Ipswich: Regent-bound Alison Moyet interviewed
PUBLISHED: 12:12 21 May 2013 | UPDATED: 12:14 21 May 2013
Alison Moyet talks to entertainment writer Wayne Savage about her new album, pushing herself and why house lofts are so easy to fill.
I’VE just rescued Moyet from a pile of cardboard boxes.
“I’m moving house in two weeks so when I put the phone down to you I’m doing boxes, ‘hurrah’,” she laughs. “I’ve lived in this house since I was 21 so you can only imagine the amount of toot I’ve got. My kids have left home and I just want something smaller to look after... you can spread out into a house can’t you? You think ‘jeez, how did I manage to fill that loft’.”
It’s the start of a busy few months for the singer, who’s achieved sales of more than 20 million, both as a solo artist and half of influential duo Yazoo who re-invented British dance music, merging cool synthesised soundscapes with soul.
There’s the release of new album the minutes, accompanied by a full UK tour which comes to the Ipswich Regent on October 13.
“Oh it’s mental, my son’s getting married as well... all the buses have come at once. Why not be really hysterical with stress,” she laughs.
A Basildon girl, she left school at 16 and began her musical journey in punk bands and on the Canvey Island pub rock scene. Her studying piano tuning came to an abrupt halt when Only You became a worldwide hit for her and Vince Clarke, finding herself accidentally thrust into the spotlight of the mainstream pop world.
“My family still live in Essex and I’m down in Basildon a lot of the time, but I always like being round my people; although sometimes, funnily enough, I don’t like ‘em at a gig. I’m always a bit mortified when they turn up to a show, but I love playing live, it’s my favourite thing.
“Performing is where it’s at. Bizarrely it’s the one time I really understand what’s expected of me. It’s like I can be a bit of a social misfit sometimes depending what the season is but regardless of what’s going on in my life put me on the stage and I’m comfortable with it. There’s an edge to it but I’m comfortable around edges.
“I think you can feel inhibited in your physical space, about making loud noises and when I sing it can be really, really loud. There’s something about the physicality of standing on stage and just giving it some - it’s like a physical workout that’s just thrilling.”
Her first album since 2007, the minutes has subtle parallels to her synth-pop past, but is also bang up-to-date, taking in elements of high-end pop smashes, RnB, modern club sounds and electronic experimentation.
The gap between releases wasn’t a conscious decision or down to her being just too busy. She’s been trying to make some for a long time but says as she’s in her early 50s, getting a record label to feel comfortable with you doing original material is a very tricky thing to do.
“I’ve had numerous record deal offers over the last year, but they all want me to do covers. While I’m very comfortable singing a classic song, what I wanted to do is this original work... so the long gap has been about making it and finding someone prepared to work on it with me.”
That person was co-writer and producer Guy Sigsworth, who’s known for his work with Frou Frou, Robyn, Björk, Goldie and Madonna.
“We had a brilliant time in the studio, he really understood me and I’ve never felt so uninhibited working with someone,” says Moyet.
“He believed so much in this thing we were doing. We worked on it in the gaps until we had a full body of material so we could then go to the label and say ‘this is the record, there will be no covers, there are no changes, this is what it’s going to be - you’re either with me or you’re not’. It just so happened the first label we sat down with was Cooking Vinyl and they completely got it.”
The way it came together was experimental, the result of samples, melodies and song structures pinging backwards and forwards between the two rather than them sitting together on a guitar.
“There’s more playing with the vocals which people are loathe to do when they produce me, they feel the voice should not be played with and it’s only a tool you do with people who are less competent singers. We wanted to approach every song as the track deserved rather than just constantly making it about me.”
Moyet avoided listening to anything during the process of writing and recording the album, choosing instead to be led by her own “melodic voice”, the one she now finds herself with 30-years-in.
Guy returned her to a programmer’s world and married it with perfect musicality; resulting, she says, in an album mindless of industry mores that apply to middle-aged women and shunning all talk of audiences, demographics and advert jazz covers.
“This is an album I’ve entirely made for myself and I believe in the quality of it. People are either going to engage with it or they’re not. There’s going to be a good number of people who like it. I’m also aware I’m Alison Moyet, what that means is I’m middle-aged and part of the mainstream so there’re going to be areas of people who will not even open the door to listening to it; that doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like it.
“That’s kind of alright, I understand that; there’s great swathes of work which will never cross my path. The only rule I could give myself is it had to be something that moved me, was intelligent and suited my tick boxes. Beyond that I can control nothing and I’m prepared to control nothing... I’ve painted a piece of work and it is what it is.”
Moyet accepts it’s impossible for her to please her entire audience base anyway, having picked them up in so many different places - from the electronica of the early 1980s to her blues, jazz, show songs and club music.
“I know there’ll be someone at the gig going ‘why didn’t you do Love Letters’ and I’ll say ‘because I’ve done it in all the other tours for the last five years’, that’s not what this is now.
“This is about electronica, but the great thing about it is I can showcase this material and at the same time pick up Yazoo material and material from Hometime as well as Raindancing that I couldn’t do very easily with my generic background because they are about the structure and they are about the programming. This opens up a whole other part of my back catalogue that I’ve not been able to do for a long time.”
Excited about the new album, she disagrees it’s given her a new lease of life.
“That light has always been there. It’s just about whether people have chosen to look at it or not. You will get a time when people’s ears will prick up and say ‘why have you stopped working’. I haven’t stopped, I’ve been doing sell- out tours for these whole ten years.
“I’ve recorded some great records, it’s just music careers, anybody in the arts, it’s like a wave; you have times coming into prominence and you have times where the majority don’t view you. Within that time you’re still doing your own thing.”
Her own thing included taking to the stage, making her debut in the West End hit musical Chicago as Matron “Mama” Morton to critical acclaim.
“That was another time when I was having a battle. It was when I made Hometime and again the record company didn’t want it because it wasn’t mainstream; yet when I fought to get it out it got some of the best reviews of my career.
“During that time the record company weren’t allowing me to record more, they weren’t releasing my material and I was in a stalemate. I’m someone who has been agoraphobic and if you leave me indoors for too long I may not go out again. I had to push myself to stay a part of the world.
“This opportunity came up and part of me was horrified, I’m not interested in musicals at all, it’s not something I wanted to do post punk. The very fact it horrified me was one of those things that became a tick in my ear ‘do it, do it’.
“I had a really brilliant year. It was really interesting you know if you sing a song enough times you become fond of it and I loved not being the star, I loved being part of the collective. It was enough to keep me leaving the house every day and keep me singing, keep my voice oiled.”
It must have helped ease her frustration at not getting her stuff out there?
“In the sense I was occupied and so not left to dwell as you can with things you can’t affect. There are some things you just have to allow, they’ll move in their own time. That’s a very hard thing to do when it’s important to you.”
Moyet never imagined her career would last so long.
“It’s been remarkable. I’m delighted I am (still here). The very fact I’m sitting here talking to you, coming up to 52, talking about a creative project... as a woman it shouldn’t be the case that it surprises us but it is the truth, you only have to watch the news and how many brilliant women are still having to justify that.”
Worth knocking the piano tuning on the head then?
“I was always kind of quite sad by that because I tended to be someone who jumped ship, when things got difficult I walked and I could hide. It actually looked as though I was going to complete something there so that was quite a disappointment.
“That’s the very subject matter of the song Filigree on this album, that whole thing that so often we jump too soon and in that very act we miss something that’s entirely brilliant.”
Moyet can’t wait for audiences to see not only the new material but some of her programmed catalogue that’s been missing for years.
“They can expect programming, screens, energy and beauty. They can’t expect Invisible because that won’t be happening or anything that is organic blues. So if you were expecting to see Alison Moyet singing La Chanson this is not the tour for you.”