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Best of What's Next: Anaïs Mitchell

March 29, 2010  |  6:00am
Best of What's Next: Anaïs Mitchell

Hometown: Montpelier, Vt.
Album: Hadestown
For Fans Of: Bon Iver, Ani DiFranco, The Decemberists

Twenty-nine-year-old singer/songwriter Anaïs Mitchell lives in a little house in western Vermont where she tends her fire, writes songs and occasionally gets a wild hair to do something like, say, mastermind a full-on stage musical, set in a post-apocalyptic company town, that re-imagines the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice.

That’s what she did in 2005, at least, with the help of a few old friends, local musician/composer Michael Chorney and director Ben T. Matchstick. The show was called Hadestown—named after the Greek god of the underworld, from whom the poet Orpheus must rescue his young bride Eurydice—and it premiered in late 2006 with a hometown cast working on just two weeks of rehearsal. After a few years of obsessive revisions, in 2009 Mitchell assembled a cast of new friends—including Ani DiFranco, Midwestern folkster Greg Brown, Ben Knox Miller from The Low Anthem and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon—to record a full-on album version of her “folk opera,” which will finally see light outside of Vermont in March.

Mitchell hopped around the country to record each art- ist’s individual vocal tracks, once doing a whirlwind 24-hours in Wisconsin with Vernon, driving 10 hours to record Brown in Iowa City, then shuttling to Minneapolis and flying back to her producer Todd Sickafoose’s studio in Brooklyn. She was too grateful for their contributions to really mind the travel, she says, though she admits “it’s kind of like a crazy wet dream to imagine all those singers in the same studio, kind of like ‘We are the World.’”

If everyone’s schedules agree, Mitchell says she’d “love nothing more” than to perform the album onstage with the full cast this spring. In the meantime, she’s working on her fourth proper solo album, which she expects will have a less direct narrative than Hadestown, but could play on some of the same ancient tensions and archetypes. “You don’t have to make something out of noth- ing,” she says. “There are echos of things, and they’re echoing and echoing back as long as we can remember.”

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