“A pacifist in pumps / Not afraid to throw a punch / Or eat your hurt feelings for lunch,” begins Candice Anitra on the female powered anthem, “Too Much Woman.” The video for the track was created by award-winning director, Vinz Feller, and award-winning animator, Biljana Labovic. In the video, featuring live actors backed by illustrated technicolor settings, Candice faces derogatory and inhibiting comments. She responds by drawing boxes around the perpetrators, effectively caging them in, as she chastises their disrespect and croons, “Nah, nah, nah boo boo / Too much for you you / Who’s stuck in a box – me or you?” The surreal illustrated backgrounds contrast with the serious subject matter and position Candice as a confident woman who will not let others confine nor define her, true to her vision as a person and artist.
Sophomore project ‘The Big Tree’ is scheduled for Jan 2012
Candice Anitra hates boxes. Not in a weird, pygmachophobia way. It’s the rigidly corrugated musical categories that both perplex and perturb her. So much so that at times, Candice likens her musical existence to feeling like a stranger on earth. “Humans like for you to say what your identifying labels are,” she points out. “Once you do that, you have to stay in that category. If you do anything else, it confuses them.” Embodying the subtle rapture of Joan Armatrading, the robust confidence of Meshell Ndegeocello, and the thespian gender inquisition of Cheryl Dunye, the left-of-soul singer-songwriter has learned that it’s much easier to buck convention than to live a futile existence of the square peg in a round hole. “The thing I’m embracing and having the most fun with is that it’s ok to be the me that I’ve always been all along.” Hailing from a planet called Philadelphia, the Brooklyn-based songstress was reared in a musical family rooted in the glorious sounds of the local church choir. “Music was a big part of our household,” she says. “My father’s love of music and his writing music was something that was very special and important early on.” However, many years passed before the impetus to find her voice struck. “I always considered myself as an artist. By the time I was interested in singing, I asked my father to teach me. And he told me I wasn’t ready yet. For many years, I battled that comment.”
Candice set sail for New York University’s heralded Tisch School of the Arts after graduation and immersed herself in the fertile artistic environs of New York City. Enrolled in a self-scripting curriculum, Candice was molded into the image of a triple threat. But this did little to sort out her uncertainty about becoming a vocalist. “In school, it was tricky for me because I did a lot of things pretty well. But I felt like I had to pick one. I danced. I acted. I wanted to be a graphic designer. If I would have fallen in love with acting, I don’t know if I would have become a singer.” It wasn’t until she received accolades following a school performance that her confidence in her vocal prowess was bolstered. “I did one show as a singer and everybody was like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe you’re a singer!’ But to me, that was preposterous. Pretty soon, I had the reputation as the actress that could sing. And I liked that. It felt like a new persona.”
Relishing the liberating new experience, Candice expanded her horizons and sharpened her talent as a writer with aplomb. “I’ve always been a writer, so it was the perfect environment for me to flourish and try out things.” Yet she remained on the fence with regards to the strength of her vocal talents. “I didn’t think of myself as a singer. I thought I sounded ok. Obviously people didn’t mind listening to me. But it wasn’t something that I owned.” But her indecision would soon fade. In 2002, a post-collegiate Candice stumbled upon a musical outlet by assuming lead vocal duties for a local NYC band called True Story. The opportunity was an integral stepping-stone, presenting Candice with the empirical wherewithal to workshop a myriad of vocal styles and an individual musical aesthetic. “I wasn’t writing music yet. Musically, I hadn’t found my voice. I was still fleshing it out.” By 2006, Candice had written a Dali-esque stage play centered on black women entitled The Ripple Effect and had begun instructing a youth theater workshop. By that time, True Story had disbanded, but serendipity would find her crossing paths with a former classmate, which would prove to be her entry into the realm of songwriting.
“He was like, ‘Please tell me you’re still singing!’ When I explained to him that the band didn’t work out and I wanted to write my own stuff, he gave me some music and told me to write to it. Now I can’t stop writing!” After writing lyrics to the tune, Candice shared the tune with a pair of former NYU classmates who were carving out a niche for themselves in the music and film industry. Partners Ion & Sanford’s Brooklyn-based Force Theory Productions had already scored award-winning films such as Favela Rising and Jesus Camp by the time they reunited with Candice. Upon hearing Candice’s song, they jumped to produce her maiden solo musical voyage, the 2008 EP Easier. Comprised of three tracks, the EP served as Candice’s official mission statement as an artist and songwriter. “Once I started to write my own songs, I found access to a plethora of interesting subjects.” But the winds of change would soon disintegrate the splendor of this burgeoning working dynamic. While plotting the makings of her first full-length offering, Ion & Sanford put a moratorium on their working relationship. In the spirit of synchronicity and irony, Candice welcomed a new addition to her brood during this period. Yet the aftermath of Force Theory’s fall out left Candice with stillborn plans for an official debut album and without a proper musical co-conspirator.
Enter Joel Hamilton. An esteemed industry veteran who has worked with the likes of Soulive, Matisyahu, Blakroc, Talib Kweli, and the late Nina Simone, Hamilton has simultaneously worn the hats of producer, engineer, and musician quite comfortably for years. Candice became acquainted with Hamilton when she tracked vocals for Easier at his Studio G. After discussing her plans with him, Hamilton readily signed on to helm the project. The result was her 2010 full-length debut Bark Then Bite. “After I wrote the EP, I felt like I had a lot more songs in me,” she says. “But I didn’t have a lot of time to write, because I had two kids. So I just wrote in snatches and pretty soon, I had another work.” The album is an exceptional 11-track odyssey of an artist growing into the acceptance of her bold and brilliant talent. “It has a sort of Motown-esque vibe, but also sort of relates to the music of the period. It was really about being clearer about my voice as an artist.”
It wasn’t long before the praises began to roll in from various respected media outlets such as Soul Tracks, Rolling Out, and Soul Bounce. Bark Then Bite also included one song from Easier, “Objectify,” which received a royal remix treatment from producer Scotty Hard.
The song was inspired, in part, by her thoughts of being the unwilling recipient of catcalls and ogling eyes as a woman walking the streets of New York City. “Being objectified sexualizes the woman. This is something my whole life that I’ve found a little confusing. I’ve both ignored it and felt angry about it. People don’t care. They say whatever they want to.” Yet it was a provocative video art installation in the feminist art wing at the Brooklyn Museum that would ultimately spark her imagination and prompt her to compose a pensive piece on the subject. “I was very invigorated by being in this small space with all these people and watching this piece. It was sexualizing a man, but it was also about power.” In the music video for the song, Candice plays with the concept of gender roles, dressing alternately in drag and feminine attire. To the chagrin and delight of many, the song and the video has become a controversial conversation piece, garnering in excess of 4k views for the video on YouTube and Vimeo combined. “Some people love it. Some people gasp and say, ‘I can’t believe she said that.’”
Eager to plot out her next album, Candice engaged her resourcefulness and recently launched an ambitious Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording process. Upon successfully reaching her Kickstarter goal of $10K, she headed back to Studio G with Hamilton once again to begin work on her remarkable sophomore effort, Big Tree. “On this album, I’m getting less concerned with the grand scheme of things,” she reveals. “I’m only thinking about the emotion I’m trying to convey at that moment.” Aside from adopting a uniquely purist approach to lyricism, Candice and Hamilton also went a different route when it came to furnishing the arrangements. “Previously, I’d recorded with people that Joel and I brought in specifically for sessions,” she says. “This time, I recorded the album with a band that I’d been gigging with, which was a new experience. They made me sound like I’ve been writing songs my whole life! It was really fun!” The title was inspired by a tune she composed about the parallels between the human being and one of nature’s most sturdy species of flora. “I think trees are beautiful. Metaphorically, they remind me of people in the way of their resilience. A tree can weather a blizzard or a tornado. They bend and they sway, but they’re able to do it so gracefully.”
Backed by an acoustic guitar loop and earthy bass line, Candice uses “Big Tree” to illustriously identify the marvelous in-kind qualities of the human spirit. “I wrote the song about soldiering forward, showing grace, and standing tall. Accepting and knowing that this is what I’ve been called to do and not being afraid of that. Even though it can be terrifying.” On “Faults,” Candice points out the futility of concealing one’s shortcomings in the name of constructing false selves. “No way to deny where I come from/ we are all connected,” she croons. “The song is about how there really are no separates. There’s a collective and we’re all in this together.” The supercharged lead single “Love Sick” was inspired by another one of Candice’s critical insights on socialization. “I was reading this book called The Lolita Effect. It probes the media’s influences on youth sexualization. I wrote ‘Love Sick’ about how we’re perceived as individuals and what I think about how you think about me.” The music video for the tune was shot in the cavernous and iconic former Brooklyn Rapid Transit power plant building – known as the Bat Cave – in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn.
While the musical arrangements gently caress and ardently buttress the lyrical and vocal elements on Big Tree, one stand out track brazenly eschews accompaniment completely. The tender a cappella ballad “I Hear Music” is a breathtaking ode to the enchanting musicality of a lover’s voice. In the song, Candice likens the blissful experience to “a symphony in the trees backed with a hip hop beat.” Over an intoxicating arrangement that evokes the hazy splendor of 90s lounge trip hop outfit Morcheeba, Candice adeptly outlines mankind’s paradoxical relationship with morality and existentialism on “Menace,” the album’s sublime closer. “As human beings, we’re dirty, crazy, messy, and pretty amazing.”
Collectively and individually, the tracks on Big Tree are a mellifluous yet audacious blend of all the delicious oft overlooked spaces between the genres. “I’m grunting, I’m guttural, I’m sweating,” she says. “But I’m also rocking out. It’s some kind of amalgam of rock and soul and pop. I feel like I’ve gotten weirder.” Given society’s need to compartmentalize, it may be somewhat of a task to explain the full range of Candice Anitra’s dynamic sound to some. However, taking the emotional bumps in the road and sewing a thread of commonality through them using euphonic bits of this and that is a sacred pastiche art that many artists have yet to master. Candice Anitra has solved this riddle simply by looking within. “What I find the most joy in is sharing my most vulnerable parts,” she admits. “To me, that’s more representative of the full spectrum of human emotion. I’d rather have that than being traditional and R&B straight up and down. I’m messy! I don’t fit and I never have. I don’t always have to be provocative, but I can be. I like to explore the masculine, the feminine, and the androgynous. That, to me, seems like a fair representation of me as a full artist. This is my peace.”