With her wise beyond her years lyrics, 2 stellar EP under her belt, a number of collaborations with various artists (including First Rate People, Luke Lalonde and Anna Wiebe) and the first tour completed, it’d seems like Anna Horvath would be sitting on top of the world. And to some, she is. 2016 has been a successful year for Hovath’s dreamy, folk moniker Merival but between everything it’s hard to find a scene of validation or sense of belonging as a woman in the music industry. Even with a vast number of amazing women out there making music, it’s something to overcome and although at times her self-diagnosed “impostor syndrome” and personal anxiety may slow down the process, it never stops the Toronto based artist from unveiling her lyrics about love, heartbreak and confusion as they flow along her gently plucking, folk melodies. Her latest release Lovers, recorded by Asher Gould-Murtagh, and the tour that follwed have been triumphant lead ins for Horvath to succeed with new music, a potential full length and the ever growing number of show dates around SW Ontario. After the tour I got the chance to sit with Merival as we discussed her experiences the first time on the road, revisiting old music and overcoming your anxieties as an artist.
You recently finished your first major tour! How did it go?
Anna: It went really well! It started of kind of bumpy but it smoothed itself out. Basically I was in Guelph on St. Patrick’s day at Van Gogh’s Ear and I didn’t even realize it was St. Patty’s day unil there were a bunch of drunken, green 20 year olds around me (laughs). But from there it’s been on wards and upwards.
I read on Facebook that you had a negative experience on one of the first nights of the tour. What happened?
It was after the Toronto show. I’m glad I was in the position I was, which is with my friend who is another bad ass woman and my supportive partner but it’s just those dudes who doubt your place in the music world. We’ve all come up against it so many times. Every woman I’ve talked to in the music world has had to experience that. They need to be convinced that you’re real and it’s so draining coming up against that all the time. When you’re trying to convince yourself that you’re real and it’s so draining when you’ve already got this impostor syndrome going on then have this random drunk dude in the bar be like “Are you really a musician? Really?” And he was just so immediately angry right away when we were like, “we already told you that. Why do you need to ask again.” He then jumps up and starts yelling about how he was just trying to be nice and throws his hand in my friends face telling her she’s done talking when she asked him if he was serious. It was fine, it was fine but it was frustrating.
Earlier this year you released your EP Lovers and I read that all of the songs on the album you wrote before the age of 20. Why go back to these songs? Why not release more recent material?
I ahve a really hard time lettting go of things. Those songs have been around for a while now and they’ve kind of become my staples. I actually had the idea for this project a while ago and tried it but had a couple false starts that didn’t pan out but I was so attached to the idea of this project in this way. With this cover, with this setlist, with this over arching idea that it just felt like I had to get this out and done with before I could move on. I just wanted to do these songs justice because I do think they’re very good and I like that they’ve been around for a while because I don’t have my doubts about them anymore. It’s also just nice knowing that it’s out there and people can still find meaning in it six years later.
You actually reconnected from someone from your past because of “Kicking You Out”.
I did! I did. I wrote the song about him and was very upfront about it in all of the press. So he got in touch and asked if it was about him. Then said it made him feel better about being an ass to me in high school (laughs)… okay. Anyway, we just got to chatting and we caught up and it’s great! It’s really the best case scenario.
Where did you record this EP?
I actually recorded it in my friend’s living room which worked out really well. It was with this friend of mine who used to drum in and produce the band marriage and I went to his bandmate’s house to buy a pair of roller skates and he was like, “you should talk to Asher. He just started working at this studio and would be so happy to work with you.” But yeah, it was super easy to set it up, we just texted back and forth to set up a time and just did it over a weekend.
Before this you had an EP that you released back in 2012. Besides a couple false starts what was holding you back from released new music? Because that’s a pretty big gap.
It is a big gap! Like I mentioned before this imposer syndrome and I think it happens to a lot of people who aren’t, you know, straight, white, cis dudes who have all the confidence in the world. It’s just so easy to feel like you’re faking it or you don’t know your place in the industry that you’re trying to be in so I’ve been struggling a lot with that. I’m trying to figure out how to manage my creativity because I tend to get down on myself and I’m not very prolific. Like, I’m out there posting about myself and playing all these shows and people think I’m doing so much but in reality I haven’t written a song in six months. So I’m not doing all that much and it really undermines my belonging in this business and feels like I’m lying to people. So that was difficult to get over that but I think when I started the recording process I felt better about doing something tangible and I could relax. Like, “okay. This is real. I’m a real person. It’s fine.” And just trying to make it in this city, trying to not be broke, trying to maintain a healthy relationship, trying to manage my own anxiety and mental health issues. There’s just so much on my plate that I can only put my energy into one thing at a time. But it’s getting easier and I’m getting better at it.
You’ve worked with and built relationships with tons of artists in the area but it was actually Anna Wiebe who gave you the push into songwriting.
We actually met when we were six at a Mennonite folk festival (which is about everything you need to know about us). We kept seeing each other over the years at summer camp and what not but we ended up at the same high school together in Kitchener. So when we met and became close again in grade 9 we would sing songs together and we realized we could harmonize as we were singing Sarah Harmer songs together in our high school lobby. Then she’d bring in these songs that her dad had written and I’d coming up with the harmonies. Then she’d bring in songs that she has written and I was like, “you did this! You wrote this song. Maybe I could do this too.” I’d always had noodled on the piano, making little tunes but I didn’t actually start writing music until I was 15. Honestly, it was her inspiration that made me realize I could do it.
You mentioned Sarah Harmer earlier but who else are some of the female artists that you grew up with and that inspired you?
Definitely Sarah Harmer. That one album, You Were Here, I wore out that album. Around the same time was when Feist was big and I think she’s pretty important for any identified, female, folk artist in Canada. Joni Mitchell, I didn’t get into until later but when I did it was like, “ooooh. I get it now.” Joanna Newsom has been a major one. I am like a speck to her mountain.
There are just so many that I could list off but there are a lot of local women around who are making fantastic music now. Hushpup I’ve seen live a bunch of times and I love them! So yeah, I’ve got my favorites but I also want to be out there supporting local women in the scene.
Now that Lovers is released and the tour is done, what’s next for you?
Ahh, wallowing in self doubt? Just kidding. I’d love to put out a full length next year so I figure if I start thinking about it now I can defuse some of the anxiety and take some of those steps. I’d like to do a video for one the of the tracks on the EP, to keep people engaged before releasing new music. I’d really like to kick my own butt in terms of songwriting. Just sit down and do it. I can’t keep waiting for these ethereal glimpses of inspiration when they only happen 5 times a year.
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Check her out this Sunday as part of the Great Hearts Festival in Bellwoods.