BlackBook Rooms w/ a View: The New Thompson Washington DC Hotel

 

 

It was slightly ironic that a recent trip we took to DC coincided with the Oscars, as it reminded us of the obviously insulting line ascribed to a number of political pundits, including Joe Scarborough: “Washington is Hollywood for ugly people.” Seeing Charlize, Brad, et al, on the small screen, did again prove that still nothing can compete with Tinseltown in the (manufactured) glamour department—yet HWood be dammed, we were on your way to what was surely the capital’s most glamorous new hotel.

Opened in early January, the brand-new Thompson Washington DC, the Beltway outpost of the brand whose roots go back 20 years to Manhattan’s actual Thompson Street, where 60 Thompson (now SIXTY Soho) was one of the first destination hotels for the post 9/11 prosperity generation. Twenty years on and the vibe at this Thompson was just as cool, with a huge, light-filled lobby and bar dominating the ground floor space. The reception desk was tucked away in a corner.

 

 

Our room was pure class—no flimsy or overly cheeky design elements—with elegant, dark wood and brass furniture and fixtures, a very well stocked mini bar (we’re fine with in-room yoga mats and wellness options, but not at the expense of vodka and prosecco), and a spacious terrace overlooking DC’s hot new hood, The Yards, in the old Navy Yard.

On our first evening, we were thrilled to check out the outpost of one of our NYC faves, Danny Meyer’s Maialino Mare, an offshoot of Danny Meyer’s Gramercy Park celeb magnet, which focuses on Roman trattoria fare; we indulged in their specialty fried baby artichokes, cremini mushrooms with white wine and anchovy, fettuccine with ruby red shrimp, with each dish building to an encore of lemon custard with toasted pine nuts and an almond crust.

 

Maialino Mare

 

Up and out the next day, we were determined to take advantage of as much as we could in a town with increasingly interesting diversions—even some that aren’t affiliated with the Smithsonian. The Navy Yard itself is on the southeast side of downtown, on the banks of the Anacostia River; Nationals Park is two blocks west, and amidst the numerous older nautical buildings are rising shiny apartments and stores to accommodate the latest wave of policy wonks/wonkettes. We started with a bracing stroll along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, stretching 20 miles on both sides of the river; we only made it about a quarter mile before getting distracted, realizing we should have probably grabbed a bike from Capital Bikeshare, as the Thompson provides them gratis.

After a day of cultural pursuits, including stopping to awe at a few monuments (while we still have a democracy), and a tour of the inspiring Freer Gallery of Art (The Peacock Room is James Whistler’s opulent masterpiece of mural art, and a must see) we headed back to the Yards for dinner at District Winery, an awesome space that includes said winemaking operation, a wine related boutique, and the restaurant Ana, where we were impressed to discover some of the tastiest vegetarian options on any menu we’ve yet come across.

 

The Peacock Room at Freer Gallery of Art

 

Not that there wasn’t plenty for carnivores, from roasted scallops to a NY strip, but we ordered the excellent market vegetable “Shawarma” with roasted vegetables, beet falafel, pink lentil hummus, creamy tahini sauce, and lavash cracker, and Meadow Creek Grayson cappelletti with pickled pear, cultured butter, onion petals, and basil oil; the sourdough spelt bread was a particularly special treat.

We retired to catch the last half of the Oscars (still too long), congratulating ourselves on how much we saved not bothering to deck out like Scarlett and Leo, while still enjoying a lavish dinner. And flopping down in our thrift store loungewear, we were contented with the luxury of catching the awards show on a state of the art, 55″ flat screen.

 

Somewhere

 

The next day, before heading back north, we took a walk around some of the Yard’s shops, stopping in Steadfast Supply, a creative retail shop and curated events hub featuring goods from local small businesses and independent brands…and Somewhere, a sleek space dedicated to bringing the global fashion conversation to the capital. Both boutiques gleamed with newness of a new kind of DC.

Sadly, the one thing we didn’t get a chance to try was Trapeze School NY, located just a couple of blocks from the hotel. Merely a good excuse for us to already be planning a springtime return to the Thompson.

 

BlackBook Interview: La Roux’s Elly Jackson on Being Human, Needing Space & Taking Baths to be Creative

Image by Ed Miles

 

When Elly Jackson’s second album, Trouble in Paradise, came out in 2014, it was as if her life’s story had written its title. The artist otherwise known as La Roux—and perhaps equally for the ginger wave that famously flops around atop her head—had already managed to take literally the entire world by storm. Her debut album, 2009’s La Roux, produced singles “Quicksand,” “Bulletproof,” and “In the Kill,” nabbed her and her former bandmate Ben Langmaid a Grammy award, almost endless attention, and with it a world of complications that come with being catapulted to fame at a young age. She was all of 21 then. Looking back at her early videos, it’s hard not to notice the traces of baby fat still on her face.

If you have been to any public space that at least attempts to play trendy music in the past 20 years, you have absolutely heard “Bulletproof.” Anyone over 40 will respond to its arcade game nostalgia. Anyone under 40 will register it as vintage electronica cool. Everyone will bop along to it. It’s impossible not to.

Whether it’s her tough-girl persona, her unusually elegant voice (a former falsetto), her fabulous power suits, her uncanny ability to infectiously reimagine the sounds of her youth, her androgyny, or that aforementioned swirl of red hair, her sonic superpowers enable her to use her vocal and musical talents in unique way, that’s frankly a bit odd yet still creates a pop feeding frenzy. And while everyone knows who she is, or at least has unknowingly heard her tunes, what people don’t really know is where the hell Jackson’s been for the past few years (or five).

While Trouble in Paradise garnered critical acclaim, everything leading up to and through the album ultimately blew up her life. It broke up her partnership with Langmaid, got her kicked off Polydor, the major label to which she had been signed, broke up a 10-year personal relationship, inspired her to can an entire third album, La Roux 3, and sent her down plenty of anxiety-induced rabbit holes. The perfect storm had started brewing as early as 2010, when Jackson lost her voice entirely due to anxiety. She had to train herself how to sing again. The pressures of fame weighed heavy on the otherwise spry, and hilariously blunt Jackson, and the cascading effect it had on her unraveled her completely by 2017.

 

 

And to make matters even worse, her shower broke down. Yet it was that same nuisance that changed her life’s rhythm enough to allow her to course correct. Unable to shower, she was forced to take baths.

“That mental space slowed me down enough to change how I thought about my life,” she says. “And today I’m just in such a better place.”

And so the carrot-topped phoenix felt she literally had nothing to lose, stopped all the noise, locked herself up in her kitchen and got to creating Supervision. As Jackson wiggled herself out from her past, she jettisoned plenty of baggage with it. Ranging from her hyper-referenced approach to building her songs to nearly every collaborator and the interference of another record label, Jackson decided to fly completely solo on the new record.

The result is a delightfully short spin through the world of La Roux, just as Elly Jackson. No less of an adorable fuck you, certainly no less of an earworm much less fun, the album itself is a play on words referencing that she can both see clearly now, but also that she doesn’t need the supervision of anyone to get along.

We sat down with Jackson to hear her thoughts on her comeback, her music, and what a young superstar does to get her life back in balance and back on her own terms.

 

 

You have definitely come back from a period of silence. When reading about your story, it’s uncanny how life put you on pause– twice–before you could make your next breakthrough. You first lost your voice, and second had a broken shower that forced you to take baths.

Yeah, a lot has changed. I just feel so much better. There’s just a lot more space and peace in my life, generally, and it’s a very nice place to be. I’ve slowed myself down and realized what my priorities are. I pretty much have to work out every day or I’ll pretty much go insane. I wasn’t doing that nearly enough before. It’s easy when you’re in the studio to drop really good habits in the name of working your ass off pointlessly.
You just turn nocturnal in that mindset and say it must be helpful to work 17 hours a day. But it really just isn’t helpful. It’s really been about finding the balance again. I have found it and it’s a much nicer space to be in, for sure.

La Roux had started off as a collaboration and you have done several since. I read that you don’t like to share. As we age, we definitely become clearer about our healthy boundaries. Was your solo approach to this album a function of that?

I don’t want to make this all about what I’m about to say, because I think it can get annoying; but I really think that most women can possibly relate to finding it harder to [manage boundaries] than men. It’s firstly hard to even know yourself that way. So many people don’t even know what their boundaries are. It’s hard to then set them if you don’t know what they are.
You’ll say, “Yeah, I have boundaries!” Then you’ll say, “Wait. Do I?”

It’s a tricky balance…

If you want to be a nice person, especially with women, one has to sort of learn that being perceived as nice is not necessarily what’s best for you. I’m not saying that I’m not a nice person, or don’t value niceness, but I have come to understand that I don’t want people to cross certain lines because it will make me uncomfortable.
And then I’ll start to feel vulnerable, and I may not like it, and then I could start acting quite stressed and angry. I can start to feel like I’m not protecting myself or that someone’s coming into my cage and it’s too much space invasion.
It just takes time to understand that as a human being. You can’t fucking understand it overnight, and you certainly can’t grasp it when you’re 21. Anyone who knows that when they’re 21, I want to meet them because they will certainly become a fucking guru! But I feel that I at least hopefully have learned how at the right time.

 

Image by Ed Miles

 

Speaking of your age, it’s funny looking at your head spinning in the “International Woman of Leisure” track—you can see you have very defined cheekbones. It made me realize just how young you really were when “Bulletproof” came out.

Yeah it was a shock to me. I never knew that I would get this face. Some people thought that I had gotten plastic surgery. I was like, “Come on! I just lost a little weight and I’m not a child anymore!” All of that happened when I was in my early 20s.

Now that you’ve gone through what you have, what would you tell young Elly that could have maybe helped her navigate that level of fame and what was to come.

I don’t know, it’s so difficult. You know how you are at that age and you just think you know everything. You think you have it all down, and it’s just hilarious because you don’t. It’s kind of impossible, because I know who she was—since I’m her. And [laughing] she would have just said, “Yeah shut up, I’m fine.” Even though I really wasn’t fine.
Nobody can tell you what’s right for you, even if it’s ultimately what is right for you. It’s like the old adage about the addict, you just can’t tell them when to stop. They have to be fed up with their own behavior.

Right, it has to come from within.

I think it would have been really hard to have a talk with that girl. But I was lucky that I had a lot of people say the right things to me. They tried to make me see things in a more positive light and to help me feel less stressed and worried. But it’s just hard when you are constantly stressed and worried and you can’t see a way out most of the time.
But I would have told her to try to not think so much about needing someone else—whether in her work life or personal life. Even that word, “need…” in needing something else you’re just taking away—an experience, a lesson– from yourself. I had to remember at a point that this all started with me in my bedroom with my guitar.
But that is what I would tell her, “If that is where she started, with her guitar, why had she gone so, so far away from that place?” Think about that.

It’s funny you say that, because my predominant image of you with any instrument is you standing behind a keyboard.

Weirdly I am always behind the keyboard; but even more weirdly, all my songs start on guitar even if you don’t hear guitar in them. Pretty much every song on the first album was written on guitar, apart from “Bulletproof.” It may not really sound like it, but that is the case.

Speaking of your style, your first two albums had definitive vibes to them. La Roux was a more synthpop dancey thing and Trouble in Paradise, a bit of a Chicago / Grace Joneseque sort of thing. Supervision really isn’t bundled stylistically in any way. There’s an authenticity to it, because you can more clearly hear who you are.

That’s really important to me. There is just a pain trying to re-creating something that you love so much. Like loving Depeche Mode and Grace Jones. It’s like, great! Love them! But you also have to be you. Don’t sit there and reference them so much that you drive yourself crazy. It’s difficult to get away from the music that is intrinsically inside you that you’ve listened to your whole life—it will show up in your work. For instance, I never once listened to George Michael on this album but you can hear a lot of him in it.

 

 

How did the process of even making this album come to be? You wrote it in just a few weeks at home? It just seems like there’s an ease and flow here that wasn’t available to yourself before.

It’s definitely been a very different experience and feeling. Even though I was the one who always brought the subject matters, the sound, the melodies, it is a different feeling to be [on my terms]. But when you’re in a studio and there’s someone at the computer, or you’re in someone else’s space…or even if you’ve let someone else into your space and you’ve let them commandeer…it always felt like I allowed even the tiniest details, like the order things are done in, to be in someone else’s hands. It had always kind of been dictated by somebody else. I found myself over the years just being so uncomfortable with it.
It came to the point where I just knew I could do something better or quicker, but I didn’t know how to say that without hurting someone’s ego or without sounding delusional. Obviously, I’ve dropped all of that and I don’t live in that space anymore in any way, shape, or form.

You actually shelved your third album?

Once I ditched that record and started making this one, the whole process was just one of pure elation. It was like, Oh! I have these riffs, some voice notes and these bass notes—this chorus.
I had the riffs for “21st Century,” I had the chorus. I had chords to “Do You Feel?” It was honestly kind of like I had no other choice. I had exhausted all my other options and they just didn’t work. It was like, you’ve only got one way left—just you on your own. And it was funny, within hours it was just obvious to me as I sat at my computer that I should have been doing it this way all along.

Epiphany is a wonderful thing.

It’s just so much more fun and so much more me. I definitely had these moments where I worried that if I wasn’t referencing as much or wasn’t as painstakingly sitting there with a fucking engineer, doing stuff that I think is a waste of time, that people may not like the way it sounded. Or that they may not want to listen to me. But then I realized that I didn’t fucking care. There is nobody but me on any of my albums playing the instruments…save the saxophone, which I don’t play. Everything has been written by me, actually. So why did it feel like such a change? But it really did.
All I knew was that I liked the record I was making. I just got to the point where I stood in my kitchen where I was like, “Okay, either you’re insane or you’re right.” But when I realized that I didn’t care, and that I was happy, it has never been the case that I make music in order to tick other people’s boxes.

As women, we’re always told how to feel and be and what should make us happy.

It’s true. But there just comes a point where you’re liberated enough to be yourself.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Theophilus London on Rihanna, New Album ‘Bebey’, and Keeping it Caribe

 

 

It’s befitting that Theophilus London decided to jump right back into the light just in time for Valentine’s Day. Dropping his first full-length album in five years, Bebey, the Trinidadian-Brooklynite pillar of suavity has emerged from a self-cocooned hiatus as smooth and fabulous a butterfly as he ever was.

The vibe, as he calls it, is New Wave Caribbean. The result is an easy island tilt on many of the collaborative friendships dear to his heart. It’s also a pretty hilarious (but respectful) call out to all the sexy ladies from here to Soweto and back again.

The international man of love and leisure surely has a knack for procuring the best of his jet-setting friends to assist him with his musical projects, and his latest is certainly no exception. Released on his own Bebey Records, the album brims with everything from steel drum flourishes to collabs the likes of Wu Tang Clan’s Raekwon and Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, as he walks the fine line of keeping it real as an NYC-Caribe kid and a heavy hitter in the scene in the way that only this man called Theophilus London possibly could.

 

 

 

 

London doesn’t only drop hype albums. His personal style has famously gained him admiration everywhere from downtown NYC art parties to getting Karl Lagerfeld to collaborate on his 2014 album Vibes. Indeed, the late fashion icon directed the album’s design, did all the photography, and hand-drew the lettering on the cover.

Flash forward a couple years later, and the then-unreleased “Revenge” (which has finally seen the light of day on Bebey) rocked Virgil Abloh’s Off-White 2017 Spring/ Summer Paris Fashion Week show, leaving Frank Ocean, Kim Kardashian, Kanye West and the style cognoscenti grooving and bobbing their heads in the front row. A collaboration with Ariel Pink, it’s actually a cover of English new wave band New Musik’s 1981 track “They All Run After the Carving Knife.”

Abloh and London have long been friends and collaborators. The former was named Louis Vuitton’s men’s artistic director in 2018, and serves as CEO of his own Milan-based streetwear label Off-White, which he founded in 2013. The two have kept tight throughout the years, and came back together for Bebey, collaborating on the cover art and designing a pair of fancy streetwear cowboy boots, along with a soon-to-be released fashion collection.

We caught up with London to discuss Bebey’s release—her name standing for self-love, which is the “essence, love and beauty” of the album, as he says—along with where he’s been for the past few years, and how he’s created this beautiful universe of which he’s firmly proud.

 

 

 

This album has been long gestating during what has been perceived as a hiatus you took from both fashion and music. What made you feel it was ready to be birthed?

It was done. It was ready for the world to get it. What better than a new decade? I thought about dropping it in November of 2019…but if I dropped it in 2030 it would still leave an impact. The music is timeless, in a sense. I’m just going to foreshadow that. Vibes became an instant classic. It’s not self-proclaimed or anything, but when you see everyone’s comments on it. Vibes was five years ago—some people have gone through high school and middle school since I dropped a new album.

What had been going on in the past few years if an album really hadn’t been?

I’ve been going around the world and A&Ring this record, going through my phone book and the relationships that I have. Each moment I spent on this album was priceless. Being in Australia with Tame Impala, being in London with Giggs, being in LA with Ariel Pink…and also being in LA with Tame Impala when he was on a hiatus himself, after a great album that he had just written.
His label couldn’t get him to clear any other tracks for other rappers. It was like, “How the hell does Theo get to work with Kevin Parker, and we can’t even get in touch with him?” Anybody who I had brushed paths with, they wanted to get on Bebey. There was a hype about it.
After the Louis Vuitton show in summer 2018, I made a pilgrimage to Los Angeles and I haven’t left since. I made a new home base here and started a new record label. After all the travel and changes, the time was just right. And here we are.

 

 

 

There has been plenty of talk that Bebey is a getting back to your roots as a Trinidadian-born kid from Brooklyn. How valid is that view?

It’s more a roots in terms of my energy. I am not going back to my old style in this album at all. To be clear, this is something completely new. I had DM’d the album to Rihanna and told her that this is “New Wave Caribbean.” We both laughed. I wanted to set new expectations for myself, and I am still learning about myself and the album when I listen to it today—I still listen to the lyrics, and I’m like, “Oh, shit! That’s what I meant?”
[I’m] the only person that really survived that era who was a real New York niche, Trinidadian or Guyanese kid from NYC. You grow up in the city, but you stick to your roots and eat the Caribbean food. I actually played in a steel drum band for four years and became the bass leader for the band. So, sure that is in my roots.
But there’s nobody in [rap], except maybe Busta Rhymes, who can comfortably spit patois but also keep it cool. Perhaps Safaree or Casanova, whose parents are Caribbean; but those guys are straight rappers. So, I am really holding the crown when it comes to being so normal cool. I may bust a line in the street, but it’s like, “oh he’s still cool.” It’s like a very fine line between being, “I’m an island boy, and I’m a city boy,” but I bridge the gap.

Are the steel drums you hear in “Bebey” synthesized or real?

No, those are definitely real!

 

 

So where exactly do Tame Impala and Ariel Pink fit into this patois, if you will? They are definitely not Caribbean.

Yeah, thanks for asking that. Tame Impala and Ariel Pink…it’s funny. They are a very important part of this project. Three of my favorite songs on the album, “Only You,” “Revenge” and “Whiplash,” were from working with them. Why would any artist not put those tracks on their album? I don’t care if I was doing a dubstep album, those three tracks would still make it on there!
When “Pretty” and “Bebey” came along, it’s when I started to get more excited about the Caribbean [tip]. But these songs were written long before, 2015ish-16ish.

Around the time you connected with Virgil Abloh…

Revenge” was premiered during his Off-White Business Woman fashion show, in Paris, in 2016.  People are just ready for it to be on an album. Now that it’s out, people are ready to pay for it too—the streams are going nuts.
But overall, it’s never been like, “oh yeah I’m gonna get Tame Impala!” or that the album needed to be Caribbean or anything else. I just follow the heart of love. It was never like a case of me wanting Kevin Parker and hitting up his label to get on my album. It was more like, “oh you’re in town? I’m in town too. Let’s get together tonight and work!”

 

 

 

Spontaneous is always best.

Yeah, and it turned into seventy nights of work. But it was never me really asking a label person or a manager one single thing. It was the same with Ariel Pink. It would be like, “Yo, come over to my crib, I’ve got six cute black girls at my house.” He wants a black girlfriend, I am sure.
So, he runs over in a nice blazer and his leprechaun accent. And we’re doing skits, and whatever the hell. I’m always bridging cultures. And with me bringing Ariel Pink and Kevin Parker onto the album, it’s me just bringing in different cultures into my world. And everyone can just hang out at the party.

You have put out a pair of haute streetwear boots with Off-White for Bebey. Beyond promoting your personal style, what is the strategy behind the fashion collaboration?

With each album, I try to communicate through different media. For an average kid, my songs may not get to him as quickly as say, a Justin Bieber song. So that Off-White collaboration—or any other type of fashion format like that—is so that kid may be able to see a piece and think, “hey, that’s cool!”…and then learn about my music. I always make sure there is space to make fashion. I always try and bring friends on board to do that, and this time it’s Off-White—they’re one of the top three brands in the world at the moment.
Virgil, as a designer, everything he does…I get him up at 4am. He has two brands to sort out for Fashion Week. I don’t even understand what’s going on with him, but somehow I can get him on text for three hours to discuss the line. I have the upmost respect for Virgil. He’s been a good friend to me for a long time.

How did the cowboy boot design come to be?

Yeah the LIFE’S WORK boots, it’s a cool tagline—like graffiti. It’s a 10-year introspection for me. I’m 31 now, and I can finally make sense of things, and that’s just a reflection of my life’s work. Those boots honestly were designed as leather high-end boots that are one of a kind. I’m sure they’ll be copied by every designer next season. I used to wear these boots for the last six years around New York City and I just wanted to recreate them.
It’s cool, Rihanna has flaunted a pair and they’re up for sale on pre-order now. We are doing a collection for the album, designed by Virgil and myself. You see my Caribbean flag heavily throughout the collection. The graphics are Bebey and they include the beautiful face that represents the beautiful Bebey Universe. A small, tight knit crew of my friends hand-drew our own logos and whatnot, and created this new little universe. It’s just fun to step into our own little world, and they can understand me and that world really easily. It validates me as an artist when other artists can step into my world and say, “I see!” They can see where the bathroom is, they can see where the living room is, and they can say, “this is a great house!”

If there is one thing that has been consistent about our conversation, it’s that you aren’t so much trying working hard to make something happen. It comes from the heart, and so it comes to be.

That’s true. But I mean, that was Vibes too. I didn’t ask for Kanye, and I didn’t ask for Lagerfeld. It just happened. It was the same message then. It’s just that I put out the most perfect version of Bebey that I could.
It could have been that I didn’t get much of a satisfactory job out of it, but that’s not true. I’m just super proud of it. I could have been scared when I put it out, being like, “holy shit!” But that’s now how I feel. It’s just incredible. In this project, I immersed myself in the culture, I disassociated myself from whatever celebrity hype. I blended together whatever circles I go in, from Rhode Island to LA and Australia and everywhere else, and I just made this album. No Rolex on, no chains, no dumb cars, no stupid shit…just back in the basement, you know, working on the album. And it’s gold. It’s diamond. It’s making that universal language translate.

 

BlackBook Interview: Duran Duran’s Roger Taylor on New Doc ‘There’s Something You Should Know’

 

 

The thing that is sometimes forgotten about Duran Duran, is how much they did not seem destined for the massive megastardom that they rather quickly went on to achieve. In fact, arguably the most exhilarating moment during the new Showtime documentary There’s Something You Should Know shows Roger Taylor walking around their old pre-stardom Birmingham stomping grounds, leading to recollections of the legendary club Rum Runner.

“It was a capsule of glamour in the middle of this grim industrial city,” he tells BlackBook, “that was struggling to come to terms with the end of the heavy industrial age.”

The Rum Runner was like an incubator for a now almost unimaginable scene, characterized by society-shaking gender-bending and radical, machine-driven musical experimentation – certainly not the stuff that makes it to the pop charts. And as images from that time show up on the screen, it’s clear that nothing even remotely like it has happened since.

 

 

“I drove through Birmingham recently on a cold and dank night,” says Taylor, “and all the amazing people that made up the ‘scene’ came to my mind. I wondered where they all were now and what their lives are like.”

The doc tells Duran Duran’s extraordinary story in their own words, along with collaborators and contemporaries including Nile Rogers, Boy George and Mark Ronson. Within an hour’s time, it travels from those insalubrious Birmingham streets, where they were a revolutionary gang of cultural provocateurs shopping for “ladies clothes that fit” (Taylor only half-jokes, “Jumping on the night bus wearing a pair of skinny jeans could be a life-threatening experience at the end of the ’70s.”), on through to the wildly successful reunion tours, for which literally millions of tickets were sold. 

But Anglophile post-punkers and screaming Gen X teenage girls will thrill most to the scenes of those heady early ’80s days of Rio and the absurdly titled Seven and the Ragged Tiger, when the band essentially changed the way music was presented to the world. To be sure, with their artfully bombastic, and gorgeously shot videos, they were the veritable gods of the MTV age.

 

 

Director Russell Mulcahy was instrumental in that vivid visual revolution, and in the film he reveals of the now iconic “Rio” video: “It was wild, we actually just made it up on the spot.” For all the outré glamour, they were essentially still punks at heart.

Of course, they’d graduated from charity shop cross dressing to full fledged fashion icons by then; and a scene in which Nick Rhodes and Duran Duran “official” fashion designer Antony Price go through racks of their old clothes with a running commentary (“They’re quite panto now…”) is, well, priceless. But the pomp is balanced with keen self-reflection and self-awareness, with Simon Le Bon recalling matter-of-factly, “We were objects of desire, and people wanted to have us at their parties.”

The film also delights in no small number of Beatles-esque clips of hysterical females risking life and limb for a chance to meet their idols (Le Bon claims with a smirk that one even popped out of his hotel room wardrobe). Taylor describes it perfectly as, “Totally exhilarating but in some ways frightening, like being on a runaway train that you had no control over.” But he is quick to clarify, “It was a journey we all chose, so no complaints or regrets at all.”

 

 

Still and all, like any artist that experiences such monumental early success, there were the pressures of keeping it all going, both internal and external. And the doc does do quite a good job of conveying all the attendant anxieties and insecurities. After Rio, remember, critics were not so kind to Seven and the Ragged Tiger. And as the band splintered apart in the mid-’80s – leaving just Simon, Nick and John Taylor to record 1986’s Notorious – one gets a keen sense of how careers and long term friendships were always quite fragile matters.

At one point Boy George even reveals his shock at Roger Taylor’s leaving the band at the height of their success. But the drummer is quick to remind how he had joined Duran Duran at just 19, and so was never really allowed a proper transition into adulthood.

“The speed of our ascension was breathtaking,” he recalls. “I felt that I needed time to discover what it was like to wake up as a ‘normal’ human being every morning. But, of course, that never really happened. And the general feeling at the time was that I must be crazy to leave something so successful.”

 

 

Long periods are breezed through due to time constraints (There’s Something… could easily be twice as long). But emotional climaxes come by way of their spectacular 2004 reunion tour, which guitarist Andy Taylor infamously walked out in the middle of…and the creative triumph that was their 2015 album Paper Gods – produced by Nile Rogers – catapulting them back to critical acclaim. As Taylor so succinctly puts it, “Vindication is a wonderful thing!”

The doc actually opens and closes with the boys – minus Andy – sitting in a Citroen (their signature transport), listening intently to their first demo. It decisively connects their past and present in a touchingly visceral way – and yet it’s hard to watch those scenes and not feel a sense of longing for a time when music, and style, were changing the world every day. And Duran Duran, of course, were very much a part of that cultural insurgency.

“I’m always amazed when I hear our early demos,” Taylor enthuses. “We were like sponges absorbing everything around us, and somehow regurgitating it into this sound that was just so unique to us.”

Could he ever imagine Duran Duran without him again?

“Hahaha…good question. My answer to that is no human being, no matter how important he feels, is irreplaceable in this world.”

There’s Something You Should Know premieres December 27 on Showtime.

 

BlackBook Interview: Devendra Banhart on Motherhood, Mobile Phones and Walking in L.A.

Image by Lauren Dukoff

 

 

 

If tender, thoughtful intention were the measure of a man’s potential as a parent, Devendra Banhart will one day make a fantastic father. Packaged in a gentle, groovy, acoustic web of emotional intimacy, the myriad facets of parenthood are both explicitly and abstractly explored in his new album, Ma. But to a man such as Banhart, it is a predictably unusual creative concept. It’s expansive, if not vast.  

That’s actually one of the most attractive things about Buddhism to me,” he reveals. “There is a concept called Mother Recognition. You don’t have to be religious or spiritual whatsoever to understand the idea. It’s just the idea of saying that everyone has been my mother at some point. A stranger, the moon. They are mother. It just makes it so much easier to get through the day as an applicable, utilitarian concept.”

While Banhart speaks in terms of pragmatism, the subject matter is one of humanity’s deepest mysteries. We have no real answer to what love and mother are, exactly; to be a mother is in its simplest terms is to be a creator. It is to be the protector, the nourisher, an expression of unconditional love. Ma manages to philosophically and literally explore the extent of its seemingly simple title – a job that is virtually impossible. And yet it does it by being an incredibly beautiful, nourishing and inviting listen.

 

 

 

Sung in four languages, including his mother’s tongue, Spanish, the album is as beautifully dense and rich as it is groovy and sweet. Ma philosophically tackles our deepest impulses and wounds, yet it is also a collection of fabulous cocktail party jams. Written at times in homage to Yellow Magic Orchestra’s Haruomi Hosono and still others in duet with Banhart’s muse and mentor Vashti Bunyan, he says that Ma includes everything that he would want to tell his child, should he ever have one.  He himself lost his biological father right as his last album, 2016’s Ape in Pink Marble, was being finished. So Ma is in many ways about his father, who he had just begun to know better, too. 

The album transparently, yet tenderly, tackles political agendas by just existing across cultural barriers the way it does. Banhart, who spent his early childhood in his mother’s home country Venezuela, also dresses up in its flag in the video for “Kantori Ongaku,” and asks for support for the Venezuelan people in it. The video for “Abre Las Manos” is a montage of Venezuelan imagery. 

“This time more than ever, I feel the need to connect with other Venezuelans,” he explains, in reflection of the socio-political strife that has ravaged the South American country for the last several years.

We sat him down just as Ma was being released, and he was embarking on a 24-date North American tour, to talk about some of the elemental impulses behind the album – the names, the origins, the need to disconnect from society, passing wisdom down through generations and acknowledging the mother that lives in us all. 

 

 

 

You sing in several different languages in your album. Language is a powerful tool, it’s a way to transcend barriers and understand other people outside of your language. 

I wonder how effective is Duolingo. I feel like everyone I know has it, gets it and does three languages for three days. But maybe it’s because I’m lazy. There could be incredible success rates. If you think about it, we spend our lives inside of our phones. And it’s just you as your avatar speaking the language. 

I suppose that’s true, but taking a language to the streets is the real test of how you can speak it. Of course, good luck to anyone trying to get out of their avatar in France!

The French will make it harder for you than anyone to learn their language. They’re the exception. Nobody will make it more difficult. I have said the words, and I know I’ve set it correctly. And they will pretend that they are not listening. And then they will finally respond and say, “Oh you mean…?”; and just respond back in their correct accent. It’s humiliating. Speaking in France is almost as humiliating as walking in Los Angeles.

L.A. is a weirdly walkable city, but it’s like nobody actually knows that. I always walk in L.A..

I walk in L.A. too! That’s why I know how humiliating it is. It’s so resistant to the walker, that you’re braving the resistance. I love it. I actually do not own a car and I live in L.A.. Up there is trying to speak French in France, but nothing is worse than walking in L.A..

We weirdly have rhyming names.

We really do. That doesn’t happen often. My name was given to me by my parents’ guru. You told me your name means snow-covered mountain and that your father’s people come from Zoroastrian lineages. I would like to talk more about Zoroastrianism. I think it’s so interesting, and it’s one of the world’s oldest religions and it’s vast. The name itself is so mystical and beguiling. It sounds like some sort of wizard floating in the stars. 

 

 

Nature is so vast and bewildering. When you are in spaces that are remote and where nature is your reckoning, you could only have a beguiling name. And a beguiling method of practicing your faith. 

That’s why so many of these ancient religions are so elemental and about worshipping wind, water and fire. It’s not so accessible to us anymore. We take so much of it for granted today, but think of the magic of it back in the day. Just the pure magic of finding a well, a stream, where the water is pouring from the heavens. We would climb a mountain and get to its height, and there find this nectar flowing from it. It makes so much sense that we would be in awe of these primordial elements. Being in Nepal, I really experienced that. We were pretty remote, in a very small village. The electricity would go out every 15 minutes. It really helped me appreciate electricity. Or how much I may take for granted my life in the city…plumbing. The village was still being developed, so I witnessed the effort that goes into creating a septic system. I came back to my life here, and I just felt so fortunate that everything was taken care of. In one sense, we are so fortunate because it’s so comfortable. But on the other hand, people don’t appreciate it as much. 

It’s important to understand those basic needs and luxuries. You somehow understand yourself better.

In an environment like that, you’re just forced to face yourself. The distractions aren’t there. I was in a remote village and stayed at a monastery at one point too. Monastic life is, well…you’ve got a bed, you’ve got a bedroom, you’ve got an altar table and a window, and that is it. I was given instructions that said: the person next to you is in a three-year retreat. Don’t open the door there, that goes into the balcony. And definitely be quiet. That person hasn’t seen another human being in three years and you certainly are not the first one that they want to experience.
I remember going on tour way back when, I didn’t have a phone on tour. That’s how old I am. We had the types of phones where you would have to type one key several times to get different letters, it was like a flip phone. I barely used it, and I definitely didn’t have a laptop with me. And I’ve never played my guitar better and I’ve never written more. I’ve never been more productive on a tour. It does require an effort, to think about the line. It’s so nebulous at this point. But you have to think to yourself – is this something that I really need to do, or is this a distraction?
And then it gets to the point of deep irony, and it’s a necessary irony. You’ve got apps now that are telling you to unplug, and I love that. I don’t know if there’s an app that you can time where every hour it just shuts off your phone for ten minutes. I’m sure there must be! Actually, maybe not. People need that app, but they probably wouldn’t get it!

 

 

I lived in Montana for a few years, and I miss that about my life there terribly – the lack of reception. It was eventually a convenience when the people in my life came to expect that I was always without service.

I just want my friends and my family members to know that I love them. But I really don’t want to hang out with them. And that’s it, but okay, leave me alone. That’s why I want to have a kid. It’s a reason to get out things, really. 

But you’d be connected to the kid all the time?

Yeah, but when they’re little they’re just like little poetry machines. You can just ask them anything, and then write down their answers. What’s that object you see? What’s that in the sky? Okay, got it! And then it’s like, “Hey yeah I’d love to see you and go out…but sorry, I gotta stay home with the kid.”

But it’s interesting to me that a man at your age – we are both at that age where we have to reconcile our personal timelines with the concept of parenthood – went so far as to explore the potentials of fatherhood, or motherhood, through an album. It’s touching.  Do you want to have a kid? 

I mean, I don’t know. Maybe you should buy me a drink first? I’m kidding. But it’s weird. The age that we are at, you do start to think about it differently. Prior to this window, you’re not really faced with the idea that you may never have children. You kind of assume that you will…later. And then time goes by and you’re in the window where you may, or may not. And then you have to understand if you can accept it if you don’t. And can you be open to having them too? It feels like a strange decision. It feels like something that should happen organically if the garden is fertile. The best thing I ever heard about parenting was that if you tend to the garden, the flower will grow. That garden is, of course, a relationship. So it’s not so much do I want to have a kid or not, but the ability to create that garden. 

 

 

 

The idea of “mother” is different to everyone. I like the idea of pushing it beyond the frame of one other mortal.

When we are born, we have this one person to call mom. It’s like, “that’s my mom.” That one person who is my mother. Human evolution may take you to expand that concept, once put on one being, to various beings and different objects. You can see mother in primordial objects. For instance, can you see the mother in the ocean? Can you see the mother in the stars? Which is what we were talking about earlier, which is in many ways the foundation for so many different pagan faiths. Can you see mother in other people? And in other elemental forces as well. And that could be a definition for what it means to evolve as a human being, I think. 
I couldn’t stop thinking about this one line in the autobiography of Swami Vivekananda. He was the greatest disciple of Ramakrishna, who was this super duper Vedantic master. Towards the end of his life, someone asks him how he’s been. But all he wants to communicate is that all he sees is mother. I just kept thinking about that, how beautiful it must be to be able to see mother everywhere. 
These people are set up in that they are spiritual superheroes, and it’s their karma and they’re born that way – but it’s applicable to all of us. It’s something you have to work at. It’s not something that just occurs. You have to practice it. But if you do, you can start to believe that mother is everywhere. You don’t have to be frightened by the things you don’t understand, they are mother. The world is not frightening, it’s mother. Imagine meeting a stranger, and immediately behind that thought, thinking, “You know what? That’s my mother. This was my mother at one time.”

I wonder if that application of mother is more my speed. It seems like all the loving, universal ideals of motherhood without all the etheric, negative attachments or the confusing line of where the boundaries of the mother’s life end and their child’s life begins.

There comes a point in our lives where we have to reckon with the idea if we like the people that our parents are. They are our first deities. But they are in fact human beings. And you have to asK, “Do I love you because you’re my parents? Or do I love you because of the human being you are?” This incredibly flawed human that you are? Probably at that point in your life where you ask yourself that question you’re just like, “Fuck you, Mom and Dad!,” no matter what. And maybe at that time you just love them in some fundamental way because they are your parents. Or, you can love them for who they are. 
I think it’s kind of the same way with a parent. It’s like, “Oh, this human I made here is not this accessory. It’s not this piece of clay that I can mold into what I want. It’s actually not mine.” And you to have to try to let it go. It’s a moment in time where you are a parent without the ego attachment of [ownership]. And that’s a choice you can make – to embody and practice a type of parenthood that is purer. It may be less direct, but it’s more pure. But we are genetically programmed to make it nearly impossible. 

I guess there is no real way to know until you are faced with it in your own life. 

I wonder what that’s like as a parent though, when your kid asks you something you don’t know the answer to. It’s so built into us to know everything. Can you admit that you don’t know? And can you tell your kid that it’s okay not to know? The world is constantly telling us we should know everything. And a parent should definitely know.
We live such different lives than we did before. The concept of being tribal is really loaded today. But historically, in tribal societies, there was a lineage. Knowledge was just passed down through ancestors and you would just teach your child what you were taught. It still works that way, but the entire system and structure is so fractured today. It should be a source of compassion to remember that people who are horrible to their kids? Their parents were horrible to them. It’s a question of hoping to become the conscious birth that breaks that chain. It’s just so obvious – until you’re faced with it.
It’s so funny when we’re around our parents, how we revert to being little kids. How we change. So the question there is how can we spend time with our parents without reverting to this little, frightened creature? If you think about it we spend most of our lives physically or emotionally suffering. And that doesn’t go away, but our deal with it changes. And our ability to identify it emerges if we’re lucky. But I think it’s our parents who most associate with the time in our lives where we largely have not yet come to realize that we spend the majority of our existence in some sort of emotional and physical pain.

But what more important of a gift does a child bring you than the gift of being present?

I was thinking about this the other day, I got in a hot tub and I was like, “Wow. This is so nice.” And I was looking up at the stars, and it was like “Aaah, wow.” And then I thought to myself what have I been feeling all day leading up to this point that didn’t feel just like this? But if you can be conscious of that pain, you can identify it. You can ask yourself if you are consciously or unconsciously right now suffering. Either physically or emotionally, am I in pain? 
But this brings us back to that lack of distraction. You, in Montana…it’s a blessing and a curse. You have this lack of reception, and that is annoying. But then it gives you a focus on yourself.

Well, what do most of those calls and texts really amount to, really?

Well if we figured that out, we’d be on it! But it’s kind of like…in hospice care. There really should be more documentaries about it. What do people say that they wished they had done more of in their life? There really should be more shows about the ends of people’s lives. I mean, I guess the reason why there aren’t more documentaries about hospice care is that people would start thinking to themselves that they should watch less TV! But they always say, I should have worked less. I should have had more fun. I should have gotten out of that painful relationship and divorced earlier. Which is hilarious. Which I love.

It’s that ability to tune back into that space that brings the daily joy that can punctuate the pain and suffering. But I think a source of that joy also comes from that identification you spoke of earlier. For instance, I am currently in St. Louis, which is four hours from my mother, as she is working through some health issues. It’s the perfect place.

Ah, that’s funny, actually. My mom recently called me and she was so happy! She said that she had written a poetic line for me. It goes: “I keep my loving mother at bay!” It was something she wanted to give me, but I think that it was also her way of understanding what I do with her. Close, but not too close. I wish your mother a thorough recovery. 

 

N.B. Devendra Banhart’s Mother Venezuela is suffering through a longstanding socio-economic and political crisis that has left her people facing high disease, crime, starvation, inflation and mortality rates. For his current North American tour, he has partnered with PLUS1 so that $1 from every ticket sold in the U.S. (excluding Dana Point) will go to World Central Kitchen. WCK has responded to the crisis along the Colombia-Venezuelan border and has served more than 350,000 meals to date.

 

Report From Aloft Live: Troye Sivan’s Insider Guide to Perth, Australia

 

 

Until recently, Perth lurked in the shadows of sister cities Sydney and Melbourne, due to its remote position on the West coast of Australia – though it is naturally blessed with over 270 days of sunshine a year, refreshingly fresh air, beautiful beaches and a significantly laid back lifestyle. In recent years it has experienced an economic and cultural boom, however, and with that the emergence of hip, burgeoning neighborhoods outside the city center.

Recently we had the chance to experience Perth through the eyes of Australian pop sensation Troye Sivan, as he returned home as part of the Live at Aloft Homecoming Tour, giving an intimate concert on the rooftop of the Aloft Perth hotel.

“Being able to return home and connect with my fans in Australia is always a really special experience for me,” he enthused. “And being in my hometown of Perth, where my musical journey began, is truly magical.”

 

Aloft Perth

 

The Homecoming is part of Aloft Hotels‘ continuing efforts to cultivate a dynamic music program, pivoting between established and relatively unknown artists. In conjunction with Universal Music Group, the eight stop tour takes artists back to the places they came from, and gives the fans that supported them from the beginning a chance to see their hometown heroes in a genuinely intimate setting.

Sivan continued, “I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of Aloft’s Homecoming Tour and share my music with both the community that shaped me and with the music-loving travelers staying at Aloft.”

Hoping to get to know his home city a little better, we asked him to give us the real 411 on Perth.

 

Northbridge

What was formerly considered the skid row of Perth, Northbridge has undergone a major makeover and has become the center of Perth’s vibrant nightlife scene. Just north of the Central Business District, the area still maintains a gritty feel, but the graffiti has now morphed into Instagrammable street art, which decorates the concrete buildings that are now home to galleries, independent boutiques, bars, nightclubs, outdoor cafes and restaurants.
As the neighborhood borders Chinatown, Northbridge is considered to be Perth’s melting pot, where you can find different cuisines from around the world, such as Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Italian, and Mexican. As you pass through CBD to Northbridge, stop by Perth’s newest outdoor cultural and retail plaza, Yagan Square, also the hub of the recent Perth Fashion Festival – which attracted Australia’s top designers and newcomers from around the world.

 

 

 

Brunch in Leederville and Mount Lawley

One of the favorite weekend pastimes of Perth is brunch. And two of its coolest neighborhoods, Leederville and Mt. Lawley, are home to five of the city’s best brunch spots. The Eat the Street Brunch on Beaufort tour takes you to all of them, sampling local delicacies and meeting with the chefs and restaurant owners.

 

 

Fave Restaurants

Embodying a breezy, 1970s-Los Angeles vibe is Henry Summer, an urban indoor/outdoor cocktail and wine bar that always feels like summer. Bask in the sun amidst a lush décor of plants and colorful furniture, with a farm to table menu that changes seasonally, featuring classic Australian grilled specialties or delicious veggie packed salads. It’s a perfect spot to grab a rosé, sangria, wine spritzer, or mojito to get into the spirit of summer. (N.B. Australian summer runs from December 1 through the end of February.)
Load up on carbs before a late night on the town at the hidden gem Francoforte Spaghetti Bar, known for serving Perth’s best pasta paired with organic wines. For an ‘only in Australia’ experience try the kangaroo bolognese. Though the menu is small, there are plenty of other more traditional yet delicious Italian options such as an eggplant sugo, kale pesto and guanciale carbonara.

 

Henry Summer

 

Fave Nightclub

For a glam, over the top night out I head to Connections, Perth’s premiere gay and lesbian club, beginning the evening watching their extravagant drag queen cabaret show. The real party gets going after midnight, when the upper floors open to a dance club as well as an open air rooftop terrace with plenty of potent cocktails to fuel the night.

 

Rottnest Island

A protected island off the coast of Perth that is only accessible by ferry, Rottnest is a beautiful unspoiled nature reserve, home to the smallest and most adorable marsupial in Australia: the quokka. Thanks to Instagram and celebrity selfies with this cute creature, the island has seen a major spike in visitors, as tourists follow them around the island to take the perfect #quokkaselfie. Explore the coastline by boat and witness whales and dolphins swimming in the ocean in their annual southward trek to warmer waters.

 

Aloft Perth

For cool, loft style living, the design oriented Aloft Perth is the surely city’s best choice. Stylish guest rooms are decorated with well-chosen contemporary art and bright pops of color, and feature panoramic floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the cityscape and the Swan River. Works by Western Australian artists adorn the hallways, embodying the unique landscape and cultural perspective of the region.
The seasonally driven Springs Kitchen has indoor and outdoor seating areas for casual all day dining – followed by drinks at the stylish XYZ bar, which also serves a light bar menu along with creative cocktails, against a backdrop of intimate live music performances.

 

 

The Aloft Live Music Series

The best thing about the Aloft’s live music events are that the performances are free and open to everyone; those looking to attend Live at Aloft Hotels Homecoming Tour should RSVP to alofthotels.com/homecomingtour. Obviously capacity is limited, RSVP does not guarantee entry, and attendance is on a first-come, first-served basis. However, a Marriott Bonvoy credit card gives one VIP access to cut-the-line, plus attend meet & greet events with the talent.

 

10 Corso Como’s ‘bold, beautiful and damned’ Pays Homage to Legendary Fashion Illustrator Tony Viramontes

 

 

10 Corso Como, it turns out, has transitioned effortlessly from the rarefied heights of fashionista Milan to the more approachable confines of NYC’s newly revitalized Seaport District. Still archly conceptual and multi-faceted, the new outpost integrates fashion, design and art, and its eponymous Italian restaurant allows one to stop and consider all they’ve just seen (and purchased).

One thing that simply must be seen is a striking new exhibit at 10 CC’s in-house gallery of the works of late and lamented fashion photographer and illustrator Tony Viramontes. It’s co-sponsored by Fondazione Sozzani, a foundation whose mission is to promote the intersection of fashion and art.

 

 

With Tony Viramontes: bold, beautiful and damned, they’ve assembled a breathtaking overview of his iconic fashion illustrations, mixed media collages, and photographs from the 1980s, curated by design historian Dean Rhys Morgan. Viramontes, who was lost to AIDS in 1988, was a prolific and trailblazing creator of fashion art, collaborating with some of the most exalted fashion houses, sketching haute couture collections for Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Chanel, and Christian Dior. His work was featured in virtually every major fashion publication of the day – and even graced the cover of 1985’s So Red the Rose album by Arcadia, whose members included Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon and Nick Rhodes.

Also a clothing designer, makeup artist and hair stylist, his illustrations quickly becoming known for his bold, graphic lines and dramatic use of color. Viramontes challenged the status quo with drawings of dominant women dressed in the theatrical haute couture of the day. His models posed in make-up, jewelry and exotic turbans.

 

 

 

 

“Tony was the enfant terrible of fashion illustration,” says Rhys Morgan. “His strong and direct drawing style was a marked contrast to the whispered, pastelly, WASPy visuals of the time. There was an insolence about his women. They were very hard and aggressive.”

Of course, his depictions of men exhibited the same sort of audacious sensuousness, boldly stretching the boundaries of masculine identity.

Working in pencil, charcoal, collage and occasionally even lipstick or eyebrow pencil, Viramontes decisively revived the tradition of selling fashion through drawing, which had largely been sidelined by photography at the outset of the 1980s. And in changing the way we viewed high fashion illustration, he created images that remain unquestionably influential to this day.

Tony Viramontes: bold, beautiful and damned will be on exhibit at 10 Corso Como NYC from September 8 through November 10.

 

 

BlackBook Interview: Shakespears Sister Are Here (Again) to Stay

 

 

The ostensibly endless capacity for ’80s nostalgia seems to conveniently forget what a cultural goose egg the last half of that overamped decade mostly was. There were exceptions, naturally. Yet until rave culture, a thrilling new wave of independent film, and the provocational antics of the Young British Artists finally got things stirring again, the good had been worryingly outnumbered by the bad for far too long.

Into those uncertain times was born Shakespears Sister, the decidedly unexpected duo of Bananarama defector Siobhan Fahey and singer Marcella Detroit, who had previously worked with the likes of Eric Clapton and Leon Russell. Fahey had parted ways with the UK’s biggest ever female pop act in 1988 to attempt to summon again the iconoclastic spirit which had originally birthed them; Detroit was just looking for a musical challenge.

Their 1989 debut Sacred Heart quickly went UK Top Ten – but even now they admit to the production being a little too aligned with the prevailing pop zeitgeist: very slickly realized, and overtly overly-synthesized. Though the record holds up surprisingly well to this day.

 

 

By the release of 1992’s classic Hormonally Yours, however, it was clear the pair were setting off down a much more irreverential path. It worked, and the record went to #3, spawning the massive worldwide hit “Stay” (top ten in nine different countries). But in one of music’s all time horrible breakup stories, Siobhan’s publicist indifferently read a statement releasing Marcella from the band, as the latter stood up on a stage collecting a 1993 Ivor Novello award for the both of them.

More than 20 years passed before Fahey would find herself part of a wildly successful 2017 Bananarama reunion tour. It was a “bury-the-hatchet” experience that resonated powerfully enough within her to extend to a reconciliation with Detroit – who had herself kept quite musically busy in the years since the split.

 

 

Much to the thrill of their long-suffering fanbase, the pair are back and claiming it’s for good this time. Signed to London Records once again, the just-released, 32-track Singles Party (1988 – 2019) gathers together remastered versions of their shining moments, along with previously unreleased tracks, remixes, even an acoustic “Stay.”

But two truly excellent new songs – “All the Queen’s Horses” and “C U Next Tuesday” decisively confirm that this is merely the next chapter of what looks to be the continuing story of Shakespears Sister. Further substantiation will come by way of a new 5-song EP, due in October…as well as a 14-date UK tour this autumn.

We sat the busy pair down long enough for an enlightening chat about their past, present, and surely electrifying future.

 

 

Let’s start from the beginning – how did you first come together?

Marcella Detroit: A songwriter friend of mine, Richard Feldman, lived right across the street from where Siobhan and her husband Dave Stewart had moved in. He went over and introduced himself, and they started working together. He told Siobhan that she should meet me, and when they invited me down, it turned out she and I had this great chemistry.
Siobhan Fahey: Richard had this amazing writing studio in his garage, we started experimenting there musically. He said that he knew this person whose voice would work very well with mine, and he was right.

You were a bit of an odd pop duo in the context of the late ‘80s. What was the general musical zeitgeist like at that time?

SF: I do remember wanting to do something that wasn’t to do with the pop zeitgeist. My influences were English punk, funk, and early art rock like Bowie and Roxy Music.
MD: There was some pretty cheesy, over-produced, electronic orchestra sort of stuff going on at that time.
SF: Yes, the ‘80s did suffer from a surfeit of machines.

Both good and bad…

MD: Yes, our friend Roger Linn was the one who created the drum machine [LM-1] that everyone wound up using throughout the ‘80s. It changed pop music.

Then it eventually made everything sound the same.

MD: But everything sounds the same now, so…

Um…Auto-Tune.

SF: I hate Auto-Tune.

Yeah, couldn’t have guessed that.

SF: Our first album actually sounds very ‘80s now. But when it came to making Hormonally Yours, it was very much a move away from machines, and towards more organic sounds – real drums and guitars. That particular album still sounds timeless, I think – more quirky and experimental in its influences and structures.

 

 

Well, it really does need to be said: Bananarama were always a far more iconoclastic act than you were really given credit for.

SF: Yes, thank you! We were.

But it was often treated like, “Oh, just three pretty girls doing pop music.”

SF: Exactly.

So, it’s been 26 years that Shakespears Sister has existed seemingly just as sort of an alter-ego for Siobhan Fahey, right?

SF: Well, it’s certainly a magnified aspect of myself.

What made this the right time for it to be about the two of you again?

SF: It was not a clever master plan or anything; it just happened now because it was meant to happen now. We were ready to meet up and have that conversation I’d been shying away from for a long time. That put the past to rest, and paved the way for the really great side of our relationship – which is that we create very well together.

The acrimony must have been quite significant at the end.

MD: Uh…yeah! That’s an understatement. Over the years I had reached out to Siobhan a few times, but like she said, it just wasn’t really meant to happen then. After Siobhan did the Bananarama tour, I got a message from her management asking if I would like to get together for a chat. And I said “Sure, should I bring my boxing gloves?”

Guessing it didn’t come to that?

MD: I just wanted to resolve things between us personally; I had no idea that we would be creating together again.

 

 

Siobhan, you didn’t really want to do the Bananarama reunion at first?

SF: No, it wasn’t that at all. It just never really occurred to me. When I left in 1988, I signed away the name, and they carried on. They held all the cards, and never really reached out – except to ask me to get up on stage with them and do an encore at the G-A-Y in London [in 2002] for our 20th anniversary…which I did. We had become friends again, but they didn’t ask me back in the band.

Why did you leave back then?

SF: I left because I was the oddball element, and I wanted to go back to doing something a lot more quirky. But I must admit, it was really great fun doing that Bananarama tour, it was a great celebration of what we had been to each other and to the world.

So that got you thinking…

SF: It made me feel really inspired, and I wanted to be creative and make new music again. Bananarama wasn’t really the right environment for that, though – they are very different artists to the way I’ve developed. So, though I knew I was going to make another record again, I did not necessarily know that it was going to be with Marcy.

More than a few people were very pleasantly surprised. 

SF: Well, once we were able to communicate, in a way that we’d never been able to communicate in all those years previously, it resolved everything. And six months later, it seemed like an obvious thing to see if we could make new music again.
MD: So we set out to see if we still had that creative connection between us.

Did you feel the chemistry was very natural?

SF: Extremely natural, we were very open to each other’s ideas, and to being experimental. We come from opposing musical backgrounds, but we bring those backgrounds together in Shakespears Sister. That’s why this is so unique.

In remastering the singles, were there any of those songs that resonated with you again in a particular way?

SF: Yeah, absolutely. I hadn’t listened to our old material for years. And I was kind of blown away by Hormonally Yours – I had forgotten how odd it was…and how good it is. I’m amazed that it sounds so timeless and unique.
MD: It was a concept album based on this 1950s 3-D B-movie called Cat-Women of the Moon. We were going to try to buy the rights to the film and superimpose ourselves into it. The label didn’t really get it. But we were still very inspired by the film, and wrote several songs based on different scenes. So we definitely weren’t thinking about what else was going on in the pop world at the time.

 

 

You’re back on the same label – how have things changed?

SF: It’s a very different experience now being signed back to London Records – there’s a woman in charge, and she loves the material.
MD: Back in those days it was a total boys club.

You both came up through a time when music was changing the world, on a cultural, as well as a socio-political level. Do you have the sense that it’s more like wallpaper now?

SF: Yeah, it’s just like a backdrop to people’s lives, instead of being a centerpiece that defines you, and galvanizes you…
MD: It’s very much taken for granted now.

If you’re 17 now, you might care more about your brand of phone than the music you listen to on it.

SF: I know, that’s insane. The whole experience of music has changed, the emotional experience. Where back then you became best friends with all the scratches and pops on the record, poured over the sleeve notes, and learned all the lyrics.

You’re doing a series of live dates – what can we expect from the shows?

SF: We’re really looking forward to celebrating our music with our fans – we have a very devoted fanbase. But we really didn’t want it to be a retro exercise; so we’ve got a five track EP coming out in October, which I think is the strongest work I’ve ever done. It sounds classic, it sounds organic. We had a brilliant producer in Nick Launay, who’s done the last five Nick Cave records, and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

What was the inspiration?

SF: We set out to make a record that sounded like the records we fell in love with when we were young. We put it together with love.

Did you manage to achieve that feeling personally with the new songs?

MD: Yeah, because what’s the point if you don’t? If you don’t like it, what’s the point of unleashing it on the world?

Well, there is a lot of that going on. Like, here’s yet more banal music for you to settle for…

MD: I know! Because that’s what’s kind of expected of certain genres. But just because you can create a song on your phone, doesn’t mean you should.

Democracy has turned out to be a bad idea when it comes to culture. But what do you like most about the new songs?

SF: Two of the new songs are just in your face, punk attitude, with rock-and-roll swagger. And two of them make me cry. One is this strange, beautiful Scott Walker kind of duet.

Could you say right here that this is not just a quick stop, but that it is the next long chapter of your creative lives?

SF: I’m hoping for that, for sure.
MD: Yes, I love to learn and keep my mind open. When I started working with Siobhan, before that I had been more of a purist – and what we wound up doing opened my mind up to lots of new things. What we’re doing now is very adventurous, going against all this electronic pop just being churned out. And I’m really proud of it. I’m so glad we’ve been able to resolve our differences and find that connection creatively again.

 

BlackBook Interview: Ingrid Chavez on Her Stunning New Album ‘Memories of Flying’ and Paying Poignant Tribute to Prince

 

 

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, there seemed to be an inordinate number of up-and-comers whom the press were labeling “Prince protege.” It wasn’t really much of a surprise – after all, who wouldn’t want that title? But one in particular, Ingrid Chavez, arrived on the scene in a most arresting manner, a young Hispanic girl from New Mexico, of absolutely breathtaking beauty – and, like her mentor, also remarkably adept at shrouding herself in mystery. Which only heightened her allure.

She and His Purpleness recorded a poetry album together in 1988, which was temporarily shelved. But 1990 saw her pop up playing the love interest in his beloved film Graffiti Bridge, while “Justify My Love,” the slinky-sensual song she co-wrote with Lenny Kravitz for Madonna, shot straight up the charts.

Her debut album, titled May 19, 1992, soon followed, curiously actually released in fall of 1991; and an adoring public swooned to such irresistible singles as “Elephant Box” and Prince’s “Heaven Must be Near.”

 

 

During that time she also met the romantic British post-punk crooner David Sylvian (formerly of the band Japan), and thy were wed in 1992. The enigmatic couple moved to a farm in New Hampshire, had two children, and Ingrid for all intents and purposed dropped out of music. They separated in 2004, and, returning to music, Chavez’ 2010 album A Flutter and Some Words simply did not get the attention it deserved.

Now she’s back for real. And new album Memories of Flying sees her at her most visceral and self-assured. From the sultry, opening/title track, with its chilling observation, “The lines between Heaven and Hell are a blur,” to the cosseting beauty of the affectively sanguine “Light Rays,” to the haunted, enigmatic synth-funk of “Driving to the End of a Dream,” to the hopeful “Let the Healing Begin,” with its striking harmonies, lush atmospherics and lyrical proclamations like, “I’ve been broken / But I’m still open,” it’s a work of remarkable emotional complexity, and equally accomplished musically. She is without a doubt at the height of her creative powers.

We caught up for a chat with Ms. Chavez about this new chapter of her life, and how she came to write a moving tribute to Prince, “You Gave Me Wings,” which is a particular highlight of the album.

 

 

You won accolades for your debut, and seemed ready for certain stardom. What made you decide to disappear from music for nearly a decade?

When I set out on my path as an artist and musician at 19, never in my wildest dreams did I expect to find myself caught up in the whirlwind of Prince’s world. As exciting and life changing as it was, it was overwhelming. The excitement quickly waned, as my record on Paisley Park was not getting the attention it deserved from the label. The movie, Graffiti Bridge, was getting a bad rap, and then there was the very public feud between Lenny Kravitz and me over credit for “Justify My Love.” I was getting a bad taste in my mouth about the business of music. On a European publicity tour for the movie, I interviewed with a German magazine in Paris; the journalist asked who I would most love to work with in the future, and I said David Sylvian.

Then you actually met him.

That interview set a course in action that would find me working with David within a few months and eventually married to him. I made a decision then and there to put all of my creative energy into making a family with David and living vicariously through his music. That was enough for me for about eight years, but as the girls got a little older, I started to miss that part of myself that I had set aside.

How much did working with Prince shape you as an artist and a person?

I always incorporated spoken word into my music, even before meeting Prince; but for me it was not something I had considered a focus stylistically. When he put me in Studio B at Paisley Park soon after meeting him, I recorded “Cross The Line” – that was his introduction to me as an artist. That first recording became the piece that was played during intermission on the Lovesexy tour. He was the first person to really encourage me to use more spoken word in my music. He asked me if I would like to make a poetry album, and because of that collaboration between the two of us, I am known for that style.

 

 

What are you wanting or needing to say with Memories of Flying?

Memories of Flying is the newest chapter in my life. By now, my life is measured out in songs and albums, and this is a record about healing and trying to hold people up. Every record I’ve ever released has elements of light and darkness, joy and sadness. Ingmar Bergman asked the question, “Isn’t art always to a certain extent therapy for the artist?” I write to communicate, and to heal myself and the listener.

What is the significance of the title? Are you trying use music as a way of soaring to some higher place? Spiritually? Creatively?

It comes from the idea that when you are weighted down by the world and feel heavy, it is a temporary state. If you can remember what it felt like to fly, to be weightless and easy, it can give you strength and courage to push through the hard times.

There is a noticeable signature to your sound. What did you try to differently on this record, sonically and aesthetically?

I don’t overwork my vocals. I record myself. There is a rawness and an intimacy that I am able to capture by being alone. The recordings can be messy and a nightmare for someone mixing my vocals. What is lost in quality I hope is made up for in the capturing of a moment. This album, in particular, was a bit more of a challenge because I worked with five different co-writers/producers. I had to have faith that my voice and words would be the thread to pull it all together and make it a cohesive collection of songs.

 

 

When you’re writing the words, is it more as a poet than a lyricist? 

I write as a lyricist, but I don’t see a big difference.

On the title track, there is the line, “You smoke to think straight / And drink to stay numb” – is that a confession of sorts?

This song was to and about a friend. Songs are like letters to me. I talk to people I care about through my songs.

When you proclaim, “You deserve all the love in the world” are you addressing yourself?

I am proclaiming it to myself and to everyone who needs to hear that. Again, this is a song that I wrote to a friend who was coming out of a bad relationship that had left them broken inside, and I wanted them to see themselves through my eyes. We are all a little broken inside and sometimes that is all we can see of ourselves; but if someone loves you and you can see yourself in their eyes, it is healing.

“You Gave Me Wings” – is it about Prince?

Yes it is. An artist named Ganga out of Denmark had sent me a track to write to that I had been sitting on for a few weeks, so I decided to take it for a drive. It was April 21, 2016. I stopped at a cafe to grab a coffee for the drive when a friend of mine called to ask if I had heard about Prince; she thought it might be a hoax but within seconds both of our phones started blowing up with calls. I knew it was true; he was gone.

 

 

And you reacted to his death by writing this song?

I did what I do, I just started driving with no destination, until the words came. I was listening to Ganga’s track, and through tears, the words came. They speak of our winter together, me writing the poetry record and him writing Lovesexy.

“Let the Healing Begin” and “Spread Your Wings” seem to suggest a desire to move on from trying or difficult times. Did you find the writing and recording of this album particularly cathartic?

“Let The Healing Begin” is one of my favorite tracks on the album. I wrote this song driving from Jacksonville, Florida to Orlando, at a heavy time for me. There are two songs on this album that refer to me as a child; this one and “Calling Out The Thunder.” I am always attracted to music that has a little heaviness to it; it forces me to dive a bit deeper. I always say it’s the sad songs that I love the most and although there is often a tinge of sadness to my music, there is always that redemption, that light at the end of the tunnel.

You can hear that on both tracks.

“Spread Your Wings,” again, is a letter to a friend. Writing a song is like summing up all the swirling of emotions, finding words and melodies to make sense of it all. Yes, writing and recording this album was cathartic, it sums up the past four years of my life, a closed chapter, and now the book of my life is ready for a new one.

The musical landscape has changed radically from when you first came on the scene. What do you hope to get from making music at this time in your life?

I would never want to go back. I am comfortable here in this new geography where I am able to navigate my own way through it. I was never good at playing the game. I have managed to stay true to who I am no matter the climate. And I feel blessed to have gotten the big label experience of the early ’90s – what a ride.