Interview: Alison Moyet

Alison Moyet
Alison Moyet
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With her new album Alison Moyet has gone back to the electronic music of her eighties heyday. Duncan Seaman spoke to her.

ALISON Moyet’s new album may catch some people unaware. The Minutes is a committed return to the kind of electronic music many had assumed she’d left behind somewhere deep in the 1980s with the duo Yazoo.

In the intervening decades she has become regarded more as a torch singer for hits such as All Cried Out, Love Letters and That Ole Devil Called Love.

“It is a long time,” admits the Billericay-born singer, now 51. “If people hear it it might take them by surprise. For people who’ve stuck by me and seen shows it won’t be.”

Moyet briefly reformed Yazoo with keyboard player Vince Clarke for a world tour in 2008 yet it seems this wasn’t the inspiration for The Minutes, her new song-writing collaboration with Ilkley-raised producer Guy Sigsworth.

“I’ve wanted to work with electronica for a long time,” she says. “The problem in this technological world is lots people have fantastic ideas but the musicianship is lacking. In a lot of electronic music today voices are superfluous. It was a case of finding someone skilled at soundscaping, who understood the skill. It took me a long time to find Guy Sigsworth. His musicality was sublime and he created interesting soundscapes. For someone like me, who’s not a great social mover, it’s hard to find someone like that.”

For someone who openly admits to unease in social situations, being introduced to Sigsworth was something of a godsend. His collaborative approach suited her more than the modern vogue for teams of strangers writing songs to order. “I never felt comfortable with that,” she says. “[Guy and I] are both awkward and socially inept people but the core of us is very confident. We’re able to turn around and say if something is rubbish.”

The pair worked on this album for three years in between Sigworth’s other projects (he’s much in demand, having produced the likes of Bjork, Madonna, Britney Spears and The Sugababes). Moyet was at the time unsigned. “I say that with no bitterness,” she says. “The industry is imploding; it’s hard to get any act away. So much music is based around image and age and demographic.

“I was offered a lot of deals to make cover albums but it’s not what I wanted to do at this point in time. I needed to write, for it to be a creative project – that was not forthcoming. We made this record in Guy’s downtime between his paid projects and took it to a record company as a fait accompli. Cooking Vinyl loved it – they were the first label that heard it.” Moyet once told an interviewer: “There’s always a possibility with each album that I might not record again and I wanted to produce one that I could feel was mine.” The Minutes, it seems, could finally be that special one. “Because of the way it was made, it feels that way,” she says. For the first time since 1983 there was “no A&R man in the room listening to a demo and saying, ‘You’re committing career suicide here’. We could treat it as a piece of art and worry about the other stuff later,” she says.

Having grown up during punk rock, and sung in Essex punk bands in her teens, Moyet says its powerful ethos “undoubtedly” shaped her outlook. “Some people can mistake what you do,” she says, pointing out that her biggest solo hit, a cover version of the jazz number That Ole Devil Called Love, was something of a curveball. She happened to be listening to Billie Holiday at the time and threw the song into her set as an “oddity” in the middle of all the “stadium pop” she was singing at the time. When it came to release it as a one-off single “it was a leftfield move”, out of synch with radio play lists at the time. The problem when it reached No2 in the charts, however, was that Moyet then became deemed a jazz singer.

“It was a pain in the neck,” she says, when in reality she preferred blues singers such as Billy Boy Arnold and Willie B Huff. “The reason I feel the need to say this is because jazz musicians are incredible in their musicianship, skill and art. I don’t think singing one 40s pop song gives me the right to call myself a jazz singer.”

Despite having sold 20 million albums over the course of her career, Moyet still feels an outsider in the music industry. “I’m comfortable with people I grew up with. I’m intelligent but not educated. I became a pop star but not one of the beautiful people. I earned money but I don’t care for the trappings of money. I never felt part of that environment.”

She fought the record label Sony for years to be released from her contract – “I was never going to make a Celine Dion record,” she says – and can think of “plenty of times” she shunned the limelight. “I never accepted invitations. I did my job, I went home. Just because somebody is in the same job as me, I never assumed we were natural drinking buddies. I was one of those awkward girls without social skills, I never looked the part. I was always remarkable, in the true sense of the word.

“People always had something to say about me. When you are 21 you don’t know how to deal with that. Now I’m in my dotage I don’t give a s***. It’s a brilliant place to be, to know what’s valuable in other people and myself, to know what your moral compass is.”

Her forthcoming concerts will focus on the electronic side of her career, though there will be reminders of her albums Alf and Raindancing. “I love grim music and singing grim songs,” she says, “but this will have more energy. It’ll still have the hits but performed in a more energetic way.”

October 8, Sheffield City Hall (0114 278 9789) and October 23, York Barbican (0844 854 2757).

Long and varied music career

Alison Moyet was born in Billericay, Essex in June 1961. Her father is French and her first name is actually Genevieve.

She was nicknamed Alf in childhood.

At school in Basildon she was a classmate of Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore, later of Depeche Mode.

She sang in punk and pub rock bands before forming Yazoo with Vince Clarke then going on to a successful solo career.

She recently claimed to have “smashed” all her gold discs before moving house.