Pixie Geldof talked with Olaf Tyaransen back in November about her love for Ireland, her unlikely music influences, and the pros and cons of being from a famous family.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from model-turned-singer Pixie Geldof, but her country-influenced debut album I’m Yours suggested that the third daughter of Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof and TV presenter Paul Yates would be a woman of substance.
And so she was. I met the 26-year-old in the RTE radio centre where she was recording a few tracks for Arena. She nailed them all perfectly within just a couple of takes, and we did the interview sitting around a piano in the studio. She was witty, self-deprecating and smart. The only bum note came when I brought up the tragic death of her older sister Peaches. She completely froze up and simply shook her head. It was obviously still very raw for her. I didn’t pursue the issue…
Pixie's Lott: An Interview With Pixie Geldof
Pixie Geldof doesn’t seem to swear very much, which isn’t something you’d necessarily expect from a daughter of the famously foulmouthed Bob ‘focking’ Geldof.
“It’s just because I’m doing this radio stuff today!” she laughs, putting her hand over her mouth. “I actually do swear, but I don’t as much as my dad. I don’t think anyone on Earth does as much as him!”
Hot Press is sitting around a grand piano with the 26-year-old brunette in an old art-deco recording studio buried deep in the bowels of the RTE Radio Centre in Donnybrook. Obviously designed in the ’60s, it feels like we’re on the set of an Austin Powers movie. Or midway through a mild acid trip. “This place is totally amazing, isn’t it?” she says, casting her deep brown eyes around the multi-coloured room. “I wish I’d done my album here.”
Pixie actually recorded her debut album I’m Yours in Los Angeles, but we’ll come to that presently. On a flying 24-hour visit to Dublin to promote it, the singer has just performed three songs, backed by two guitarists from her band, and prerecorded a short interview with Sean Rocks for Arena.
A seemingly decent sort, she’s friendly, chatty and refreshingly unpretentious. Although born and raised in London, she considers herself half-Irish. “I absolutely do,” she enthuses. “I often identify as Irish. I like it, there’s something about it. It’s nice. I don’t get over here as much as I would like, genuinely. I used to come out for my grandpa’s birthday and such, but not so much anymore. Such a shame.”
Whatever about her colorfully monikered sisters (Fifi Trixibelle, Peaches Honeyblossom and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily), Pixie is actually very well-named. A successful model since her late-teens, she isn’t what you’d describe as classically beautiful, but there’s something incredibly striking about her angularly elfin features. She has a serious presence. Although she’s been the face for major campaigns by the likes of Levi’s, Diesel, Razzle and Agent Provocateur, modelling was only ever really a way of making some easy cash. Her childhood dream was always to be a singer. “Well, I also wanted to be a lawyer, and then I wanted to be a marine biologist. I kind of still want to be a marine biologist! But really, first and foremost, I wanted to be a singer-songwriter.”
As the offspring of a Boomtown Rat, she always had plenty of encouragement in the rock ‘n’ roll department. “My father loved it,” she recalls. “If he had told me horror stories, and I’m sure he would have, I might have felt differently, but he loves it, and I can see it. Growing up, you felt that, how much excitement he had when he did gigs and things like that. So, no, he was great.”
Although she’s been writing songs since her mid-teens, she first put her toe in the water publicly in 2012 as frontwoman of London-based grunge act Violet.
“We only put out one single,” she explains. “It was very much just to put something out. It wasn’t to get a reaction. It wasn’t to make any money. It wasn’t anything like that. I get very in my head about things. And I think that I needed to put something out to stop that fear. It’s like when people play their first ever show – you’ve done it, and you’ve lived. It’s the same thing. I just wanted to put something out.
“And I freaked! I remember putting it out on the internet, and I saw that some people had listened to it, and I thought, ‘Oh, it’s kind of gross! There’s something weird about it.’ But the next day, I woke up and the world hadn’t ended, and thus it continued.”
Violet gigged for about a year, but didn’t release any further recorded material. “We played a lot, yeah. Our first show was a very small place called The Boiler Room in Guildford. It was literally just my mates and the band I was supporting. And I did one the next day that was slightly more intimidating. But again, did it… done! That was my attitude. I’m not a natural performer in that way. Every time I did it, for a good six months, I was just, ‘Go on stage, sing the songs, get off the stage.’ That was it. Now, it’s an enjoyable experience, to a certain extent. Back then, it was not.”
Violet were named after a Hole song, and Pixie actually encountered Courtney Love on one occasion. Did she impart any words of advice? “No, she didn’t, actually. But she did give me a dress, and I still have it, of course, and I’m not getting rid of that anytime soon. It was very cool. She IS Courtney Love. So when you meet someone who excites you, it’s disappointing if they’re not that person. There’s a lot of people that I do like that I know not to meet because I know in my mind that they won’t be that person. She is the antithesis of that, and it’s great. She’s a whirlwind of a human being.”
While she was always a fan of grunge, it took Pixie a while to realise that it wasn’t actually the kind of music she wanted to write herself. “There was a period where I wanted to do a certain type of music that didn’t come naturally, completely, to me. And I think the songs suffered for it. And then I kind of gave in to the fact that really I like beautiful little love songs, and that’s what I want to write, and that’s what I did. That kind of stinks of country, doesn’t it?”
Recorded late last year in L.A. with legendary producer Tony Hoffer (Goldfrapp, Beck, Air, Ladyhawke), I’m Yours is something of a surprise. It’s not just Pixie’s beguilingly husky vocals and the depth of some of her lyrics. While it’s a left-field pop record, with hints of Mazzy Star, Warpaint and Lana Del Ray, the predominant influence is quite obviously country music.
She claims that her all-time musical hero is Kris Kristofferson.
“It’s an odd choice, I know, but I love him,” she smiles. “For me, the words and the stories are the thing. Obviously, in country music, that is what it is. What identifies country music is the storytelling. He tells stories with a simplicity that I don’t find in many other people. I feel like there’s people who are incredible songwriters, and I love their lyrics, and their lines are so specific to them, but they’re kind of floaty.
“There’s something I like about someone that just goes (slaps hand on piano), straightforward, ‘This is what I’m saying’, and it’s really beautiful. Because that’s what you’re thinking, whether you’re sad or you’re heartbroken or you’re in love. You’re not thinking how Shakespeare spoke, you’re thinking how you speak. (Silly voice) ‘Oh, I love you’. Sometimes that’s all you have to say.”
It definitely doesn’t come across on any of her songs, but another major influence is apparently Eminem. “It doesn’t exist in the songs, whatsoever,” she says. “Influence has different vibes, but, for me, Eminem was one of the first times that I noticed lyrics. I was very young when he came out, I think I was eight. Obviously, I was a big fan of Blur back then. I liked listening to that as a kid. I was a huge Britney fan and a Spice Girls fan, and all that stuff, but it’s nonsense [in comparison].
“Eminem was the first time where, when I listened to what he was saying, I was shocked by it, and, suddenly, these words were giving me a feeling, and it was weird. I loved it and was very encouraged in our household to listen to him. In terms of influence, in that way, it was the first time that I went, ‘That’s important to do – it can’t just bump along as a song, it has to say something and mean something.’ The second album came out and my head exploded. It was the greatest record ever!” Largely dealing with love, life and loss, Pixie’s own material is obviously deeply personal. “I’m Yours represents every single human I’ve ever loved in my life,” she says of the album. “Songs of love in every form, platonically, family, in romance. I’m a part of these people’s lives… and I’m theirs in any capacity they need me.”
Does she write the songs herself?
“I write all the lyrics and the melodies and that sort of stuff. But my guitar isn’t great. It’s enough to write the basics and things like that, but that’s about it. So I do the lyrics and melodies, but the guitar is not me.”
The album is coming out on UK indie label Stranger Records. She says it’s a natural home for her. “I had met with many a label over about seven years. Just a lot of people. There was always different kinds of questions, and there was always something that didn’t fit either of us. I met Stranger, and they just liked it. And that was all I wanted. They came in and they were like, ‘Hey, great songs!’
“That was the first thing, not a silly question about nonsense that I don’t know about. It was, ‘Cool song!’ And I was like, ‘Cheers, that’s great!’ We all got on very well, and we still do. It’s a business, but we do get on very well, and that’s important. And it’s a smaller label. I can call up the dudes directly. That’s what I want to do. I like to work like that.”
How did Tony Hoffer come to produce?
“He was on a wish list, and he said ‘yes’, much to my amazement,” she explains. “I spoke to him on Skype, because we hadn’t met. And then I went to LA to meet him. He was just awesome! He was a cool guy. He got it. He understood that I was nervous. He understood that I was kind of shy about it. He was like, ‘Look, it’s cool. We’ll go as slow or as fast as you want. You can procrastinate as much as you want, but please don’t be a nightmare.’
“I was a nightmare, I’m sure,” she continues, smiling. “He just made the whole thing very different to what I think it would have been had it not been someone I had cared for so much. He’s a great dude. We did it in his studio. We recorded for two months.”
The strings were composed by David Campbell, father of indie star Beck. His impressive CV includes work on albums by Carole King, Marvin Gaye, The Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, Radiohead and Adele.
“He’s on another level,” gushes Pixie. “Just who he’s worked with, what he’s done, how he is, he’s amazing. I was very shy. When we left his studio, I said to Tony (whispers), ‘Oh my god.’ And then we got to do this amazing day in this string studio on Sunset [Boulevard]. It’s an odd day when twelve very skilled string players come in and play your songs with David Campbell, and you’re just sat there with, you know… (drops jaw). I think it was the best day of recording, for me.
“It was the complete dream of a 19-year-old person. I was there, and I was 25, and it was happening. That was probably the proudest moment.”
Of course, it wasn’t all plain sailing…
“There were a couple of tough days, yeah,” she admits. “There were a couple of days that I absolutely refused to accept that the vocals were good enough for certain songs, or that the weird little sounds that we had put on the day before shouldn’t be there or should be there. There were definitely days like that. In terms of emotion, I think that’s how it manifested for me. It wasn’t necessarily that it was hard to sing. It was hard to finish, that was the big thing.”
Pixie is the third daughter of Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates (who died of a heroin overdose in 2000). Two years ago, following in the tragic footsteps of their mother, her beloved older sister Peaches passed away in the same manner. She addresses Peaches’ untimely death on the hauntingly beautiful ‘Twin Thing’: “Into the wave where you’re going/ I watch you falling down…/ Wish I’d known you like my own skin/ So I could feel the hurt you were in/ Wish we had that twin thing…”
The press release that accompanied Hot Press’ copy of the album included the following quote about the song: “Loss has happened to everyone I’ve ever met. Every single person on this Earth understands that when the person’s gone, in any capacity, divorce, a death, you wake up and you are smacked with it every day for the rest of your life. You just are.” When asked today where she was when she first heard the news of her sister’s death, however, Pixie totally freezes up, blanches, and shakes her head. “Sorry. I’m not gonna...” (It’s a very awkward moment, and your correspondent feels like shit).
Sure. That’s understandable. But was the song difficult to record? “It wasn’t so much that it took a long time,” she says, after a lengthy pause. “It took a lot of precision. Luckily, everyone, being as talented as they are, that I worked with, it was great, and there wasn’t much twiddling about there to do. But… I have to live with it for longer than the others.”
When was the last time the singer cried?
“I cry at everything, to be honest,” she smiles. “I like it. It’s really embarrassing. I watched Pride and Prejudice the other day and cried. Anything romantic gets me. It can be utter crap, and I’m like (sobbing) ‘Oh my god, they’re sooo in love!’ I do cry a lot. I cry at songs. I cry at everything.”
Tony Hoffer aside, who was her sounding-board during the recording of the album?
“That was tough, because I’m my own critic, always. I play it to people along the way. It’s tough with obviously the record, because it happens in such stages with different songs. So you’ll only have the bones of something. But I played it to my boyfriend, and I played it to a friend of mine out in LA. But when the album came back… I have a few mates who tend tell me the honest truth. It was good.”
What was Sir Bob’s verdict?
“He’s heard it. He loved it. He’s good at saying the truth. He ain’t gonna shy away from it. In general, I think he actually did really like it. His whole thing is very much that it’s never crap if you like it. That is it. That’s all that really mattered. Did you give it your all? Yeah, I did. Alright, perfect... then it’s fantastic.” A bit-player in her father’s self-admitted soap opera life, Pixie has been famous since birth…
“Yes,” she nods. “I didn’t notice it, but yes, I have I suppose.”
Is she worried that people will have preconceived notions because of her family background?
“I’m sure people have a preconception of the music. Like you said to me earlier, you were surprised [that the album was so good]. Pleasantly so, thank god. But, of course, not everyone can be pleasantly surprised, and some people will go, ‘Well, I knew it!’ But what I hope is that when people don’t like it, they don’t boil it down to, ‘Because there’s someone famous in your family, therefore you can’t also be good.’
“It’s very bizarre to me. Realistically, you don’t like it because you just don’t like the songs, and it’s not because my father is that person. The reason it’s not good is because it’s not for you. It’s for me, for some people. So preconceptions aren’t something I think about too much.”
Does she have a hunger for fame in her own right?
She firmly shakes her head. “No, not at all. I have quite the opposite, I believe.”
She’s possibly in the wrong career, then?
“Absolutely!” guffaws Pixie. “It’s a disaster. It’s a weird thing, I think, fame, it’s an odd thing to lust after. Very odd. I think it’s a hard thing to work for, because it doesn’t exist – it’s not a tangible concept. It’s very much fleeting. The only thing that really should last from any of this is the songs. I know that. But it’s true. Every single thing that goes into this will probably disappear over time except for this one little tiny ten-track thing. Fame, to me, is anxiety. But some people manage to do it without it.”
Fame may not be her motivation, but hopefully her obvious talent will shine through. She’s certainly not some empty-headed dilettante cashing in on the Geldof name. Rather, she’s a serious songwriter.
“This has always been the ‘thing’,” she tells me. “I would love to write songs for other people. I would love to be able to make a career out of actual songwriting. I would love to make album number two and album number three and, you know, I’d love to do it forever. That’s why you do this. I don’t know if maybe some people do it just to get what was an out. For me, I’m sure there will always be a lot in. Ha, ha!”
Does Pixie Geldof have a motto in life?
“Just get on with it,” she says, shrugging. “Absolutely, that is my motto. I think it applies to any situation. I think I annoy my friends with it. They’ll be talking about something, and I’ll say, ‘Get on with it’. It’s truuuue! Just do the thing! With everything.” I’m Yours is out now on Stranger Records.