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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with Day to Day. Musician Antony Hegarty was born in England. He and his family moved to California 10 years later. By that point, Hegarty had realized he wasn't like most other boys. Antony is transgender, and his identity infuses his music. Early on, he modeled himself after Boy George and the drag queens in New York's club scene. Now, he is the lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons. "The Crying Light" is their latest CD. Antony recently stopped in at NPR Studios to chat with music journalist Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of song "One Dove")

Mr. ANTONY HEGARTY: (Singing) One dove, You're the one I've been waiting for...

CHRISTIAN BORDAL: Much of Antony and the Johnsons' music to date has revolved around Antony's androgyny and his efforts to come to terms with and explore his sexual identity. But his latest album, "The Crying Light," shifts away from those issues and instead begins to examine Antony's relationship to nature - growing things, flowers, mountains, streams - one of the last things you'd expect from an artist with such a strong association with downtown New York, drag queens and cabaret.

Mr. HEGARTY (Singer/Songwriter, Pianist, Antony and the Johnsons): I'm a human being. So, you know, in a way, I was born out of the Earth. You know, I'm made of the same stuff as the rest of the Earth and made of those things that you mentioned - water and sunlight and elements and dust, mountains - and I mean, so obviously, it's a poetic flight of fancy in a way, but at the same time, it's very much grounded in reality. It's not that I'm spending a lot of time going on camping trips. But those things were all archetypes within me, you know? They're in my blood; they're in my body. I'm a part of this Earth as a person here.

(Soundbite of song "One Dove")

Mr. HEGARTY: (Singing) One dove, To bring me some peace. In starlight you came from the other side To offer me mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy...

BORDAL: Of course, in this day and age of global warming, pollution and disappearing wildlife habitat, our relationship with nature is not quite as simple and pure as it was in the day of Whitman or Thoreau.

(Soundbite of song "Another World")

Mr. HEGARTY: I'm grappling with this as an artist. And our job as artists is to - we're like fishers. You know, we're fishing on that, like, the frontier of the collective consciousness. You know, there's usually a few couple of thousand of us that are putting up the next thought that we're all about to have collectively. And you know, a big question on my plate today is, how am I going to evolve through this, you know? How do I have to grow to fall into a better alignment with the world around me? And I think that's what everyone's grappling with. You know, every taxi driver I talk to, I ask them all the time, what's going on where you come from with the environment? And they all say, it's all gone to hell; it's all different. Half of them think apocalypse is about to come.

(Soundbite of song "Another World")

Mr. HEGARTY: (Singing) I'm gonna miss the trees. I'm gonna miss the sound. I'll miss the animals. I'm gonna miss you all...

BORDAL: Despite his attraction to camp and gay nightclubs and other androgynous artists like Boy George and Marc Almond, Antony's music, as you can tell, is pretty serious, if not somber. And his voice has a trapped, yearning sadness that pervades everything he sings. I asked him if that's a reflection of who he is.

Mr. HEGARTY: Well, generally, I think it is who I am. I'm pretty humorless.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BORDAL: I'm sorry; I wasn't supposed to laugh at that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BORDAL: Tell me more.

Mr. HEGARTY: I don't know. It's, like, when I make work, like, I think it's fun to take a risk, you know, try to think of the biggest thought my heart can think. I know it makes me vulnerable. I know it makes people - half the people would, like, turn away in revulsion and say, oh, how pretentious. But I think it's worth taking a risk.

(Soundbite of song "Everglade")

Mr. HEGARTY: (Singing) When I'm floating in the water And your eyes are lilies all around...

BORDAL: Antony has taken risks with his music and his own image in the past, working through his personal struggles sometimes in a quite raw and open way that can make for compelling art. As he told me, this latest record, "The Crying Light," is a very solitary record. The musical accompaniment sometimes fades to nothing more than a sort of vague breathing, leaving Antony's peculiar and captivating voice alone to seize our attention. But on this album, Antony also exhibits a greater maturity, musically and spiritually, than he has before. He says he's growing and that the last song on the album, "Everglade," may be his favorite, because it most represents this more mature place that he's now working from.

(Soundbite of song "Everglade")

Mr. HEGARTY: (Singing) When I'm peeping in a parlor of trees And the leaves are winking all around...

Mr. HEGARTY: You know, it's, like, kind of looking out of my eyes and, like, I look at the trees, the leaves on the trees, and they're kind of looking back at me, and they seem more alive than they ever have to me. And you know, if there's a sort of a little stream that goes through my heart or maybe I'm sitting by a stream and it's kind of whispering and singing in its beautiful way, and I feel like the world is such a magical world, the natural world, and yet, I still, like, have this little piece of brokenness inside me, you know, a feeling of brokenness, but it's not necessarily something that is going to change, you know? It's something that I'm learning to live with, even if I don't understand it.

BORDAL: For NPR News, this is Christian Bordal.

(Soundbite of song "Everglade")

Mr. HEGARTY: (Singing) Of everglade. Of everglade...

COHEN: The new CD by Antony and the Johnsons is "The Crying Light." You can listen to some songs off the album at nprmusic.org. Day to Day is a production of NPR News, with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

And I'm Madeleine Brand.

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