Anjimile’s Hard-Won Optimism – AdHoc

Anjimile’s Hard-Won Optimism

Anjimile on his debut album, spirituality, and Aretha Franklin.

Anjimile Chithambo—the Texas-born, Boston-based singer-songwriter known simply as Anjimile—has found two fellow travelers in Justine Bowe and Gabe Goodman.

“The EP’s production is beautiful and very restrained and includes a lot of interesting sounds and unexpected turns of phrase and turns of composition,” Anjimile recently told me, reflecting on Goodman’s 2019 EP, Dismissing the Gardener. The description also extends to Anjimile’s impressive debut album, Giver Taker, which arrives this Friday and was jointly produced by Goodman and Bowe.

When AdHoc last spoke to Anjimile, in the spring of 2019, Giver Taker only existed as a Google Doc. Anjimile fleshed out the album—and whittled it down to ten songs—over the second half of the year. It was only fitting that the first single off the record was an updated version of “Maker,” a track that shows Anjimile at his most tender and vulnerable.

“I think ‘Maker’ feels like a meaningful artistic statement for me to put out as my best foot forward as someone who’s openly queer and openly trans and also openly a sadboy,” says Anjimile. “I feel like ‘Maker’ is a good hybrid of the styles that I like to fuck with—the emotionality and also the driving, grooving rhythm.” Though Anjimile wrote “Maker” in what he calls a “sadboy state,” the final product exudes a hard-won optimism.

We recently caught up with Anjimile by phone about Giver Taker, collaborating with Goodman and Bowe, and his decision to film a “lit as hell” record release set at a Boy Scout camp in New Hampshire. Check out the full interview and listen to “Maker” below.

Giver Taker is out tomorrow September 18 via Father/Daughter (if you pre-order it here during September, $1 of your purchase will go to the Black Trans Travel Fund).

AdHoc: Where are you right now? And where’s home at the moment?

Anjimile: I am in Boston, Massachusetts, in the neighborhood of Jamaica Plains, just chilling at the apartment, getting some work done.

Last time we spoke, in the spring of 2019, you were about to graduate from Northeastern and you had secured some funding from the City of Boston to record an album. Is Giver Taker that album, or was that funding for a different project?

Yeah, that’s Giver Taker.

How did the record evolve since then?

It’s pretty much been very streamlined. We organized it. I had the songs written and I worked with two producers—my bandmate Justine [Bowe] and her good friend Gabe Goodman. I showed them my tunes, we picked the ten best ones, we figured out instrumentation, we edited the arrangements to make them nice and juicy, we met up once a month to record this shit, and we banged it out.

Was that all last summer?

It was from when we chatted up until January of this year. That’s when we wrapped up recording.

I remember you shared a bill with Gabe over at Union Pool last year. Did you two get connected through Justine?

Yeah, Gabe and Justine are buddies from high school. Gabe went to school in Massachusetts with Justine and then moved to New York post-college I think. So they’ve known each other for years, and she showed me an EP he had put out last year called Dismissing the Gardener

We were talking about how to get the record recorded and who to work with, and she was like, “Check this shit out,” and I was like, “This is very interesting.” The EP’s production is beautiful and very restrained and includes a lot of interesting sounds and unexpected turns of phrase and turns of composition. So I was like, “This is super unique. I fuck with this. Let’s do it.”

How has your creative relationship with Justine evolved since you first started working together?

It’s been evolving since we met in 2017. At first she was just my accompaniment on vocals, and then she brought her OP-1 synth into the mix, and then I started trusting her as a collaborator and she started suggesting little arrangement flourishes and ideas that have made the compositions a lot tighter and crispier.

Is that OP-1 her primary instrument?

I think her primary instrument is piano. That’s her bread and butter, that’s what she was raised on.

What were you bringing to the table in terms of instrumentation?

I recorded acoustic guitar and vocals. I would record shit live, and then we would add shit on from there.

What was the process of selecting songs like? How did you whittle it down?

I write a fuck-ton of songs. So I just pulled together a Google Doc of what I thought were the best 15, and then we listened to each one and decided as a group which ones we thought were the best. I think the easiest thing about working with Gabe and Justine is that we have very similar tastes, so there was no dispute. They were like, “We think these ones are the best,” and I was like, “Yeah, me too.” It was very easy.

Were most of those songs previously released or new demos?

There are a couple of tracks that I released a couple of years ago on a DIY EP I had recorded through a Samsung phone, but most of it was just demos that I recorded on my own.

I wanted to ask about Giver Taker’s lead single “Maker.” What does that song mean to you? Why did you want that to be the first glimpse of the record?

I think “Maker” feels like a meaningful artistic statement for me to put out as my best foot forward as someone who’s openly queer and openly trans and also openly a sadboy. These three things exemplify the vibe of “Maker” and I feel like a lot of my songwriting style—or I guess music style in general—can be pretty emotional. I wanted to show that in this single while also showcasing a good groove, ‘cause I love a good groove. I feel like “Maker” is a good hybrid of the styles that I like to fuck with—the emotionality and also the driving, grooving rhythm.

What are some of the other emotions that drive the songs on the record? Would you say it’s a sadboy record?

I think I’m the only one who views my shit as sadboy. One of the great things about working with Gabe and Justine is that they’re able to zero in on and then expand upon the uplifting, grooving, melodic portions of each song. I view “Maker” as a sadboy song because I wrote it when I was in a sadboy state, but the single, as it is, is pretty flipping triumphant.

Yeah, that’s how I register it.

It’s like, “Boom, I’m a maker, swag.” That’s not even a vibe that I realized until working with Gabe and Justine. It’s nice to be working with folks who have less of an immediate emotional connection to the tunes because they have a more accurate view of the vibe of the songs.

You previously said, when I asked what themes animate your music, “I identify as queer and trans, and that identity has developed and changed over the years. It’s always something that has been fluid for me. […] And spirituality has been a consistent theme as I grow and change into a hippie.” Does Giver Taker track any of those arcs? How?

I would describe Giver Taker as the top of the parabola, because all of those themes are prevalent throughout the record. I think the most predominant, in my opinion, is spirituality and a sense of uplift. And that’s the feeling I get when I relate to my spirituality. Like, I’m a hippie and I feel like the universe has positive intentions and that if I do the right thing, I’ll be alright. And so that’s what my music conveys. 

I’ve had a long life, so there’s definitely been moments of pain and regret and suffering that are also communicated in some of the songs, but I’d like to think [Giver Taker] is a mish-mash of everything that ends on a positive note. We’re gonna be alright.

What are some things you listen to that give you that feeling?

I love soul music. When I’m looking for an uplift that’s what I listen to. I just got this Aretha Franklin record on vinyl, Aretha Now, and her powerful voice and melodicism fill me with joy and euphoria. 

With in-person performances off the table for a while now, how will you celebrate your record release?

We’re gonna give the people a release show, but it’s gonna be streamed. We’re heading up to New Hampshire actually to film the set and we’ll be releasing it around the time the record comes out depending on what’s going on. But it’s weird to have this COVID cloud over this whole thing. So we’re just gonna do a remote show, and hopefully it’ll still be lit as hell.

Why New Hampshire?

Justine’s family lives in New Hampshire and right next to their house is a Boy Scout camp, and at the Boy Scout camp there’s this really sick performance space. It’s kind of like a wooden cabin woodland [with] a cute little music space. Sometimes they rent it out for weddings. I feel like the vibe of it is perfect.