New York: Antony Hegarty, the otherworldly leader of chamber pop collective Antony & the Johnsons, released the emotionally draining album "The Crying Light" last year and is already prepared to release an expansive follow-up.
"Swanlights," due October 6 on Secretly Canadian, features a duet with Bjork (who previously tapped Hegarty for the 2007 album "Volta") as well as a 144-page supplemental book full of the singer`s artwork, photography and writing.
The release was preceded by "Thank You for Your Love," an EP of covers including John Lennon`s "Imagine" and Bob Dylan`s "Pressing On."
Hegarty spoke to Billboard about covering a Beatle, making disco music and what he hopes to accomplish with his new multimedia release.
Billboard: This is the second time in a row you`ve released a five-song EP a few months before a full-length. Do you see these releases as previews of your albums?
Antony Hegarty: ("Thank You for Your Love") really is more like a single, but then you end up putting a few extra songs on it since you`re releasing it on a CD. With the last EP, it very much held the central theme of the record. There isn`t necessarily one theme song for this record, so I just wanted to put forth something open-hearted.
Billboard: What inspired the Bob Dylan and John Lennon covers?
Hegarty: The Dylan cover I had recorded at the same time as the cover of "Knocking on Heaven`s Door" (for the film "I`m Not There"), and I didn`t know the song, but once I got into it, I thought it turned out pretty. And "Imagine" was an audacious choice, since it`s sort of hallowed ground. But I changed it to the first person to give it a different resonance. It`s obviously not an improvement, but in a way, it foreshadows the themes of this album, which are about changing ecology and grappling with a sense of hopelessness about the future.
Billboard: Why was the break between "Swanlights" and last year`s "The Crying Light" so much shorter than the four-year hiatus following 2005`s "I Am a Bird Now?"
Hegarty: Well, some of this material was recorded at the same time as "The Crying Light." Even after we finished "Crying Light," I stayed in the studio and was mixing other tracks that would lead to this piece. In a way, it`s a companion piece, but it`s very different. It didn`t seem like a long time to hold off on releasing these songs separately, because I have a long gestation process. I could write a song 10 years before I release it, which is more often the case.
Billboard: What led to the decision to release an art book with "Swanlights?"
Hegarty: I`ve always been visually engaged and enjoyed delving into my notebooks in the privacy of my own process. This is the first time I`m putting forward my visual ideas in such a defined way. I certainly had a lot of insecurity about doing it, but I`ve kind of gotten over it ... and the work feels authentic to me. I want the opportunity to pursue my creative muse in a bunch of different mediums. It`s a luxurious position to be in.
Billboard: How did the song "Fletta" come together with Bjork?
Hegarty: We recorded the song in Jamaica at the same time we recorded the "Volta" stuff. She rented a big piano, came in and improvised some vocals, and I stayed up all night and edited them into a structure. It`s exciting to watch her in the studio, because she`s uninhibited when she`s in her environment. Also, singing next to her live is really challenging, because she`s such an expansive singer, and I always felt like I was just trying to keep up.
Billboard: You`ve guested on electronic and disco projects for acts like Hercules & Love Affair and Oneohtrix Point Never. Do you ever see yourself exploring these areas on your own?
Hegarty: It`s funny -- it`s easier for me to imagine doing theater under the name Antony & the Johnsons than doing a disco record. I think I would want to be true to some kind of acoustic parameter in it. Johnsons for me is also about making work in a community. As far as (a solo album), I`d consider anything, but I don`t know what the future holds.