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Date September 5 2003
Type Interview
Source Vibewire
Title Not just a pretty face
Country Australia
Journalist/Photographer Sheila Pham
Text Since its release, the songs from Felt Mountain have been the haunting soundtrack to many introspective nights spent alone, and an aural backdrop for bars and lounges across the world.

I met one of its creators, Alison Goldfrapp, when she was here recently. In her natural state she seems so ordinary somehow, in comparison to her larger-than-life stage persona. Goldfrapp always has killer boots, and is glammed up to the nines. Alison is casual but chic - untamed hair, rock-star shades, a seamless New York Dolls tee. She sits at a table outside the hotel foyer, at ease with the world. It's a perfect sunny day after all. I approach her gingerly, feeling as nervous as all hell. I read somewhere that morning that apparently she isn't very nice to people like me; people who ask too many questions and expect replies.

The man sitting on her left is her manager. He's usually there with her during interviews, I learn. He even joins in the conversation at the start, saying the word "defecate" in response to a question I ask (there's a good reason for it, but too beside the point to get into here).

I can tell straight off that Alison is as tough as nails and a strong-minded individual - perhaps she's gotten a bad rep with journalists because she's not afraid of saying what she thinks. She's aloof but to my relief, also quite pleasant, and I suspect that lurking beneath that cool-as-ice demeanour is a wicked sense of humour.

Goldfrapp, as she is known professionally, carves out soundscapes along with the other half of Goldfrapp, Will Gregory. Felt Mountain, their auspicious debut, shifted units globally, and they quickly became a force to be reckoned with in the new century. Comparisons to Ennio Morricone are valid, and he's acknowledged as an influence. The music they create is experimental, almost otherworldly with Goldfrapp's heady, acrobatic vocals atop atmospheric, cinematic instrumentation. One only needs to listen to the first thirty seconds of opening track 'Lovely Head' to be sucked in completely - the beguiling whistling leads you to deep, still waters.

"My dad used to always whistle. It seems to be one of those things that people in older generations seem to do much more of. You don't really hear people whistling now. You used to hear the bus driver whistle, as well as the old boy down the shop. I used to watch my dad working and he used to always whistle. And I'd just sit there and watch him, I guess. I think I just copied all these people."

Though there are elements of the first album present on their disco-fuelled follow-up, Black Cherry, there's no bewitching whistling or middle European sensibility here. The tunes are pulsating, alive and sexy with just a touch of darkness and German electronica. The change of tack surprised many people. But Goldfrapp sees this album as a natural progression of their artistry.

"I think we deliberately avoided using rhythm on the first album. I'd worked a lot with people where the rhythm was the whole basis of everything and you started from that point. So I wanted to go completely the opposite way and start with melody and atmosphere. And touring Felt Mountain for a year and a half - I sort of found that quite claustrophobic.

We're creative people and we're musicians - therefore it's about trying out things, trying to find as many ways to express what you want to express and having fun with it. I'm really not into genres and sticking to a formula. I'm not interested. I want to try out new things and new instruments and new sounds and that's the whole point of it really. It's being excited about something. I think it's really important to feel that you're changing yourself.

I think you make your own rules and then you break your own rules. I wanted to go backwards again and introduce rhythm and let that be the main thing. It's so nice to play something that's much more up - and then coming back right down to something small and delicate. I really love that contrast, it's much more interesting and dramatic. And especially live - I think if we made another slow quite intense record, I think I would have gone mad," she laughs.

Black Cherry is still intense in its own way, despite picking up the pace. There's less of the surround sound quality, but it's arguably a more diverse record on the whole - whether or not that's a good thing is arguable. I tend to lean towards their debut because of my penchant for melancholic music but there are definitely some high points on the new one, such as 'Crystalline Green' and 'Black Cherry'. It's a really solid effort, and the songs sound magnificent live. The material from both albums meld together seamlessly during her set later that night. As she said, the contrast between them is dramatic, not to mention powerful.

The artwork for Black Cherry is intriguing - some people probably hate it, and think it's tacky. As one music critic said, "it looks like a five year old was let loose on a fashion magazine with a pair of scissors" (or words to that effect). What was the idea behind the collage-style?

"Well, there's lot of ideas really. I really like collage, it was something that I was doing when I was in the studio. Just cutting up things and making images. I like doing things like that while I'm writing. And that's what collage is about - it?s about instantly making things out of other things - hybrids."

So that at least explains why she's juxtaposed with a wolf on the front cover, and inside, two female figures in black dresses with visible garters have wolf heads. (Not to mention the wolf motif throughout.)

"I suppose I've always been interested in the idea of metamorphosis and humans wanting to be like animals and animals wanting to be like humans. It's an age-old obsession - the symbolism of animals, what they represent to us in our lives. Wolves have representations to us about strength, mysticism, and power...all kinds of things.

I think to humans, animals represent freedom and wildness and humans have always wanted to have a longing for that kind of feeling. It's in art and history and literature and it's something that we've done since the world began."
Over the last few years, Goldfrapp has also done a few DJ sets around Europe. But she doesn't take it the least bit seriously. "Oh God, DJing is just a bit of fun, there's absolutely no comparison to writing your own music. I mean, I put a record on and when it finishes I put another one on. It's that simple really. I don't mix. I'm sure there are lots of DJs who consider what they do as making music but I still don't buy that. I'm sorry but you're still putting someone else's music on."

Given that DJing is such a male-dominated field, I asked her whether her gender has ever come up as an issue.
"It's never come up. It's come up more being a singer and trying to succeed in the music business. That's definitely something that's come up. But I think it doesn't matter what you do really - you always come up against blokes who somehow think that you don't know as much as they do, or blokes who don't like a pretty face having something to say. I mean that still goes on quite a lot. From taxi drivers to engineers...that's just the world," she laughs.

 
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