Anyone around in the 80’s could hardly forget the unmistakeable voice of Alison Moyet, the voice behind the synth-pop sensation Yazoo who went on to an impressive solo career, albeit with a few quiet spots during the 90’s. Having had album sales in excess of 20 million, Moyet ranks as one of the great stalwarts of the 80’s explosion. Her latest album ‘Other’ is her latest offering, a coming of age of sorts for the self-confessed ‘French peasant’ who has done remarkably well for herself.
The opportunity to interview Moyet was one of those defining moments for this writer, her music has been an ever-present factor in my life’s soundtrack and the chance to speak with her was amazing. She’s truly lovely, and genuinely down to earth. Best of all, she’s headed to Australia for the first time in 30 years bringing a swag of hits and memories, along with her smoky, triumphant new album ‘Other’. It’s Alison Moyet at her very best, she is not only vocally stellar, but the songs carry such emotion and depth in every note.
“It’s a record I really wanted to make, I feel very good about it and how it translates to the stage,” quotes Moyet.
The single ‘The Rarest Birds’ is perhaps the standout track on the album, drawing parallels to Joni Mitchell’s 1969 vs 2000 versions of ‘Both Sides Now’ in terms of the maturity and defining moments in the singers’ lives. Moyet has reached a defining moment, and bares her musical soul with this album. It is a musical evolution and marks a new era for Moyet, and it’s simply beautiful.
“That’s a lovely thing to say really, in ‘pop music’ not a lot of women get to carry on recording at this stage of their lives. So often the narrative we get is from younger people. ‘The Rarest Bird’ is about me watching this diverse community that I now live in, and my observations of them. It’s full of poignancy and joy.”
The style of ‘Other’ is (excuse the pun) like no other, and Moyet says that this isn’t as much deliberate as spontaneous. Her creative process is quite organic and freeform to a degree, often just tweaking things until they sound right.
“I never know what record I’m going to make until I’m making it. In this instance I wanted to work with Guy Sigsworth again, he really gets me and makes an album from an artist’s perspective. It became apparent to me quickly that I didn’t want to edit the lyrics so much that they had to fit into the square shape of a song. Guy will send me over a basic track to which I’ll then write a song to it. I want to deal completely with improvisation and instinct though, so I’ll just record sounds and melodies onto a track that I’ve never heard before. This way I build up a picture that allows me to either add lyrics I’ve been working on or to write new ones. I send it back to Guy who paints around me- it ends up being more of a narrative/cinematique approach.”
It’s one of those ‘meeting of minds’ that just works- they both get each other and the result is a brilliant album that is already turning heads. Moyet is at her vocal peak, and has nailed the art of selling a song.
“I’m not really looking to replicate a voice I’ve had before, that’s not what it’s about for me. It’s about putting across a sentiment. I used to shout when I was a younger singer, but as we age we don’t need to be as loud to express emotions.”
Moyet has been somewhat of a Bowie-esque chameleon during her career, changing styles, hair, and fashion along with her sound. She isn’t bound to any one era however, and reinforces that point when discussing how her shows are presented. “I’m blown away when people get something that I’ve done music wise, but I have to be challenging myself. My audiences have joined me at very different stages in my career since the early 80’s so if I think about Australia for example, most people don’t know the ‘middle work’ from the year 2000 onwards & might expect a nostalgic 80’s tour- that’s not what I do. I do of course do Yazoo and solo stuff from my career, but it’s not a massive romance and I NEVER do the song Invisible anymore.”
This sparks the need for me to ask why not? After all it was a hit song for her in Australia & New Zealand where it reached the Top 20. “My analogy with Invisible is kind of like your first wife or husband. You had a really nice time with them, you’re not denying that they’re loveable and loads of good points and will be happy somewhere else- but you just don’t want to f*ck them anymore!”
It was at this point of the interview that I literally spat my coffee out from laughter- what a great description of why she doesn’t sing a song anymore! I love this woman’s honesty and sincerity. “It’s just not who I am anymore- there are too many Americanisms in that song and also I’m a middle-aged woman- I’m not going to sing about it because it doesn’t fit my headspace, …. I’m just not that victim anymore.”
Getting onto her days with Vince Clark as Yazoo, which was supposed to be a one-off recording experience, Moyet has this to say about it. “He had written ‘Only You’ after splitting from Depeche Mode, and he had a point to prove after feeling down and bitter. Vince and all the other Depeche guys knew my singing because we all went to the same school, so he got hold of me and asked me to demo the song. So, we did it at his house and about a week later he (Vince) called me to say the record company heard it and really liked it, and could we record it. I was a poor college student on 5 pounds a week, so of course I jumped on it.” The rest as we say, is history.
So, any chance of yourself and Vince getting together again as Yazoo? “We have done, but to be honest we never really bonded while making music and it went sour. I know that without him though I couldn’t have done a lot of things. We got together briefly in 2008 on the back of an email that I sent to him for a one-off show & it was brilliant. It was a ‘Best Of’ tour, a really great time to hang out and part ways again on a good note. We were both chilled so it’s possible.”
Moving on from the expected Yazoo question(s), I throw a couple of seemingly easy questions Moyet’s way to gage what she herself thinks are her career high points. Upon being asked if she had a favourite song she’d recorded, she can’t pinpoint any in particular but cites most from ‘Hometime’ (2002) onwards.
And a career highlight? “This last year has been just brilliant and I know this might sound like I’m plugging my latest record, but I’ve been back to College studying sculpture, and writing music for the album & performing, so in my 50’s I’ve never been more productive & creative as now. That I discovered life can take you on this trajectory has been great. I really am in a great place. Life is a brilliant thing- I have a lot of balance whereas I can live in a normal community as a normal person, yet have a day/night job that is creative.”
In an industry known for its destructive influences, Moyet has avoided the common outfalls that beset the celebrity life such as excess and the like. In terms of her legacy, Moyet is quite humble, almost self-deprecating about her place in the industry despite a more than 3-decade career. “I don’t think I’m one of those people that the industry cares to record in terms of a legacy per se, I know this sounds harsh but to have that you need a stronger standing among the straight male audience, but the fact that I have never been deemed ‘f*ckable’ (or sexy) means you don’t get the same opportunities as when someone gets a crush on you. For that reason, I’ve never fit a glamorous or edgy reputation.”
But Moyet never needed to conform to any industry or social norms- she portrayed herself as her own person and had a David Bowie transformational appeal that made her standout. “It’s only been over the last 2-3 albums that my reviews have been fantastic thankfully, that makes me really happy, but I’m not part of the mainstream.”
Once the highest selling female artist in the UK, what does she define as success? “For me success is at the age of 56 being able to create albums and get people to listen to them. We’re talking smaller numbers but that’s insignificant to me because without a doubt my best work has been in the second half of my career. Yazoo aside, that was early stuff and I’ve been learning my craft for many years thereafter. In this my second half of my career, I don’t feel like I’m viewed as a cash cow for Producers, so industry A & R have left me to my own devices.”
And what do you think about current music and fashion trends? “I don’t listen to music anymore but I’ve never been much of a consumer. I came from a working-class background where we never had a tape player or a means to listen so I made music. Now, I see a mass of beautiful people with stylists and advisers, it’s replicated beauty that doesn’t interest me at all.”
Moyet has steered her own course during her career, she’s travelled to the beat of her own drum and has remained steady where others have fallen by the way side. Her contribution has been integral in the annals of music history, and she’s a bloody legend to say the least.
Australian audiences will get to see Alison Moyet next month as she embarks on her Aus/NZ tour.
Meanwhile, her album ‘Other’ is receiving fantastic reviews. For more information go to: http://alisonmoyet.com/
AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Wednesday 4th October: Perth – Riverside Theatre
Friday 6th October: Adelaide – AEC Theatre
Saturday 7th October: Melbourne – Margaret Court Arena
Monday 9th October: Sydney – Enmore Theatre
Tuesday 10th October: Brisbane – Convention Centre