Chatting with the up-and-coming singer-songwriter Anna Erhard in her first-ever English-language interview makes it clear from the get-go that this is a songwriter whose spoken voice – witty, concise, and erudite – aligns with her musical one. Talking with Anna is very much like listening to her latest LP Campsite. She speaks with subtle self-deprecation, sincere humbleness, and a habit for laughing – all things at the forefront of her sun-soaked, nostalgic sophomore record.
I take a seat in front of my laptop on a painfully sunny September afternoon to discuss the Swiss indie darling’s career thus far: her latest celebration of stubbornness on the recent single ‘170’, her development from melancholy lo-fi to comedically self-aware art-pop, and how she keeps things exciting as an artist juggling increasingly-demanding press commitments.
Firstly, we chat about the summer single ‘170’ – released on Radicalis in August – and the petty argument over height that prompted the song. Anna talks about her trepidation in using an argument with her friend as lyric material with a nervous laugh: “I was really scared to show it to her – I was, like, ‘oh man… should I really open up this thing again?” I sent it to her, obviously, and, yeah, she laughed… she thought it was funny.” Anna takes a hefty sigh of relief – strikingly audible through the Zoom call’s crackly connection – and follows the pause with: “She sent me a song back […] She makes really weird, really long, songs sometimes and she sends them to me. Which is fun. So, we continued this argument through our songs!” It’s not far-fetched to suggest, then, that the single ‘170’, conversational and sarcastic, is still prompting digs between plucky songwriters. There’s a musical conversation yet to finish.
I ask Anna further about the height-focused argument – after all, it’s hardly a common topic: “I mean, it’s such a dumb argument, obviously. It doesn’t make any sense… because, physically, we can measure ourselves. And that’s the end of it – right? […] We just kept on insisting that one of us is right, and the other isn’t.”
Her single ‘170’ shows the singer-songwriter at her most sensitively stubborn, a personality trait that she both equally takes pride in, and mocks: “I got really hung up on it… genuinely upset… so I wrote it down. Then, eventually, we looked at it – we’d already forgotten about it at this point and we’d stopped arguing – and I thought, ‘it’s actually kind of funny’. I like…” she takes a focused pause, “not-so-heavy topics at the moment. I thought, ‘Eh. That’s good enough to try’.” This last statement, unassuming as ever, seems like an understatement – the track has since received prominent radio play and displays the Swiss art-pop musician’s unique attention to detail. For Anna Erhard, the little things matter: drama can be found in the pettiest of things.
However, Anna Erhard’s songwriting hasn’t always been this way: “Before, I started out with another band first and I was always writing really melancholic songs… and now, with this new album, I kind of discovered this new approach… and I was really relieved about it because I’d say that’s how I am when interacting with other people.” It seems like, over the past few years, Anna Erhard has found her voice: “Before, I could never express this in songs. And now I’ve found a way.” Anna’s material now, moving away from self-pity, is crammed with childlike rhymes and self-satirising incidents.
As we chat longer, it becomes apparent that this change was brought about largely by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Anna reflects, “ I recorded my first album and I put it out… 2020? I think. And that was exactly when the pandemic started. I was ready start to playing shows with my own band for the first time… my own music… and none of it was possible. I was really sad and angry about it. Like everyone, probably, at this point, right?”
However, Anna didn’t succumb to stagnation, instead heading straight back into the studio: “I was kind of in this… defensive mode. I was kind of trying to cheer myself up… and just have fun, actually. I didn’t want to make music that was self-pitying… like, a ‘I’m so sad’ kind of thing… because obviously we all shared the same grief. So, I was like, ‘okay, this is a new point to start off’’.” The kooky art-pop of LP Campsite or single ‘170’ feels like a response to the shared struggles of the pandemic – Anna’s music shows us the importance of humour. It can be the answer.
The strains of lockdown affected her whole mindset when it came to songwriting, turning instead to happy childhood memories, rather than present anguish, to escape the suffocation of isolation. She tells me about the title track ‘Campsite’, and how that song acts as the most potent example of this development: “It was literally just this memory. It was pandemic… I was just always inside the flat… behind thick walls… and I just kind of remembered this holiday time with my family when I was a child. We would always go to the same campsite every year. And I just suddenly had this feeling of freedom that I felt back then… and I could remember all these scenes from this time… and I started writing a bit about it and that’s when I started to write in this new way. I was just having fun making stupid rhymes!”
The lyrics of ‘Campsite’ show a songwriter gleefully playing with language, gliding in and out of sunny memories, and escaping dystopian presents (“I wanna wake up to the sound of flip flops / I wanna speak French in the gift shop”).
Anna Erhard is clearly having fun with her music, but how does she find a way to make the other part of being an up-and-coming indie star rewarding? Many artists, absorbed in their work, struggle to find the same passion for press and promotion, but Anna is an exception: “I do a lot of music videos, I guess. And I don’t really do them for promotion. I do them because I also love doing them. I have just as much of a passion, somehow.” She laughs, and then I ask if she has a passion for videos: “Well, not actually for the visual side. I don’t feel like I have a good visual… how do you say it? Skill. But I just like telling stories. That’s it.” As well as being a songwriter, she takes pride in being an amateur videographer and part-time screenwriter.
Erhard’s favourite example of keeping promotional material suitably chaotic is in her video for ‘Cut It Out’: “I shot this music video with my two friends at New Years in Berlin… and for me this was the best music video shoot ever… and also how I’d like to do everything if possible. It was already New Year’s so we already had this crazy kind of setting, and we would just have a little note that would say a few things we want to do… a little post-it note… and we just went off into the city… I started interviewing people and we were just kind of filming the whole thing in two or three hours… and for me this is exactly the kind of energy I’d like in everything I do. It only happened like this because everything came together in this moment, you know what I mean? And it was not rehearsed or staged.”
“So people are just running around and I’m interviewing people about, I don’t know, what they hope for in the next year… and it was interesting ‘cos it was right before the pandemic happened and they all had these crazy wishes for the next year and then it was, like… damn. And we were running round… New Year’s is always really crazy here in Berlin… and suddenly there was this balcony starting to burn, and we were there with this camera… and everyone thought we were a real camera crew! They wanted us to make a report about this firework that someone shot into a flat… and it all started burning. It got a bit out of hand.” Surely, ‘a bit out of hand’ is how all of the best independent music videos come together?
To round off the interview, I ask Anna for her dream dinner party guests, and the response is uniquely wholesome. Gone are the usual answers of hell-raisers Pete Doherty, Shaun Ryder, or Iggy Pop – instead, the homely bunch of Jemaine Clement (of Flight Of The Concords fame), Dido, Prince, and Chris Martin: “I’d need someone to help me with the dishes… I can’t have people just coming in and making a mess and expecting me to clean up!”
It’s safe to say that Anna Erhard certainly knows how to be funny in a foreign language. Her resounding message is that humour – quirky, unique, self-deprecating humour – is what will pull you through hard times. Humour is the answer.