Mitchell describes his parents as “hippies back on the ground”. In the late 1960s, her father, Don, while still a student at Swarthmore, secured a book contract for a semi-autobiographical hitchhiker he wrote called Thumb Tripping. He sold the film rights, moved to Los Angeles with his young wife Cheryl, and wrote a meaty adaptation of his book from the Easy Rider era. In the early 1970s, he cashed out and used his Hollywood earnings to buy a 130-acre farm in Vermont’s Champlain Valley.
For most of Anais’s childhood, her entire family lived in this house, including her grandparents, in the wooden house that her father had helped build for them. Cheryl opposed television, so young Anais would sneak to her grandparents when she wanted to watch; she has warm and unusually damaging memories of the evening news with Dan Rather. She rode horses, roamed the woods with her older brother and, like her namesake Anais Nin, kept a diary.
She recently found these old diaries in a box at her grandparents’ house, and the experience inspired her to create “Revenant,” a soulful acoustic-guitar song from the new album, in which she shows mature grace to her younger self: “Suddenly I saw you there, with tears in your eyes in a wooden chair / Ran out into the street to hide your face in the lace of the wild Queen Anne, ”she sings. “Come and let me hug you / Come and wet and warm my shoulder.”
Mitchell went to Middlebury College and earned her living as an art model. “I always felt very comfortable naked because no one saw us here, so everyone went skinny dipping,” she said at the secluded farm. When she was 19, one of those performances led to her being able to appear in an R-rated comedy: Noah Khan, a student in one of her classes, turned out to be the man she married.
In the early years of their relationship, they were far apart, as Mitchell paid her off duty as an aspiring singer-songwriter. But — as she suggests in her new album’s ode to the artist’s muse, Bright Star — sometimes longing and distance can bring unexpected results. She was driving home alone from a show one night, hoping Noah was waiting for her, when the melody and a few words from what would become the first Hadestown song came to her out of the blue:
“Wait for me, I’m coming, in garters and pearls / With what tune did you trade me from the evil underworld?”