INTERVIEW: Ayanna Witter-Johnson
We caught up with musician Ayanna Witter-Johnson as she dives forward with her crowdfunding campaign for her debut album. We talk about New York City experiences, life as an independent artist, her dear cello Reuben and their jouney, the campaign, and Ayanna's upcoming King's Place gig next month!
Tell us the story behind Reuben, your cello! How come you decided to name your cello?
Because I think when you spend so much time with an instrument, and a very specific one, it’s quite pretty it’s got lots of engravings, and quite beautiful, it becomes quite a personal relationship.
How long have you had him for?
I’ve had Reuben for about 15 plus years?!
And you’re first EP was made with Reuben as well. And you’re naming your next album Reuben and Ay?
That’s a working title at the moment, it’s subject to change but for now yeah!
And what made you realize you were ready to make an album rather than another EP?
I felt like I had written too many songs, and was gigging too many songs that were more than what an EP should be really. An EP should be a few tracks but this was like...I’m doing hour long sets of unrecorded music that no-one can go home with, so I thought at least let me put it all in one space, as this is all from the same time in my life.
So it seems the biggest thing for you right now is your crowdfunding campaign, for this next album, right? So why did you decide to go with crowdfunding?
Basically, as an independent artist, I was able to fund my EPs but the album is a much bigger project, and because there are chamber orchestral arrangements and bands, it’s a lot of musicians to pay, and a lot of studio time to pay for, producer fees, and marketing… So suddenly, the bill became a lot more than putting out the EPs. So I thought if I get pre-orders going, it’s the same, but just the other way round.
So what do you think inspires people to fund you?
I feel the music I’m making is reaching instrumentally into new territories and new textures, so I feel like if you want to invest in something which doesn’t sound like a lot of things, then this is probably the album for you.
And then you offer rewards based on how much they donate, one of which is private performances, which is what you were actually doing last night I believe! What are those like?
Last night was a home performance and was really intimate, and it was really quite emotiona. You really get to talk to everyone afterwards, and I dedicated a few songs very specifically to the host and his daughter, who’s going to New York, so I covered Empire State Of Mind by Alicia Keys, which is a very personal experience which I LOVE. And I feel like you really build fans that way when you do very personal concerts, and people remember that.
You spent a couple of years in New York as well right? What’s the difference between the British and the American scene?
They’re both quite hungry, but I think it’s hungrier in New York, and it's more diverse. I think people are used to building their own audiences and hosting their own events and their own shows, whereas here I think it's still people wanting to fit into a night, or want to perform at a certain venue, whereas in New York people can just as well have an amazing living room concert as performing at Webster Hall or something, so it's very much a do-it-yourself attitude in New York.
And tell us about your upcoming King's place gig?
I am so excited about this gig! It was originally booked as a solo show, but I have a cajon player and a guitarist. The show sold out last week, but then they made it standing so I have 60 more tickets, so it's become an event, and I have choreographed lighting, and dance, and everything else. And then it’s going to move from a solo performance to a group band performance.
Do you prefer playing with the band or solo?
I’m used to playing solo more, but I love playing with the other musicians, because it means I can sing without playing, which means I can express myself differently because I know that they are there to support me.
How do you feel different when its just you and the cello compared to you with the big band?
I feel like because my brain isn’t being used so much, I probably sing with a bit more freedom. But there is an intimacy of you creating the entire sound world when playing solo, and you can take it anywhere that you feel like, whereas with a band you’re all navigating it together, but on your own you can literally go any place you feel like, at any time.
You can check out Ayanna's website here and her crowdfunding campaign, and support with donations for her debut album Reuben & Ay, by which you can also pre-order the album!