INTERVIEW: Alison Goldfrapp on Greed, Volcanoes & Dirty Synthesizers

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Self portraits by Alison Goldfrapp

Alison Goldfrapp was such a post-Millennium cultural force, that Madonna at the time found herself having acquired the particularly unflattering nickname “Oldfrapp.” All meanness aside, the point was made: Mlle. Goldfrapp was the new Goddess-with-a-microphone…and she had the songs, the voice and the Mercury Prize to back it all up.

Her namesake musical entity Goldfrapp is actually her and Will Gregory, sharing songwriting and synthesizer duties – and generally projecting all manner of mystery and intrigue. And though their early success was based on their ability to marry wicked electronic grooves and opulent soundscapes, simmering sexuality and fierce intelligence, their last album, 2013’s Tales of Us, was all beautiful, pastoral English folk.

The exalted Brit duo has at last reemerged, with the exhilarating new album Silver Eye due March 31 on Mute. From the opening song, the cool electro-disco “Anymore,”  it’s clear they’ve got their slinky back on. Other tracks like “Systematic” and “Become the One” combine lascivious synthesizers and alluring beats, while those like “Tigerman” and new single “Ocean” are characterized by lush, voluptuous  sonic histrionics.

Alison’s lyrics explore sensuality via elemental Earth explorations, {“There’s magic in the water”) and galactic metaphors (“We’re on fire / We’ll eat the stars.”). Silver Eye is indeed that rarest work that is as carnal as it is ethereal.

We caught up with Ms. Goldfrapp to chat about what it all means.

 

Your last album was quite bucolic, so to speak. Does the new album reflect a change in your mood or outlook?

Well yeah, I’m sure it does. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly, though. We always sort of have ideas about what we want to do – but it’s not until we’re together in the studio that we really figure out what they are.

There’s an outward exuberance to this one – whereas with the previous album you seemed to have turned very much inward.

I don’t know if I’d totally agree with that. This album has more variety, but there are reflective moments – they’re just dressed in a different way.

I found the lyrics to be quite elemental, even though the music is more technological. Was that a conscious juxtaposition?

I like that sort of juxtaposition – it’s maybe similar to Supernature….very electronic, but the themes are more elemental.

Do you feel any sense of being the “Earth sister/mother?” It seems like you’re speaking more to nature than to any particular person.

Yeah, there’s definitely an element of that. It’s very important in my life, a way of me translating thoughts about myself and the world around me. They’re visual tools to attempt to tell a story or explain some sort of feeling.

Do you find anything about yourself in the elements?

I think about water a lot, I fantasize about it. I love swimming, or just being in water.

We’re a bit at odds with nature now. It’s like, are we with the Earth, or are we against it?

I know! I think we always have been. The best sci-fi films are sort of psychological, questioning what it is to be human, and our relationship with the world around us. We all have dual personalities. The most obvious questioning for me is the song “Everything is Never Enough.” In a sort of literal way I’m just questioning things…

A fascinating song indeed. That’s been a regular Robert Smith [of The Cure] theme, the idea that we can never seem to be totally fulfilled or satisfied.

Absolutely. But I think it’s important to just stop and appreciate everything you have, and accept that this is your lot. Yet we’re all constantly taking from the Earth…it’s like it’s never enough.

 

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In a sense, we have an abusive relationship with the Earth.

Totally. We worship and idolize it, and yet we’re constantly trying to fuck it up.

We demand things of it that it shouldn’t have to give us.

We’re very greedy, aren’t we humans? We’ve never got enough money, enough food, we’re always trying to change the way we look because it isn’t good enough…

You shot the photography on the island of Fuerteventura – what were you seeking there?

We’ll I’d been there quite a few times. I’m really into volcanoes – I actually went down into one in Iceland, it was quite extraordinary. But I love the metaphors, like things bubbling under the surface. And just visually volcanoes are very appealing.

The oceans, the desert, volcanoes – they’re replete with mystery. They don’t care about human beings, and maybe that’s why we find them more fascinating. And why you would write songs about them.

That’s why the moon is such a constant fasciation. And it’s still relatively unscathed.

You strongly reference early synth-pop again on this album. You can hear Gary Numan, Depeche Mode, Ulttravox…

I don’t know anything about Ultravox, I have no idea. But yeah, we’re definitely drawing on that. I’m actually a big fan of Suicide, I love the slightly dirty sound you get from old analog synths. They’re also totally unpredictable, which is appealing. And on this album we wanted to mix the clean, icy, digital with the more warm analog.

As both a photographer and a musician, do you find that what you do has been recontextualized by digital culture and social media?

Essentially no. What has changed is that we’re all expected to produce so much content around everything. Everyone is busy with just so much stuff.

Does it take away from the power of the songs?

I don’t know, I actually enjoy all the different elements. The thing I find difficult is that everyone just wants so much and they want it now. I find it frustrating that there’s not enough time to ponder things. I can really feel the pressure; but it doesn’t change the creativity.