On a Wednesday afternoon in early December, Anabel Englund materializes via Zoom. While this interview was scheduled to happen over the phone, she thought it would be nicer to see each other, and it is. Englund — blonde and striking with a warmth you can feel even over the internet — sits on a rattan chair suspended from the ceiling and decorated with white Christmas lights, the afternoon L.A. sunlight streaming in through the window behind her.
“Some days I’m waking up and watching Law & Order: SVU,” she says. “And some days I’m waking up and doing these interviews and jumping on a Zoom session. My life has gotten so crazy with all the music.”
This is indeed a moment unlike any other Englund has experienced in her 28 years of existence. In a week and change, the singer/producer/songwriter released her debut album, Messing With Magic, on Dec. 11. Out via Ultra Records and MK’s AREA10 label, the LP is an amalgamation of previously released songs and a handful of new tracks, many of them the type of sophisticated, underground-leaning house music that’s long been Englund’s domain, and a few others more suited to a diary than a dancefloor.
Releasing an album, particularly a dance album, at the tail end of a generally heinous year during which most of us didn’t really dance at all isn’t necessarily an intuitive move. But Englund, 28, has her reasons.
“There was talk of maybe putting it out next year,” she says, “and I was like, ‘No.’ Even though it’s December, I want it to come out this year because I really feel it’s the closing chapter of who I was and what I was doing before. I love all the music. It’s just … I’ve already evolved into something else.”
To understand where Englund is going, it’s first necessary to understand from where she’s come. At the dawn of the 2010s, the SoCal raised vocalist, then still a teenager, began performing on tracks by house heavyweights such as Jamie Jones, MK and Lee Foss. In 2013, she partnered with Foss and Jones as Hot Natured, with the group’s biggest hit — “Reverse Skydiving” — showcasing Englund’s dually husky/feathery voice over sultry beats altogether well-suited to a Tulum sunset. The output made Englund a star of the global dance circuit, a scene she embraced right back.
“I was 18, and I was with these men in their mid-to-late 30s doing drugs and drinking every day,” she says. “It was like, ‘If you’re doing it, that’s what I have to do, too.’ No one was guiding me, and everyone was doing it. I’d come home, and my parents would be like, ‘What is going on?’ but I fell in love with that world. Flying everywhere, Ibiza. I was infatuated.”
She was also good at her role within the dance music ecosystem, delivering slinky, scintillating performances at clubs and festivals, often while wearing little more than a bathing suit. “I was just trying to find love and prove my worth,” she says of the era and those outfits. “Before, I thought my worth lied in my sexuality. I thought if I was sexy, that people would pay attention to me and that people would only look at me if I wore short shorts and a bra.”
It was all fun until it wasn’t, at which point she knew it was time to either move on or risk her life to stay. With the support of her family and friends, and through time spent at a treatment facility, Englund got sober in 2015, when she was 23. It was a period of rapid maturation that illuminated certain ingrained patterns and refocused her sense of self as an artist and human.
“Growing up, I was sexually abused and all of these different things,” she says. “And growing up, if you don’t have a good base of reality, you just kind of recreate that in adult life. I didn’t respect myself, so people didn’t respect me, and I wasn’t in a place where I was able to have a good judge of character because I didn’t care. I was just making money and having fun, and my priorities were nothing like they are now.”
Today, back here on Zoom, Englund is talking about what exactly she’s prioritized, a list including but limited to: her art, the elevation of her skill set, working with people of integrity, trusting her vision and focusing on her future. She has a cool, laid-back quality, but the excitement and clarity she possesses about what she’s doing are also unmistakable.
“Burn It,” the final track on Messing With Magic, seems to be an indication of what’s to come. The song — a stripped down indie pop ballad with Englund on the piano singing confessional lyrics about how “sometimes I want to get back even though I know you’re bad” — demonstrates that when all the synths and beats are taken away from her music, fundamentally sturdy songs remain. Her strength as a writer and performer was emphasized during a recent Messing With Magic press conference, which featured videos of Englund dressed in a tuxedo doing a capella versions of album tracks “Picture Us” and “Underwater.” That thing that some artists can do where they’re simultaneously vulnerable and powerful as hell? Englund has that.
In terms of statistical success, Messing With Magic has given Englund her first Billboard No. 1, with “Picture Us” hitting the top spot on Dance/Mix Show Airplay in October. “Underwater” went to No. 2 on this same chart in May, and the track currently has nearly 3.7 million streams on Spotify.
Deep and swirling, “Underwater” features MK, who made Messing With Magic the first album released on his AREA10 label. Meanwhile, Jones shows up on the album’s title track, and Foss is on the brightly soaring “Warm Disco.” While everyone is now older and tamer, the crew with whom Englund rose through the dance scene is still around to help escort her to the next level of her career.
“I love them,” she says of the guys. “I’m really close with Lee and MK and Jamie when he’s in town. Even though we lived through craziness together with all of the partying and stuff, they really just are my family, and I wouldn’t trade those experience for anything.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever stop making house music,” she adds. “I’ll be making a lot more pop, but I’ll never not have underground DJs remixing my stuff.”
Englund floats names of dance-leaning pop stars such as Dua Lipa and Robyn when discussing her goals. The resources provided to her by Ultra, who paired her with “amazing” collaborators, having helped her grow tremendously, and she’s sitting on a pile of new music for 2021. This output may not sound a lot like the beat-laden landscapes of Messing With Magic, but that’s kind of the point.
“I’ve found who I am through creating this album,” she says. “It really is this debut of the beginning of me.”