- 16 Aug 05
Alison Goldfrapp talks about going glam, troubled times with Tricky and the joys of rocking out.
Alison Goldfrapp is a proper pop star and you absolutely want to hug her for it.
She’s imperious and distant. She doesn’t pretend to be your friend or to find anything you say particularly interesting. Should you ask what she considers to be a ridiculous question – and today, they’re all failing the Alison-test – Goldfrapp exhales sharply, flashes a thin smile and strays utterly off the point.
Like I said, Goldfrapp is the complete package – prickly, awkward, not too bothered about schmoozing journalists. In an age when we prefer our celebrities earth-bound and self-effacing, Goldfrapp harks back to a previous era: celebs were celebs, back then, and punters knew their place.
She even looks slightly otherworldly. On stage Goldfrapp cuts a kittenish figure, all preening pouts and dazzling, put-down-stares. Perched opposite you, however, she seems absurdly small and delicate.
Her face is pinched and full of strange angles. Goldfrapp prefers not to wear make-up; unadorned, her skin glimmers with a peculiar lustre. She reminds you of a porcelain doll left to cultivate dust in a cupboard for a decade.
There’s something like beauty there, yet it’s a sad and far-away kind. That smile – which arrives infrequently – is brittle, almost cruel. Goldfrapp, you conclude, is one of those stars best savoured from a distance, in performance or cooing from your stereo.
You don’t really need me to point this out, of course. Anyone who has encountered Goldfrapp on record will have already sensed the diva behind the voice.
Her music offers an exhilarating confluence of contradictions, at once stripped down and over-the-top, haughty and intimate. In essence, it is the sound of Alison Goldfrapp’s personality.
Today, though, the shutters are down. The previous night Alison and Will Gregory, the 40-something boffin who is the other half of Goldfrapp, the band, clubbed until dawn. Now she’s got a bastard hangover.
How Gregory is feeling will have to remain a mystery. Supposedly, he was to take part in the interview. However, as I’m being lead into the room, he blunders past, muttering something about going to Austria for a holiday. Gregory strikes you as an odd bird, a cross between Great Uncle Bulgaria the womble and a freshman Tory MP.
“People say Will’s a nerd...well, he is a nerd. He’s a musical nerd,” purrs Goldfrapp who, concealed behind vast mosquito sunglasses, feels so distant you wonder, occasionally, whether she’s actually here at all.
“Then again, I’m quite nerdy too. When it comes to music, at least. We’re like two boffins in a laboratory. We go in, tinker around and stuff...happens. I’m not very good at deconstructing the creative process. We just sort of muck about for a while and then, at the end, there’s a record waiting for us.”
Goldfrapp’s ‘mucking about’ has yielded three albums; the first, Felt Mountain, was slow and claustrophobic. Emerging at the fag-end of trip-hop, it suggested a Portishead record trapped in an Arctic floe.
Nearly three years later came Black Cherry, a sexed-up stomper; the cover had Alison in fetish leathers, the songs, a clatter of nervous electronica, were quite saucy as well.
Now, Goldfrapp (which, properly speaking, refers to both Alison and Gregory) are about to release an LP that strives for an uneasy truce between the previous two.
On Supernature – the title refers to experiments on cockroaches, supposedly– glammy cyber-rock shares the floor with music that is deeper, sadder. The result: Goldfrapp’s most cohesive album, a glittery ejaculation of high-IQ perv-pop.
“I suppose, it’s a companion piece to Black Cherry in many ways,” says Goldfrapp. “After Felt Mountain we were sick to death of slow songs. We’d been touring it for months and we were absolutely bursting to do something that was immediate and perhaps throwaway. So Black Cherry happened. On this occasion we were in less of a hurry, so to speak and there’s a bit more thought behind what we’ve done.”
Touring Black Cherry crystallised Goldfrapp as a bone fide pop entity. Mostly a studio-project until then, the pair discovered, on the road, the pleasure of spontaneity. Playing in front of an audience taught them to be impulsive; for the first time, they began to experiment with live instruments.
“We put guitars on a couple of songs on Supernature,” says Goldfrapp. “It was one of those things that had never occurred to us before. Playing with a band forced us to figure out how to use things like live bass and drums. We found out what it was like to be in a rock group. Some of that certainly trickled down, when it came to putting Supernature together. The process of recording was looser than before.”
Fame came knocking late for Alison Goldfrapp. The singer is in her mid thirties; she frittered her twenties away knocking around in a variety of dead-beat trip-hop acts. Goldfrapp actually guested on Tricky’s Maxinquaye album in 1994 – her creamy vocals underpin the juddering ‘Pumpkin’ – and toured with him for two years.
The period is not remembered fondly; Tricky, she says, “did her head in”. He encouraged her to sing in a made up language (“fucking gobbledegook,” Goldfrapp reminisces) and teased her for having gone to art school.
She is reluctant to dwell on her time with Tricky. Indeed, her past, it becomes clear, isn’t up for discussion.
This is a disappointment because Goldfrapp has been in the wars. For five years, apparently, she was more or less in a permanent marijuana haze; earlier, as a convent-school tearaway, she sniffed glue and, according to rumour, stole cars.
The funny thing is that, while unwilling to open up about herself, she appears uncomfortable speaking about her music, too. In fact, the only time she approaches effusive is when asked about her love of Marc Bolan, to whom Supernature is partially dedicated (there is a song called ‘Ride A White Horse’ and the single ‘Oooh-la-la’ winks cheekily in the direction of ‘Hot Love’).
“Growing up, I really loved his music. He was such a fantastic songwriter. His songs are so immediate and powerful and sexy. I’m not trying to claim him as an influence. I just really like what he did.”
On the subject of sexy, I say, determined to provoke something like a human reaction, was this hotel her choice? I’m nodding towards the walls, adorned with framed 19th century fetish-wear (spiked black corsets, stiletto tights and so forth). The air of sophisticated naughtiness they conjure seems very decadent, very Goldfrapp.
“Ooh,” she says, nearly – nearly! – breaking into a laugh. “I don’t know what records you’ve been listening to. But I don’t think they’re any of mine.”