My Quality Minutes with Alison Moyet

Posted July 18, 2013 in

Alison Moyet has recently released her latest album, the minutes. Photo: Tom Martin

It was wonderful news when Alison Moyet announced she was going to release a new album (the minutes) this year, and an even bigger surprise when it charted so highly in the UK charts (at Number Five, her second-highest-charting studio album there since 1987’s Raindancing to be precise)—a remarkable feat for any artist, especially one who hasn’t released new material in seven years and more specifically—in what remains a sexist industry—a woman. First came the staggeringly brilliant giveaway track, “Changeling,” which highlights her collaboration—in the truest sense of the word—with electronic maestro Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Björk), and signaled an electronic return to her earlier work with Vince Clarke as one half of synth pop’s legendary Yazoo/Yaz. This was followed by the first, proper single, the subtly layered jewel, “When I Was Your Girl.” Not convinced? Google her recent live performance of it on Graham Norton’s show and listen to not only her diction and enunciation—missing from so much of today’s pop—but witness how a true singer truly sings. 

I am surprised to learn in our chat that singles really don’t mean that much to her, but nonetheless her new one is “Love Reign Supreme,” which oozes with wisdom and wit—which we discuss at length later when reviewing her under-appreciated lyric writing—that remarkably is matched by its catchiness. More important overall than these individual tracks is her stunning new album from which they originate, which is as much a revelation in sound as it is another showcase for her uniquely mesmerizing vocal instrument. This is an album begging to be heard with your headphones on and one that, refreshingly, doesn’t “feature” any other vocalist or guest on it, and whose cinematic scope sounds unlike anything released as of late. Ever the vibrant-canvased vocal painter, Moyet (who recently turned 52) sounds absolutely incredible on it—from the chugging disco thumper “Right As Rain” to the more refined and deliciously quieter tracks like “Remind Yourself” and especially the stunners like “A Place To Stay” and the lullaby “Filigree,” which help close the album. It shows that time hasn’t diminished her pipes, but, rather, just the opposite.
 
SLUG recently had the pleasure of chatting with this musical idol, who was candid and frank, hilarious and refreshingly forthcoming about her punk past, her paring down of useless possessions, her new album and label, her creative process, the current un-nurturing music industry (with its over-reaching divas and idiotic executives who inform her she should be making covers albums—an insult that surely Springsteen and Dylan never hear), and why her recent chart and critical success is such a victory. Literally minutes before I am connected to her in the UK, I receive an Erasure Information Service e-mail that informs me that it was Vince Clarke’s birthday, which I take as a good omen that the interview will bode well, and we both wish Mr. Clarke many happy returns and begin.
 
 
SLUG: I can’t stop listening to the minutes, and it sounds unlike anything in your solo canon and really vibrant. It seems rare to want to listen to an album from start to finish these days, let alone just a “single” or “certain” track, and congratulations on that and then congratulations on the chart success, especially in the UK. That must have been really gratifying!
Moyet: Well, you know, it really was gratifying. I’ve been offered plenty of “deals,” but all to make “covers” albums, and they’re all very leery about wanting, you know, someone of my age to do new material, because it’s hard to sell it, and they imagine you’re going to not have any kind of creative ideas. I’ve wanted to work with an electronic backdrop for a long time, but it really was a case of finding the right person. The joy of working with someone like Vince was that he was, or he is, melodically minded. The song always keeps its integrity. So, the song is written first and the track is built up around it, which was the way that we worked in Yaz. And that’s not dissimilar to how I worked with this album with Guy. We knew that we wanted strong songs—and electronic—but we didn’t want the beat to be “king” almost … it’s like one of the problems I had with music in the ’90s—techno/technical music in the ’90s—was the fact that the beat was so revered that they would de-tune the voice, they would crunch it, so that it was such an ugly entity that you would just wish that there was no voice on there at all. One of the great things about working with Guy is that he not only is this great sonic inventor, but he also is musically really, really adept. He started off as a Cambridge University harpsichordist, so his musicality is sublime … and so it really could be approached not only from an experimental point of view, but from a true musical point of view. And it meant that, for example, I would either send him a song or he might send me a loop—for example, “Changeling.” He sent me a single loop, which I then extended and wrote three sections on and created the song from that. I then sent it back to him, he strips away the loop, and then builds up and rewrites completely around the song I’ve written to that, so you end up with “songs,” truly.
SLUG: It’s like of a “full” collaboration, rather than just a singer working with a producer … and the producer deciding?
Moyet: Exactly that! And when he was suggested to me, I’d known of his kind of collaborations with Madonna and …
SLUG: And Björk? 
Moyet: And Björk … Yeah, well, Björk was less of a concern … The reason I’m picking out Madonna is because she has a high-chart profile—whereas Björk has always dipped in and out of the charts, but has had more of a “left-field” presence, you know? With Madonna—and the fact that I knew that he worked with that kind of “big name” act—made me think that he might be one of those people that’s kind of like one of those “team” writers … You know, those solo-female singers now that you get 10n, 12 different people and they’re all there to do the lead track? No one wants to do an album as a whole. I sort of wondered if that was what it was going to be, but the minute we sat down together, I really discovered that we were on the same page. We were both far more motivated by music than by chart success, even though both of us love chart success—no need to be disingenuous about that—but it can’t be your raison ďêtre—that has to be a happy byproduct. And he wanted to work with me because of what I could do musically and what I was bringing to the table, not because I was going to lift his star any higher, or make him a more commercial producer. He wanted to do it for the creativity, and we wanted to make an album, and that was exactly as you’d said: intended to be written as an album, recorded as an album and listened to as an album.
SLUG: That’s fantastic … and it shows!
Moyet: It was almost like a band!  I felt more in a ‘band’ with Guy than I even did in Yaz, because of such nice communication with one another.
 
SLUG: It seems we are more on par now, whereas before we used to wait months and months, and I used to buy most of your albums as imports and most your CD singles—especially in the ’90s—where it was more of an ‘import only’ situation. So now, with being more on an indie level with Cooking Vinyl and Metropolis, has that changed the “single” order? Do you have a bigger say in that whereas you might not have had?
Moyet: Well, I feel as that I don’t have any particular care for singles, because I’m in my 50s and I don’t buy singles. I’m not bothered by the need know what other people are looking at. For me, they are always just lead tracks—they’re something for someone to focus on, and you choose them by which you think is most likely to get radio play. They’re not always your favorite—I mean, they’re not always your favorite tracks, just what you think will give you a tool to be able to work it. In terms of the staggered release, to some degree I do understand it, because when you release consecutively, then everybody—your label in every territory—wants you to be working that territory. Obviously, the positive thing about staggering it means that I can be in England to have  a presence there when I’m working that country, then the ideal is then that you will have a presence in America when that comes out, [and] hopefully, that someone wants you to come out … Cooking Vinyl are really behind us, and the great thing about Guy and I making this record on our own, without A&R men, without a record label behind us, meant that when we took the record to Cooking Vinyl and said, “Are you interested?” that they were. No wool was pulled over their eyes. There was no talk of compromise. There was no “Where’s the covers?” They knew exactly what they were getting, and they loved it! And that is a greater benefit than signing to a record label, going away and making a record and coming back with something that they didn’t expect, and then that’s when the problems start … Cooking Vinyl and Metropolis in America have been really, really behind it, but you know, in a 30-year career, your career is going to have a sine wave, and that sine wave doesn’t always reflect the quality of your work—it’s just that there are going to be times when the media, or an audience, or a radio station is going to be interested in you, and there’s times they’re not. And so, sometimes your work will come into prominence and sometimes it won’t, and with, me it’s like people have said to me, “Are you surprised by how well this album has been received?” and it would be a lie of me to sort of go “Yeah, wow!  I’m really surprised they love it!” No, I love it, I’m not surprised people like it—I am surprised that they got to hear it. That’s different.
 
SLUG: I keep reading about your pre-Yazoo days, and that you were in some punk bands. I was wondering if you sang in these bands? And did you sing in the spirit or punk rock or were you finding your natural voice?
Moyet: Oh no, truly … My muse at that time would have been Poly Styrene. They were my first bands … You’ve got to remember: I wasn’t in the school choir. I never sang at all before punk—I did not sing anywhere. When punk came into the fore, I, out of all of my girlfriends, was probably the hardest. Then you had to be pretty hard to face up against the skinheads and the rockers and all the people who’d like to kick your teeth in. [laughs]. I was also the lyric writer. I was an angry, young thing, and I wrote all the lyrics and I wrote the songs and I was the singer. But I had no desire to sound … I never thought of myself as having potentially an attractive voice. I always thought of myself as having sheer power.
SLUG: Yeah, which is a lot of what punk is about.
Moyet: Even my guitar player, when I was in a band called The Vandals, there was a guy called Robert Marlow—who’s Vince’s best friend—and he was my guitar player, and after I went and sang “Only You” for Vince’s demo, which then later ended up being a Yaz record, Robert then said, “Oh God, I had no idea that you could sing!  I had no idea that you could sound like that!” because it was all rebel yell. It was all screaming and shouting.
SLUG: Wow, that’s fascinating!   So was that really the first indication to yourself that you knew that could sing at that stage? When someone else told you?
Moyet: No, ’cause after going through punk, when I was around about 19, and punk had dissolved, I started moving over to the Southeast Essex Canvey area, where bands like Dr. Feelgood came from, really good lyrics. And for me, they had a far more punk ethic then where … punk was kinda splitting up. It seemed to be heading towards this kind of pub rock scene, which Elvis Costello and Ian Drury had kinda spawned from. Or, they went into this new, romantic vibe that the Depeche lot had kinda got into, and that hadn’t appealed to me at all at the time because I still was in the punk ethic and didn’t understand how these kids … who were wanting to rebel were suddenly beautifying, like, this … You know, it confused me. So, I decided to go in to play supporting bands like Dr. Feelgood, and I was getting involved in and I was starting to listen to people like Janis Joplin and Billy Boy Arnold and Sonny Boy Williamson, and at that point I started singing blues. But not “blues” how people later on imagined I would—it wasn’t soft female blues. It had a far more male edge to it. But at that point, I started to understand that I had a “voice,” but I still never imagined that I would be singing in a “pop” format. I never had any ambition to be a pop singer.
SLUG: … And from the new album, like “Remind Yourself.” So does that bother you that lyrics aren’t often as appreciated … or is it not a concern?
Moyet: I think the problem with someone like me who has worked with somebody like Vince, for example, who’s such a respected songwriter, is the assumption in those situations is that the female half is always the least creative … [or] is not the creative element in the band, and consequently, lots of people didn’t even know that I wrote half the material at the time and that kind of then carried on. The assumption’s always been that the men that I’ve worked with have done the writing. For me, lyrics are really, really important, and I focus on every single word … There are very few places that I feel I could have found a better line. I think there might have been two places on this album where I wasn’t absolutely satisfied. But I had to settle because I’m working … I have to deal with phonetics, you have to deal with rhyming, you have to deal with what vowel sounds hit what note in your range. All of these things have to get taken into consideration when you lyric-write … but I believe myself to be a good lyricist.
SLUG: You’re an excellent lyricist!
Moyet: But I also know that people don’t often notice it, especially when you’re known for being a singer. So if you’re not just “showboating” and you are just doing acrobatics, people often don’t look below the surface. Sometimes they don’t understand that you are singing in a way to show fidelity to the lyrics. Sometimes you have a song that needs a nursery rhyme lilt to the singing because the lyric does not require bashing someone over the head with a mallet!  Like today’s modern singers, especially in this day and age where showboating is everything!
 
SLUG: Yes, over-singing each other!  It’s ridiculous!  “Wishing You Were Here” came into my iTunes playlist randomly the other day, and I was just obsessed with Kirsty [MacColl, late, great guest vocalist on this track], and I know you were good friends. Speaking of lyrics and lyric writing, I think you both have that kind of rare affinity for not only witty lyrics but also a self-depreciating ones sometimes. Would you agree that you both influenced each other to a degree?
Moyet: Well, not entirely … What I would say is that we were friends, and we never became as good of friends as we intended to. Because actually … I mean, sadly, we were very similar characters, in that we had this kind of like almost speedy, ADHD kind of temperament, and we’re both extroverts and reserved. It’s kind of a really funny combination, so neither of us was really forward in making those dates that we always intended to do. But I wouldn’t say that I listened to a lot of Kirsty’s music and I wouldn’t say she listened to a lot of mine. Our connection was on a human level, it wasn’t about sharing music, but it is a fact that both of us, separately and coincidentally, focused on lyrics and yes, both of us did do that self-deprecating thing, and I find that quite an interesting thing because it’s self-depreciating, but often people read that as a lack of confidence, and for me it’s completely the opposite. People who can’t expose their soft underbelly, I think they are the ones that are without confidence. The people that can only display themselves in sexy, beautiful, pulled-together terms … Those, to me, are the ones who indicate fragility because if someone can stand up and go “Do you know what? I’m shit of this and this and this,” well then you’re not saying “I’m scared about the loss of my status. I’m scared about how you feel about me—I’m scared about if you’re going to accept me anymore.” It’s saying, “I can say this because I fully am aware of where my genius lies.”
 
SLUG: I wanted to ask you about the handful of songs you’ve released in French. I especially love the ones from the Hometime period—and can I just say that Hometime is one of my top three albums of yours by the way—and was wondering if you would ever considered doing a full album in French? I know it doesn’t sound very commercial, but …
Moyet: I haven’t considered doing a full album in French … probably because of all the territories I’ve worked in, the French have liked me the least! And they’ve never presented me with a French passport! The French have never taken to me, and so, consequently, doing a whole album in French would be a bit of a shot in the foot because my English friends or English-speaking friends mostly wouldn’t understand it, and the French are just not that interested!
 
SLUG: So speaking of that and the different genres you’ve tried, is there any style or genre you’ve dreamt about trying but haven’t done that yet?
Moyet: No, not entirely, ’cause I think with my songwriting, all the genres are present, and what I liked about this album—that is the same as what I liked about the Yaz albums—is the fact that if you actually strip away the instrumentation and go down to the song basic, you’ll see that all of them come from very, very different origins. You will get soul in with bleak poetry, in with kinda rock n’ roll, in with avant-garde … You’ll get all of those songs, but they are held together with production things. That’s the great thing about electronica—that’s what I really like about the electronic palette, is that it doesn’t pin you down in quite the same way I think that a generic lineup does.
SLUG: Yes, definitely!  Speaking of “stripping down,” I think it was the Sony release, The Best Of: 25 Years Revisited—kind of a greatest hits with that bonus disc where you kind of revisit not only Yazoo songs, but, like, “Ski” alongside some of your most recent ones? I love that ability to strip those down not just to a new level, but down to their core, and to see how strong they are on their own and in their independence.
Moyet: Oh how brilliant!  Well, I needed to do that because one of the problems I have, having had such a broad career stylistically, is that when you then try to tie that together in a live forum, it can end up being really schizophrenic. So then, when you are working with a generic lineup then, obviously, you have to find ways of playing those songs that could have been programmed or were synthetic. You have to find ways of doing that. But interestingly, what I’m gonna enjoy about the tour that I’m gonna be doing this year is the fact that because that tour is going to return to electronica, that means that it’s going to be interesting to see, then, that I have to then turn some of the organic songs into an electronic bias, then go to the old approach of the Yazoo material that I’ve had to nod to, to do in the theme of … that I’m actually going to be able to present it in a far truer sense. I mean, they’ll all be re-worked and have a slightly different spin on them, but the energy that is required for those songs to truly make them blossom will be present. So, it’s going to be a really interesting thing for me to do it the opposite way around this time.
 
SLUG: That’s fantastic!  I wanted to ask you something that I’m very interested in, which is a B side. When I think of yours, two of them pop into my head immediately—well, three, actually: “Fool, Reconsider Me,” “Life In A Hole,” and “Tongue Tied.” When I make playlists, I can’t imagine them without them on those.
Moyet: Oh I love you for knowing all those three!  I love those three … I love all three of those tracks!
SLUG: I’m so glad to hear that! So, when you are working on those, they are just as important as an A-side track, as a key track? Because there’s so much power to them and sometimes they end up—not necessarily with you, but any artist that I admire—sometimes they end up being just as important as those key tracks.
Moyet: Well, I think that’s the case. Especially when the single was there in the “single” format, where you knew that that track was going to be significantly heard—that you didn’t have to … you know, like I said to you before about singles? That I don’t care about singles, that they’re just there as a marketing trigger, as a way to get your record heard? That doesn’t mean to say that I don’t care about them … I wrote them willy-nilly; everything I’ve approached is with the same level, but in terms of which track is chosen, which track is the “leader” track, that in itself is irrelevant to me. But the B side was always a place where you could show the other side of you … You were showing people the most accessible side to your album. You could also show them, what were deigned to be by the media, the least accessible track of your album. And I loved that, I loved the creativity and freedom that B sides allowed you. And you know exactly what you just said: Sometimes they can become more significant. I mean, “Situation” was in England, the B side to “Only You,” and in America: Someone played it, liked it, and flipped the record!
 
SLUG: That just astounds me!  Because you’re probably just working on these things to work on them … So, for example, being on Cooking Vinyl now, were they requiring extra material?
Moyet: Not at all!  That was the great thing!  That when it became evident that no record label was going to take a meeting from me unless I talked Etta James—none of them were interested—and Guy and I had already started working. They wouldn’t take the phone calls, they wouldn’t even listen to it.
SLUG: How insulting!
Moyet: Well, we so believed in it and just sort of said “Fuck it!” you know? We’ll make this record ourselves and then will present it as a fait accompli and there will be no compromise from us and no wool will be pulled over anyone’s eyes and no one will be able to be confused and say, “This was not what we expected!  We gave you money to take away and make a record, and we thought you were going to write something like Celine Dion and you’ve come back with this!” It was a situation where we could go on and say, “This is our record. Do you like it? Do you not?” As it transpired, the first meeting I took was with Cooking Vinyl, and they were blown away by it. That then moved over to Metropolis in America and the same vibe. So what is really brilliant about this is that we’re all on the same page. We’re all working this album ’cause we love it. There’s no “Oh, God, we’ve inherited her, therefore we have to do it!” 
 
SLUG: Well that’s always great for everyone, isn’t it?
Moyet: Oh yeah, it’s brilliant. You know, when I say that stuff, I’m not resentful to record labels, I completely understand their position: trying to sell a 52-year-old woman, who’s not been on the apex of a commercial career all her life!  I understand that’s going to be difficult for them. It’s harder and harder to get new music out there. The record industry is imploding—they have smaller and smaller budgets, and that’s why you’re getting so many of these X-Factor bands getting such prominence, because they already have their promos set up for them. They already have their marketing done. The record labels don’t really need to care about developing a career because they have the next facsimile coming up in the next year’s course. So why would they want to do it, you know? You’ve got these record labels often run by young bucks who want to imprint themselves and prove themselves and sign their own acts. They’re not interested in looking at someone like me. You go and create the great crime of having a mainstream hit and they don’t assume you’re an artist. It takes a true music fan and someone who’s truly open to look below the surface and say, “OK, let me listen to this,” not meaning to quote George Michael here, but “without prejudice.” 
SLUG: Yes, absolutely! So, when I listened to the minutes for the first time, I was struck by the quite literal cinematic reference in “Filigree”—but I think, overall, the album has a cinematic feel. Where you aware of that when you were working on the songs?
Moyet: Yeah, I think I’ve always kind of desired it. I wanted to make music as a film this time round, as opposed to The Turn, which was almost like music as theatre. And by that, I don’t mean “musical theatre” that people often like to think of it as. As an album that would translate easily from record to stage. With this album, that wasn’t my concern. I wasn’t starting off thinking of, “How am I going to do this live?” It was really wanting to make … It was really wanting to paint a digital picture. That was the cinema I suppose. It’s an album best listened to on headphones.
 
SLUG: I had seen you on a Graham Norton episode recently, and they get delayed a little bit, so I don’t know how long ago this was and if this refreshes your memory—
Moyet: Was that “When I Was Your Girl”?
SLUG: Yes, “When I Was Your Girl.”
Moyet: That would have been April, I think.
SLUG: Yeah, a couple months ago. And so he mentioned and you kind of briefly talked about your giving away your gold records and how—
Moyet: No, I trashed them!
SLUG: Yeah, trashing them, and I had such an appreciation for that!  And then it seems the way it was edited, he goes into those audience interactions, and so it wasn’t really elaborated on. So was that just liberating for you?
Moyet: It was so liberating! I lived in the same house since I was 21. And it was that thing where you first get a bit of money, and the first thing you think you want to do is buy a big fuck-off house. And then, over 30 years, I filled it with toot, toot and more toot, until the point you look at it and say, “I’m actually trapped by possessions.” Do you know what I mean? I’ve been trapped by possessions. And I get no pleasure out of them. I want to leave this house and I want to live in something smaller and I don’t want to really own things. And I had all of these hundreds of gold discs that I thought, “What do these really represent?” this is just like a big stamp you put on your wall to say to anybody who comes to see you, “This is how much money I’ve made.” And they are somebody else’s records, spray-painted gold, and they are not attractive pieces of art! And at the same time, people were kind of a bit shirty with me about saying “why didn’t you give it away to charity?” and I think ’cause there’s something really unhealthy about seeing every aspect of your life as “sellable”—there’s something really unhealthy about seeing yourself as some kind of cartoon, as purely as a product. And that is what I have wanted to get away from. I don’t want to work as a product with a marketplace and with a target audience. I want to make art. And I am beyond delighted—I am beyond joyful when any individual connects with it. It’s an absolute thrill and a delight to me, and I’m not being disingenuous about that, however, I don’t want people’s approval to be my motivation, and I don’t want the trappings of wealth and fame to hang over me like some reminder of what it is I’m supposed to aspire to.
 
SLUG: Sure, absolutely. So that reminds me to ask briefly about working with Guy, and I’ve read several times that you’ve said how happy the recording and writing process was this time. So does that kind of go hand in hand with that parring down, getting rid of those?
Moyet: You know, it does that, too, and also the fact that Guy and I never edited each other. It was like a really interesting thing when it came to melodically, lyrically, song-structure-wise—this was my terrain, and I could take it the way I wanted to. And by the same token, the sound-scaping I didn’t need to want to reel him in, because I was just fascinated by the wonderful things, the beautiful things that he did. And I would bring in a lyric and he would just exclaim over it. So, we just had this kind of mutual lovefest—here was none of this … He was never trying to tell what song I should listen to or what kind of album I should be making. The only thing that we said is that we wanted it to be intelligent, we wanted it to be electronic and we wanted it to be beautiful.
SLUG: Yes and it is! And you accomplished all of those things!
Moyet: And anger can be many things. Anger can be beautiful, anger can be interesting.
 
SLUG: Yes and definitely!  So, in the past, I think of when you worked with Swain and Jolley and maybe even Jimmy Iovine to a degree, did they try to make you sound and phrase a certain way?
Moyet: Well, Jimmy Iovine was quite a hands-off producer anyway. You tend to deal mostly with his engineers. But no, I think any failings in that time, that period, were more to do with my lazinesses than anybody else. That would have been the time where I was still in a kind of shock by the level of the kind of fame I had gotten and didn’t know who I was as an artist yet. I think that’s what happened around that album. Swain and Jolley had been working with acts where they had done more kind of editing, and we wrote all of the songs together and they were pushing me, or Steve Jolley, who I was recording vocals with. He liked me to constantly be singing slightly out of my range. So he led me to kind of do that, and I didn’t resist it because I’m still a new act and still finding out what my voice is doing. I only became aware later on that there was an issue when I wanted to write a song on my own, as I had done in Yazoo, and they were like, “No, we have to write everything together,” when I suddenly realized, “Oh, this is a publishing issue is it?” and I’d never ever thought in those terms before. I’d never thought in terms of who owns what, it was just always if I like it, I’ll sing it.
SLUG: Yes, absolutely because, well, that could be really stifling!
Moyet: That did become stifling because it was a little bit like you are not working with someone just out of the box, you are working with … It was like, “When I started working with you, I did have a Number One album, and half of that material was mine!” And I had personally, on my own, written … “Situation” with Vince. I wrote “Nobody’s Diary” as a stand-alone hit … But with me and Guy, I just think that I was completely free of any desire to want to please somebody. And there is an element sometimes when you are working with a big label that you want to … you know, you don’t always want to be difficult. You want to listen to people, but it takes you a long time to understand them … The assumption is these are older people who’ve been in the industry longer than you, therefore they know better. But they don’t!
SLUG: They don’t!
Moyet: The funny thing about it is sometimes your best received albums are the ones you make out of the box at the beginning, and that’s because no one has any expectations of you and no one is telling you what to make. You are making that from a purely personal, creative standpoint, and that strikes a light. And then, bizarrely, everybody wants to tell you what to do, which is really bizarre, because then you end up compromising. And compromise is always less interesting. Coming back full circle to, really, Hometime and out, I’ve been doing just what I’ve wanted to do.
SLUG: And it shows. They are such brilliant albums!
Moyet: And certainly on the minutes, there was no record label to have to talk to, or to keep merry, or to keep on board ’cause you’re always slightly threatened with that. There’s always someone saying, “If you don’t do this, it will just die,” and so you think, “OK, if I compromise five percent, that means 95 percent has its integrity, and people will get to hear that.” But on this album, there wasn’t a single ounce of compromise.
SLUG: And it absolutely shows!  It really is so brilliant, and all my friends and I can’t stop listening to it!  It’s well deserved—it’s just such a beautiful “start to finish” thing, and that really is rare. You know, you don’t listen to albums—or the generation coming up I guess—sometimes, they don’t even know what an album is. They are just waiting for that “one” song or that one manufactured hit!
Moyet: Well, there’s that and then the other sticking point that I always had in my career was the fact that soon it became said that—and this is not coming from me, I’m just saying what the assumption was—is that “Alison Moyet is a good singer,” therefore, you’re always expected to sing in such a way, and forgive me if I’m repeating myself—because I forget what I’ve said or not—but there’s this assumption that you have to showboat all the time, that you always have to be aggrandizing your vocals. When, sometimes, it is just not about that. There are times when the vocal is almost the least important element of the track. Sometimes there are little songs like “Filigree,” for example, where it’s kind of a nursery-rhyme approach. It’s all about the lyric and the words are more important than “Alison Moyet” trying to prove that she can out-sing somebody else. People miss that point sometimes. And certainly, the younger generation really misses that at the moment, because they are so used to the acrobating of female singers, where everything’s got to be about showboating and jazz hands!
 
SLUG: Well, yeah, absolutely: “Look at me!” and all these stars who have to have that continual “hit.” One of my favorite quotes from you is when you said something like “Lou Reed is a vocalist and Whitney Houston is a singer. I am a vocalist.” Is that accurate? 
Moyet: Well, yes, that’s true, I’m a vocalist. I’m an instrument and I make different noises depending on where you hit me. Therefore ,that’s what I wanna do, and I think that’s something that record labels and—I think my real audience knew it—but record labels and the media in general didn’t understand and a lot of that was my own fault. More than anything, I’m an artist, I’m a musical artist and I want to colour moods and shapes far more than I just want to be a voice box for someone else’s ideas.
SLUG: Yes, or a “pop star,” right?
Moyet: Yeah, or a pop star, which, like I say, was never my ambition. And you know, it was hard for me when I was this kind of odd girl coming up through punk and through art house and stuff like that to find myself in this very mainstream arena. Initially, it didn’t bother me, because it was just another exercise—it was just another project. It’s when, naïvely, I thought that I would be able to hop out of it as readily as I’d hopped into it—my problem is because I’ve always been far more of a participator than a consumer. From a young age, I never had any money. I didn’t really have a record player—I’ve always played in bands more than bought records, and I never followed other people’s careers. I didn’t look at their trajectories or see how it went for other people, so I was oblivious and naïve, you know? And I didn’t understand that there were a kind of crossroads in music.
 
SLUG: Yes, but I think you’ve taken the right path. I have an appreciation for artists that take their time. Kate Bush comes to mind, as an example, where you can take your time and make a recording and make it the way you want it to sound. Is that a lovely place to be?
Moyet: It is a lovely place to be. I mean, sometimes it can be very difficult if you’re not one of those kind of hallowed artists that people will always give you a listen … I know that I’ve made records that the assumption is “Alison Moyet—she’s a jazz singer: I’m not even going to listen to it!” You know this “jazz singer” tag that I got from singing, from having a hit from one song, which—you have to remember when I did “That Ole Devil…” it really was less of a “move” because blues and jazz were not stocked in all the record shops. No one was playing it on the radio, no one was selling it—there was not a marketplace for it. When I released that record, and it sold millions, suddenly, the record label’s going “Oh my God!  There’s a marketplace for this!” They then bring out the “real” thing, which shits all over mine … it’s much better [now] … make no two ways about it! But the point is that then it looks like what I’ve done is done a “safe” cover to fit in with a very safe middle-of-the-road marketplace. 
SLUG: Which is not what it was at all!
Moyet: No! The reason why I didn’t let them pull another single off the Alf album is because we’d already released four singles—we’d sold millions of copies … All of my fans were being completionists and wanted to buy, and I didn’t want to take the piss anymore. Enough!  You’ve sold them the same thing enough times. If you want to put another single out, let’s do something that is not on the album—that’s not going to benefit me or anything, but it’s just going to be a little odd move. And isn’t it odd that “Alf,” the old punk, sings a bit of Billie Holiday?!  But you know that that ended up biting me on the bum!
 
SLUG: In hindsight! You're touring the UK in October, I think? I’m sure there is desire to come to the State—is there any evidence of plans?
Moyet: Yes, we’re so close to sorting out the details … just getting the dates in place, the “routing.” But we’re planning on coming out, and the hope is to do three or four key shows … just to come out and show what I’ve got. But, I mean, touring if my favorite thing, and I would tour there in a flash!
 
SLUG: Yes, I think most of the artists that I respect the most say that the audience connection you get from performing live is unsurpassable. 
Moyet: It is unsurpassable! Also, for me as a singer, it’s an interesting thing because, making this last album, I worked with an engineer also called Chris Elms, who has given me the best monitor sound for studio singing that I’ve ever had. One of the problems I’d had in studio singing was that I can create…my range is so dynamic, that it can go from really low to really full-on loud … but that I’d been restricted on how loud I could sing in the studio because I would be constantly blowing my own ears off. And then, if you turn yourself down a mark and I know you can use compression and stuff, but we never ever got the balance right. And so, I would invariably be holding back a little bit. But with live, you can control that so much better. I feel that I’m a better live singer than I am a studio singer!
 
 
And just as I respond, sadly, the interview must come to an end, as our time is up. As we say goodbye—which is just as sincere and lovely as the preceding interview—I am elated by not only getting to speak at length with one of my musical idols, but to gain so much insight into the industry, her creative processes and intimate details about her new album. Alison Moyet remains one of the true great artistes. 
 
the minutes is out now on Metroplis Records.
Photos:
Alison Moyet has recently released her latest album, the minutes. Photo: Tom Martin Of Yazoo/Yaz fame, Alison Moyet has implemented some strong electronica elements in her new album, the minutes. Photo: Tom Martin Alison Moyet made no compromises in creating and producing her latest effort, the minutes. Photo: Tom Martin Alison Moyet uses her voice as an instrument, emphasizing phonetics in her artistry. Photo: Tom Martin