Here is more from my insightful interview with Alison Moyet, the day before Halloween, her first time back home in two months.
Q: How were new songs off "The Minutes" received by fans on the recent UK tour?
Q: Did your UK theatrical turns in “Chicago” and “Smaller” - with some of the songs ending up on 2008's "The Turn" - have any effect on your vocal phrasings with this new album?
Q: How were new songs off "The Minutes" received by fans on the recent UK tour?
Fantastic. I think it’s quite hard for fans – certainly in England where I’ve had a much more high profile presence – to know what to expect from me, because I’m constantly changing and exploring. I’ve been picking up fans at different parts of my career. Some would really recognize me in an electronic forum; others would see me as kind of a disco diva or torch singer. It depends where I’ve picked them up what they’re going to expect.
There’s always an element of sometimes that somebody is coming and going to expect something quite blues and organic, they’ve not read the previews. Might have a bit of a shock. I’m quite sanguine about that. You have to be who you are. I don’t believe you should adjust your art for your audience. I think that’s the wrong way to go about it. I think you have to accept that you’re going to collect and lose people along the way. You just have to stay true to the journey that you’ve taken.
Q: Did you find reworking some of the old songs' arrangements live gave them a more continuous flow?
Yeah. What’s been really interesting about it is you get to the crux of what you’ve actually written. You make them far more timeless. I’m not a nostalgic person. I have a greater love for the Yaz material than maybe my early solo material. That’s probably more to do with the fact that those very early days when you bring out your first record is tied with the thrill of having a record out in the first place.
I remember in England for example, “Only You” went into the charts at #157. If a record does that now, people want to throw in the towel and hang themselves. In those days, it was really exciting to be able to stick with it and just watch it trickle up. It ended up taking two months to get to #2. There was so much more joy to be had that this instant gratification that everyone seems to expect now. It’s crazy.
If you look at some of the most significant albums – I think of something like “Spirit of Eden” by Talk Talk, for example. Chart wise, it didn’t mark the territory at all. But this is an album that so many people will reference as being a great piece of work. With that ‘chart is king’ [mentality], I think we lose so much good music. People will give it a certain time for it to be noticed and if it’s not, it’s lost. For me, it’s quite incredible that “The Minutes” did chart in the top 5. For the length of my career, it’s actually quite surprising. I absolutely didn’t expect it. That’s not me being disingenuous because I think it’s a brilliant album. I’m not surprised that people like it. But I am surprised that people got to hear. That’s the difference.
Q: For a while, you had wanted to work with electronic textures again in your music. Did the Yaz reunion tour in '08 push that interest back into the forefront?
Not at all. For me, it was far more about finding the right person to work with. And it was done as a whole project.
Q: The automatic dismissal of new music from "heritage artists" like yourself tends to get dismissed out of hand at radio today. Does that bother you?
One of the things I dislike the most is being called an “80s act.” And that has got nothing to do with age. I’m 52 and very happy about that. What I don’t like about that is the assumption that you only deal in nostalgia. You are only seen as a celebrity rather than a musician. A musician’s standpoint is always to learn and improve their art. That’s what I do. Sometimes people will notice it, sometimes people won’t. If you’re only ever motivated by what other people are looking for in you, then you should’ve jumped into the pond a long time ago.
Q: Was it a relief not to have any outside influences like A&R guys putting their two cents in while recording?
Absolutely. No record company was interested in talking to me as soon as I said I didn’t want to make a covers album. There was no faith in new music from me. The recording industry is imploding. It’s very expensive to put music out there. So much of new music is relying on reality television because they automatically got their promotion set up. [Still,] I do understand why they wouldn’t spend a lot of money on an act that’s not likely to sell a lot of records. I don’t say that with any bitterness.
The joy about working with Guy without any A&R was we were truly only having to consider ourselves and what moved us. We didn’t think about a radio station because the assumption is that no one is going to play it. The assumption is the stores aren’t going to stock it and the public is not going to buy it. The only thing we could be sure of is we were making something we were really into. In that sense, it took me right back to the thrill of making a record for the first time where there were no expectations. That is a funny thing because you make your first album on that premise, it becomes hugely successful and then suddenly everyone is telling you what you should be doing. The perverseness about that is they’ll be listening to whatever is a hit today, wanting you to record that and release it in two years’ time. It’s like, ‘where is the logic in this?’
Q: On the new album, I was really captivated by the music and imagery on “Rung by the Tide.” What inspired it?
That came about because someone I work with is a keen amateur photographer and had taken a picture of a bell. On it was inscribed “I am rung by the tide.” I got to point while making this record and a point in my life where romance no longer is a point of interest to me. Quite understandably, I want to look outside of that into other things.
Looking at this picture of the bell made me start thinking about the life cycle of a bell. I started doing a bit of research and reading about the coastline in Sussex England in the Middle Ages which fell away into the sea. All these bells were lost and the mythology built up around that about how peace could not be restored until these bells were take back and restored into their priories. I started thinking about a bell in a priory that was told when to ring and when to stop. It was subjected to the sentry’s lamentations of these monks that prayed beneath it for centuries. Only in a moment of still could it be left to its own devices. When these priories fell into the sea and the bell was finally freed of the tyranny of somebody else’s timetable, it must be a delightful place to be. I got this picture in my head and wrote a poem. I wrote an a capella tune around it and described it to Guy. He painted this landscape around it.
Q: The first single “When I Was Your Girl” could almost be described as your calling card with a classic sound, sort of 'Alison is back!'
We wrote [songs] in different ways. I always do topline and lyrics; that’s my bag. That was a song I wrote in entirety on guitar, and then presented it to Guy. That happened midway through the writing process. I think that’s probably why you [feel] me more on that song than any other. It was less of a collaboration in the concept.
For me, that song was very much about how when you’ve lived and understand that there’s no such thing as eternity truly. It’s the voice of the adolescent compared with the voice of the middle aged adult.
No. It affected how I approach live work. That’s because I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16 and certainly once you become established – which for me was at 21 – when people came to see me, on the whole, they were fans or predisposed at what I was doing. The great thing about working in the theater was I loved not being the star and part of the collective. Also when you’re working 8 shows a week over 8 months, some nights you’re going to have your fans in.
Many nights, you’re going to have people who don’t know you from Adam. Consequently, you can’t just rely on your tricks or your knowledge of the audience to bring them onboard. You have to work at your job and not automatically get the gratification of applause and acceptance. In that sense, what it did do was completely liberated me from stage fright. I [used to] feel great pressure and intimidation. After that, I found myself far more able to engage with myself and my work and not be affected by what I was receiving.
Q: Do you think your ‘80s efforts still stand the test of time?
To some degree. What’s interesting it when I strip these songs back, the actual core of the songs – in many cases – is very strong indeed. I think there are certain things about ‘80s productions that you end up disliking. There’s a certain snare sound that is quite dated. I was never someone who was that interested in pop. For me, it was always much more about the experience rather than filling a real fidelity.
My feelings toward that music had far more to do with how I was experiencing my career at that time. I didn’t cope very well with being a frontline artist. I didn’t enjoy the level of recognition I was experiencing in England and much of Europe. America was different for me because I was always more of a marginal act. Therefore, people who knew what I did were really into it. My life there was unaffected. In England, it was a completely different kettle of fish. I was the biggest selling female singer at the time. I’d gone from being very much a black sheep to not being able to go anywhere without being chased. As somebody who’d always been quite remote, I found that quite a shocking experience and projected that upon my feelings about the records.
Q: Since you’re a big Elvis Costello fan and covered two of his songs a few albums ago, I wondered if you admire his eclectic nature as an artist.
I think I’ve been very influenced by that and he’s been a role model in quite a grand way for me. I remember how I felt when he did the country covers album “Almost Blue.” It wasn’t particularly well received critically, but in many ways it was misunderstood. I love that record. What I really understood was this was a man who was constantly searching. He wasn’t ever someone to forever sit back on his laurels and that resonates with me. For me, the joy in music is about trying to stay engaged and learning what my instrument can do and where I can take my writing. I was very influenced how eclectic he is and continue to be.
photo by Tom Martin