Goldfrapp on Their New Album 'Silver Eye' and Why "Art Is Freedom"
It's been over three years since Goldfrapp put out their latest set of lush electro, and with a polarized world, their new music has a fascinating new voice.
After the lush orchestrations and sweeping numbers of their 2013 effortTales of Us, Goldfrapp are back to synth sounds and dance tracks with Silver Eye, an album that feels like the child of their previously heralded works Black Cherry and Supernature -- meaning that it sounds like the band we've come to love.
And yet there is something unfamiliar and fascinating about the story being told in the album, one in which the elements and the moon command the push and pull of our souls. Like a call to pray on the dancefloor, the album opens with the infectious "Anymore" which in its video features a sensuous desert ritual led by Alison Goldfrapp as porcelain skin priestess. The themes of communion with the self and others continue in the playful "Tigerman" and "Become the One", but just as we're getting used to the thumping beats, Silver Eye takes a turn for the mystical as we enter "Zodiac Black". From there, it proves to be one of the band's most stimulating albums, a perfect piece of pop music that thrives with exciting sounds, and evocative lyrics.
In songs like "Moon in Your Mouth" Goldfrapp's vocals acquire an earthiness that's perfectly married to Will Gregory's synth, making for a song that washes upon you wave after wave. It makes sense that this leads to the majestic "Ocean" which closes the album with a bang, but also invites one to return to it from the start. I had a chance to speak to Goldfrapp and Gregory about the album's structure, the challenges of making art in our world, and whether they want to take their storytelling to a different kind of stage.
* * *
The review copy I received was only available to stream, which forced me to quite literally sit with the album at home since I couldn't take it out into the world with me. However this made me always listen to it from start to finish, rather than skipping to favorite tracks and such, which made for a very rich experience. What would you say is the ideal listening setting for Silver Eye?
Gregory: A padded cell.
Goldfrapp: [laughs] I love listening to music when I'm driving actually, or sitting in the dark with a real fire.
Gregory: A roaring fire.
That makes sense, the last half of the album feels quite introspective, despite the first half having more dance beats. It also made me think about being in nature, which I often find very terrifying, but I found in the album to be quite soothing.
Goldfrapp: That's interesting.
Gregory: Nature terrifying? Is that because you wouldn't be able to make something to eat?
That too, but it's also about not having control. Alison, I've read that you loved going into nature growing up...
Goldfrapp: I actually know someone who's terrified of being in the countryside, and I'm not really friends with them because of that. I think some people are scared of space, silence, when you're in nature, and you're so used to being in a city, it can be scary. Suddenly you have to deal with yourself, you have no distractions or noise around you, there's only time and space to question a lot of things, which can be profoundly scary.
Silver Eye tells a beautiful story that makes it hard for listeners to skip tracks, I know I couldn't for example, but given how we're so used to now only buying the songs we want from albums, how has this affected the way in which you structure your records?
Gregory: That's a compliment isn't it? I've always wanted to make albums where you don't want to skip any tracks, because if you want to skip a track then you shouldn't put it on there. We wrote a lot more tracks than ended up in the album, but I think our setting is "no skipping".
Goldfrapp: That's the whole point of making an album, it's a wonderful platform to make a body of work. It should be something that feels like it has a beginning, a middle and an end, and it should have some sort of narrative even if it's abstract. Albums should feel like a coherent thing, you don't want fillers, you want to make sure that everything counts. But that's such a nice thing to say, it's the biggest compliment ever I think.
How did you select the opening and closing tracks? Do you have long conversations about what the right bookends should be?
Goldfrapp: Yes! [laughs] Quite a lot! Daniel Miller, our boss, gets quite involved in these matters. There's a lot of debate on where things should go, what feels right where, it can be quite a mind boggling process.
Gregory: One thing we knew was the album would come out in vinyl, we're excited vinyl is coming back and is becoming part of everyone's culture. I think that basically means if you have ten tracks, that's five tracks per side and it's very useful to think of two halves and how that works. You turn the record over and add a little pause which helps.
Can you share some of your favorite vinyl memories? Did you keep any records from your teenage years?
Goldfrapp: I've got a couple of Prince albums that I love listening to. I get quite nostalgic with them. I've got a Nick Drake album in vinyl as well that I love. There's something so special, when someone gives you a gift of vinyl that always feels nice.
Gregory: Listening to things you grew up with is always an open subject, because sometimes I think it's something you don't want to do, especially if music if part of your work. Sometimes your brain experiences things that you shouldn't, I might be listening to a record I love and suddenly say to myself "Oh my God, that's so badly recorded," or "hey, those vocals are way out of tune, that's not how I remembered it." Sometimes you have to be careful with the music you love, you don't want to realize you don't love it anymore.
In "Become the One" there's a lyric that says "become the one you know you are" which made me think of how many people assume they know "the Goldfrapp sound," do you try to challenge these notions and make completely different sounds in each record?
Goldfrapp: I don't think it's a deliberate thing either way, when you are trying something new, or experimenting, you want it to sound natural and it has to feel genuine. You should never do something deliberately for the sake of being provocative.
Gregory: When you're writing you're not aware of the person who's receiving it, it's not like a ball game where someone catches it. If anything you're throwing it out to yourself, the loop isn't open like that at that point. You don't really worry about those issues when you're doing it.
The song was inspired by My Transgender Summer Camp but it also made me think it was a perfect companion to "Annabel" from Tales of Us, you're one of the few bands I can think of who are directly addressing specific sexual identity rather than more universal "be yourself" messages. Can you talk a bit about why you think this is important?
Goldfrapp: I found that documentary so inspiring, I was so gobsmacked that someone at that age could be so articulate and aware of themselves. I'm not that articulate at the age of 50, let alone at 11, or however old the children were. It was incredible and that in itself was so inspiring. That comment she makes at the end about not changing but becoming the person they were, was so profound. It makes the hairs on your neck stand. I suppose you can apply that to anything. There are points in our lives when we change but we need the confidence to move into the next phase. Even to have the awareness of that is incredible. I'm also very fascinated by transformation, I think we all have dual personalities, we're on that spectrum. I'm fascinated by how we see ourselves, how we put that out into the world, and how we see ourselves.
Gender is such a complex, fascinating thing. I don't know how else to explain that really. I'm always asking myself questions about it. But to me this is something celebratory, the idea of ritual as well, there's a lot of that in that song. The rhythm in the song is very repetitive, and it changes and moves along into something different. The idea of repetition, multiplying, transforming, metamorphosis with the sound, as well as your physical body. I honestly don't know if I explained any of this well at all. [laughs]
I think it's a great explanation. I want to ask about the themes in "Moon in Your Mouth" which is such a lush number. Is this song where the title for the album came from?
Goldfrapp: Not specifically, the lyrics in the album are kind of elemental, so the title didn't come from that song, but from the moon, the elemental. I'm glad you liked that track so much, it's nice.
After you made the score for Medea did you wish to explore making an opera or a musical?
Gregory: Yes, we love the marriage of music and drama, that's why we've always liked film music. We love talking about the drama of a song, I think translating that into a stage production is fraught business. I like personally very, very few musicals and operas. I'm not sure why that is, but I'd rather not go to a musical, I'd rather see a play.
Which are the musicals you like?
Gregory: There's three. OK maybe slightly more than that, but I like two films by Jacques Demy The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and The Young Girls of Rochefort, both have Michel Legrand scores and I like his scores. Both films are so over the top and absurd, that they shoot through their pain barrier of people not believing that others would break into songs in any situation, they make this work in a perverse way, and they're also quite moving. I like Cabaret too, it's a great film dealing with a tough subject in a fantastic way. I also like The Producers which is an anti-musical, isn't it? Maybe I need somebody to talk me through more.
Goldfrapp: Have you seen La La Land Will?
Gregory: I haven't, but I wanna see it, have you?
Goldfrapp: Yes, I enjoyed it actually. I didn't think I would but I did.
Especially if you like Demy from which it borrows a lot. The video for "Anymore" also made me think of Mad Max was that in any way an influence?
Goldfrapp: Not particularly, but I love the desert as a metaphor and a sort of canvas, it's definitely always a good place in a sci-fi film, visually it's great. Volcanic rock as well, they're gorgeous. I'm quite into volcanoes, I like going to look at them, in my next life I want to be a geologist.
On Twitter you've spoken about Brexit and posted some images of the Women's March. How has the current state of the world affected the way in which you make art?
Goldfrapp: Art is freedom and art is now more crucial than ever in our lives. We need to speak out and art should be there to speak for us, as a form of expression. It's important for people to have that voice. Art is vital.
Gregory: Art crosses borders, it's ideas, especially music which doesn't have a language or barriers.
Goldfrapp: It's a time to fight for art, because there's a lot of people in the world who want to take that away. I think maybe we always have, but particularly we're in a moment when we need to fight and not let people take it away from us.
You're going on tour with the album, what can we expect from this tour?
Goldfrapp: Eh ... [laughs]
Gregory: We still haven't made those decisions, we need to figure out how to get what we did in a studio and put it onstage.
Goldfrapp: Things are coming in and also we don't have very much money, so in terms of production it's me and the band, so it's quite simple visually. We're definitely doing some festivals in England and in Europe, we hope we'll be able to get to America as well, I'd love to go to South America but I don't know if we'll be able to. I love going to South America, it's always so wonderful...but for now watch the space, see what happens.
Is it hard to figure out where the new material will go when performed with the old one?
Goldfrapp: Yeah, but I think it will be fun to play this album. Hopefully we can do it all!