Alison Goldfrapp goes back to her roots to bring disco to the Edinburgh International Festival
Ask Alison Goldfrapp when and where she’s been happiest and she doesn’t hesitate.
“On stage. I get absolutely petrified before a gig quite often, but I love it, so it’s a sort of weird combination of getting very nervous beforehand and absolutely loving it.”
So if you catch her Edinburgh International Festival Show and The Playhouse this August you’ll know she’s really enjoying herself up there. When we speak things are going well for Goldfrapp as she embarks on yet another chapter in her three decades of making music, with the release of debut solo album, The Love Invention and a UK and European tour that has seen her performing the album along with fan favourites at gigs from Barcelona to Glastonbury.
Following on from the release of its singles - Digging Deeper in collaboration with Claptone, Fever with DJ Paul Woolford and So Hard So Hot - when the album was released in May it reached No 6 in the charts and matched the success of Silver Eye and Head First, and Goldfrapp is pleased with the feedback.
“It’s been really amazingly positive,” she says from her East London home, where she added a studio during lockdown. “It’s been wonderful actually, really heartwarming. People have just been extremely supportive. It’s been amazing.”
After featuring on Orbital’s Snivilisation album in 1994 and trip hop artist Tricky’s Pumpkin in 1995, she formed Goldfrapp with Will Gregory in 2000 and released the album Felt Mountain, followed by another six, most recently 2017’s Silver Eye, for which she photographed the album artwork. With Goldfrapp’s soaring and swooping vocals and synthesiser sound, their hits include Strict Machine, "Ooh La La", "Lovely Head" and "A&E" and the multi-platinum sellers were Mercury Prize and Grammy Awards nominees and won an Ivor Novello for "Strict Machine" as well as the Novello Inspiration Award in 2021.
WIth influences ranging across the genres Goldfrapp have celebrated a multiplicity of sounds including folk, pop, glam rock, classical, dance, trip hop, electronica and the acoustics of their album Seventh Tree. But the latest album sees 57-year-old Goldfrapp beating a path back to one of her first loves, dance music, calling The Love Invention ‘my tribute to the dance floor’.
“I started out doing that kind of stuff. For me it was a huge inspiration when I was really young and dancing has always been very important to me, physically and also listening to it and singing on it and playing it. So it’s been a huge part of my life and has inspired me in many different ways. Even on Felt Mountain (2000), a lot of the strings and things like that were sort of inspired by old disco records, old soul records so it’s been an inspiration always, even if it’s not in the most obvious way, in terms of rhythm or beats. Albums like Supernature (2005), Black Cherry (2003) and Head First (2010) have all been inspired by different types of dance music, so It’s always been there in my make up.
But with this album I was very focused on making something that was much more focused on rhythm and beats and starting from that point.”
Does she remember being on the dance floor when she was younger?
“Oh my god, well I was a huge disco fan. It was funny because I was really into crazy clothes, I loved all the stuff that the punks were wearing and I loved looking at pictures in magazines of New York and things like that. When I was a kid America was everything so those kind of extravagant looks were very intriguing to me and I loved them.
“But yeah, I loved disco music when I was a kid which wasn’t cool, I’ve always liked this but I also liked that and they were often the opposite things. I’ve always been drawn to many different things, you know.”
Having worked with Will Gregory as Goldfrapp since 1999, and the band now on a hiatus, I ask why she decided to go solo for this album to which she responds with a simple, “Why not?”
Working on her own meant working in a different way than on previous albums and changed the process for Goldfrapp.
“I work a lot more remotely at home, which I didn’t when I was working with Will, you know, we’d always be in the studio together, whereas with this I’ve done a lot more remotely on my own and then I’ve worked with the guys that I’ve collaborated with, so we’ve done a lot of work remotely and in their studios and sharing stuff online so that’s very different which I really like. I found that to be very productive.
“And working with new people is really exciting, and challenging as well. But that’s what I love about collaborations; it’s exciting, a new energy, new blood,” she says.
“I like being out of my comfort zone sometimes, you know I think that’s very healthy as an artist, as a creative person… it’s important to challenge yourself. That’s how you move on and make progress.”
Moving out of her comfort zone is something Goldfrapp has done since she was a child and switched schools, before leaving to live in a London squat at 16 then moving to Belgium, and returning to go to art school in Middlesex, developing an adaptability and embracing change.
“Yeah. Absolutely, I think in order to fix… I’m excited about life so I want to try new things and discover new things. I guess I’m just a kind of curious person. But I think it is important to embrace change, even when it’s … you know, cos sometimes it can be quite challenging can’t it?”
Sometimes it’s thrust upon us…
But looking back it was a good thing.
“Yeah. Sometimes to begin with it feels a bit like ‘ooooooohhhh!’ and takes me a long time… you know I am a Taurus by nature I think and I go No! And sometimes it takes me a while.” She laughs.
“But I think it’s really important and I don’t think it matters what age you are. I think sometimes we do the best things and we’re open to make changes and challenge ourselves when we’re older.”
Because the great thing about getting older is that you maybe feel more free to experiment and think what’s the worst that can happen.
“Yeah, I think there’s definitely an element of that, but I think irrelevant of age it is just important to challenge yourself as an artist. You have to do that.”
Is this what she’s singing about in Digging Deeper, the collaboration with Claptone on The Love Invention, with the words ‘everything has changed, in my head, in my heart, and is change a good thing?
“Well I meant a lot of things really. I actually wrote that track before Claptone with James? But it was during a time of many changes, physically and the lockdown and me wanting to just change things in my own life. So yeah, many things.”
Goldfrapp has referred to visualising lyrics before writing them.
“It comes so naturally. I imagine that if you’re a writer, like somebody who writes a novel, I imagine that they would do that. When you think about an atmosphere and a character and a situation, that’s how a story starts, a narrative, isn’t it. I feel like music has a narrative, even if it doesn’t have a lyric, even if it doesn’t have a melody or a song over it, it still has a narrative, it has a movement and a place and an atmosphere and colour, its journey.
What about the voice, people have compared her to many singers from Siouxsie Sioux and Bjork to Kate Bush, Marlene Dietrich and Elizabeth Fraser of The Cocteau Twins. How does she feel about comparisons and does she think they’re accurate?
“Well I think they’re all great artists so it doesn’t offend me at all. I don’t know if it’s always accurate,” she laughs. “But sometimes I’m sure it is. It’s interesting how people always compare you to someone else. People have made lots of comparisons about the new album, comparing it to other female artists and I guess it’s just natural to do that, ‘oh it sounds a bit like this’ and maybe that’s comforting to know it sounds like something else you like.”
But never mind comparisons because in fact Goldfrapp is a one off. How would she describe her voice?
“Interesting.” she laughs. “Someone told me I had a very wide octave range and I was really shocked because I’d never thought of that. I don’t know the official term but the short of it is I can get very high and I can get very low.
“I’ve got quite a soft voice but it has many characteristics to it which I like to indulge in depending on what kind of atmosphere and mood I’m trying to achieve in a song. I guess I’m quite lucky in that respect. I’m not a belter thought, I don’t have a really big voice. It’s quite gentle,” she laughs, “but I can be noisy if I want to be!”
You can’t talk to Alison Goldfrapp and not mention the outfits and amazing costumes she’s worn for gigs and on album covers and in videos over the years. What will she be wearing at her Scottish shows?
“Oh I never know what I’m going to wear until the last minute really. I sort of have a few ideas but never really know until the actual day of the gig. Which is slightly stressful,” she laughs. “I can never really know how I feel until I get to the venue and see the set up. I’ve got a wardrobe with a few things and I’ll go OK I feel like this one tonight.
“But for the last few gigs I have been very fortunate to be wearing clothes by Alexandre Vauthier who is a Parisian designer and has very generously been making me his wonderful creations. It’s been great, and they feel so wonderful to wear so that’s been amazing, just such a treat. I don’t quite know how I’m ever going to top that really.”
“Because it does make you feel very different. It’s very important when you’re on a stage. When I’m wearing something on stage I feel like the fewer elements it has the better. I like to feel quite free in something, not restricted. At the same time wearing heels and things like that can give you a certain kind of stance and a feeling so it’s very important how you feel on stage. I think when you’re on stage you’re very, very aware of detail, so how a shoe feels and the weight of your outfit or the way it moves, it all adds up and the details really matter and help or hinder your performance.”
Playing again in Scotland is doubly sweet for Goldfrapp who has a soft spot for Scottish audiences and it turns out, Scottish ancestry.
“I love coming to Scotland. I think the Scottish audiences… well, I don’t like to generalise, but every time I’ve been to Scotland to play they’ve always been exceptionally warm and vocal, which is really nice, so I always look forward to coming to Scotland. And I always love driving around because it’s beautiful. And my nana was Scottish.”
Really, where was she from?
“Well, this is awful,” says Goldfrapp, “but I don’t actually know where she was from. I’ve been talking to my sisters and we’re trying to figure that out at the moment. We’re not entirely sure, because she lived in London for a big chunk of her life. But yeah, she was very Scottish.”
After her Edinburgh International Festival show Goldfrapp will be back in Scotland playing The Barrowland in Glasgow in February next year, a venue she loves.
“The first time I ever played there was with Tricky and it was pretty wild. I don’t know if it’s changed much but it was pretty wild back then.”
With its sprung floor it’ll be a great venue for playing tracks from her new album when she tours, in a list of dates around the UK. Is there anything she does to get in shape for going on the road?
“Oh yeah, I do try and keep myself ship shape. It’s really important, more so now than ever. Keeping fit, eating well, vocal exercises, all of that stuff is very important. I mean I’m probably a lot fitter now than I was ten, 15 years ago for sure.”
With her Scottish ancestry, I tell Goldfrapp when she heads north she needn’t be nervous about hitting the stage as she’ll be coming home.
“I’m coming home!” she laughs. “And my partner’s got a place in Scotland as well, so I’ve definitely got quite a few connections. And I have every intention of finding out more.”
Alison Goldfrapp, queen of invention, continues on her journey.
Alison Goldfrapp, Friday 25 August 2023, 8pm, Edinburgh Playhouse, 18-22 Greenside Place, Edinburgh EH1 3AA www.eif.co.uk
Alison Goldfrapp’s debut solo album The Love Invention is out now, via Skint.