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The Liberated Chameleon: An Interview With Alison Moyet

Dan MacIntosh

Alison Moyet may be several artists at once, but she's still just herself.

Alison Moyet

The Turn

Label: Decca
US Release Date: 2008-07-08
UK Release Date: 2007-10-15

A multi-personality disorder in every day life is an emotional tragedy for that individual, and equally troubling for family and friends. But in the music world, where chameleons are looked up to, such an affliction (in the artistic sense) is more blessing than curse. Take the case of Alison Moyet, for instance. This soulful singer just reunited with Vince Clarke to tour as Yaz, where they revisited some of the best examples of upbeat synth-pop. But the new wave diva is just one of Moyet's musical personalities because this veteran vocalist also recently released The Turn, a collection of quieter and more introspective pop tunes. In this solo instance, instead of singing over Clarke's catchy keyboard melodies, Moyet is many times backed by a full orchestra.

"I'm a bit multifaceted in the sense that I've got many more than one musical taste," Moyet explains. "If you think about it, I started out playing in a punk band and ended up doing electro-pop. That was more an accident than a plan. I just think that when you've been singing for 30 years, which I have been, you just want to find different things you can do with your voice. It's a constant journey. It's not like any one album that you make is who you are. It just reflects that particular day. Do you know what I mean?"

In addition to her wide variety of musical modes, Moyet has also tried her hand at acting over the years as well. She played Matron "Mama" Morton in a West End production of the musical Chicago in 2001, and also appeared in the play Smaller. In fact, three songs from Smaller, which also co-starred Dawn French, are also featured on The Turn. So naturally, The Turn has a strong theatrical feel to it much of the time. "I don't feel the theatrical connotations as much as other people might pick up on them," Moyet admits. "There's three songs I wrote for a play, but that was very much songs for a play, as opposed to being a part of a musical."

While much of The Turn is filled with tunes built around slow-burning drama, the CD ends with one called "A Guy like You", which sounds more like spicy '70s soul. Thus, it makes sense that this particular song comes at the end because it doesn't really fit with the rest of the work. One reason why Moyet tacked this fun little tune at the end was just to prove she can still create upbeat pop when she wants to.

"In an ideal world, it wouldn't really have been on the album," Moyet adds, however. "There are a few other songs that are kind of extra tracks -- which you can get as downloads -- that you'll see there were a lot of different colors going on within those sessions that [also] couldn't be included. Because you want an album to have a certain ... it just got too eccentric to have all those areas on it. I wanted to write a song like 'A Guy like You' because I wanted to illustrate that I don't do pop at the moment, not because I can't or because I haven't got an ear for it. It's just not particularly what I was doing." Another reason why the song ended up on the disc is because the record company loved it. "Obviously, the record company in England would hear a song like that and relate to it more easily and pressure you to put it on a record that I wouldn't have done otherwise, in truth," Moyet admits. "As much as I like it, it's an oddity compared with the other songs."

Moyet found her recent reunion tour with Yaz to be a relatively easy one, especially when compared with touring behind the more difficult and complicated material on her latest solo release.

"I absolutely loved it!" she enthuses. "It's easy in lots of ways to do very up material on stage because you don't have to kind of get your audience in a particular mood. You don't have to create that. It's almost like they create it for you. And the idea of playing a whole set of songs where the majority of the audience know every single song is a complete blessing. Normally you're showcasing new material, so there's always some areas of trying explain yourself. But when it comes to doing songs everybody knows, there's no explanation; everyone kind of knows where it's coming from."

It's also relatively easy to recreate Yaz studio music live, as it is stripped down compared to a lot of other more layered pop sounds. But with The Turn, which is a highly orchestrated work, one wonders how Moyet plans to bring these songs to the live setting.

"I won't try and replicate it," Moyet says. "One of the things I wanted to do with The Turn was write a production of songs that could be stripped down to one or two instruments if you chose to do it." Also, Moyet doesn't plan to build her tour completely around The Turn songs, so she won't need to make a lot of special accommodations to perform its selections. "It's more a case of going on tour at a time when your record is coming out, as opposed to being a tour that's purely about that [album]. There will be a lot of The Turn in there, but set is going to be quite eccentric I think."

Somewhat limiting herself on the number of The Turn songs she'll perform live may present a problem of a different sort, simply because she is so proud of all of them.

"To be honest, it's one of those records that I find it harder to choose which songs not to do live, than the other way around," Moyet enthuses. "They breathe well. I really love singing them."

These songs were love at first composition, if you will, because when it came to creating The Turn; the writing of its songs was not a long and arduous process. And this is because Moyet already had a well-conceived vision for it in her mind.

"When I started doing it, I kind of knew what I was after," Moyet explains. "I think with all records, it's the starting out that is the difficult stage. But I kind of felt very comfortable with what I wanted to do as a singer at this point in time. So it wasn't a tortuous process at all."

No doubt about it, Moyet is one of our greatest modern blue-eyed soul singers. But what oftentimes sets her apart from many other great female vocalists is her emphasis on being a song artist as well a vocalist. She intentionally positions herself outside singers who merely use songs to showcase their vocal talents.

"I've become so tired, in kind of popular music, of this constant showboating," she opines. "The vocal acrobatics that's everywhere that just sucks logic out of the melody. I really wanted to be singing songs that could hold a note; that were just melodic in a traditional sense and intelligent lyrically. I was quite happy to work outside of general fashions."

Moyet has reached a point where Shakespeare's famous quote, "To thine own self be true" has sort of become her motto. She doesn't feel the need to make everybody happy; she just needs to satisfy her personal artistic goals. And if that connects with listeners, all the better.

"I'm 47 now," she admits, "and I find that quite a liberating place to be because you don't have to follow the masses."

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