February 16, 2022
Anaïs Mitchell’s name echoes through a variety of mediums. An accomplished songwriter, folk musician, and playwright, her catalog of work has been the subject of glowing critical acclaim and a host of prestigious awards. Her most renowned achievement has been the success of Hadestown, a stage musical Mitchell adapted from a folk opera to an album, then into a Broadway production in the span of thirteen years. She did this all while developing and releasing new albums on her own and with the folk supergroup, Bonny Light Horseman.
Since Hadestown premiered at New York’s Walter Kerr Theater in 2019, Mitchell has had time to return to songwriting. She’s used her time away from the stage to compose her own kind of epic, Anaïs Mitchell, an eponymous collection of songs exploring memories of her upbringing, personal inspirations, and manifestations of her goals.
This latest solo work from Mitchell stands in stark contrast with the stage music that has ruled her creative space for the better part of a decade. While the style of songwriting the new album utilizes is far from unfamiliar to the acclaimed folk musician, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“There was a big learning curve in terms of the kind of songs that are required for a piece of drama versus a piece of music. Essentially, [theater] songs need to work hard on the part of the story and the character development, you need to arrive someplace at the end of a song that is different from where you began,” she said. “A song for music can be more circular, if that makes sense. I think the kind of mesmerizing ‘Let’s trance out for three and half minutes’ of music and poetry is incredible and it’s what I love about songwriting and the music world, but it’s not enough for dramatic songwriting.”
Given how different the style and subject of songs from Anaïs Mitchell are from Hadestown, it’s clear that separating herself from her beloved stage wasn’t the only factor that led Mitchell to her new record. After Covid brought Broadway and the entertainment industry at large to a standstill, Mitchell took a state-wide step away from stage and the city. With a baby on the way, she and her family relocated to her home state of Vermont, taking up residence in the memory-steeped former home of her grandparents. This extraordinary shift allowed Mitchell to explore a powerful connection to her past, a theme that presides over most of the songs on her latest work.
However, Anaïs Mitchell isn’t the only album that draws on Mitchell’s past. According to her, her youth in Vermont has served as consistent inspiration for all of her songwriting.
“I grew up in a very wild and wooly kind of ‘hippies in the middle of nowhere’ setting,” she said. “We didn’t have a television, but we did have fields and woods to explore. There was a lot of making our own fun (for my brother and me). I think that fostered a certain kind of creativity in both of us. Also I think living in Vermont puts you really in touch with the natural world and especially the cycle of seasons. The winter is long, cold, and dark. The summer is brief and incredible. I know that imagery has come up again and again in my songs.”
With the new record now completed, Mitchell has returned to touring for the first time since 2020. Mitchell will be pulling double-duty every night on this tour, performing her own songs in addition to a set with Bonny Light Horseman, the trio consisting of Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson (Fruit Bats and The Shins), and Josh Kaufman (The National and Hiss Golden Messenger).
Having accomplished so much already and with even more to look forward to in the short-term, it’s hard to tell where Mitchell will go from here. The future is vast and full of opportunity, but rather than stress over the possibilities, Mitchell is letting it come to her naturally.
“I’m having so much fun right now just writing songs and making records,” she said. “I’m sort of waiting for the right story to cross my path. I’m keeping an eye out.”
Anaïs Mitchell and Bonny Light Horseman will be in Charlotte on February 24 at Booth Playhouse. Listen to Mitchell’s latest self-titled album released on January 28, 2022.