A Musician's Reading List — Anjana Vasan

Posted on December 08 2017

Hi Anjana, tell us more about yourself!
I’m an actor and singer-songwriter living in London. I earn a living from acting, and since I work mostly in Theatre. I don’t get many free evenings to gig as much as I’d like to. In five years, I’ve hopefully redressed that balance between music and acting — recorded another album, directed a play and learned a new language.

What are you currently reading?

• Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh by John Lahr
• Furies: Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors by Eve Lacey

Can you recommend your best five titles to us?

In no order of preference,

• Jonah and Otto — Robert Holman
• The Ministry of Utmost Happiness — Arundhati Roy
• The Land Where the Blues Began — Alan Lomax
• The Little Virtues — Natalia Ginzburg
• Love is an Empty Barstool — Pooja Nansi

And why?
Because of my job, I tend to read more plays than anything else. Its impossible to pick a favourite but Robert Holman is a playwright whose work is unlike anything Ive ever come across. Enigmatic, odd, and beautiful. There is nothing dishonest or vain about his writing. Jonah and Otto are ostensibly about two people talking. Its the first play of his that Ive read and it completely floored me.

Arundhati Roys new novel was worth the long wait after The God of Small Things. If I had to underline all my favourite bits, there would be a single, long and uninterrupted line from the first word to the last.

I love books about music. The Land Where the Blues Began is Alan Lomaxs memoir of his odyssey into Mississippi in the 1930s and 40s. A long read, but a definitive book for fellow blues geeks.

Natalia Ginzburgs The Little Virtues is a short collection of essays. A slim book, but full of insightful gems. Its the sort of book you keep going back to. She writes about simple, ordinary things and finds extraordinary truth and beauty within them.

What sort of best friend would I be, if I didnt plug Pooja Nansis gorgeous collection — Love is an Empty Barstool? The book is close to my heart as Ive performed most of the pieces alongside her, pairing her poems with music.

What's one quote you live by?

Take your work seriously, but never yourself.


How did Too Dark for Country come about, and how did non-musical elements act as guiding tools in forming the narrative of the EP?
Ive carried around these songs for awhile, but I put off recording them until I found a collaborator I could trust. When Ben Walker agreed to help me produce it, I felt the time was right. Too Dark for Country is my first recording, so I picked four songs from my repertoire that serves well as an introduction.

Personally, songwriting is instinctual and I dont plan ahead the kind of song I want to write. I wait for an emotional trigger, which doesnt always have to be a personal event. It could be something Ive read or seen, a memory, another song, a conversation I overheard, or just repeating a chord sequence till it sets off an impulse. So, its an unconscious process. After the first draft, I keep returning to rewrite or refine until Im satisfied with it, which may take days or months.

Finally, what does music and literature mean to you on a personal level?
Songs are essentially stories and songwriting is not a lesser craft than other forms of writing. Townes Van Zandt, Leadbelly and Neil Young are great musicians but they are also extraordinary poets and storytellers.

One of my favourite songwriters, Pete Seeger once said, the key to the future of the world is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.

Surely all writers are simply trying to communicate a truth and make a connection. The only difference is the form.


More about Anjana Vasan here.
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