After more than 25 years of exploring and testing the sonic boundaries of rock and pop music, international singer and songwriter Sinéad O’Connor is back with a new album, “I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss,” a collection of upbeat rock songs that provides a polished backdrop for her angelic voice.
The always-outspoken O’Connor said she was inspired to title the album by the recent Ban Bossy campaign, which sought to eradicate the word “bossy” from the English language because of the perceived negative connotations it has for young women. Beyoncé indirectly helped too.
“It was actually going to be called ‘The Vishnu Room’ after the song on the album,” O’Connor said. “I started to record the record last September. I was just very inspired by the [Ban] Bossy campaign as a female boss because, in the music industry, artists, male and female, are treated like we are working for the people who are working for us. That’s how it operates, and it can be exaggerated when you are female. The irony is that we have this great public voice but, behind the scenes, our voices are lost a lot of the time. I was dealing with these issues of being heard as a female boss at the time the campaign came around, and I saw this picture of Beyoncé with the great saying behind her head: ‘I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.’ And I thought, Oh my God, I have to name my album that.”
O’Connor had always drawn inspiration from a vast range of influences, recording reggae, big band and Irish folk albums.
She said that, even with her reputation for exploring different styles, it’s not easy to get funding to support all the album ideas she’d like to pursue.
“I love songs,” O’Connor said. “I don’t care where they come from. It’s very hard to get record companies to let me make what I call quirky little side records. There’s one thing I would love to do but I doubt I could get a record company to fund it, and that would be a record of opera songs — but not done in an opera-like voice and have L7 or Hole sing the song like a regular person in a regular voice. I don’t think anyone is going to give me the money to do it but it is something I would like to do. There are some very great songs in the world of opera and it would be great to take some of those songs and put them in the pop or rock arena.”
O’Connor has always bucked the norms and expectations of the mainstream music industry. So we asked if she though that, with all the opportunities available to artists today with the Internet and initiatives like Kickstarter, today’s performers are more empowered.
“To say that is to imply that in the 1970s, artists were not empowered, which is not true,” O’Connor said. “If fact, they were so enormously empowered that some of them had to be gotten rid of, including John Lennon and Jimi Hendrix. I don’t think artists have the same power as artists in the 1970s. Nevertheless, creatively speaking, if you look at rap music as an example, lyrically there is a lot more freedom. People can say things more bluntly, things they wouldn’t have been able to say previously. I’m thinking of N.W.A. There was a time when those kinds of voices wouldn’t be allowed to be heard. To that extent, it’s true there is more power by virtue of the fact that people get heard. But to another extent, there’s a certain damping-down of the power of music to change things and I think that is being done via the over-sexualization of the visuals. As long as the visuals are taking your attention, your ears aren’t paying attention. I could spend 100 years explaining that to you, but that’s another interview.”
Speaking of sexualized imagery, O’Connor vamps it up on the album’s cover and in the video for its first single, “Take Me To Church,” donning ultra-glamorous dresses, wigs and a rock-star image. The song itself speaks of not wanting to “sing that way anymore” and “be that girl no more.”
O’Connor said those images and that song are from the perspective of a character she portrays.
“Dressing in the latex and wearing the hair, I was happy to do it for a couple of photos and a video but it wasn’t something I wanted to continue,” she said. “There is a broader issue in the video but really it’s an issue about the character in the song. It’s not about me. The character in the song is someone who is discussing the power of song and somehow saw something she wanted by writing songs about a man who actually scares the shit out of her. She then has to examine herself and see how she ended up in a scary situation and that song, ‘Take Me to Church,‘ is her moment where she realizes she has to be careful in what kinds of songs she writes.”
While talking about other songs on the album, like the energetic and sexy “James Brown,” O’Connor said that many were written from the point of view of characters she created.
“There are four female characters on the record and then there’s myself,” she said. “There are only three songs that are personal. ‘James Brown’ isn’t one of them. The character is a naughty woman who wants to go around town doing a lot of naughty stuff and her motto is ’I came to get down!’ I wanted to call the song something else, but the working title was ‘James Brown’ and the producer wouldn’t let me change it.”
O’Connor is hitting the road for a short string of U.S. dates in October. Sadly, there isn’t a Philadelphia-area date on that tour, but she said she’ll be back in the spring for more U.S. performances, when conditions are more favorable.
“Realistically, towards the end of the year it is difficult to tour the states,” she said. “You get sick. You catch colds. Last year, I got laryngitis and had to pull the second leg of the tour. It was my own request that we finish in October and come back in the spring because I don’t want to be in a position where I have to cancel shows. The last time we were out there, everyone got sick.”
O’Connor said it’s not too challenging to assemble a band that can bring the diversity and breadth of her catalog to life on stage.
“All of the songs are actually easy to play,” she said. “They are very accessible. Reggae is extremely easy to play but, as it happens, we are not doing any of that album in the set. And I’m not doing anything off ‘Am I Not Your Girl?’ because that is all big-band orchestra stuff. And I don’t do any of the Irish traditional album because they are all miserable. But it’s not brain surgery.”
O’Connor has collaborated with a wealth of fellow performers, both on her own albums and others, including artists like Peter Gabriel, Moby and members of U2. There are a number of other collaborators still on her wish list.
“There are two people on this planet that I have always wanted to work with: One is Dr. Dre and another is English producer Mark Ronson, who produced Amy Winehouse.”
Surely, O’Connor’s androgynous look and rebellious spirit has garnered her more than a considerable LGBT following. She said she realized early on in her career that her songs were resonating with LGBT listeners.
“I’m always staggered when I get up on stage that anybody showed up at all,” she said. “As far as the gay community, someone asked me recently what kind of person I think my audience is, and I think generally gay or straight, pink, green or orange, my audience are people who have had issues of being pressured to be something other than they are. That’s because I’m someone who has had similar issues. I don’t think that necessarily resonates more with gay people than it does with others but I think there are occasions when it can.”
“I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss” is available now. For more information, visit www.sineadoconnor.com.