Goldfrapp, the band consisting of Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory, have recently released their seventh studio album. The follow up to their 2013’s album, Tale of Us, and their 2014’s score for a production of Medea at the National Theatre, brings the trademark mindset that made the band so loved and celebrated. That mindset that translates into the unbreakable will to not repeat themselves and the recent Silver Eye album were some of the topics of our conversation with Will Gregory.
Iremember reading an interview where you seemed really happy with Tales of Us, not only with the end result but also because you were kind of free of all the imposed schedules, the constant pressure from others. You even considered it to be a “new start”, something I thought to be extremely healthy, especially for a band like Goldfrapp that has been doing it for some time and has been successful in appealing to a more mainstream audience. With the perspective of time, how do you feel about that freedom and the new start now that you’ve a follow-up to Tale of Us?
Yeah, that was a good moment. I mean, it shouldn’t affect you but it does. We were with EMI and they had very different idea, I think, about who we were and what they wanted us to be. They kept rushing us, “Oh, this album needs to come out now. You wait any longer and your album is going to come out with all our other releases.” That’s not my business, we’re just trying to make music. [laughs] It was really good when that came to an end. We’re just back with Mute, and Daniel Miller very brilliantly kind of got his company back. It’s been more sane but obviously we’ve come to this album with a very new agenda. Musically we wanted to do something differentthan Tale of Us. But yeah, we were allowed to take as longer as we like.
Alison said, “We like the spontaneity of not knowing. It’s only through the process that we start to figure out what it is.” So, you like to work with a certain level of uncertainty. Do you think the way you approach the unknown has changed or even improved after seven years?
I think the unknown has become less scary, on the one hand. I think you get used to the idea that you don’t know and you’ll get lost. After a while of being lost you… It’s still kind of stressful and worrying, but at the same time I think we’re getting used to that. But maybe, on one hand, is more familiar. On the other hand it’s also difficult because the more you write, the more music you produce, It feels like you have really to push your hands into the bag to find something. Quite often you pull things out and you go, “Oh no, we’ve done that already.” [laughs]
Even if things are different, there are some things that you can approach in the same old way. Do you have the concern to not use an approach that you’ve used in the past?
Well, I think improvisation is how we really get to where we want to go, generally speaking. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you wake up with a dream of an idea in your head. Or sometimes you hear something new and you go, “I can see that as something that we could take and make our own, or develop.” Or sometimes you think, “That’s so wrong that it has given me a vision to what could be right.” All those things, but usually the only way to really come up with things is just to make sounds and play around. Because in your mind, just talking, it can usually get you nowhere. [laughs] At some point you have to stop talking and start making sounds, and then when you do that then you have something at least to look at. Something to listen to and say, “Oh my god, that’s terrible. We got to come up with something new.” I’m sure that, very often, it’s the same with everybody. When you come back you kind of forget to how to do the writing and it seems like you have to write a loads of rubbish, for some weeks or months, before you get to something that you like. The process, in a way, it’s always been the same. Trying and dig around to see what comes out, and be open minded. Sometimes something terrible comes out and then the week after you go take another listen and you think, “Oh, actually there’s something in there.” One thing is, we’re very luck with Alison because she has so many different voices inside her. There’s a lot of places that she likes to go, or that she can go. I mean, that’s what is in common with everything that we do, the fact that Alison is singing. I think beyond that everything is up to grabs and we’re lucky maybe because our second album was so different from our first that it seems we are allowed to go anywhere we want. I’m sure some people would like to do that.
Talking about new things, Goldfrapp provided music for Carrie Cracknell’s that was at the National Theatre in London. How did this opportunity come about? Did working on the music for Medea end up shaping in any way the new album?
We were just asked. I suppose Carrie just got in touch with our management to ask if we would be interested in writing for a new production they were doing at the National Theatre, and I think she’s somebody attentive to music, that likes music, and realizes how important it can be in making drama. I guess we’ve always been very into drama ourselves, in film or whatever it is that is dramatic. It’s been part of our language, maybe. Yeah, she was the one that instigated that.
What was the experience and process like? I imagine it to be a little bit different from creating music for a Goldfrapp album?
Yeah, it is different because you’ve got storyboard… On the other hand, it was liberating. Because we were working on a Greek tragedy that had a chorus we were allowed to help cast the chorus. We were invited to audition everybody that was going to be in the chorus because they all had to have a voice, a singing voice if you like, and we were able in choosing the kind of voices that we wanted to write for. So, that was a stepping away into another dimension but kind of liberating. I mean, it’s kind of liberating sometimes to not have to be thinking about the whole album creative process. I think we really liked that, and also it was great to be amongst a bunch of actors who had this completely different process to get where they wanted to get. Although it did involve a lot of improvisation. But it was just fun to be out in the rehearsal room with loads of different people and creativity. So, that was really nice.
“I think improvisation is how we really get to where we want to go, generally speaking. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you wake up with a dream of an idea in your head.”
I’m interested in knowing how your creative relation with Alison is and how that relation has evolved throughout the years. In your case, do you end up being influenced by Alison’s lyrical work when working on the music or does that comes later?
Well, it tends to come later but it doesn’t always. I mean, I love it when she starts to put some words in because that’s what she always does – write all the words. With this album, I think a lot of the cases the words came later. But obviously I love it when she… Sometimes when we are improvising words will come out and they stay. For example, “Ocean”, the last song on the new album, that vocal that you hear pretty much happened immediately through improvisation. She improvised that and it was done in one take. Even though she wanted to change the vocals, in the end the sound was so perfect that we just didn’t – I think just one line got changed. That was great because it had a kind of atmosphere already and it was clear what that was about. I love it when they come early on because it gives me a kind of sense of direction to the drama, who’s the person is that’s singing, what their angle is, what their problem is, etc. [laughs] But in other cases it feels like you know what already. The words just come streaming together and the meaning is already there or crystalized.
Can you recall the starting point to this new album? The moment where you sort of realized that you were onto something?
Well, it comes in bits and pieces. The first track that we kind of liked and we would be working on was “Tigerman” and that happened in the first sort of three months, I suppose, of work. And then nothing happened for ages after that. Then I think the next thing we got that we really liked was “Ocean”, but “Ocean” didn’t seem connected to “Tigerman” or anything. Some of them that ended up making it they got put in a kind of a purgatory, not knowing what they are. Once we got “Anymore” we sort of thought, “Oh, that’s a good connection.” And then really in a short amount of time the rest of the album came together. You’re right though, it’s very important to know what you’re doing. The longer you don’t know the harder it is. But I think with “Anymore” we kind of thought that it could be a sort of spokesperson for the rest of the album.
Listening to the album it’s very clear, at least to me, that there’s this hypnotic nature to it. I was wondering if you had to shorten some of the tracks because some of them seem like they could go on and on for a very long time.
[laughs] Yeah, I think probably some of them did. That’s always something that’s good trying to find. Something that you can repeat that’s simple without getting annoyed, or bored with it. I think that’s really a lovely thing if you can get there. That you can put something on a loop and just go off into a day and be happy with it going round and round. If you could do that then you now you got something!