it's a funny story. We met this guy early on and when we got to Paris called J.B, or Jean Benoit. He interviewed us for his magazine, and we really clicked with him. Our label was looking for a new art director, and we kind of proposed him as a candidate - like we suggested that they hire J.B. He turned out to be the one that emailed COLORS… he was like, they might fuck with you guys.
And it turns out that because COLORS based in Berlin, it worked out. Germany has been the one European country that consistently followed Haute closely. So the COLORS guys already knew about the band, they knew about Haute, and they liked the song. That was all it was - it’s funny because people are like, how did you get out there? Because it's so mystical now. But at the time, it wasn't that it wasn't that big of a deal. Like COLORS was pretty underground, so we were lucky to get on there before. I don't know, like I think it's like it's owned by Universal now or something. It's funny, I think they got sponsors like afterwards. I'm so happy for them.
I don't even know if I'm allowed to say this, but whatever. When we were there, we met the two most Berlin-man I’ve ever seen in my life - turtlenecks, they had like a super deep voice, incredibly handsome, and it was just super professional. It was great, we did two or three takes and they're like, “OK, well...bye.” And that was it. It was funny because we thought nothing of it. We were like, “alright uh...fucked that one up.” And I love that about the music industry - it's so magical. You never know what the fuck is going to happen once you put something out there, and I think that's really cool.
It's always great as an artist to get validation on that scale and on that kind of platform. COLORS is really organic - the people decide what they want to hear, it’s not shoved in your face like it is with radio. It’s more like “I like COLORS, I'm going to listen to the last thing they posted and if I like it, I'm going to listen to it more.” You know, it’s subtle, it’s classy, and that made it a huge honor. They sent us the tracks and then Romain did the sound engineering; Romain is great, he's a genius, so he mixed it and sent it back there.
Have you done any shows that have been especially memorable or fun?
I think our tour in Asia. In retrospect, I'm like, whoa, I can't believe we got to do that. We got to spend two weeks there in June 2019. We played twice in Seoul and then we played in Hong Kong, did a songwriting camp there and we played in Taiwan twice. You never realize on the spot, like how cool or unique an experience is, but now that I think back I’m like “wow - that was nice”. I feel very lucky to have gotten to play in Asia and to experience the South Korean culture around music. Their culture is like, more grateful. It’s crazy - they're a hundred percent into the show, they're in the moment and they don't want a second to slip away. Like some people were crying, we got food given to us, drawings… it was amazing. It was such a gift.
Yeah, I think you did a Sofar Sounds show in New York, which normally has a similar kind of vibe.
Yeah. I didn't like that show as much just because it was incredibly humid in the day. And like, I couldn’t get my situation to work because it was so humid, you know, like my hair was doubled in volume and I felt like I was in a puddle.
Have you watched any shows that have been especially memorable as well.
Yeah, what comes to mind, that kind of blew my mind was Moses Sumney. Do you guys know him? You guys will probably love him. I love him - he's got crazy visuals, crazy music, amazing on stage.
It's been so long since concerts! I'm also a big fan of Charlotte dos Santos. I saw her live in Paris, almost exactly a year ago, and it was just phenomenal. She sounds almost exactly like in the recordings, you know.
It’s these jazz cats, man. They’re just so talented.
It's dope that jazz inspired, like R&B and soul are becoming a little bit more mainstream these days, I guess for someone with your style it’s probably also a great thing.
It’s definitely very convenient and almost like it's too mainstream now, haha. I think it's amazing that it's become like a popular genre because a couple of years ago it was like, not a thing.
You said that you talk like a songwriting camp in Hong Kong. What did that entail?
Oh well we didn't, we didn't teach. We were part of the songwriting camp. There was like a group of songwriters, I'll have to send you the name. They were these artists from Hong Kong that invited us to write with them. And it was super nice, super low-key. We spent a week with them, meeting up every day at the studio to write. It was amazing; half of them were girls, and they all produced, and they were so talented. It was also around the protests happening in HK and they told us a lot about it, it was great to be able to learn firsthand what was happening politically in HK.
Do you have any advice for people tackling a huge shift or change in their career such as the one you had to face?
Honestly it’s a lot of basic stuff, like self care and being well-surrounded. I think what's tough about being an artist is when your self-esteem dwindles. I think that's when I suffer the most - when I’m like “what if I suck, what if I’m doing the wrong thing.” It feels hopeless at first, but then it starts being a reflex of like, “oh, I know this, I know this thought, and I know that I have to keep going anyways.” For me, as a solo artist, I have to write down my plans and my goals, I don’t have a manager that’s on my ass everyday. And even on those days where I don't think something is going to work, or there's something else going on, I just keep doing it anyways because it's all it's a cycle and I know that sense of hopefulness always comes back.
I think it's so good to have a bigger picture in mind to check in with yourself. Like ask yourself: “Is this what I want? Is this who I am? Am I good at this?”
You don't even need to ask yourself those questions more than once per month.You’re like your own CEO, you can't have meetings everyday or ask too many questions - you’ve just gotta keep going.