Changeling: Alison Moyet Interviewed
, May 16th, 2013 06:08
Following the release of her new album the minutes and the one-off Yazoo performances of recent years, Alison Moyet looks back over her musical career with Ian Wade
Approximately 31 years ago, Alison Moyet was thrust into the limelight as one half of Yazoo, and found herself as Vince Clarke’s go-to warbler on chart-topping numbers such as 'Only You', 'Don’t Go' and 'Nobody’s Diary'. After that giddy affair ended, she was reluctantly, yet suddenly, in demand as a solo singer and carved out an impressive run of hits throughout the mid-80s, selling millions and appearing at Live Aid as a bonus.
Frustrations with her record company lead to her being unable to record the music she wanted, but eventually free of her contract, she was finally able to work on a series of well-received albums over the past decade such as Hometime and The Turn. This is as well as reconvening with Vince on a recent Yazoo reunion and the odd theatrical turn in Chicago and Smaller.
Now back Back BACK with an amazing new album – the minutes – that sees her returning to "a programmer’s world" and coping quite magnificently in that environment - she’s looking good, feeling great and on the promotional whirl again. She sat down with me to discuss all this and more (actually quite a LOT more, but that’s mostly unprintable here) and we had such a good time our coffees went cold, my interview slot overran to almost double the original allocation while she held forth – and swore - magnificently.
Have a listen to our first play of Severino's remix of album cut 'Changeling' below:
This album is very electronic – was that a conscious decision?
Alison Moyet: It was, and I’ve wanted to do that for a long time. For me, it was about meeting the right person, which is pretty difficult as I’m reticent about meeting anyone. I wanted someone who had a real musicality about them. I had a problem with that in the 90s, where I felt music had really been taken over by all the techies. The great thing about Guy [Sigsworth] is that he started out as a Cambridge harpsichordist, and had really honed his art. He’s just a brilliant man who I loved being around.
Did you approach him?
AM: I was introduced to him by someone who works at my management company, and I thought I’d show willing and go and meet him. I didn’t hold out much hope at first as I’ve never been good at that sitting down and writing thing. That kind of jobbing writing has never suited me, but we worked together the way that I like to, which is to talk about things and he’d send me bits of music, and I’d send him bits of music, while I think on my own; which is the way I like to do it.
Do you keep songs handy for certain styles? For instance, you’ve spoken of wanting to do a dirty blues album – do you know what style would fit each lyric?
AM: No, with the blues album – I still want to do that – but it’s a funny line to cover because you can end up sounding like a nasty pub blues thing. It’s really hard to get the dirt and authenticity that you want. As regards this album – bar 'Right As Rain' and 'All Signs Of Life' which I already had melodies and lyrics in my head – the rest of the stuff we wrote together. We had a couple of different methods of writing. Something like 'Changeling' for example, he would have sent me just a loop, and from that I then wrote the three sections – the verse, the bridge and the chorus – and put them together. Then I would send that back to him and he would re-paint around them – strip away what he was not sure about before building it up again. 'When I Was Your Girl' was a song I wrote on guitar and then sent to him so that he could work on it.
Were you sending each other ideas from other sources or inspirations?
AM: No, we completely avoided that. The great thing about this record – and it kind of reminds me of the Yazoo days – is that we had no A&R men. So there wasn’t anybody telling us about demographics – which really happens all the time – and you feel like you have to constantly compromise to keep the label sweet, otherwise they’ll just fuck it all off. But for this, there was no other label that wanted to sign me for anything other than covers, and I’d had quite a few offers. I don’t have an aversion to singing other people’s songs, but it was really important for me to make a creative move, and I didn’t want to make a record for record’s sake. So the great thing about Guy is that he really got me. He got me straight off and I really got him, and he knew there was no record deal on the table, so we worked in his downtime. He effectively supported this project and it’s amazing. I could get anyone to make a coffee table album with me, but for someone to be edgier with me and to recognise the worth [in doing something different] is not very easy.
I would imagine that the safest route becomes almost default for a lot of artists.
AM: That’s because you don’t have the choice. For myself, I can honestly say I’ve never needed it, and I don’t mean financially, but I mean spiritually. I don’t need attention for attention's sake. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made a record and I absolutely love it and it’s had a great reception, but I don’t need to be recognised for the sake of it.
You’ve described it as your happiest studio experience, and, well, you’ve had a few now, but that enthusiasm shines through. I enjoyed the pie chart you put out showing the percentage of ballads...
AM: [laughs] Well that was the amazing thing, it really was like being in a band again, and there’s something about writing a whole album with one person that makes both of you feel really connected to it, and Guy is so excitable. He’s this shy, reserved fellow who seems to speak the same language as me musically. I love his enthusiasm. He’s driven by music and not by hits, and it’s not like he’s anti-hits, but I’ve met some people who wouldn’t dream of doing something that would affect their sellable position.
That’s a rare thing...
AM: So rare, especially someone like him who has worked with Madonna and Björk and could easily be drawn into being part of the hit-driven world.
Did the Yazoo tour inspire this direction?
AM: No, not so much. I think me wanting to do the Yazoo thing was triggered by two things. One, I wanted to sing in that electronic music style again and two, that second album [You And Me Both] was never played live and I really needed to finish that. I would say that I’ve wanted to do this for a good ten to 15 years, but it was a case of meeting the right person. There was no wastage either, I think there were maybe two songs that we started and then thought, "actually that’s not working". But beyond that – as it was in the Yazoo days – everything went on the album. Right down to 'All Signs Of Life' which got written at the eleventh hour. The album got put back a week because the label wanted extra tracks for the website or something and I thought, “fuck it, I don’t like doing that.”
An infuriating thing with a lot of modern albums is the bonus tracks. It’s like, “here is the album sequenced in an order we agonised over and there’s four bonus tracks that are a bit shoddily tacked on the end.”
AM: It’s confusing isn’t it? And this is definitely an album album which – taking singles seriously at my age is ridiculous – it is hopefully a record that will be taken as a piece rather than a bunch of single tracks.
If I can go back now... With Yazoo, that was quite a giddy 18 months...
AM: It was 18 months all in, and bear in mind we’d split up before we’d gone into the studio to record You And Me Both. The decision had already been made then. Vince would’ve walked away after the first album, but I think his publisher thought that maybe his cachet could be weakened if he was seen to keep walking away from things, so Vince very reluctantly made a second album.
It seems astonishing now that you met, recorded a single and within a few weeks were on Top Of The Pops.
AM: Yeah! Well that’s not entirely true. I’d known him since I was 11, but only to look at. I was in the same form class as Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore. Perry Bamonte [former member of The Cure] was also there. Vince I knew of, but he was always on the periphery and was more of an unusual character. He was what we called "a big God botherer" at the time, so a little alien, but I knew of him. Then I went to Saturday morning council music school, and he and his brothers were there, and because they were so white blonde, you really recognised them. I knew of him, but of all of Depeche, he was the one I knew the least. However he knew me from around and being in bands, and so when he left Depeche he literally called me up, so I got on my motorbike, went round to his flat and recorded a demo. The record company liked it, so a week later we were called in and they said we should make an album. So literally in a month I’d gone from making a demo to being a pop star AND a pop star who had no ambition to be a pop star!
That takes me on to the period afterwards. With Yazoo it seemed like you and Vince were your own thing, and then you signed to Sony and I felt you were almost being groomed into a glossy multi-platinum star...
AM: What I think about that is sometimes it’s about what money is available. When I was at Mute, no one had given me an advance. It never occurred for me to ask anyone for money, so I was getting five quid a week when I was first on Top Of The Pops, so my mum lent me twenty quid to go and buy some material from Basildon market for my mate to run me up a dress, but then, you know, Mute was a tiny label back then and there weren't wads of money flying about. What happened when I went to Sony was I shot myself in the foot, but more out of naivety as I was just a kid of 21, 22. I signed with them because I really wanted to be on Columbia like Janis Joplin. Also I had ADHD. I was really made happy by their tidy offices, because I find order really hard to recreate around myself and I feel at peace when I’m around order in other places. So even though Virgin had offered me half a million quid more, I thought I’d go with Columbia because of the tidy offices.
Anyway, when they said, “let’s make a record", I thought of it in the same way as before – I never intended to go into Yazoo. And I didn't intend to be a solo singer either. Jolley & Swain were the first people I met, so I went with them so that I wouldn’t have to meet anyone else. And I liked them, they’re nice fellows, but I never thought it was the beginning of my recording career, I just thought, “I’ll see how this works, just as I had done with Vince. What I didn’t know was that I was going to have massive hits that way, meaning everyone would tie me to it.
I remember hearing somewhere that the first album was literally the first nine songs you recorded with Jolley & Swain because the record company wanted it out before Christmas.
AM: Absolutely, and again with that, they were fitting me around Spandau Ballet if I remember correctly. We did it in three months and it was a real quick job, but then I’d come from a real quick job, so I didn’t really expect anything else. Having said that, when I went to do the Jimmy Iovine album [Raindancing] it took ages, so there’s something to be said about briefness.
And then of course you did Live Aid, you were relatively new in comparison to the rest of the bill. What was that day like?
AM: Well again, this shows my powers of concentration, I was asked to do a set at Live Aid and I said, “well I haven’t got a band." And they said, “well, do you want to sing with Paul Young?” And I was oblivious and went, “yeah, I wouldn’t mind singing with Paul Young." So then they took me in a car to a helicopter and I was thinking, “so why am I going here to get into a helicopter? Why am I now in a helicopter with Bono and David Bowie?” I had NO IDEA. I thought I was going to Wembley Arena, and I’d played there myself and thought that it was another charity thing. And all of it was just odd; I didn’t know what I was doing there. It was strange getting out of the helicopter and you’ve got Freddie Mercury waving and blowing you kisses, and you’re looking behind you thinking, “who the fuck is he doing that to?” But then realising Freddie Mercury is blowing kisses at ME!
Going on to the period of Raindancing. Sony sounded a right bunch of…
AM: I understand them in the sense that I was the biggest-selling female artist, and to their mind I was shooting myself in the foot. So I understand their reticence. Musicians are a contrary bunch in that we don’t want to be motivated by [success], but we still want [success]. My only resentment of Sony, looking back on it, was that I really couldn’t make the kind of record they were looking for. Why they couldn’t have said, "you’ve made us millions. Good luck mate, you’re gonna do fuck all, but good luck." That would have been the noble thing to do. They wouldn’t let me record what I wanted to record yet neither would they release me, but in the contract that my wonderful lawyer drew up at the time meant that they could drop me at any time for fifty quid. I, on the other hand, wasn’t allowed to leave for something like the minimum of 16 albums.
Sixteen albums? That’s unimaginable!
AM: Exactly! So I had no rights within that. Another thing that upset me was that I had something like six A&R men between the making of two albums. So every time a new one came in, they had a different idea of where it should be heading, or they might just think I was completely wank and not want to work with me, but I'd been allocated them. I had to listen to these people who had no idea of my history or my fan base or anything. These KIDS! What they did’t understand was that they were going to be out of the job after six months anyway, and then I would have to deal with the next guy. Then they’d play me something awful that I’d never record and I’d be thinking if you LOVED this yourself, then I’d respect you, because you’d be trying to sell me something you believed in.
Another example of your career is that you haven't opted to go on any 80s package tours, stuck between Bucks Fizz and Toyah.
AM: The thing with me is that I never bought into any of it. After my first year of “celebrity” I withdrew. I’m actually low maintenance and I’ve sold a lot of records so I was able to maintain myself without having to do that, but I have empathy. A majority of acts, with the exception of Bowie, are famous for a couple of years and then have to support themselves, so there’s no shame in having to do a regular job. I was fortunate that I’d earned a lot of money and so don’t have to do that, but I certainly don’t turn up my nose at the people who have to do that. Some of them love it! For me, I was a miserable cunt back then. I don’t like the songs particularly… maybe one day I’ll do it. I’ll do it if I’m brassic, because I left school at 16 and I’m not qualified to do anything else.
You seem much happier that you have fuller control over everything.
AM: What I must say is that it’s sometimes very easy to sit there and rescind responsibility, but sometimes I couldn’t be arsed. That’s the truth of it. We can all make the right choices, but sometimes we’re just too lazy to. And sometimes I was just too lazy to do it myself. 'Love Letters' and 'Weak In The Presence Of Beauty' – neither song I enjoy now – they’re both my fault. I found them. That was when I was feeling smart, thinking that I knew what a hit was - I don’t know what’s a fucking hit! But they were hits, and now I’m forever to fucking sing them years later!
That was the era where they’d started to pull four or five tracks off an album as singles, a couple of which you probably weren’t over keen on being on the album in the first place...
AM: That happened with 'That Ole Devil (Called Love)'. The purpose of that was because we’d gone quadruple platinum on the album and they wanted to bring out another single, and I was, “look, all my fans have already got all these songs, and they’ll buy it out of loyalty and it just feels really wrong to me." When I play live, 'That Ole Devil' is a song that goes down really well, but to put it in context, that sort of music was not on the radio in those days. It was NOT in the record shops and it was not being sold. It really was ‘taking a chance’; it was in some ways a leftfield move. It just so transpired that it ended up being my biggest-selling single, and on the back of that, all these back catalogues of much better acts – the real thing – were released, and then consequently you’re made to look like you were doing something without challenge. But it wasn’t mainstream back then, it was specialist. Then everyone has me tagged as a jazz act – I know fuck all about jazz!
You’re very funny on Twitter, I first became aware of you being on there when you said, “I appear to have forfeited my recording deal because I won’t do reality TV. No-one needs to make an album that badly. Tea anyone?”
AM: It was just, 'Are there any more obstacles?’ I mean, I’m pretty much at the top of my game and creativity. I’m loving doing what I do more than I did in the first 20 years of my recording life. I really love to sing, it’s just the hoops you have to jump through in order to do it. Is that all they aspire to? Another middle-aged singer singing another dead middle-aged singer’s songs? I was on my third deal offer where they wanted another covers album, and going back to being an interpreter of song – I don’t have any issue with that at all - but I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
One of the things that Guy wanted to do was put each song on the album in a different key, just so you get a different vibe, but sometimes with the radio – the pulse is set, the pitch is set, and just a constant stream of… I have no idea who you are, and that’s why you get a sense of there being no stars, because everyone is such a duplicate of someone else and there is such a template – such a fucking horrible template – and everyone’s a fucking acrobat! If you think about what was around once upon a time, there was Bananarama. They were regular independent girls and they weren’t, you know, a flange on legs.
Alison Moyet’s new album the minutes is out this week, and she's setting off on tour later in the year - have a look at the dates below:
Mon 30 - Cork Opera House, Cork, Ireland
Tue 1 - Belfast Waterfront Hall, Belfast, Northern Ireland
Wed 2 - Olympia Theatre, Dublin, Ireland
Fri 4 - Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow
Sat 5 - Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Sun 6 - The Sage, Gateshead
Tue 8 - City Hall, Sheffield
Wed 9 - Pavilion Theatre, Rhyl
Thu 10 - Warwick Arts Centre, Coventry
Sat 12 - Derngate Theatre, Northampton
Sun 13 - Regents Theatre, Ipswich
Tue 15 - Royal Festival Hall, London
Wed 16 - Corn Exchange, Cambridge
Thu 17 - Leas Cliff Hall, Folkestone
Sat 19 - Colston Hall, Bristol
Sun 20 - St. David's Hall, Cardiff
Mon 21 - The Dome, Brighton
Wed 23 - Barbican Theatre, York
Thu 24 - The Lowry, Salford
Fri 25 - Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Sun 27 - Royal Centre, Nottingham
Mon 28 - Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Tue 29 - Cliffs Pavilion, Southend
Thu 31 - Pavilion Theatre, Bournemouth