Pop pioneer Alison Moyet returns with a new record, a new tour and her same recognizable sense of aesthetic transcendence and attitude

By : Billy Manes
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If you are unfamiliar with U.K. songstress Alison Moyet, it’s likely because you weren’t reading the liner notes while hiding in your bedroom in the 1980s and ruing your existence.

Moyet forged her career from bar-band bluster to synth-pop, bedsit belter when she joined Vince Clarke – later of Depeche Mode and Erasure – in pop duo Yaz. That band crowded the Top of the Pops with hits like “Only You,” “Don’t Go” and “Situation,” among others before acrimony set in. And though Yaz only lasted for two albums – Upstairs at Eric’s and You and Me Both – Moyet’s legendary status among fans came faster than the ability of the record label to press the music to the vinyl. She was, and is still indeed, the real deal.

After cracking the U.K. Top Ten a few years ago with the minutes, Moyet returns on June 16 with Other (Cooking Vinyl), a collection of songs that even her publicist admits “isn’t quite as immediate” as its predecessor. From the brooding title track that seems to speak to everyone living on the outside looking in to its first single “Reassuring Pinches,” Moyet isn’t holding back any lyrical punches. Playing out more like a collection of poems than a nightclub floor-filler, Other rewards in other ways. It may be the most intelligent and considered record we’ve heard in years, which is why, when we stated as much on her Twitter, the record company was concerned and Moyet was overjoyed in her personal response.

“That’s brilliant. It’s such a small world, isn’t it?” she laughs.

We talked to Alison before her album release and three month sojourn by plane and by car, which, as of yet, does not include dates in Florida. We also bought our tickets for New York in September, because that’s just what you do.

Watermark: You and other longtime pop heroes like Tracey Thorn (of Everything but the Girl) are communicating your day-to-day emotions on social media, so it feels like everybody knows you. Has that changed the experience of the pop medium for you?

Alison Moyet: I think it’s been helpful, because such assumptions can be made that you learn as a woman, especially if you’re part of the mainstream, that you somehow must be asinine and lacking challenge. I like that people don’t get to put words in my mouth. That’s quite a good thing. Also, I like a bit of a scrap; I like an argument. So if anybody comes for me, I’m like, “Hello, it’s party time.” People go and actually go and buy your records these days, you know, it’s lovely!

It’s notable and appreciated that you’re releasing Other on vinyl and cassette, basically reminding people of why they fell in love with music in the first place.

Yeah, and the fact that you can have an album made as an album, as opposed to just like streams of hopeful radio singles. In fact, first thing this morning, I was just listening to the first pressing of the album, and it reminded me of one of my early managers – this is going to date me – when CDs first came out. He said, “No one’s going to go, ‘What’s on the B-side, you know?’” There’s something very special about having an album right in front of you while you listen to it, and you can touch it and read the words, color the cracks.

Let’s talk about Other as a full piece – and I may be over-speaking and a little academic about this – it seems like it correctly, almost existentially, follows your last album, the minutes.

It’s a natural follow, and I think that I’ve developed my own relationship with [producer] Guy [Sigsworth], so we got to this place even more quickly than the last album, where we don’t even have to describe things. We kind of know what’s going on. We’ve got like wordless communication. And that, for me, is such a rare thing to happen. It’s just really brilliantly guided, because he just gets me. He’s not trying to push me into a corner of something that’s going to be themed mainstream for a middle-aged woman. He accepts me as an artist, and he treats me as one.

I feel like for your first few solo records you were being pushed into that same corner, the big-haired industry corner of women with big hair like Stevie Nicks.

Well it was all that, but before I was even in Yaz, I’d been playing punk bands and blues bands and nothing serious was going on on radio. I didn’t really know that many pop records other than those from my childhood. I was obviously a kid listening to radio and the telly then. The late ‘70s and early ‘80s kind of passed me by, because I was moving into alternate circles. So when it came to doing those first two albums [Alf and Raindancing], it was really novel. I was going to write songs; I was going to make a record. I never dreamt, I never thought in terms of a long-term career. I never thought, “Do you know what it’s going to be like to be represented by one record for 20 years?” Because that’s what happens: You get put into a pot. If I had known that, I’d have been more careful. But then the voice that you have – and obviously I don’t mean the singing voice – is very different to the one that you have as a 30- or 40-year-old, and that you’re not still living in the subconscious of your youth.

We’re told as journalists to write to a sixth-grade level, which can be insulting. Other is so complex, and I was told by your publicist that it wouldn’t be very immediate. It’s a slow burn with percolating punctuation.

I have the same managers as Little Mix and they used to do One Direction, you know – they’re used to having very sellable, very instant and recognizable pop records. They have an understanding of a certain way to do things, so I come along with my weird terms and they’re brilliant. They’re brilliant. They never try to change me, never try to stop me, never try to say, “You’re hanging yourself here.” They say, “Do what you want to do.” They don’t always understand it; they don’t always get things like that. But they’re really supportive about that. This music is so much more based on poetry and nuance and uses a language that is not always common parlance, but that’s who I am. I’m a middle-aged woman. I think a lot of middle-aged women resent the invisibility that is kind of forced upon them. I quite enjoy it.

So the title track “Other” is a brave choice to introduce the album. With lyrics like, “I don’t want another rock/ To hang about my neck/ You see bejeweled/ I see bedecked in dead stars.”

“Other” is such a cool song and I love it so much, but I knew that it would never be put out to radio, in the sense of being in a typical forum. But lyrically, it captures the meaning of the album: What is the Other? I wanted to put it out there, because it throws people. As you know this album is electronic, and this track isn’t, but I’ve always been a bit contrarian like that.

When I heard “A Beautiful Gun,” coming from Orlando, I got pretty emotional. I thought I heard the word “gay” in there, which conjured obvious feelings from this area after last year’s tragedy.

My manager said that: “Why are you using the word ‘gay?’” I said, “No, it’s ‘gait.’” I’m glad, because for me, that is probably one of the two songs that has been influenced by the internet, this really strange dynamic you get from some quarters who state that they can batter a human being to the ground verbally and emotionally, and yet if you touch the subject that maybe guns aren’t such a godly thing, all hell breaks loose. It’s that heavy for them. Just the ridiculous attitude that a gun shows strength when in fact a gun is completely the opposite; it’s like you’ve got the kids on the run. That’s who you are. You’re frightening vulnerable people. How exactly could you be more masculine? This is the sum of your life: This item that serves only to intimidate other people. What kind of life is that? Anybody who can announce that, because of this, God is just in your corner, it just boils down to the absurd.

On “April 10,” to what are you referring? I think that’s also a really magical track on this record, if only for it being the first time I’ve heard you do spoken word. Also, it’s quite good.

“April 10,” this goes back to what I was saying about just observing. This whole album is quite doused with Brighton. You’ll know that Brighton is quite an equalizer, a place where everybody can be who they are. You will see gay lovers happily walking down the street arm-in-arm, and transgender people, old people being eccentric, young people being free. It’s just really a magically inclusive place. It’s got its dark corners. … It just goes into a subconscious train of thought. It goes into talking about all of these things: How we can all experience the same day, we can all experience the same faith, and yet all of it is very different. On one end, someone is getting married on a boat; on another, someone is burying their lover. It’s all the same day and the same light.

It’s odd to hear you do spoken word, still, with that booming voice available at the ready.

That was something that Vince [Clarke of Yaz] was really into, that sense of loops and samples. For me, for this album, it’s – I say lyrically based, but it’s kind of poetry based. You know, when you’re writing the song, you have a sense of how many verses to use and how to chop up the chorus. With this particular poem, I felt so strongly about all the imagery that I really didn’t want to take its wheels off. I wanted it to have the shape that it had. Spoken word is used a lot in rap and stuff like that, but this is used in the manner of an English poem. Obviously, I’ve taken on my British accent as opposed to incorporating this Atlantic tone.

You’ve done a couple of covers, one of which was Jules Shear’s “Whispering Your Name,” and that was a huge statement in the gay community. Did you get backlash for that?

Well, from some quarters, but not any opinion that I care about. In that situation, I wouldn’t care about anybody’s opinion. The song was written by a man about a woman, and I liked the sounds of those words. And I also liked the idea that for some sections of society, they’re not going to have to switch things over to make it appropriate for their lives. They can have a woman’s voice singing for women. I enjoy that. I enjoy that inclusivity.

In that way, you’ve become celebrated in LGBTQ community.

For me, I grew up with the gay community, being 15 or 16, you know; this is not about me patronizing a group of people. This is about me speaking about people who are in my life and who I love.

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