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Date Feb 28
Type Interview
Source The Sunday Times
Title Alison Goldfrapp walks alone
Country UK
Journalist/Photographer
Text Her style has spawned many imitators, but the fortysomething superstar hates being pigeonholed for her music or her sexuality

I meet Alison Goldfrapp at Soho House the morning after the Brit Awards. She is fresh-faced, wearing a vintage silk shirt with a zebra galloping across it, but I never once see her eyes, as she keeps a pair of classic Ray-Bans perched on her delicate little nose throughout. At 43, she has sparrow-like dimensions and a flurry of blonde curls, but when she roars, she has a delicious negativity that you can almost feel her attempting to reign in. So, did she watch the awards last night? “Absolutely not!” she exclaims. “I am not in the slightest bit interested in watching it or any other awards ceremony. They are all random. That one is about cash, and how much cash you can make, and lots of people sitting around patting themselves on the back for making cash.”

Dismissing the entire music industry in three easy sentences? Just another day at the office for Ms Goldfrapp. With the unusual combination of a convent education set against a bohemian Hampshire upbringing, Goldfrapp was always going to push the boundaries. She famously rounded off her degree show in fine art with a performance that combined yodelling with milking a cow. A spell as a collaborator with Bristol’s favourite dystopian, Tricky, and guest spots with the balding rave nerds Orbital were her greatest musical accomplishments of the 1990s. But then she hooked up with her long-term collaborator in Goldfrapp (also the name of her band), Will Gregory. She says that for the entire writing process behind making a record, it is just the two of them in the studio. No engineer. No tea boy. “We make our own bloody tea, thank you very much.”

The band were then signed by Mute Records’ Daniel Miller (“One of the only men in the industry whose opinion you actually want to hear. The rest you want as far away as possible from what you do”) and, owing to the dream-like, filmic texture of their first record, Felt Mountain, Goldfrapp were mistakenly dumped in the then voguish chillout camp. Perhaps marked by this early cataloguing carelessness, one of Alison Goldfrapp’s pet hates is piped music. When she toured her most recent album, she says she would look in the lobbies of hotels for the wires to the sound systems, because she wanted to cut them.

Throughout the course of their records, they have engaged with vintage European electronics, glam-rock, pastoral acoustics and 3am mirrorball classics, without ever losing the central flavour of what it is to be Goldfrapp — which is, eminently danceable, sexually brooding pop of the highest order: the kind Madonna would probably make if she could just stop being so high-achieving.

So, after a decade in the record industry, it seems musical times are in danger of catching up with Goldfrapp. There are mini-Frapps everywhere, standing moodily by their synthesizers in some distinct, eye-catching plumage. From the Madonna-ish steel of Gaga through the brazenly retro La Roux to the almost “Tonight, Matthew…” tribute acts Little Boots and Ellie Goulding, Alison Goldfrapp’s accidental spawn have cut a swathe right across culture.

One cannot help but wonder if she would rather be operating on a more even playing field in the record industry, 20 years younger. “No. I feel for all the new young ladies that are around at the moment. They are probably having their arses worked off because they’re young and hungry. I’m sure that record companies think of them as more malleable, and I think that’s really tough for them. That stuff really takes its toll on you, very quickly. You can’t be creative when you’re being shoved around from pillar to post all over the planet, and then, when things stop, just be expected to turn out another album. You learn your tolerance levels of how much stuff you can and can’t do with age. It is a lesson you have to learn.”

Goldfrapp’s fifth record, a concise nine-song set by the name of Head First, opens with a suite of three tracks that are the most transparently pop of her career. It feels as if she has turned in her straightest pop record, ironically at a time when she is at her least straight. “Who started off straight? I didn’t start off straight. That’s someone else’s perception, not mine.” She is now going out with the film editor Lisa Gunning, but looks aghast when I ask if she is now a lesbian.

“What? Am I saying that? I feel like I’m in an amateur therapy session. No, I am not. I think of everything as being about a person and a relationship, and I am in a wonderful relationship with a wonderful person. It just happens to be with a lady. I’ve had some wonderful relationships with men, too. I mean, I’ve had some shit ones — haven’t we all? But no, it’s a relationship with a person and that’s how I see my sexuality. It’s something I’ve thought about for a long time and it concurs with my philosophy on life and sexuality. I don’t think it can or should be pigeonholed. I’ve thought about this since I was a teenager. I’ve always found it claustrophobic to think about having to put things into categories like that. My sexuality is the same as my music and my life. Why does it need a label?”

Unlike music, surely there is a political impulse behind homosexuality, though, whe­ther you like it or not. “Of course, and I appreciate that. Maybe I’m lucky in that I haven’t had to face it as much as someone who feels that they are definitely in one camp. Maybe that’s the difference.”

Of course, the point with Alison Goldfrapp is that she doesn’t need to be 20 years younger to compete with the peers she accidentally gave voice to. There is always something of the impetuous teen about her. She looks utterly delighted when I note that the lyrics of Head First have the openness of a teenager in love. “I had my faith restored in youth and rebellion quite recently, actually,” she says, “with that story about the squat party in Mayfair. I just thought, we used to do that shit all the time. I was quite relieved by it in a way. Obviously, you don’t want people to get hurt or messed up, but I loved the fact that they were just having a party. And that they had ruined Park Lane. I mean, brilliant, no? It made me laugh. I found it almost heart-warming. I got quite nostalgic for a moment.”

 
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