With its black sand and dazzling skies, Fuerteventura – a volcanic island in the Canary Islands, off the coast of Africa – embraces the dualities, complexities, and contradictions of Goldfrapp’s new album Silver Eye: alone and together, other and self, relationships, distance, androgyny, beauty, and anxiety. In the video for lead single “Anymore”, Goldfrapp and a set of dancers inhabit Fuerteventura’s almost alien black beach, as the song’s minimalist yet inescapable hook sinks in.
Silver Eye sees Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory once again act as the essentially self-sufficient core of the music, writing, producing, even creating its visual component. But, in Goldfrapp’s 17th year making music, the duo also brought in a stellar list of collaborators, including producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, Wild Beasts), electronic composer Bobby Krlic (aka the Haxan Cloak), Brian Eno collaborator and guitarist Leo Abrahams, and mixing engineer David Wrench (The xx, FKA twigs).
We sat down with Goldfrapp to discuss this stunning new video, the album which it ties to, baby camels, embracing darkness, and more.
I can only imagine that the break you took after your last album Tales of Us in 2013 was a good step for you. You spent some time away producing the music for a play at the National Theatre, and took more photographs too?
Goldfrapp: Yeah! I didn’t really take any time away, it was more that the things I did took time. We were doing some music for a play, and that was quite a big chunk of time, so when we got into the studio after that it took time to get into what we were doing. It’s a process that involves creating, and then eliminating things, throwing things away, and starting again. It does take a while, especially when we produce and write everything ourselves. But we did have some really great people working with us on this one, which is a new thing for us.
Yes, you’re quite self-sufficient – you produce, write lyrics, cover the visual aspect of Goldfrapp – but now you’re bringing in collaborators like the Haxan Cloak and John Congleton. Do you find that a part of you needs to be fully autonomous before you can get the confidence to bring someone else into the process?
Goldfrapp: That’s an interesting point. It’s important to feel like, ‘Okay, well, this is what we’re doing but wouldn’t it be great if we had someone come in and help us do some things?’ On one hand, you need to be open-minded and generous because you’re letting someone come into your world, otherwise it’s not going to work. The whole point of collaborating is to listen to them and let them do their thing. But yes, at the same time you do have to feel like you’re in a good place, if you don’t really know what you’re doing you can end up sort of swinging anywhere. I love the energy of someone else’s head, to add a different colour in the mix of things.
“You just have to keep working – sitting around and waiting for inspiration is a myth” – Alison Goldfrapp
Did you know this was the record that was going to come out of you?
Goldfrapp: It’s funny, it was quite difficult in the beginning actually. That thing happened where you’ve got ideas about what you want to do, but you don’t want to repeat yourself, you want to echo the things that you’ve done before. For me, when I get halfway through that’s when I sort of know what’s happening, and that’s quite exciting because I feel more grounded.
Do you feel like you’ve become more focused on your vocal because you’ve gone more into a predominantly electronic realm?
Goldfrapp: It’s interesting, though, isn’t it, because I spent so much time on the music and crafting it, that sometimes I feel like I didn’t really spend much time on the vocals at all, really. It just requires delicate hands and ears to make that all balance and work together. The voice changes, as you get older, as well. My voice has definitely changed!
What has it done?
Goldfrapp: It’s dropped! I’ve always had quite a big vocal range, but for instance, the operatic note that I hit at the beginning of ‘Utopia’, which is on my first album – I just can’t sing that operatic bit anymore unfortunately. But then I feel like my lower range feels much stronger.
Oh, yeah! Especially on ‘Beast That Never Was’, where you repeat ‘Keep something back,’ your voice is definitely like, ‘Okay, Alison is here.’
Goldfrapp: That was very spontaneous, actually. That was just jamming in the room with Leo (Abrahams), who was playing all these sort of sounds, and I just kept saying that line. It was quite weird. It’s slightly alarming when things like that happen, because you’re just like, ‘What does that mean? Why am I saying that?’
As if you’re possessed!
Goldfrapp: Those little moments are worth preserving too; there must be some kind of reason that they happen, something just deep within your psyche. The same thing happened with ‘Ocean’, the whole bit at the beginning just came out. I remember very vividly turning up to the studio; I was in a really bad mood that day, upset because of some personal things that were happening. I do like the element of spontaneity and trying to preserve it. It’s a bit like taking a photograph, you’re trying to record just a moment.
“I always think, ‘God I wish I could shave my head.’ There’s something really liberating about it, and I always fantasise about doing it, but I haven’t quite gotten the nerve” – Alison Goldfrapp
Even being a photographer, it forces you into a moment. You have so much to say in such a short amount of time and that plays to the intensity of what comes out. What allows you to be real in your own art?
Goldfrapp: You just have to keep working – sitting around and waiting for inspiration is a myth. As an artist, you’re always collecting ideas. You’ve just got to get in the studio, and you’ve just got to keep working, and things will evolve. It’s fucking hard sometimes. In fact, it’s fucking hard most times.
Is there an example of a song on this record that you might not have put out a few years ago? Or something that you’ve done differently that feels very of this moment?
Goldfrapp: I’ve dyed my hair red!
I know, it’s incredibly beautiful and I’m sure scary as hell.
Goldfrapp: Thank you! I’ve wanted to do that for bloody years, but I didn’t have the nerve (laughs). It’s probably a bit of a weird analogy. I always think, ‘God I wish I could shave my head.’ There’s something really liberating about it, and I always fantasise about doing it, but I haven’t quite gotten the nerve. Anyway. I don’t know how we got on to hairstyles.
Well it’s fitting because that links to the ‘Anymore’ video. There’s shaved heads, and when the people’s heads that aren’t shaved, they’re covered with material. So it’s noticeably androgynous. What drew you to the location, because that seems symbolically important as well?
Goldfrapp: I really love volcanic rock, I find it fascinating. Fuerteventura is much more palatable in terms of weather than Iceland. I love it in the same way as the desert. There’s something about that landscape that is so tantalising as it serves as an amazing backdrop. It’s like having a blank canvas that allows you to visualise colour and a narrative. I quite often visualise deserts in my head, or volcanic rock. There’s something so elemental and visceral about it.
It’s useful to connect that raw natural landscape with raw humanity. Also, you so evocatively sing the words, ‘Connect me,’ and that works so well with when the dancers are embracing, that androgynous passion that can be universal.
Goldfrapp: My intention was definitely to go for that androgyny, which I’m very drawn to. There’s just something, going back to hair, that’s similar to when you’re choosing beats to a track. There’s so much baggage attached to a certain drum sound, or a certain tempo.
The album as a whole is so much darker than other things you’ve done. It was surprising. And it’s always a good thing for a musician to push into new territory.
Goldfrapp: I don’t know why that hasn’t happened before. I have definitely got a dark side (laughs). I’m embracing it, though, as opposed to trying to hide it. And it’s having a positive effect, hopefully.
“When there’s all this shit around us, and the crazy politics, we need art in our lives. It’s essential to all of us, a lifeline” – Alison Goldfrapp
Has photography become crucial to your creativity as an artist? Do you feel your music and photography are linked somehow, or connected?
Goldfrapp: I dabbled a little bit with photography when I was in art school. I think I’ve always been a bit of a voyeur, and I didn’t realise how much I loved doing it. I’m quite a shy person, quite an awkward person all the time. But the camera feels like a kind of barrier. I can go out into the world, and if I’ve got a camera, that somehow makes everything seem somehow much more palatable. And I definitely think Instagram has had something to do with that. We’re all on Instagram, and it’s fun, and there’s just something that’s so empowering about that. We’re all taking control of our image, in a way.
You posted a few photos leading up to the album, and you put #selfie on them, which I definitely didn’t think was something you would do. I understand that it was a self-portrait, but...
Goldfrapp: I thought it was funny, really. It is a selfie, but in a slightly more considered way. It’s a selfie in the context of where it’s being shown, especially.
For centuries of artistic tradition, people have been taking self-portraits, or drawing self-portraits.
Goldfrapp: Yeah! Throughout my life I’ve been especially inspired particularly by female artists who have been doing self-portraiture. When I was in art school, I absolutely loved Cindy Sherman.
I saw this post you made ages ago where you took a close-up photo of a baby camel.
Goldfrapp: Celeste! (laughs) I got really quite obsessed with Celeste. The next time I went back to visit her, someone had apparently driven past, seen it, and bought it for a pet! I was so sad.
Would you have bought it? Do you feel as if you missed out?
Goldfrapp: Well, I definitely fantasised about it. The camel had a really bad limp, and I wondered what the farmer was going to do with her because she wasn’t going to be any use to him. So, I hope someone came along and bought it. I did go out there on the hunt for Celeste. I put this notice out, saying, ‘Has anyone seen Celeste? Does anyone know where Celeste is?’ I’m told she had been taken off the island and taken to another island. At that point I gave up. My quest for Celeste is over.
I feel that you’re incredibly passionate about your work. Do you feel like that passion is especially important in the midst of today’s conflicted world?
Goldfrapp: I’ve always been passionate. I feel like a mad person on just a normal day (laughs). I need it. I think we all need it. But you’re right, when there’s all this shit around us, and the crazy politics, we need art in our lives. It’s essential to all of us, a lifeline, to try to help, raise questions, answer questions, look outside of it all.
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