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Date February 18
Type Interview
Source Clash magazine
Title Alison Goldfrapp scowls.
Country UK
Journalist/Photographer Kat Lister
Text Alison Goldfrapp scowls. She drinks. Pouts against a backdrop of red lipstick and kohl eyeliner. Totters in sparkling four inch heels. She simmers like a perfectly perfected film noir seductress on a filthy disco dance-floor. At least, that's the tagline. Alison Goldfrapp on a Tuesday afternoon, in a members club in Soho, is none of these things. Or perhaps she is all of them...

Photo shoot alter egos seem irrelevant as she sits coquettishly in a vacant upstairs meeting room, huddled away from the manic hustle and bustle of Soho Street. The large conference-style table seems to defend the patiently waiting singer like a breezeblock barrier away from the rest of the world. A barrier against the clutches of preconceptions and misguided stereotype. Gone are the gin 'n' tonics and one-liners. And there's not a single sequin in sight.

Reaching across for a bottle of mineral water and appearing comfortably at home amongst the dusty hardback books, ceremonially decorating the back wall, Alison glances down and tugs a little at her perfectly everyday jeans and cardigan before slowly venturing, "I think often people are really disappointed when they see me - that I haven't come out of the salon and I'm not stomping around with a whip in my hand. Usually they jump back in horror," she whispers. "I remember going to an after show party after a gig in New York and this guy came up to me and said [cue faux-camp-Americana-shrill] 'Oh my god! You're so short you're deformed!'" Laughing at the ridiculousness of outside judgements, a brief falter in her story opens up like a large crack in the floor. Into which, the Moulin Rouge dancing girls with feather head-pieces fall in with a swish of a feather bower and a cancan kick. But not for long... "I put my heels on quickly after that.." she finally adds sheepishly.

Preconceptions can be an awkward label to peel off, yet Goldfrapp are defined by their ability to shape shift at the speed of knots. It has been two years since the unified partnership of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory released their infectious disco-diva glam-rock odyssey in the form of 'Supernature'; eight years in fact, since the pair formed and signed to London based record label Mute Records. What has transpired between these two points have been nothing short of a whirlwind musical-romance for both, encapsulating every thinkable genre and sparking both chart and critical attention, left right and centre.

Does it feel good to be back? "Yeah..." Alison asserts, with just a hint of uncertainty. As she mulls over their anticipated return, the face comically contorts as she sucks a sweet, swapping the confectionary from cheek to cheek. "Sorry..." she apologises, before continuing. "...and good to be back with something totally different as well. I think it felt necessary..." pausing for a moment, "and right."

Keeping the fans on their toes is something Goldfrapp does with gusto - and rightly so. Yet along with the desire to keep evolving comes the inevitable backlash when the music and image refuse to give in to mass expectation. Touching on the journey they have individually forged since 2000's 'Felt Mountain', the weight of fans' demands illustrate just how steadfast Goldfrapp have been in their vow to always keep evolving, whatever the cost. "We did 'Felt Mountain' and some people were really aggressive about how we were doing something completely different. They really were like 'how dare you!' and 'why didn't you do another 'Felt Mountain'?" And it was like, we couldn't do another 'Felt Mountain' - it would be impossible. We've always had the attitude that we want to try out new things and move on and that's what makes it exciting for us." Goldfrapp's debut proved an intense introduction to what was to follow, with every microcosm sound and beat encapsulating something. "The music was quite intense," Alison admits, "in the same way that 'Supernature' was relentless; 'Felt Mountain' was relentless in its every little ting and ping. There were moments when we were doing it that I just longed for some drummer to go 'doof doof doof."

Enter 2003's follow up 'Black Cherry', which simultaneously cracked open the internalisation of their last venture and synth-rocked the funk out of T-Rex inspired disco-beats. At the centre of their electro-dance comeback was the new wave diva herself; a veritable Marlene Dietrich adorned in false eyelashes, clad in suggestive fishnet stockings and provocatively straddling the stage with a sexualised performance that stuck a finger up to her critics.

Better still, 2004's 'Wonderful Electric Tour' saw Alison gently stroking a Theramin at the beginning of each performance before aggressively thrusting it between her legs. Stage performances like these have graced many a rock stage by the likes of Led Zeppelin, yet this one act courted media controversy and criticism. The contradictions weren't lost on Ms Goldfrapp who darted at the time, "Well, Jimi Hendrix played his guitar like it was an extension of his cock, didn't he?" Reminded of this very quote merely two years later and the one liner is met with a knowing smile. Is there still a discrepancy between the sexes when it comes to artistic expression these days, or are the days of courting a furore within the media over a simple (yet highly effective) Theremin well and truly over? "It's a difficult one, isn't it?" Alison muses. "You create an image for yourself, and that's fine, but there's a lot of other things too. It's a fucking complex thing."

Addressing the rise of celebrity gossip magazines and the parallels come to life. "And now every magazine that you read is about 'are you too fat?', looking in magazines and feeling like women are judged even more so now about their appearance. And it's really depressing." Anxiety over image is hardly a new thing and for many, maybe the inner workings of Now magazine bear no relation to the music, but in exploring her own thoughts on the subject, Alison turns to her contemporaries. "l mean, Jesus," she exclaims, wide-eyed and heartfelt, "it must be really difficult being Amy Winehouse. I don't envy her position, or Beth Ditto even. I mean, I'm a big fan of hers, but even that to a certain degree makes me feel like: do you have to be an extreme if you're female to get attention? To get into NME you either have to be Beth Ditto or the Pussycat Dolls or something. Where's the medium?"

Existing as one of a handful of critically acclaimed female artists (amongst a select canon which includes PJ Harvey and Bjork), Alison herself has experienced the sharp edge of the critic's pen. "Not so much in this country, but in... France," she mimes flirtatiously. "I think if you're a boy/girl duo, immediate assumptions are made: that I just come in once Will's written a whole composition and go "ooh la la la" and go home. You do have to drum it in to people that that's not the case."

But then again, the electro-disco diva is not one to explain herself to anyone: let alone the media. Despite a reputation for giving as good as she gets, the singer simmers underneath a film of (blink and you'll miss it) insecurity as she admits "I'm quite shy" before suggesting "I mean, I'm very bad at talking" (a statement which proves to be utter fiction as she expresses herself articulately and expressively throughout the 60 minute interview.) Perhaps the harshest critic of Alison Goldfrapp is... Alison Goldfrapp. "I'm so not sure of myself. Something definitely takes over when you're on stage. People have complained in the past that I don't say anything between songs - that I'm being really standoffish and not communicating. It's more that I just..." she falters, "Fucking hell, what can I say?"

The sequin-clad purveyor of dirty beats and drawling vocals may take full-reign of the stage, but in the awkward light of day, the lipstick comes off and reality sets in. "I mean, I do dress up sometimes when I'm going out," she insists, "but if I'm walking down the street, I want to observe, I don't want to be observed, I don't want that kind of attention." For someone so shy and abhorrent of outside attention, surely the act of performance is utterly terrifying? "It IS fucking terrifying!" Alison exclaims, jumping out of her seat. "Before I go on stage I think, 'oh for fuck's sake, what am I doing? Why am I putting myself through this pain?' But when you're out there and you're doing the music, it's the music that takes over."

The music is certainly set to take over once again with fourth record 'Seventh Tree': a dramatic departure from any of their previous work, basking in the hazy English light of an opium-induced daydream reverie. Robots are swapped for flowing brooks and a foreboding sense of the gothic. Gone are the disco beats, whip cracking erotica, glitter balls and tassels. Firmly in its place is a dreamlike and ethereal ode to the haunting landscapes of Scott Walker and Nick Drake, swaying to the rhythms of Coleridge's 'Rime of the Ancient Mariner.' Oh, and there's a tree...

"I had a dream," she mocks-whimsically. "I had a dream about a tree." Pushed further to describe the tree that has now come to mark Goldfrapp's return and unconscious imagination comes to the fore. "It was like a huge oak tree with white bark and the sun was shining through, but it had these branches waving a bit like weeds do when they're underwater, It was a very beautiful tree surrounded by a wall and it just said "seven" on it."

As Alison weaves a Millais canvas, the concept of "soul" is brought to the table. "It's got a bit more humanness to it," she compromises. "The whole aesthetic to 'Supernature' was robotic - still worldly but much harder. Maybe this one is softer and probably a lot more personal." Looking up from under her dark blonds curls, the eyes are rolled comically. "Well, it definitely is..."

As the string landscape swirls and the piano sensually whispers its own balladry, the record certainly sounds at peace with itself. "Well, I didn't always feel at peace with myself," laughter ruminates, "I never know if I'm at peace with myself. But yes, I definitely had moments of that and I wanted to express that. There were a lot of things going on in my life personally that were kind of.. you know..." she trails off, looking up as the unfinished sentence goes unchallenged...

A sense of peace is definitively weaved by Alison's vocals, which shape shift throughout the record, experimenting in tone as well as pitch. "I like playing around with different keys and textures. It's just trying to find different ways of expressing an atmosphere and a feeling. And the voice is an instrument after all. It's there to be explored."

And explore it she does, lamenting French remorse akin to Edith Piaf in 'Eat Yourself' and smouldering it to a newfound folk pitch in (personal favourite of Alison's) 'Clowns', as she emulates the calming croon on Vashti Bunyan over awe-inspiring John Barry strings. It's a wildly adventurous track that may steal a few hearts, as well as challenge previous conceptions of what her voice can actually achieve. "Sometimes I think, 'God, people think I'm totally schizo. Who am I on this song?' But I get over that pretty quickly - I just think, that was the way it was and trying to make it do something else would be more unreal or false if you like."

Of course, European cabaret is never far away from Goldfrapp's identity, as tracks such as 'Cologne Cerrone Houdini' bathe in the dark humour that so expertly defines Goldfrapp.

What may come as a surprise to fans on 'Seventh Tree' is the duo's exploration of psychedelia... despite any confusion of what that term means in actuality. "We talked a lot about psychedelia, although neither of us actually knew what it actually was. For us, it was this word that described some kind of atmosphere, some kind of dreamy, surreal, hypnotic feeling." Taking their curiosity to task, both tracks 'Happiness' and 'Little Bird' delve and paddle in the English waters of early Pink Floyd and, more prominently, The Beatles (the former taking on a decidedly 'Sgt Pepper' feel, whereas the latter transcends a thoroughly 'White Album' sensibility.)

As James Bond visionary John Barry's name gets passed around, the term 'cinema' makes a prominent appearance. Having impacted every single record Goldfrapp has made, its imprint is strongly felt on their fourth outing. "Yeah, we talked a lot about films," Alison explains. "Those 70s American films that had that kind of bleak optimism. Beautiful but underlying - something's not right. Sunny, hazy, dappled, slightly hippy... and things like The Wicker Man: very British melancholic. And I think there's quite a lot of humour in there."

As a cinematic entity, 'Seventh Tree' is a thoroughly English affair. And of course, the theatrical sweep that encapsulates Goldfrapp is never too far away. "It's funny," Alison chats, "I went to see this gig on Saturday - they were all standing there in their jeans and shirts, and that's fine, but it wouldn't be me if I did that. I don't think I could settle for that. Somehow it would be keeping something back." The technicolour world of the avant-garde has transported their fans on a whistle stop tour over the years, seeped in Eastern European eccentricity: a bowler hat-clad cabaret-fest for the green English fields of Glastonbury, if you will. Throughout their career, theatrics has never been something that Alison and Will have ever skimped or saved on. Looking back to their 2004 Glastonbury set and live performance doesn't get more Las Vegas than a flurry of bikini babes in deer heads disco dancing as Alison (herself clad in tight black leotard and thigh high boots, with a horse tail provocatively at the ready) smoulders to 'Black Cherry' hit 'Train' on stage. "I think colours and textures and all those things add another expression of that sound," she muses. "It's not about fashion. It's drama. It's theatrical. It's all a part of the same world - I can't separate them really."

But is there any pressure that fans may be expecting another electro-pop affair in the vein of 2003's 'Black Cherry' or even 2005's 'Supernature'? "Hmmm, yeah..." Alison ponders fearfully. "Well, it's funny because I wrote a message on our message board just to say hi to everybody, we've finally finished the album and some of you might be a little.. alarmed," she chuckles. "And I'm sure they will be when they hear it. In the same way that every album that you make, someone's going to be disappointed." Certainly, finding yourself locked in a 1960's bungalow in Bath with just a lone voice and an acoustic guitar is enough to panic the most confident of artists. "There were times when we were writing it and we thought, 'oh my God'. We did think, 'what the fuck are we doing?' We've never used acoustic guitars before. But it was fun."

Now with the time ripe for 'Seventh Tree', thoughts now turn to its timely release. "I really like that moment when you finish it and it becomes everybody else's property," she enthuses. "I like that feeling. You let go of it - which is the whole point of it. You've done your bit. Now it's for everyone else to take it on..." The sentence falls prey to a faltering lilt as excitement lets in just a familiar flicker of uncertainty. And with that very same flicker, the four-inch party heels come off. The red lip-stick smudges. "If they do..." she adds with bated breath...

 
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