Anjimile and L’Rain Get a Little Confrontational

The friends talk The King, I Killed Your Dog, and more.

Anjimile Chithambo — or, better known as just Anjimile — is a folk singer-songwriter currently based in Durham, North Carolina; L’Rain is Taja Cheek, a Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and composer. Both released albums recently (Anjimile’s The King and L’Rain’s I Killed Your Dog) and played a show together over the summer, so to celebrate it all, the two got on a video call to catch up.
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Anjimile Chithambo: First of all, I’m really excited to get to talk to you about your record, because I’ve been bumping this shit and I’m really excited to ask you about it. 

Taja Cheek: I feel the same way about you and your record. I feel like ever since we played that show together, I was like, OK, I think that’s my friend now!

Anjimile: Oh, man, yeah. I am so stoked that I got to open for you. And like, I remember the moment that I heard “Pet Rock” in the set and it was like the same feeling as listening to it on the record — just like, This is exactly the thing that my ears need to be experiencing right now. It’s just perfect.

Taja: Oh, man. [Laughs.]

Anjimile: I just want to get that first off.

Taja: Well, thank you. That means a lot, because I remember hearing your set and — I mean, so much of the set, but in particular, “Father,” I was like, Wait a minute, that’s crazy. It’s just so visceral and immediate. I texted Moses Sumney and I was like, “You have to listen to this record because I think you’ll really, really love this.” 

Anjimile: Oh, thank you.

Taja: The title track, too — I remember hearing that and I was like, What? You’re on some other shit now. Does it feel like a new chapter, or like a different moment for you? How are you feeling?

Anjimile: Oh, you know, I’m feeling mostly overwhelm. And also excitement, and anxiety, and joy. But I’m just glad that the record is out. I guess I feel like — no, I’m not going to say that. I was going to say, I felt like I was holding it in like a fart.

Taja: [Laughs.] 

Anjimile: But the record is not a fart, obviously. But it was that same clenched… I was just like, I need to get this music out, I’m gonna puke! 

Taja: I’ve never heard that analogy before, but as soon as you said it, I was like, Yeah, that is kind of what it feels like. Because it’s a bodily feeling where you’re like, I have this thing and I know I need to release it, and it’s gonna be released, it’s just a matter of when.

Anjimile: Yeah, a very physical, almost gastrointestinal experience. And with The King specifically, the recordings happened so long before the release, and then the mixing process was really long. After a certain point of listening to the mixes, I was like, I’m not even sure this sounds like music. Will people register this as music? I’m not even I don’t even know what I’m hearing anymore.

Taja: Yeah, I feel that. I can’t even imagine what it was like to mix this record. I’m just curious if this process felt different for you? Honestly, when I was listening to it, it feels like a person who is becoming freer and more in their body, in themselves. I felt that from the music, which is a very inspiring thing to hear and to feel. I don’t know how to explain it, but that’s what I felt. And I’m curious if it felt that way, making the music and being on the other side now. Obviously you’re feeling relief after this fart…

Anjimile: [Laughs.] I’m glad that comes across because, you know, music making is always an emotional experience. I don’t have a ton of experience working with producers, period — Shawn [Everett] was the second producer I worked with. I mean, I guess I worked with some fake producers in college, but that doesn’t count. You know what I’m saying?

Taja: I know the vibes. 

Anjimile: I didn’t know really shit about [Shawn] before we met. I did a bit of research on his own music. I was like, Wow, this this catalog is eclectic. And then I googled him and I was like, Is that a white man with dreadlocks? I don’t know about that. And then we met and I immediately loved him very much. Have you met Shawn yet?

Taja: I haven’t.

Anjimile: I’m in love with that man. He’s extremely kind and gentle, and he’s a really good listener and I just like the way that he talks about music. He showed me a bunch of really cool music in a very giving and open and non-judgmental way — because, you know, sometimes when you’re talking to music folks and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, have you heard that band Puppy Queef? They just put out this sick ass record!” And I’m like, “No, I don’t know who that band is.” And they’re like, “Oh.”

Taja:Oh, you don’t know Puppy Queef?!” [Laughs.]  

Anjimile: That’s kind of a good band name.

Taja: That is a good band name. Someone should take it.

Anjimile: He’s just really unpretentious. I’ve met a lot of people who are in the music industry, and outside, who are just really pretentious. And I feel like he has a right to be pretentious, or would be excused for being pretentious or being a dick, and he’s just not. And on top of that, he’s just really talented. I felt, in that entire process, really very deeply heard and understood, and it was really healing to be singing about this shit and having such great trust in this man that I was working with. And he’s also just a good hang. He’s a chiller. So yeah, the whole experience I was like, I‘m scared, because this music sounds wacky. But I was also like, Well, this is the way it’s supposed to sound. You know, when you know, you know. And he made he made it easier to dive in. He’s just got soul.

If I may turn the question back to you — because I think in terms of your artistic journey and me plugging into this album, it just feels very confident. When was bumping it this morning, it made me think of — and I hope this isn’t too wack of a comparison — Dark Side of the Moon by Pink Floyd. Just in terms of the otherworldliness and the world-building-ness of the album itself, and the way that it just lives in this very distinct sonic space and reaches out into every possible corner of that space and every shadow and every patch of light. I’m wondering if you might be interested in speaking to this at all? The sequencing of this album is off the fucking hook and I would really love to hear about that process of doing that.

Taja: Oh, man. I have so much to say. It’s so cool hearing you talk about your relationship also with Shawn, because that’s so important. Making music is such a small part of making music — your connections with people are the majority of it. So that’s really beautiful, because that’s so important. 

Also, that’s funny that you said Dark Side of the Moon, because people are sometimes like, “Oh, it sounds like Pink Floyd!” And I’ve never actually listened to Pink Floyd, really. I listened to Dark Side of the Moon for the first time maybe a couple months ago, and it’s funny listening to it as an old person just being like, Oh, this is what this album sounds like that is so iconic that everybody likes? [Laughs.] But the sequencing — thank you for saying that. That really that means a lot, because we think about the sequencing a lot, and I think we felt less confident about it this time around. We usually try to give part of it away to another artist, and last time around we worked with Slauson Malone — who’s now Slauson Malone 1 — to help sequence it. We were like, “Here’s the order, here’s what we’re thinking, but you do your own thing with it.” And then this time, we asked OPN to do part of it, and we took some of it and then rearranged the rest of it. But yeah, we kind of obsess over it, and sometimes while we’re recording, we think about it. 

I wonder if you feel that way? Like sometimes when I’m recording I’m like, “Oh, yeah, and then that means that this song can lead to this song, or this can happen first.” The sequencing starts making sense as I’m recording.

Anjimile: Yeah. Well, firstly, in terms of Dark Side of the Moon — really the thing that stuck out to me was the sequencing flow in comparison, because that record, in my opinion, has a fucking banging sequence. It just flows like water. I found myself smiling at the sequence as I was listening. The arc is perfect. In terms of in terms of my relationship to sequencing, it’s something I don’t enjoy thinking about, because it makes me want to ralph. And it was funny because in this instance Shawn was sequencing while mixing, because he was like, “I’m kind of fucking around with sequences as I mix in order to make sure that these songs actually cohere together.” I was like, “Yeah, I really can’t even think about that.” So when he would send us rough mixes, it would be all in one chunk. It would be like four songs just in a big thingy.

Taja: Oh, wow. 

Anjimile: When he did that, it helped us both begin to see the realized vision in its full form. So Shawn sequenced that bitch. He would send it over and be like, “How does this vibe feel?” And I was like, “Fantastic.” There came a point where my management was like, “Hey, let’s actually talk more about the sequencing.” So we tried out a couple of different sequences, and ultimately we were just like, “It doesn’t flow as well.” Because this sequence that Shawn crafted already exists, and it just made me appreciate the sequence even more. So like luckily, in my case. The sequence already existed via Shawn. So it was really nice to have that delivered to me on a on a platter.

Taja: What I love about it is that it feels kind of like an epic poem or a story that I’m being led through. Not that it’s narrative, but I kind of feel like I’m being led through a poem or something, which is like, really beautiful. I was going to actually ask you about the song titles, because for my last record, I was like, “I want all the titles to have two syllables!” And I noticed all of [your] song titles are very short, and they have a certain kind of rhythm to it. I just immediately picked up on that — why did you do that? It’s very cool.

Anjimile: Yeah. Well, I think it goes back to, when I first started writing songs I was a big Sufjan-head. I mean, I still am, but I was like, I was listening to Illinois — you know, how every fucking one of those track titles is like a book. And I also grew up listening to Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy, and their song titles are also sentences. So when I first started songwriting, I had really long, verbose songs for the most part, because I like was into classical literature and into Shakespeare and shit. And then I had a point — I guess it was rehab. I’m sober, and I’ve been sober for seven years. I got sober in 2016, and I brought my guitar to rehab, and I wrote a bunch of songs in rehab. Something about having that experience of being in a very intense therapeutic situation taught me how to express my feelings in a way that I would describe as more succinct, and for whatever reason, being able to express my emotions as succinctly as possible works really well for me. 

Though my music may not suggest as much, I find it really difficult to talk about my feelings, and being able to express my feelings as kind of quickly as possible but also as detailed as possible is what I like to do. And so that’s how I like to songwrite as well. So I don’t do a lot of editing of my lyrics at all. Or very little — if a word sticks out, I’ll change it. But it’s pretty much just how it begins in the solo jam of songwriting. And in that spirit of succinctness, and perhaps even a little bit of brusqueness, I also like the titles to be brief.

Taja: Yeah, I was really struck by that also just with the songwriting in general. It’s so clever the way you’re able to communicate ideas with an economy of space and words, which just takes a lot of skill to be able to do that. I remember also hearing “Animal” for the first time at the show, and then again listening to it on the record, and I was like, Oh, wow. And it feels weird to even think of it being an economy of space — there’s so many sounds and ideas and things happening. But also at the same time, it doesn’t feel excessive. It feels like what is needed to communicate this, which is hard to do. 

Anjimile: Thank you. I also wanted to ask about your relationship to language and lyricism. “I Killed Your Dog” — fucking bitching song. And also such a great album title, and great metaphor thematically. I was wondering if you could speak to that and if you had any thoughts on listeners potentially taking that literally.

Taja: [Laughs.] I mean, I honestly was expecting more flack than I got, but it’s pretty great. Every once in a while, there’ll be an article that comes out and there’s one person that’s like, “You must be a disgusting, horrible human being!” And it’s just so funny to me that people think that what you put into the world has to be the absolute truth. But I guess that’s the falsehood of social media in a way too, like everything you put out is the absolute truth. But it’s a fantasy, it’s made up. And I feel really lucky that people, for the most part, get the metaphor, and I have enough goodwill that people are like, “You probably didn’t kill a dog.” 

But I kind of want it to be a little confrontational. I feel like I was a really good kid and I always kind of did what I was, quote-unquote, “supposed to do.” And I feel like sometimes certain kinds of experimental music can get treated with white gloves or it’s placed in certain kinds of institutions and handled with a sensitivity that I don’t feel about myself or my music. For me, it comes from a very visceral, emotional place. I’m a little crazy, I’m a little loud, I get angry, I get really sad. I’m an emotional mess of a person, you know? So I was like, I need this title to reflect that in some way. It’s an album about relationships with people, and how you hurt people when you’re close to them sometimes. And so every time someone writes something and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I hate this title,” I’m like, “Yeah, I know, me too.” It doesn’t feel good to say. I don’t enjoy it. But art doesn’t have to make you feel good all the time. That’s not really the purpose of music always.

Anjimile: Yeah, that is so interesting. In terms of being confrontational, a thing I really enjoy is that — I mean, everybody loves dogs, but millennials on the internet have a very specific language for dog behaviors, like “sploots” and “scritches.” Like people talking about pets in that very cutesy way. Which is fine, but I feel like it makes that title even more impactful and subversive. I just think it’s fucking good. 

Taja: Totally. Well, I think it’s probably in some way also just thinking about animals in general, like animality as a thing that can get thrown on to people — that can get thrown at Black people. I think that’s why I also was so drawn to that song, because as soon as I heard the first few lines of that song, I was like, OK, yes, I’m on board, I get this, I feel that. I think there’s something about that in there too, somehow, or sometimes feeling like white people care about animals more than they do about people. It’s sort of like, “Well, fuck your animal.”

Anjimile: Yes, absolutely. And that for some… crackers, [Laughs,] a song title like “I Killed Your Dog” will inspire more emotion than a literal, actual, police brutality death of a Black person. So that’s fucking rad. Another track I wanted to ask you about lyrically, “5 to 8 Hours a Day” — I guess this isn’t really a question, but I just think the lyrics are really good.

Taja: That’s means a lot from you!

Anjimile: It was like a lyrical head turner for me personally. “Dressing up for revolution/Can’t keep down, weak constitution.” I can’t really describe why, but it just gave me chills immediately. It’s also obviously a beautiful song, but just the many meanings of the word constitution. Am I on the right track there? 

Taja: Yes, yes. I wrote that song also thinking about, like, Black people that play guitar, so that’s really cool to me that that song in particular resonated with you, of all people. There are so many of us, but we don’t get the shine that we should, even though it’s our instrument. You know what I mean? And that means a lot that it’s reaching the people that it should. I mean, one very important part of this record also is just your playing. Your musical ideas and your connection to the guitar is just so palpable, and it’s so beautiful. You feel it a lot on the record, and you also feel it so, so much when I see you play. Those are difficult parts, but beyond the technical ability that you have, it’s just something you feel and you clearly care about tone so much. And the guitar tones are so beautiful and the way that it melds with your voice, it’s just amazing. So the fact that that song in particular is something that stood out to you, that’s a triumph for me.

Anjimile: Obviously, you know that the tones on [your] record are chef’s kiss deliciousness. That was another Pink Floyd comparison, just the tone — the tone zone. I personally am obsessed with tone. 

Taja: Clearly you are obsessed with tone. [Laughs.] That is very clear. Your guitars sound immaculate.

Anjimile: [Laughs.] Oh, my god. I just remember when watching y’all, your live band and your live arrangements and your transitions in comparison to the recordings — it just feels like these songs have more than one life, if that makes sense. It’s like the live and the album versions are two distinctly vibrant performances. And that’s just tight. Because you know when you like a band’s recordings and then you see them live and you’re like, Womp womp. You go home and your like, That wasn’t as cool as I thought it was. And not to shit on indie, but I’ve had that experience particularly a lot with indie artists. Not to say that we need to talk about that word necessarily…

Taja: Yeah, exactly. I feel you, it gets glossed over. Sometimes I get a little discouraged seeing live music, because it just seems like people care more about the photo you’re gonna post on Instagram than the actual show, and that comes through. I don’t feel that way about your music, though. I really was extremely blown away. Also, having seen the live show before hearing the record is a very different, very interesting experience, because I got to really get to know the songs in a pure way. I’m right up front with the lyrics and the harmony and the melody and your voice in a way that was really, really special. And then coming to the record and listening to it a couple of times and hearing it that way, I’m like, Oh, OK, this all makes sense now.

Anjimile: Thank god. I’m really glad that was your experience because it was really hard. I mean, the live set that you saw is mostly similar than to what we’re doing now, give or take some tones and some arrangement changes a bit. But when I was in the studio with Shawn, my buddy Justine Bowe — who worked on production with my last record — she provided additional production for this record. So she was in the studio, and at a certain point she was like, “Should we be thinking about maybe limiting the scope of what we’re doing here so that it can be reproduced live?” And Shawn was like, “No.” And I was like, “Yeah, I guess not. It doesn’t really matter, because we’ll just do whatever we end up doing live.” And probably the most fun part of this entire album release process has been learning to reinterpret the recordings in a way that feels actually feels good to me personally, and feels like the song.

Taja: That’s so interesting that that came up, because for me, it’s kind of a no-brainer. It’s like, “Yeah, there’s two different versions. If I wanted to hear the record, I just listen to the record.” And to me, that’s why you see live music — to see the interpretation and what you leave behind, what you take with you, how you play it, all of that stuff. That’s the exciting part. I want to see you live again, because I really want to see how the live show has evolved having spent time with the record now.

But it’s interesting, when people are like, “The record has to match up with the live experience,” sometimes I feel like that’s just all about commerce, because people want to know what they’re buying. They’re like, “When I’m buying a ticket, I want to know what I’m getting.” But it’s like, you’re buying a ticket for possibility!

Anjimile: Also, I was looking at the credits for your shit on Bandcamp, and I think it was definitely on “New Year’s UnResolution,” but maybe on other tunes — there’s an instrument listed there with a ridiculous name. Do you know which one?

Taja: I know what you’re thinking about. It must be the synthtipede.

Anjimile: Yeah. [Laughs.] What is that?

Taja: I like having fun with the credits, because it’s rewarding for the people that actually read them. But basically, we would just use the filters of this Moog that Ben [Chapoteau-Katz], my collaborator, had that I then bought. We would just run instruments through it so that we could use the filters, and then run it into other pedals. Someone would be controlling the filter, someone would be controlling some delay, and we were all kind of moving stuff at the same time, so we just made up an instrument called the “synthtipede.” 

But honestly, things like that is what also I think really sticks out about your album. Like the moments of playing percussion, but not on a drum kit. That’s being experimental in the truest form of the phrase, and you can you can feel that excitement when you listen to it.

Anjimile: Dude, first of all, thank you. And secondly, the synthtipede thing makes so much sense. How I want to feel when I’m listening to an album is, How did they make this sound? How did they make this world? And that’s a quintessential part of the I Killed Your Dog experience. It’s just like a brave new world. Or I don’t want to say “brave,” because I feel like that’s a word that gets used stupidly a lot when people describe music. [Laughs.]

Taja: [Laughs.] From you, it felt very kind.

Anjimile: I’m not blowing smoke, but it just felt revolutionary in the sense that it is using pre-existing instruments and pedals and synths to create something that is both completely new and couched in the lineage of experimental music.

Taja: Oh, man, that’s like the nicest thing anyone could say to me. That’s what I hope for, really.

Anjimile: That’s where I feel like Pink Floyd is an appropriate [comparison] — just like the thing that is pushing music forward, which is what the record does. It’s almost like throwing down a gauntlet, you know? After listening to it, it’s kind of just like, “What now, everybody else?” It’s kind of fucking futuristic, dude. 

Taja: Wow, that’s crazy. Thank you. I feel about your music, this album in particular, the way feel about all the music that I really love — there’s a timelessness to it, in a literal sense, where it could be from 50 years ago or 50 years in the future, and also right now. And that’s a really hard balance to achieve. I feel like that’s the sweet spot of the music I always return to, and the music that I feel is important and relevant to me.

Anjimile: Absolutely. I think you’re really cool.

Taja: I think you’re really cool! I really want to know what you make next. Like, I want to see the evolution of Anjimile the producer. There’s so much depth to this record on a conceptual level without it feeling dense and annoying, you know? That’s hard to do in a way that doesn’t feel like it’s being didactic. I feel like when someone puts out an album that’s like… I also want to say the word “brave.” [Laughs.] 

Anjimile: Oh, no, hearing it feels nice. [Laughs.] 

Taja: It has such a point of view. There’s so much good music, but music that has such a strong point of view that no one else could have made it, that’s still a rare thing. And so now that you put this record out, I’m like, you can do whatever you want. I wonder what you’re going to want to do.

Anjimile: Thank you. 

Taja: I also now want to do a lot of music sharing with you.

Anjimile: Oh, should we make a Spotify playlist?

Taja: Yeah, I would love to do that.

Anjimile Chithambo — or, better known as just Anjimile — is a singer-songwriter currently based in Durham, NC. His latest record, The King, is out now on 4AD.