For nearly 20 years, namesake vocalist Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory have fashioned the elegant Goldfrapp into a distinctly European-toned, synth-based dream symphony with its front woman as one of pop’s most dramatic and ambiguous personae. Sometimes danceable and cool, sometimes folksy and warm, its new album, "Silver Eye," and tour that brings them to Theatre of Living Arts April 24 is all and neither, but rather something new and nuanced. The rarely chatty Alison Goldfrapp opened up about work, inspirations, androgyny and more.
PGN: One of my favorite elements of you and your sound is that you never stray far from your avant-garde beginnings, while honing in on the currency of populist dance culture (e.g. the "Silver Eye" partnership with John Congleton and drone artist Haxan Cloak). What comes first: dedication to difference/psychic dissonance or the big beat?
AG: I always think about what kind of sound and atmosphere I want an album to be and then think about the best way we might achieve it. Of course, you never know what or won’t work until you start trying stuff; every project or album is an experiment really.
PGN: "Silver Eye" is more spacious and distanced than previous albums but not in a cool/cold way, reflective too of your folksy side. Why?
AG: For this album, I knew I wanted the overall sound to be more sparse, to have drama but also warmth. We wanted to find someone who could get that bottom end and deep bass in some of the tunes too. It’s been a new thing for us, to work so closely with other musicians/producers in the writing process. I’ve loved the whole experience, having that energy in the room with us. When you find the right folks to work with, it’s really inspiring and fun. New things happen and things you didn’t expect. You have to be open to the adventure. It’s good for creativity to take yourself out of your norm.
PGN: You and Will have worked at Goldfrapp intimately for eons. How has that relationship changed?
AG: Something unexplainable happens when we work together. We are very different people but complement each other well. We also give each other a lot of room to do our own thing.
PGN: Why does the spirit of the moon work as an overarching metaphor for this album?
AG: I’ve been brought up to have a deep respect of the natural world. When I was a kid, my dad would always take me swimming in the sea at every full moon. I love swimming still; it really fills my soul with joy. I’m always daydreaming about when I can next get in a lake. When I’m in the city, the moon is very reassuring to me. And when I’m in the countryside, I look up at it every night to say hello and goodnight or search for it out of the window if I wake up in the middle of the night. It’s like an old friend but I’m still in awe of it. It’s always there even if it’s not visible.
PGN: “Become the One" is based upon "My Transgender Summer Camp," a truly eye-opening documentary. How did “Become the One” come together with such influence?
AG: [Director] Kate Kunath was staying over our place and wanted to show us a documentary she'd been working on, so that's how I came by the film. At the end of the film, one of the people featured named Maxy says, "I’m not changing who I am, I am becoming who I am." What really struck me and stayed with me was how someone as young as that could be so articulate about their feelings. I found it very moving. I felt the sentiment of what Maxy said could be applied to any aspect of our lives. I found her very inspiring.
PGN: You have always toyed with the notion of androgyny and have been open about your sexuality. Has openness always been the best policy, and how does such honesty come through in your artistry?
AG: I think openness is the best policy of course. Sexuality and identity can be complex for some of us. We should feel free to express it in any way we want, when we want and with whom we want. Through making music and pictures I ask myself questions, try to figure things out or just express thoughts and feelings. Sometimes even asking the questions only throws up more questions. But not everything has to be explained, and if it can’t be explained, I'm fine with that, too. It’s not easy trying to describe my process because making the work is part of an ongoing exploration. I hope that my work and the questions it raises resonate with people and allow them to connect with me.
Goldfrapp plays at 8 p.m. April 24 at Theater of the Living Arts, 334 South St.