A reality facing many pop stars in older age brackets is that major labels no longer want to front them the cash to record albums of original material. Hence the steady stream of Christmas carols, American standards and covers albums from the chart-toppers of yesteryear.
Keenly aware of this situation, bluesy-voiced British singer Alison Moyet opted to independently finance and produce her eighth solo album, The Minutes (Metropolis/Cooking Vinyl), and then figure out how to release it later. The album, which was co-produced with Guy Sigsworth, marks the former Yaz front woman’s return to electronic music and is full of world-weary and sometimes cutting reflections on love, time and aging.
We were fortunate to land an interview with the influential star to chat about the record ahead of her fall tour, which will include three concerts in the United States. Check out the Q&A and her upcoming tour dates after the jump.
From what I’ve read, you’ve faced quite a lot of obstacles in recording the album that you wanted to make. How do you feel now that it is out?
I don’t think that’s particularly unusual. You get to be an artist of a certain age, and record companies are obviously reticent to put out any new material. And that’s the problem I found. I’ve been offered lots of deals in the past three years, but it’s all to make cover albums. I don’t have an issue singing other people’s songs, but in this instance, I really wanted to make a creative album. So I determined with me and Guy [Sigsworth] that we should make the album together completely the way we wanted to, and presented it as a fait accompli, so there would be no compromise.
Did you have the specific idea you wanted to make an electronic album?
I definitely wanted to make an electronic album, but I had to be honest about finding the right person. That is quite a difficult thing to do because I’m not a networker. I don’t hang out or meet people easily. There’s also become this kind of fashion for songwriting with loads of different teams… and no one wants to commit to the whole album, everyone just wants to do the lead single. So when Guy was suggested to me, I was a bit leery about it because I thought it would be another one of these events, which is not my bag at all. But when I met him, he turned out to be the perfect partner. He’s really, very musically gifted, and he’s got an experimental mind at the same time.
One of the problems I had with electronic music in the nineties is that the beat became so king that the voice was always kind of crammed into it in a different tempo and different timing. I thought ‘f*ck’s sake, take the voice out of it and listen to the track’ because it was just a horrible mess. The great thing about working with Guy, which wasn’t dissimilar to working in Yaz, was that there was still an integrity to the song and the voice.
Do you think electronic music has become more emotive in the past 10 years?
It’s just using electronica as a different palette, as opposed to trying to be down with the kids. I didn’t listen to any records or any music during the writing process of this. I wanted to write as I write, which is often from improvisation and then putting all those ideas together.
What do you think when you hear people talk about older pop singers trying to seem young or, for example, when they criticize Madonna for not acting her age?
If they mean it in the sense of being in a state of undress, well I would throw that back to any generation, d’you know what I mean? I’m bemused by that at whatever age. Personally, I found Madonna a much more interesting artist around “Ray of Light” than I ever did around “Holiday.” Music is the only art where people are leery of the aging process. If you’re a writer of books or a painter, you’d understand perfectly well that age brings about experience. Of course that doesn’t mean across the board. It depends on how and why you got into it in the first place.
If you are truly an artist, you’ll always be looking to develop your work. I’ve never had any interest in recreating something I’ve done that has been successful. I don’t wanna tread water. I’d rather try something and not do it well or fail at it than to not challenge myself.
Alison Moyet, “Right As Rain”
I read an interview in which you talked about how you’re happy to see yourself as ugly, or embrace this kind of ‘beautiful ugliness.’
Was this the one that was going on about “I hate my body” kind of vibe?
That was all a fabrication. Unfortunately, I answered one question once, and a few papers picked it up and just gave me loads of quotes that I never said. I’m not going there anymore. There’s too much of a fascination with the body beautiful these days. People can knock themselves out, but I’m just not playing that game.
I guess what I wanted to get at was this idea of beautiful ugliness that is referred to in that article. You mentioned the expectation in music of people looking beautiful and that you embrace ugliness. Do you also like to embrace ugliness in your music?
There’s a culture in English music, and I think maybe to a certain degree in American music, where there’s an element of ego coming from the act where they don’t want to be perceived as anything less than glamorous, gorgeous, unattainable or sexy. And there is something you can find within some French lyricism, for example, Jacques Brel, where he has absolutely no fear about presenting himself in character and role as an un-thrilling, unappealing individual. There’s something about that that appeals to me.
I don’t want all of my lyric writing to be seen as something that has to be biographical or – even if it is biographical – as something where I have to exhort myself. When it comes down to it, we can all be a bit of a cunt sometimes, know what I mean? And I don’t want to be frightened to display uglier characteristics, emotional characteristics in music.
Where do you feel like you did that on the new record? Or did you on the new record?
I think you’ll find this theme through a few of my albums that haven’t hit prominence in America. For example, [the song] “Right as Rain.” I think that has an ugly lyric: “If you can’t find peace in my arms, find disease in my arms.” It’s a loveless lyric. When I first started writing that lyric it was like, if you can’t be happy with me, with full intention of taking it into this kind of romantic place. Then I got to that line and looked and just thought, “Do you know what? F*ckin’ hell, if you can’t be happy with me, then don’t be!” And that in itself is an ugly sentiment, isn’t it? It’s not the noble sentiment – the “I Will Always Love You.” It’s the complete opposite of that. If you’re miserable, fill your boots and I’m not going to make it easy for you.
Is it challenging to express those sentiments in a pop song?
No, I don’t find it challenging at all. I think sometimes people misread me. If I say something about myself which is not complimentary, the assumption is that I am without confidence. And I think the opposite is true. I think that people who are unable to count their failings are the ones that aren’t confident. They worry about that chink in their armor and they’re gonna fall apart if someone disrespects them, or they’re gonna lose status. I have no fear of losing status or someone having an opinion of me that’s less than glossy. I think that stems from a more confident standpoint.
Alison Moyet, “When I Was Your Girl”
Can you tell me about the lead single, “When I Was Your Girl”?
The first song I wrote on this album was “A Place To Stay,” which started off from a romantic standpoint. I very quickly discovered that I was absolutely bored with that; it didn’t really resonate with me anymore. As a woman in her fifties, romance is not a driving force in my life. Consequently, [my songwriting has] become much more observational.
“When I Was Your Girl” talks about language, the different ways you look at things from when you are young to when you’re older, and how you can buy into these concepts of ‘forever’ and ‘eternal’ and ‘flawless.’ When you’re older, you recognize that everything had its time and events in your life have lifecycles – all the cosseted messages, the affirming messages you get from another human being. When you look back at it, you kind of like wryly and mildly sneer at the concept of forever.
You say romance is not a driving force in your life. What are the driving forces for you now?
Self-acceptance is a driving force; living in the now, instead of projecting forward all the time. Not wanting and not expecting another person to fill your cup; the wanting to fill your own cup and within that then be in a better position to offer up to other people. I’m still very motivated by love, but I’m motivated by human love as opposed to romantic love.
The new album is a testament to that attitude and your whole process of getting it done without the support of a label.
There was a time when I was younger and I railed against people’s resistance to what I wanted to do. As an older person, I’m very sanguine with it. It’s like, why should everyone see things your own way? However, that doesn’t mean to say that you personally have to compromise. You just have to be prepared for the exchange, and that exchange means if you don’t do the things that are required of you to sell lots and lots of records, you have to decide what your motivation is. Mine, ultimately, is I have to make a record that I am gonna feel proud about, I’m gonna be able to fight for, and I will feel the same way about in years to come. That is my motivation. And yes that means that I will be making choices that make myself less approachable or less commercial or might confuse a good size of my audience.
I really don’t mean to sound poncey but I don’t think you can be an artist and think about the self. You have to work outside of that and ignore it and be prepared to fail in what other people consider a success story. If you make the piece of work that you feel good about, then it can never be a failure. The records that I feel most proud of are not the ones that have been noticed.
How would you describe your relationship to music now? Do you want to keep doing this for a long time?
I would do it so long as I feel good about my songwriting, and all my singing. I didn’t expect that I’d have a long career, but I’m so glad that I did because I know that I’m a far better act as a 50-year-old than I was as a 23-year-old.
The Minutes is out now via Metropolis/Cooking Vinyl. Alison Moyet’s upcoming tour dates are below:
September 16 – Berlin, Germany @ Heimathafen Neukolln
September 17 – Stuttgart, Germany @ Theaterhaus (am Pragsattel),
September 18 – Hannover, Germany @ Theater am Aegi
September 21 – Offenbach Am Mainthe, Germany @ Capitol Offenbach
September 23 – Amsterdam, The Netherlands @ Paradiso Grote Zaal
September. 24 – Hamburg, Germany @ Grosse Freiheit 36
September 25 – Köln, Germany @ Gloria-Theater
September 27 – Paris, France @ Divan du Monde
September 30 – Cork, Ireland @ Cork Opera House
October 1 – Belfast, Northern Ireland @ Waterfront Hall
October 2 – Dublin, Ireland @ Olympia Theatre
October 4 – Glasgow, UK @ Royal Concert Hall
October 5 – Edinburgh, UK @ Usher Hall
October 6 – Gateshead, UK @ The Sage
October 8 – Sheffield, UK @ City Hall
October 9 – Rhyl, UK @ Pavilion Theatre
October 10 – Coventry, UK @ Warwick Arts Centre
October 12 – Northampton, UK @ Derngate Theatre
October 13 – Ipswich, UK @ Regents Theatre
October 15 – London, UK @ Royal Festival Hall
October 16 – Cambridge, UK @ Corn Exchange
October 17 – Folkestone, UK @ Leas Cliff Hall
October 19 – Bristol, UK @ Colston Hall
October 20 – Cardiff, UK @ St. David’s Hall
October 21 – Brighton, UK @ The Dome
October 23 – York Barbican, UK @ Theatre
October 24 – Salford, UK @ The Lowry
October 25 – Liverpool, UK @ Philharmonic Hall
October 27 – Nottingham, UK @ Royal Centre
October 28 – Birmingham, UK @ Symphony Hall
October 29 – Southend, UK @ Cliffs Pavilion
October 31 – Bournemouth, UK @ Pavilion Theatre
November 11 – San Francisco, CA @ The Fillmore
November 12 – Los Angeles, CA @ Club Nokia
November 14 – New York, NY @ Manhattan Center
April 3 – London, UK @ Royal Albert Hall