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Page last updated at 09:23 GMT, Monday, 19 January 2009
Antony Hegarty embraces 'nature'

By Greg Cochrane
Newsbeat music reporter

Snoring, sneezing, mortality, his art and dreams of riding horses: Antony Hegarty speaks about confronting nature on the follow up to his Mercury prize winning album.

Anthony And The Johnsons
Antony And The Johnsons tour the UK in May

It has been said before. Antony Hegarty aka Antony of The Johnsons - upon a first meeting in the flesh - isn't quite what you'd expect.

In the corner of one of the BBC's London Maida Vale studios he's tinkling the keys of a miniature piano - his intimidating frame dwarfing the instrument. It's a bizarre sight.

While it is a bit like watching Harry Potter's Hagrid playing a children's recorder, the sound is extraordinary.

This after all is no normal artist. The winner of 2005's Mercury Music Prize [an experience he describes as "an amazing miracle" and a "pivotal moment - it changed my relationship with the world"] Hegarty is a transgender boundary-pusher and possessor of that voice.

Despite his reported shyness in person you won't find a more amiable, graceful and paternal character.

Anthony And The Johnsons
Antony Hegarty performing live at London's Barbican

New album

Today [19 January] he releases the long awaited follow up to I Am A Bird Now. It's called The Crying Light.

"I am relieved - that's the right word," says Hegarty of the LP's completion. "It took me a long time for some reason. I took it as far as it could go.

"At that point you just have to push it off to sea and wish it the best of luck."

Like his debut [2000's self-titled effort], The Crying Light is a sparsely arranged collection of left-field piano-led poignancy, this time dedicated to Kazuo Ohno one of the founders of the Japanese art of Butoh dance.

It's a raw listen which also sees Hegarty shed his insular force-field and embrace the nature which surrounds him.

"I'm very much a product of my environment," he says. "This record shows some of my attempts to break through that sense of alienation and to find a sense of belonging.

"It's more about my relationship with the world around me - I'm definitely at a different phase in my process."

Undoubtedly the record sees the New York dwelling 38 year old bearing his soul, much like he has done before.

"I'm very conscious of the things I put forward," he pauses. "There's a risk to everything, there's a risk to walking out of the door in the morning to go to work - that's a part of life."

The afterlife

Typically - considering its creator - The Crying Light confronts some abstract subjects - reinvention, family and the existence of life after death.

Much of Hegarty's inspiration comes from his sub-conscious. His dreams proving a fertile place.

Hegarty: "I read this article about dreaming last night and it said when you go to sleep one of the functions of REM is to file and store all the information you've collected over the day.

"It is interesting to think that going to sleep you're just processing - as long as we're here we're gathering information…which ultimately becomes our conscious expression."

Not that it's all serene sub-conscious contemplations.

"I'm a big snorer more than anything else," he giggles. "Recently I've been having lots of equestrian dreams - which is this classic feminine dream.

"I have this really intuitive relationship with this big black horse."

Recently I've been having lots of equestrian dreams - which is this classic feminine dream
Antony Hegarty, Antony And The Johnsons

While I Am A Bird Now saw him collaborate with Boy George and Devendra Banhardt this time he was keen to embark on the journey without assistance.

"I've done a lot of collaboration over the last few years on other projects [most notably with Lou Reed and last year's Hercules And Love Affair] - I thought this record was important that it was a single voice."

Art exhibition

It's not just The Crying Light Hegarty has been lavishing his attention upon. There is also his collection of 'landscapes' currently being exhibited at London's Isis gallery.

"I started doing them three years ago just when I was beginning to collect my thoughts about recording my album," he says.

"Drawing is really solitary. It's quite introspective - it's just a relationship with this piece of paper."

"With this [the art] it was more process orientated - really just following something through the hills." He pauses. "Following a ghost in the forest or something."

Antony Hegarty - a gift from nature himself.

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