“I’m putting out these songs that can empower not just women, but all people, to love themselves and love others. That’s the goal. Love is the goal.” -Anna Wise
As the mastermind behind her music and visual output, Anna Wise is completely in control of her own destiny and she’s using her artistic gifts and privilege to give power to all. While she’s best known as the ethereal vocalist and collaborator behind many Kendrick Lamar songs (check out her writing chops on the very recent, “PRIDE”) she is quickly making a name for herself as a solo musician with the release of The Feminine Act I & II, her recent EPs. Both albums showcase candid lyrics that free your mind paired with beats that move your body and soul. While Act I quickly announces its presence with banger beats and assertive lyrics on songs like “BitchSlut,” Act II rolls in more quietly, but no less powerfully with chill-out tracks like ‘Coconuts,” the Grammy-winner’s call to cast aside the old ways of thinking and embrace the world around you.
We interviewed Anna about the making of The Feminine: Act I & II (including the fourth grade hair cut that started it all), her artistic vision, and her belief in intersectionality above everything else. Check out the completely uncensored, full-length, conversation below as well as photo shoot by Indira Cesarine. Plus, don’t miss the chance to hear the radical singer live, she’s on tour now!
Untitled Magazine: You had a caption on an Instagram post that stuck with me for a while. It was about how you shaved your head, stopped caring about what everyone else thought of you, decided to love yourself and to appreciate the women around you. It seems like that’s also related to themes of The Feminine: Act I & II. What’s the story behind that?
Anna Wise: I grew up without a lot of programming surrounding the way that I should look and act as a woman and I was a hell of a tomboy when I was young. Until the fourth grade I was wearing basketball shorts and knee-high socks with tennis shoes and my scraggly hair was down to my butt. My older brothers all played football and my uncle was a professional football player so at the time I was like ‘I’m gonna be a quarterback! This is my dream!’ That’s what I wanted but then in third or fourth grade my uncle and mom sat me down and were like “Anna, we are going to take you shopping, we’re going get you some girl clothes, we’re going to take you to the hairdresser.” I reluctantly went along with it. They took me to the hairdresser but then left me alone with her so I was like, “Chop it all off!” So then I had this tiny little bob when I came out of the hair salon! I’ve always kind of had that spirit about me – if someone tells me to do something I’m probably going to do the opposite unless they figure out that they should tell me the opposite. Fast forward to being twenty-years-old and I really had gotten into my appearance, which is fine. It’s great for people to love the way they look and to wear makeup and do their hair however they want but I do think it’s important to analyze our programming and see where these desires are coming from to make sure that it’s what we truly want. So I just came to this huge realization and was like ‘Fuck what anyone thinks being a woman is supposed to be like!’ I shaved my head and I stopped shaving my legs and my armpits and my pussy and was just like ‘Fuck everything.’ Seeing how people would react to became this incredible social experiment everywhere I went. It was really funny, mostly older men who would look at me with disgust because I was not glamming it up – it was just shaved head, no makeup. I threw away all my makeup. I came to this realization about toxins in the environment and our makeup so I stopped drinking corporate soda and eating fast food. It was basically as if I had gone on a huge acid trip, something in my psyche changed and it changed my whole life. Not just in the way I approached my appearance but in the way I approached everything.
UM: Are you albums coming from that same place? Have you been making them since then?
AW: A little bit, like two or three years after I started writing about it. I’m making these albums because this is what I’m thinking about. It started out as feminism and equality of the sexes. Equality for everyone is what I’m obsessed with and what I think about every day. An easy way to refer to that is intersectionality and intersectional feminism. I’m very focused on racism and sexism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, classism, and all these things that are happening and preventing us all from living our best lives.
UM: Xenophobia, sexism, racism, and all of those things have been going on forever but have recently been really brought to the surface, so your albums feel very timely. How long have you been making them?
AW: I started making a lot of the songs a year or two after I shaved my head so around 2011 & 2012. I wrote “BitchSlut” which is on Act I and “Comes In” from Act II in 2013 so a lot of these songs were things that I had been thinking about and obsessing about. I really think that the reason these things are coming up now These things have always been around but think the reason that they are coming up now is because we have the internet so people aren’t being fed just one news source. Marginalized groups are able to tell their stories and speak about their experiences in a way that can go viral. It’s really empowering, I think this is a very incredible, novel time that is going to change the world.
UM: How did you go about separating the songs on Act 1 & Act II?
AW: Here’s what I did, I wanted the first EP to be all bangers. I wanted to put out the most commercial songs first in order to get everyone’s attention. Act II is definitely more me in terms of musical style. So that’s why I put them together the way that I did.
UM: Act I feels like a bit angrier than Act II, almost like you’re addressing this uninformed male and telling him how it is. Then Act II is still fierce but it’s more of a quiet fierceness. It feels like you’re talking more to the women around you and embracing them.
AW: I totally agree with that. As a metaphor I refer to Act 1 as ‘the sledgehammer’ and then I refer to Act II as ‘the rose.’ There’s a rose inside this room and you had to use the sledgehammer to get to this room to sit with this rose. In my head it’s like Beauty and the Beast. You can get pricked by this rose but it’s still beautiful. I wanted Act II to be more of an female energy but of course, men can embrace it too. I’m excited about the direction that everything is going in terms of men not being expected to be so “masculine” anymore and women not expected to be so “feminine” anymore. People should be allowed to weave in and out of gender expectation.
UM: I saw you live a couple of weeks ago and at one point, you did a Sonnymoon song and you brought up an A cappella group of all guys and I was like ‘Wow this is the first time I’ve seen a group of guys back up a female vocalist.’ Even that felt like it was subverting gender norms, it was awesome.
AW: I love those guys. They’re part of a group called Third Story and they actually put a video on Instagram of that song “Just Before Dawn” which Dane, my musical partner and partner/partner wrote together. We found the video of them and were like ‘Holy shit! This is amazing!’ Then we just hit them up – the power of the internet!
UM: Let’s go back to Act II, which you just released, and the music video for “Coconuts” also just came out. What is the concept behind that?
AW: I make all of my own music videos. I conceptualize and direct and edit them all. It’s become this incredibly fulfilling little branch of my creativity that I enjoy just as much as the music and it grows every time I do it. For Coconuts, I knew I wanted it to be deep saturation with blues and purples and women embracing, in a sensual, supportive but not hyper sexualized way. It’s supposed to be like another universe or another dimension that I’m going to and you could say it’s even within my own head that I’m going to this place. I reached out to my friend Afaliah Tribune, who’s the woman I’m dancing with in the video. I showed her my ideas for the movements and then she helped me expand upon them and taught them to the other girls. She was my translator basically because I’m not a dancer although I really want to be. We shot the video over two days, the first day we went out to the beach even though it was FREEZING. Then the next day I shot the studio shots. When I do shoots or do anything I want people to feel respected, fed, hydrated, and loved. Afaliah, Dyllan Mont, Jaime Woods and myself were the dancers. I had my friend Millicent Henry, do the styling and my friend Jade Garcia do the makeup and then Dane, my partner, filmed the whole thing.
It was only us in this huge studio and Dane had to set up all the hanging lights. The whole time that he’s doing this all of us girls were laying on the floor on our yoga mats, stretching, rubbing each other’s feet, giving each other scalp massages, talking about orgasms or lack of orgasms, talking about how men could do better in bed, right in front of Dane but he’s like one of the biggest feminists I know and he just like loves it. We had this time where our souls and our hearts were interacting and we were just weaving in and out of each other energetically so by the time we filmed we were in such a state that what you see is exactly what we were feeling. We weren’t acting, we created that vibe, and that is exactly what happened that day. Everybody was in love with each other.
UM: Is that what the song is about as well?
AW: Yes, the song is about not caring what other people say about you and about the destruction of the old ways of thinking that have not served us that have actually hurt us all for thousands of years. I’m not just talking about patriarchy. I’m talking about racism and transphobia and homophobia and xenophobia – anything that’s keeping us separate and hateful towards each other. I want those things to be gone.
UM: What about “Go,” the video where you play a nun. How did that whole storyline come about?
AW: With that, I keep wondering if I should censor myself but fuck it! This is such an intense time and I don’t feel that I should do that anymore because I want to push everything forward. The song is about letting go of a toxic relationship and the video is about letting go of religion. Specifically, religion that is patriarchal. I visited with a pastor who I knew growing up and I saw him now in my adulthood and he was like “How’s your relationship with Jesus Christ?” I was like ‘Honestly? I respect the dude, I think he might’ve existed, but really I have a problem with Christianity because it’s centered around men.” So, he goes “Well you know Jesus loves women, he never objectified them and he hung out with prostitutes. Women couldn’t be disciples but they were still in the club.” I just looked at him and was like “Do you hear yourself right now? You’re proving my point exactly. That was really the inspiration for the video.” I almost used his dialogue verbatim in the breakdown when Damien Lemon has his speech in the middle but I thought that was probably taking it too far. It really impacted me when he said that because he doesn’t even understand that what he’s doing is feeding the patriarchy. So “Go” was about letting go of religion. Religion can be a beautiful thing, I’m currently not practicing but I would probably call myself a witch before I called myself anything else, but it’s complicated. I know a lot of people do a lot of really wonderful things under the banner of religion so there’s pros but there’s also cons.
UM: Lastly, let’s talk about the “BitchSlut” music video.
AW: I was driving up to San Jose to hang out with B. Lewis and I was on the five and There’s this cool thing that happens when you drive and sometimes when you shower where your brain waves start to slow down and you get into like beta waves zone. It’s an excellent time for ideas. It also happens to me when I’m on my bike, I get a lot of song ideas when I’m biking, and I have to pull over like every block and a half to sing into my phone. That’s how “Girl, Mother, Crone,” the intro to “Go” came about. I was biking with Dane and I was like ‘Pull over! Pull over! Give me your phone!’ I sang into his phone and that’s how that happened. So, with “BitchSlut” I’m was driving up to San Jose to hang out with the producer, B. Lewis, when the whole thing just planted itself into my brain fully formed. I pulled over, took out my phone, and recorded the whole thing. I knew what the background harmonies were gonna be, I knew what the ad libs were gonna be, it was a fully formed song right then and there. I drove the last three hours up to B. Lewis’s house, got out of the car, and was just like ‘Get in your studio right now!’ He made me the beat and I recorded for like fifteen minutes and that was it. It just came out. I’m all about working smart and not working hard. Just allowing things to be what they are. I remember it was a full moon that night and B. Lewis and I just sat and we listened to it probably like eighty times in a row and were just like ‘Holy fuck what did we do?’ I knew that I eventually wanted that to be the lead single when I put out The Feminine: Act 1. I actually thought that the whole thing was gonna be called ‘BitchSlut’ but I wanted to figure out a term that was a little larger than that so that is how ‘The Feminine’ came about. I went back to L.A. and I met up with my good friend, Patty Miller to make the video. We just like went to different locations including the dumpsters above Dodger’s Stadium. We just shot the whole thing in one day and I edited it all in one day and that was it. It was just perfect. It was another one of those things that just happened.
UM: In songs like “Decrease My Waist, Increase My Wage” and “Stacking That Paper” you’re it seems like you are talking about how it is harder for women to make money as they are trying to do their own thing. As a female artist do you feel like it is harder to get things out there?
AW: I think it is in general but there are other people who it’s way harder for – different marginalized groups who are struggling to have a voice and be paid attention to and have people pay attention to them in the industry. In my mind I am succeeding and I don’t feel as if it’s hard for me. I do it all myself but I don’t think it’s hard, I think it’s a blessing. There might’ve been opportunities that I didn’t get because I’m a woman but I’m not paying attention to those because I believe in fate and I believe that the things that are supposed to come to me will come to me regardless of people’s ignorances. I see other friends of mine who are actually having a hard time getting their message out there. At the end of the day I’m a white woman. I am still experiencing privilege. So, yes, there is still an aspect of not receiving opportunities because I’m a woman but I’m still receiving more opportunities than say a black trans woman. I’m not sitting around feeling sorry for myself or feeling like I’m not receiving opportunities, I’m looking for ways to give opportunities to my friends.
UM: When it comes to feminism today, what do you think are the most important things we need to do as people to move forward?
AW: It’s intersectionality 100%. Oppression often intersects, creating unique and varied experiences of discrimination. It’s not just feminism, that is my banner, but it’s all of it and we’ve said it many times in this interview already but it’s also racism, classism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia, all of these things. I think we need to have intersectional love and come together and love each other for our differences. If you’re not homophobic but you’re racist that’s still wrong. You need to accept everyone. That’s what I want. I’m putting out these songs that can empower not just women, but all people, to love themselves and love others. That’s the goal. Love is the goal.
Photography by Indira Cesarine for The Untitled Magazine
Makeup by Roberto Morelli
Hair by Paul Warren
Interview by Jasmine Williams