Anjimile believes that their songs write themselves. "I'm just tuning into the radio station, turning the knob until I hear the song clearly," they told me. "I don't really know what the song is about until after I write it." It's a creative process that requires time, and a trust that when it begins at a dark time in your life, it will someday reveal its meaning.
Last week, the Queer and Trans singer-songwriter announced their debut album Giver Taker, to be released by Father/Daughter Records on September 18. The news arrived with the single "Maker," an honest and powerful song full of nuances that play into Anjimile's journey through loss and personal growth. "I wrote it in 2015 before I got sober," they tell me. "I was in my apartment one day, being an alcoholic, playing guitar, and writing that song. Later that year, I released it on a collection of demos that I recorded on my phone, and then I forgot about it."
But, Anjimile didn't forget about it. Instead, they chose to take time to focus on sobriety and change, and by the time they returned to Boston in 2017 and started playing "Maker" again, the song had found its meaning. "It means a lot to me now because it helped me figure out that I'm Trans," Anjimile says, "I wrote the tune before I identified as Trans and I was feeling pretty miserable. That's where the lyrics, 'Why don't you do as you're told?' and 'Happiness, isn't your goal?' came from. I don't know where the lyrics, 'I'm not just a boy, I'm a man' came from, but I wrote them, and it's really lovely to look at them now because it feels like there was a part of me that was trying to nurture myself."
The lyrics are the same, but the 2020 version of "Maker" is different. It's mature and polished —as if its sound got wiser with age. Perhaps that's true; things are different now. Anjimile is sober, and they tell me that experience allowed them to develop a keen sense of spirituality and self-worth that demystified their relationship with their faith and Trans identity. And this time, they worked with producers: friend and music partner Justine Bowe (Photocomfort), and Gabe Goodman. The collaboration not only added depth and perspective to the single, but it also helped Anjimile to create an album that celebrates their journey to becoming the person they were always meant to be.
We spoke further about themes on the forthcoming Giver Taker and what it's like to release an album during the pandemic. Here are some highlights from our conversation:
On the themes of the Giver Taker:
Faith is a big theme; death and the myriad feelings related to that are another, and I think there's a string of hopefulness running through the whole thing.
In 2016, I went into rehab for drug and alcohol abuse. I wrote a lot of Giver Taker when I was there and in halfway houses. So, when I was writing these songs, I was in the process of being remade as a stronger, more joyful and mindful human. I developed a sense of spirituality that I'd never had before—the experience of getting sober revitalized my faith, vitality, and my human spirit. I now have a belief in the basic goodness of the universe.
On producing the album in Boston:
Last spring, I got a Live Arts Boston Grant from The Boston Foundation to make the album, and then me and my producers, Justine and Gabe, collaborated to record. It took about ten months, meeting together once a month on the weekends.
We didn't record in professional studios; we recorded at Justine's apartment in Davis Square. It was really nice to have that intimate space. It felt authentic and literally felt good in my body because recording can be an anxiety-inducing experience for me. And it was pretty wild to work with Justine and Gabe because I've never worked with producers before. It was freeing to trust them and, in my opinion, watch them take these tunes, adorn them with flowers and gold and roses and frankincense, and elevate them. I will always love them for that.
On writing the song "Giver Taker:"
It was written in 2016. I lived in a halfway house in Florida and was going to an intensive outpatient program for my recovery. There was this awesome tech named Marie. She was sweet, and I remember feeling comfortable around her while in an uncomfortable situation.
One day, she was late because she ran over a bird. She felt awful about taking its life and needed help moving it from the street, and she was softly crying the whole drive over. That happened on a Friday, and it was either the next day or Sunday, we found out that she had a brain aneurysm and died.
It was a shock to the community. She had commissioned a serenity garden to be built, and we planted a lemon tree for her there. I wrote "Giver Taker" immediately after; it's a eulogy for Marie. I didn't know her very well, but she had an effect on me, and the fact that it was so sudden —she had a young son and was about to get married, and it was just so sad— it all felt to me like "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away."
On releasing an album during the pandemic:
Giver Taker is getting released on Father/Daughter Records, a super cool indie label. This is my first time working with a record label. Before them, I've just self-released, so I don't have anything to compare this release with. We've got three different colors of vinyl available for pre-order right now; fancy CDs. The label is making it happen, and I'm slack-jawed and really excited!
This is also my first go-around in promoting my music on a national scale, and I really wasn't sure what was going to happen when everything got shut down, and with the touring industry destabilized for at least a year. But, the capacity to release music is still happening. It's been really interesting, and I don't know what's going to happen post-release, but I know it's going to look different. We're hoping that digital word of mouth is enough to get people to listen to this thing.
On what they would tell themself if they could go back in time:
I would just hug me and put my hand on their heart and say, "It's going to be okay."
Giver Taker will be released on September 18 via Father/Daughter Records and is available for pre-order at fatherdaughter.co.