The queer and trans folk artist will record a new album this summer.
Indie-folk singer-songwriter Anjimile—born Anjimile Chithambo—started playing guitar in sixth grade, but it wasn’t until the summer before they went off to college that they began writing their own music.
“I was grounded that summer for doing stupid teenager shit, so I didn’t have a lot going on socially,” Anjimile says in a phone interview. “I had a lot of free time, so I just started writing songs.”
That was in 2011. Now—eight years and nine releases later—Anjimile is getting ready to graduate from Northeastern University, record a new album with a grant from the city of Boston, and go an East Coast tour in the fall. No wonder Anjimile was selected as one of NPR’s 20 Artists to Watch in 2019.
Most recently, Anjimile released Maker’s Mixtape, an extraordinarily tender, lo-fi collection of tracks that showcase their penchant for introspective, vulnerable songwriting.
On “Maker – Acoustic,” Anjimile’s fingerpicking gives way to some of their most powerful and enigmatic lyrics to date, delivered with raspy poise: “I live in my own home / I live in my paper / The absence becomes me / a reticent spectre.” The chorus is profound yet plainspoken: “I’m not just a boy, I’m a man / I’m not just a man, I’m a God / I’m not just a God, I’m a maker.” After the second and third choruses, they add, “Mind your maker,” as if the whole song was working up to this one line. As a lyric, it reads less as a command to submit to God than a command to submit to oneself—to allow oneself the freedom to make, and remake, oneself.
We recently caught up with Anjimile about their early punk and ska influences, their friendships and collaborations with Billy Dean Thomas and Justine Bowe, and their shift toward more succinct arrangements.
AdHoc: Am I right that you grew up in Texas?
Anjimile: Yeah, I grew up in the suburbs of Dallas, [in] a small town called Richardson.
Was there much of a music scene there?
No, no [laughs]. That little town is pretty new. It’s more of tech center. There’s a lot of technology businesses.
When did you start playing music?
I did choir from ages 10 to 17, so up until I graduated [from high school]. I did a project on Jimmy Hendrix in the sixth grade for an English class, and I was very enthralled. I started playing guitar around then. I was 10, 11, 12. I took guitar lessons for a year, and then I started writing music when I was about 18, just before I went off to college.
What prompted that?
Well, I was grounded that summer for doing stupid teenager shit, so I didn’t have a lot going on socially. I had a lot of free time, so I just started writing songs.
Any other early music memories?
In high school—a couple months before I started writing music—a friend of mine showed me this band called Born Ruffians, and that was like my first exposure to indie rock. And I think the person who showed me them was my first exposure to a hipster. I was like, “Wow! This is incredible.”
I was heavily inspired by [Born Ruffians], because up to that point, I was listening to punk and ska and a bunch of random shit, which I still love. But I started at that point listening to quote-unquote “indie” shit, like indie folk shit.
Sufjan Stevens, Iron & Wine. [I] started going back in time, listening to Bob Dylan, things like that.
What were some of that punk and ska artists that you were listening to?
Dead Kennedys, Circle Jerks. Then [I] kind of transitioned to Rancid and Streetlight Manifesto.
Did you move somewhere else for college?
Yes, I moved from Texas to Boston, and that’s where I am now. I started college in 2011, then I left in 2013. I did not graduate—I left for two years—and then I came back in 2016.
You left Boston, or you just left school?
I left school and I tried to work for a year, and then I left Boston and didn’t come back until 2016.
What brought you back?
A desire to finish school. I was like, “Shit, I think I do want to finish college.” And so now I’m graduating in two weeks.
Thanks, it’s been a long ride.
What are you studying?
I am a music industry major at Northeastern University.
What’s the Boston scene like? Have you connected to other musicians in the area?
There’s a very vibrant, very badass music scene here. Since I’ve been here, I think it’s just gotten more and more diverse and more and more inclusive. I’m pretty stoked on it. I’ve met a lot of really sick musicians here.
What are some venues or acts in the Boston area that you really like?
My buddy Billy Dean Thomas is a hip-hop artist here. We met a couple of years ago at a musical picnic event for queer and trans people of color, and I’ve been playing guitar in their band for the last two years. They’re just a dope person and artist.
Who else do I fuck with around here? Photocomfort. They’re an electro-pop band, and I saw them play. We were on the same bill. Justine [Bowe] is the lead songwriter, producer, [and] singer of that band, and she now sings and plays with me. So I’ve been able to connect with people whose music I admire.
As Anjimile, do you collaborate with other musicians much, or is it mostly just you?
Justine has been [my] most consistent collaborator, in terms of producing and instrumentation. And I think working with her has opened up a new door for me in terms of doing more editing as a songwriter, which is very exciting.
I’ll write a song, and then I’ll send it to Justine and be like, “What do you think about this?” And she’ll be like, “This is cool,” or “Hmmm, what if there were more chords?,” or “I don’t really like this.” I very much respect her opinion as an artist.
How would you say your music has changed over time?
I think I’ve gotten more mindful and intentional about song structure. I think in the past—when I first started writing—my songs were pretty long, with a lot of different components. [Now] I’m more interested in more succinct arrangements and more succinct instrumentation. I’m interested in getting to the meat of the song and [then] working outwards, instead of the other way around.
Do you see any through-lines in your music, or any persistent themes or concerns?
Yeah, 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. That sense of developing identity has been present I think throughout my music. And spirituality has been a consistent theme as I grow and change into a hippie.
How does that manifest—your spiritual side?
I connect my spirituality very much to nature, and how pretty the world is, basically. I’m very enthralled by that. I guess something that also tends to come into my music is natural imagery. I feel inspired by it, and I like hiking and being outside.
Most recently you released Maker Mixtape. When did you write and record it? What was your vision for that release in particular?
Half of those tracks were written a couple of years ago, and half of them were new. I recorded it last spring during my spring break. I stayed at a buddy’s place and called it a “rock & roll retreat,” or something goofy. I just slept over at his house for five days—he has a home studio.
He had a tape machine, [and] I was like, “That’s cool, let’s record it to tape!” So we did that, which was a very fun pain in the ass.
Did you ultimately work on the tracks digitally, or did you stick with the original tape recordings?
We recorded everything to tape, and then we bounced it to digital and gave it to the mastering engineer.
Was that someone you’d worked with before, or someone you brought on specifically for this?
Someone who’d worked with me before. My roommate—who actually showed me [an] AdHoc zine—is a mastering engineer. [His name is] Lee Schuna. He’s actually a musician as well. He plays right now in Sir Babygirl’s band. He mixed and mastered their latest release.
We just talked to Kelsey a little bit ago.
So what’s next?
I’m going on tour in September, just on the East Coast. And I just got a large grant from the city of Boston, so I’ll be recording a new album this summer.
Do you have any sense of what that’s going to look like?
Yes! I have a very strong and detailed sense. A very detailed Google doc.
Are you doing the same thing this time—recording it yourself, then bringing in some friends to master it?
No, this time I’m heading to a buddy’s studio in Watertown, just outside of Boston. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this band—they’re called Future Teens. Daniel from Future Teens is going to be recording it. He’s got a studio in his basement.