Mitchell describes her parents as “hippies, back-to-the-landers.” In the late 1960s, her father, Don, scored a book deal while still a student at Swarthmore, for a semi-autobiographical hitchhiker novel he’d written titled “Thumb Tripping.” He sold the film rights, moved to Los Angeles with his young wife Cheryl, and wrote the screenplay for a beefy “Easy Rider”-era film adaptation of his book. He cashed in in the early 1970s, using his Hollywood earnings to buy a 130-acre farm in Vermont’s Champlain Valley.
For most of Anaïs’ childhood, her entire family lived on the property, including her grandparents in that wooden house her father had helped build for them. Cheryl was against television, so young Anaïs snuck to her grandparents’ house whenever she wanted to watch; she has fond and unusually subversive memories of the late night news with Dan Liever. She rode horses, roamed the woods with her older brother and, like her namesake Anaïs Nin, kept many diaries.
She recently found those old diaries in a box at her grandparents’ house, and the experience inspired “Revenant,” a heartfelt acoustic guitar-driven song on the new album that gives her a grown-up grace to her younger self: “Suddenly I saw you there, running eyes in a wooden chair / ran out to hide your face in the wild side of Queen Anne,” she sings. “Come and let me hold you in my arms / Come and wet my shoulder and hot.”
Mitchell attended Middlebury College and supported herself as a figure model for art classes. “I always felt very comfortable naked because no one can see us here, so everyone would skinny-dip,” she said at the remote farm. When she was 19, one of those performances led to the kind of meet-cute that might appear in an R-rated comedy: Noah Hahn, a student in one of the classes, turned out to be the man she would marry.
They were quite apart in the early years of their relationship, while Mitchell paid her dues as an aspiring singer-songwriter. But – as she suggests on the new album’s ode to an artist’s muse, “Bright Star”, desire and distance can sometimes pay off unexpectedly. She was driving home from a show alone one night, hoping that Noah was waiting for her, when the melody and a few lyrics of what would become the first “Hadestown” song came out of nowhere:
“Wait for me, I come, in my garters and pearls / With what melody have you traded me from the evil underworld?”