My gift as a musician and composer is to entertain and do good
By Nika Jazaee
Anna-Christina is the author, narrator and creator of Music Audio Stories and the singer/songwriter/guitarist of London based Rock band Lilygun. She is also a film, TV and media composer. Anna-Christina began playing the piano and cello aged 12 and wrote her first full orchestral piece when she was 14. She also has a fascinating personal story to tell after her life almost came to an end when she suddenly suffered from a Subarachnoid Brain Haemorrhage. An event that would change her forever but didn’t stop her from pursuing the one thing that kept her spirit alive in the hard months of illness – Music.
You were a dancer but then focused on music, why did you choose music?
When I was 11 years old I attended a prestigious ballet boarding school. It was a tough competitive life and I found the girls in my class to be very nasty. Unlike other kids at school, there was no getting away from them! One day, I ran off to hide in one of the music cells. The room was small with a window and a piano. I grew bored just sitting there and so I began to play the piano. I stayed alone in that music cell for years to come, playing and playing which turned into composing. I could hear the full orchestra in the pieces I was writing but of course it was all just in my head! I also began writing songs because I felt frustrated with the situation. I landed my first professional job dancing in Austria and you would have thought after all the years of training I would have been happy! At first I was, of course, but then as time passed by I grew restless. Doing the same thing over and over again, perfection and being an image of beauty left me wanting to scream! I had a voice that wanted to be heard. And all this time there was this music! Music swirling around in my head getting louder and louder.
I came back to London and stopped dancing from one day to the next. I understood that dancing had always been such hard work for me but music was coming to me naturally. I formed a rock band called Lilygun and went to collage to study Sound Engineering which for me, is where life as a composer really began. I learned how to use music programmes and pieced together my own home recording studio. Suddenly I was able to create all of those compositions that had been in my head at school and music simply poured out of me as easy as breathing in and out! I realised I had always been a musician. Ballet played an important part in my story though. It’s due to my frustration with “perfection” that turned me into the type of rock artist I wanted to be. Plus all those years of listening to classical music meant that I knew exactly what to do with an orchestra!
Doing the same thing over and over again, perfection and being an image of beauty left me wanting to scream! I had a voice that wanted to be heard.
Did you grow up with any role model/s and why?
When I was at school I was a bit obsessed with Mozart. He was the first great Rock Star! He had a genius talent and I remember at the time being inspired by the energy of his music. His playful, almost childlike melodies struck a chord in me. I also love John Williams. His bold catchy scores for films like ET, Star Wars, Superman and so many more films made me want to be a film composer! Michael Nyman, who wrote the music for The Piano, was definitely an influence on me and possibly on my style as a composer too as I often create music with the piano at the centre of it. There have been many people and artists that have always been a constant source of inspiration to me but those great musicians/composers are the first ones I can remember.
There are places or environments where we feel mostly safe and free, where is that for you and why?
Rather than a physical place, I’ve found a place inside of myself that always brings me back to “one” so to speak! I tap into my soul’s energy and from there, I feel a sense of calm and peace. Life brings us so many challenges and at times, it can be easy to lose our way. I love that moment when you have created something and you jump for joy with happiness because YOU think it’s great. Your joy is not based on anyone else’s validation or opinion. It’s just you, appreciating the thing you’ve just created. Those are the best moments!
Tell us about the challenges you have had in your life and how did you overcome them, or are dealing with them?
Like most people, I’ve had many challenging times in my life. Being away from home at such a young age, the heartbreak of countless Lilygun line-ups that didn’t work out and the endless battle to keep it alive and authentic. Feeling as though I never quite fitted in in a world where everyone and everything is put neatly into boxes! By far, the most challenging time in my life was when I suffered from a Subarachnoid Brain Haemorrhage. They are often fatal. 30% of people die within hours and a further 50% of people die within the first month or result in a disability. Among the survivors the mental capacity of around half of them will be affected. It was a very traumatic experience. I had a five hour coiling procedure which has a lower risk of complications and offers a greater chance of survival without a disability but mine was unsuccessful. I had to wait a day before I could undergo open brain surgery to clip the aneurysm. Family members came to the hospital to, well, say goodbye because the operation was a risk. I remember lying there, in the intensive care unit thinking, isn’t it a shame that all my music is on my computer and not out in the world! I made a promise to myself that day. If I survived, no matter what, I was going to make it my mission in life to use my skills as a musician and composer to entertain, do good and be of service with my talent. Once I had recovered, I decided I was going to live life to the full and be a positive influence in the world. I decided I don’t care about the boxes anymore because the truth is, we are all the same. We all want to experience peace, love and joy and we all have that survival instinct. The power of the human spirit can do incredible things!
When did you feel that you were doing what you truly wanted to do in life or are you still working to get there? If so, how is the journey going?
In the last two years, I have made a massive transformation, both career wise and personally. I set up my own company with fellow musician/producer/engineer Adie Hardy and together we started creating Music Audio Stories for children. They are unique, fun, educational music based stories which instil positive messages. I found a way to use all of my skills collectively, bring happiness to children and enjoyment for myself all at once.
What inspires you when you produce music, or makes you start your day?
When I produce music it’s always organic. I write fast. At times I almost feel as though the music is already out there in the ether and I am the catalyst through which it passes through to be heard in the physical world. I only write songs when I have something to say. Usually when I am upset or disturbed in some way about something. It makes sense given the nature of how I began writing songs in the first place at school! Music Audio Stories are a complete joy to me. I somehow have the ability to write stories in perfect phrasing with music, similar to song writing in a way. I’ve also written songs in many Music Audio Stories to help children learning about all sorts of things, and they really do make you smile!
What is your favourite song and why?
Wow, this is so hard to answer! I go through phases when I love certain genres of music and only listen to those types of songs for months before switching to another genre. I seem to listen to Respect by Aretha Franklin a lot. It’s ballsy and makes you want to shake your booty!
Is there any pressure on you as a woman in the music industry?
Yes! Women face sexism and gender discrimination all the time, even today! The emphasis is predominantly based more on what you look like, than what you can do. The rock world is governed by male energy and over the years, my experience of being the leader in a band with all guys has been very tough. You’re constantly fighting against egos, other people’s expectations and ideas of how they think you should look and be. The percentage of women in orchestras is increasing but being a female composer is equally as hard as leading a rock band! Women are also underrepresented in orchestral conducting, music producing, and sound engineering. Women are much less likely to have positions of authority, such as being the leader of an orchestra but I think the times are changing!
What is the biggest thing you want to achieve in this life and how will you get there?
To be honest, and I know it may sound a little clichéd, I just want to be happy, healthy and fulfilling my purpose in life. If you can find a way to be at peace with yourself and life, then you have the chance to operate at your best and achieve great things. What’s kind of fascinating about this, is the fact that while you’re vibrating on a high frequency, your joy seems to touch other people’s lives and before you know it, you’re doing good things for others as well as yourself!
Yes! Women face sexism and gender discrimination all the time, even today! The emphasis is predominantly based more on what you look like, than what you can do. The rock world is governed by male energy and over the years, my experience of being the leader in a band with all guys has been very tough.
I’ve learned that life is a balancing act. Pursue your dreams, set yourself big goals and be prepared to work hard to achieve them, but don’t forget to keep a balance in life. You can’t work yourself into the ground. You need a healthy balance of work, family, friends, exercising, free time and YOU time! Being connected with yourself is very important. You’ve got to be your own best friend and look after yourself. Only then can you be at your best so that you can help others, make a difference, contribute to society and use your skills without burning out. Plus, make decisions that are right for you! I aim to be a better person than the person I was yesterday and I’ve found that now, life flows more freely.