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Date Spring 2004
Type Mag
Source Escape
Title The girl with the golden voice
Country UK
Journalist/Photographer Pat Reid/ Joe Dillworth, Polly Borland
Pix         
Text With two critically-acclaimed albums to their name, Bath-based duo Goldfrapp have just beennominated for a Brit Award. in an Escape exclusive Pat Reid talks to vocalust Alison Goldfrapp.

There's something about the Wessex region that seems to produce great female musicians. There's the innovative genius Kate Bush, the openwound songwriting of PJ Harvey, the rawthroated earthiness of ex-Catatonia frontwoman Cerys Matthews and the pure soul of any number of Massive Attack's guest vocalists. Even Fame Academy winner Alex Parks has an emotional depth rarely seen on TV talent shows...
But arguably the most talented woman currently working in British music is the enigmatic Alison Goldfrapp, who lends her surname to the musical partnership she shares with the aqually-mysterious Will Gregory. Their debut album, Felt Mountain (2000) sold a million copies worlwide. last year's follow-up, Black Cherry, has been certified gold in the UK, and Golsfrapp have been nominated for a Brit Award. Confusingly, their nomination is the Best Dance Music category, which neatly underlines how difficult it is to categorise this unique band.
Alison Goldfrapp rarely gives interviews, but chatting to Escape she proves every bit as intriguing and mercurial as her music. Naturally, we find ourselves talking about the West Country connection...
'I always seem to have worked in Bristol and spent a lot of time there", she says. "I just semed to connect with those people and that sound. From working with Triky I met various people in Bristol that I've remained good friends with. That's how I met Will, when someone played him something I'd been writing. And , of course, Will lived in Bath already,. I've always lived in London but I've just bought a place in Bath, actually, which is quite strange for me. I'm a bit of a londoner at heart, although I adore countryside."
According to myth, the Goldfrapp sound was crafted in a Wiltshire bungalow. Alison obligingly sets the scene for us...
"It was this crusty, nasty old bungalow", she says with an audible shudder. "Near Colerne, opposite the airfield. It had a fantastic view even though the house was absolutely disgusting. I lived there most of the time as well. It had an old atmosphere and I liked it on that basis, but the actual reality of it was pretty horrible. It's all military around there and at midnight we'd hear these strange rumbies round the valley. Sometimes we'd be working in the studio and the roof would start shaking ! It was quite spooky. The house hadn't been redecorated since the 50's and we couldn't go into two of the rooms because they were so weird. The carpets were moth-eaten and there were mice in the roof. Horrible !"
Not a pretty picture. But why put up with such sualid surroundings ?
"I've always gone wherever the work is," Alison replies. "And if I have to sacrifice something, so be it. And this was our first album, a huge thing for me. I'd waited all my life for this, so I was prepared to do anything. I was quite lonely there but it was inspirational to wake up to badgers or go out for a walk."
"And," she says with a laugh, "you could make loads of noise because there was nobody around."
After the success of Felt Mountain, the duo abandoned the bungalow of doom and headed into the comparatively urban environs of Bath to record their second album, holding up in a studio on the bohemian thoroughfare of Walcot street.
"That was depressing in a different way," recalls Alison. "We didn't have any windows and it was dark, damp and dismal. I was drawing on the walls and putting up newspaper articles that interested and inspired me. There was no view so we had to make this environment."
And this was after they'd sold hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of records. Most other artists would have headed for Hollywood to record album number two...
"We thought we'd just stay there for a little bit," laughs Alison. "And then go somewhere more luxurious - maybe somewhere with a window ! It took us a long time to get back into writing and when we did we were scraed to stop, so we stayed there, beavering away.
"I have worked in flash studios. I went once to a chateau in the south of France and it was gorgeous, but you never did any work. And I've heard lots of stories of people going to LA and thinking they're the best thing since sliced bread... and then it all goes horribly wrong. So I quite like scuzzy old bungalows and knackered studios personally."
Their recording environement may have been unglamorous, but it gave the duo a second album which sounded so completely removed from their first offering that it could have been the work of a completely different band.
"That was our intention," Alison says emphatically. "We wanted to explore more rhythm and a more physical sound than a cerebral one. We toured Felt Mountain for a long time without having done any more writing, so we only had nine songs and we had to play every single one of them. I found that claustrophobic, and I longed to have something much more rhythmic. That's what I love about music - having contrasts and moods and pace and rhythms. That's what it's all about."
Recordings aside, Goldfrapp have also developed into a great live band, as anyone will testify who witnesses their show-stealing performance at Massive Attack's all-day event last summer. Twenty-five thousand people crammed into Queen's Square in Bristol to see a bill which included The Bees, The Streets and the mighty Massive Attack themselves. For many, however, it was Goldfrapp who made the strongest impression that day.
"We've got more and more into the live thing," Alison affirms "I still get nervous but we've got more relaxed with knowing how we want to play and having more fun with it. You can rehearse until kingdom come but you have to get out there and gig, and that's when the songs start taking on their own life".
With Goldfrapp, though, there's a lot more going on than just gigs and recording. Musical and lyrical ideas collide, and Alison, who has a degree in Fine Art, lets her visual imagination run riot in the band's artwork and promotional videos.
"The visual side and the music are part of the same thing," she argues. "Music has a narrative and therefore it has an image and they're all part of a world that you create. You have to be like a mad person when you write, like a visual mathematician trying to work out a puzzle. You have to keep reminding yourself that there are no rules."
For as long as she can remember Alison Goldfrapp has been able to sing. Her musical epiphany came when, as a child, she found herself profounddly moved by a recording of classical music played to her by her father. Singing duly became the one area at school in which she excelled.
"It was this place where where I could go and become excited," she recalls. "Something was happening, I didn't know what it was, but..."
Alison grew up in Hampshire, leaving home at 15 and heading to London soon after. Bath has become her preferred workplace, though, and her favourite West Country haunts include the countryside around Colerne and Marshville. Felt Mountain's inner-sleeve portrait of her was taken in the atmospheric woods near the village of St Catherine's. "I'm still getting my head round Bath," she laughs. "To be honest, it's a bit posh to someone who's lived in Finsbury Park for 15 years !"

 
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