Monday, November 11, 2013

An interview with Alison Moyet

My interview originally appeared at

Stick to your guns and the payoff can be rewarding.

That’s what Alison Moyet learned a few years ago when various U.K. record companies resisted putting out her original music. Instead, they suggested she remake some classics or go on a reality show.

“It got to a point where I thought I would much rather stop singing than not do what I needed,” admits the veteran British adult alternative artist during a phone interview from her home in Brighton. 

At home and across Europe, Moyet is a multimillion-seller with a long list of successful albums and singles, but some of her biggest hits – “Love Resurrection,” “All Cried Out,” the torchy throwback “That Ole Devil Called Love” – were scarcely noticed by American ears decades ago.

She’s best known Stateside for a brief early-’80s stint in Yaz alongside Depeche Mode/Erasure mastermind Vince Clarke. The duo topped the U.S. dance charts with “Don’t Go,” “Nobody’s Diary” and “Situation” and enjoyed a warm, often sold-out reception during stops on a limited reunion tour in 2008. 

The formerly Rubenesque vocalist with powerhouse pipes and a penchant for English R&B shouting did notch a minor 1984 solo hit here, “Invisible,” and three years later contributed her version of “A Coventry Carol” to the first and most memorable volume of the Special Olympics’ long-running holiday compilation series A Very Special Christmas.

Back in the U.K. this year, she lodged her highest-charting solo release with new album The Minutes – and drew unwanted media attention for her recent extreme weight loss, reportedly from size 22 to 10. She’d prefer people focus on her music, and it’s an estimable résumé, one that paved the way for Adele, Joss Stone, La Roux and more.

But the 52-year-old, who returns next week for her first West Coast performances in half a decade, acknowledges “there’s a depth to my work that people will often dismiss due to my age or being associated with another decade. They forget that middle-aged women can continue to be creative. Our lot is not just to make Etta James cover albums.” 

So Moyet called up producer Guy Sigsworth, whose credits include Alanis Morissette, Björk, Britney Spears and Madonna. He’s an admirer who agreed to work with the singer between other projects. Unlike other female acts these days, who employ “eight different writing teams … I wanted to make a proper album that was a true collaboration between me and the right person,” she says. 

The pair’s creative partnership (Sigsworth co-wrote songs, contributed keyboards, synths and samples) spawned The Minutes, Moyet’s first new effort in more than five years, distributed by Cooking Vinyl/Metropolis Records. She considers it one of her most enjoyable studio experiences to date. 

“What I love about Guy is that he is absolutely motivated by his art and sees commercial success as a byproduct, rather than his raison d’etre. Working with someone like me – a woman in her 50s – is not an exciting prospect for someone who just wants to raise their star. You have to be dealing with someone who is truly interested in what you have to offer.”

An intriguing album, it also marks a return to the husky alto’s electronic roots, albeit with a more mature, smoldering aesthetic. There’s some dubstep on “Changeling”; “Right as Rain” mildly delves into techno. (Moyet would be a perfect fit for the Mojave tent at Coachella ’14.) 

Among the standouts is the regal, angelic-sounding "Filigree," inspired by people fleeing the cinema during Terrence Malick’s acclaimed (if obtuse) drama The Tree of Life. (Key lyrics: “You jump too soon and miss all this / Now something beautiful happens / All there is, these beautiful minutes.”)

There’s the frothy racing pop of “Love Reign Supreme” but also the haunting “Rung by the Tide,” based on an ancient Sussex bell that fell away into the sea, as well as another dramatic torch song, “When I Was Your Girl.” 

On that one, Moyet’s lyrics contrast adolescent and adult voices to display “how a young person will use language and believe in what they see to be facts.” The striking music video, shot on a dreary beach day, features Moyet’s teenage daughter: “I wanted her to present herself in a very blank way.” 

When The Minutes made a Top 5 debut in England, nobody was more surprised than the artist herself. “I think I’m in a pretty brilliant place where I genuinely expect nothing,” she says. “I’m just delighted by any person that gets really moved by it. That to me is a real little victory. I don’t need to conquer the world.” 

Her appearance Tuesday night at Club Nokia in Los Angeles is part of a quick American trek that also stopped in San Francisco (Monday) and New York City (Thursday). Local fans last saw Moyet when Yaz memorably played Pacific Amphitheatre in summer ’08. 

“I had a fantastic time and the response was phenomenal. I’ve never been a mainstream, frontline entry in America. Consequently, I’ve been allowed to be more convoluted in my career trajectory. I’m not glued to the hits and I really, really like that.” 

For Moyet, the “here and now” is of prime importance. Fans at the L.A. gig should expect older favorites recast electronically to better suit her “woody, organic burr” of a voice, as well as a large dose of “The Minutes.” 

“It’s probably my most cohesive work,” she contends, one that in a live setting has illuminated ways to “look at my back catalog in a far more interesting light. That’s been a really interesting process and I’m quite delighted with how we’ve done it.” 

But, she adds, “I’m very keen to point out that if anyone at the live show wants to hear the record, go listen to the record. It’s cheaper; stay home. I want to stay engaged when I go onstage. To do that, I need not to feel like my own tribute act.”

Alison Moyet
Where: Club Nokia, 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8:30 p.m. Nov. 12
How much: $29-$45
Call: 888-929-7849

photo by Tom Martin

No comments: