What made you decide to transition from fashion into music? I knew you were going to ask me that. It’s so weird, I was always a musician and I always dressed the way I listened to music. I was actually out of the loop from ’86 until 2000; I was living in Greece and Switzerland and I didn’t see the sort of corporatization—I don’t know how you would put it—of what is now known as the fashion industry. When I was growing up, you dressed according to the band that you were listening to. So if I was listening to Beethoven, I’d be wearing tails; or if I was listening to the Sex Pistols, I’d be making my stuff out of rubbish bags and that’s how it was in the eighties. All this branding, I mean, fashion and music to me was connected, and also you know, I don’t know, I wasn’t around as a recording artist in the seventies, but from what I can gather, people would just sort of knock things off backstage because they couldn’t really afford...I’ve always just got dressed but I’m a musician first and foremost and I would prefer to be blind than deaf any day of the week.
What do you hope to impart to listeners with your lyrics? I have to sing words that I mean and that are honest, but I also don’t want to be too self—in fact I can’t be self-referential at all. Anybody could connect with these because everybody’s had some shit time or a nice time or whatever and it’s kind of psychedelic actually. I make quite a lot of small political points, like you know, “New Nirvana, turn off your TV, that’s not fantasy, executive fantasy dressed up as reality.” Funny enough, Pat [Donne], who is really great, actually checked all my lyrics and all the tunes and they are absolutely original, and I can’t believe that they are—that may be because I didn’t go to music school, so maybe it was a blessing in disguise because I always thought what a loser I was for not ever having gone to school. [Sings] “I’m a loser!”
You know, I’ve got a bit of humor, I don’t take myself that seriously. Life’s too short. I mean really, everybody’s become so serious. I’ll tell you what I love about music, is that everybody’s equal in music. On the dance floor, everybody’s equal, there’s no sense of being like, “I’ve got more money than you,” or there’s no class or race or religion, you’re just all there for the sound. That’s why I’m very careful about words. Once you put a sound with a word, you load that with meaning.
Tell me about writing music and how that began for you. I’m quite good at physics and music theory and I understand sound much more than I understand visuals or words. So when I put a word on a sound I think very, very carefully. First of all, I don’t want it to be about me, I don’t want to have a situational problem because then you have to put it into context—it has to be universal. That’s why I like writing poetry and the natural progression of song. Now what happened, why this happened by mistake was more strange than you know. I used to sing in a band in Spain because the lead singer was a bit of…he’d probably have a hangover a few times a week. I was the one that was corralled into being Jimi Hendrix or sort of doing all of the Doors songs or the Kinks songs. At age 14, you know, “Frankie’s passed out, could you fill in?” I was lead chorus girl at school and that was always my thing, but then I had children. I got into two music schools but in fact I got married and had three babies. And my brother died—I was about to do a cover of a Dylan song in his honor, and I got there and my friend who was in the same band as I used to sing in when I was 14, he didn’t get the bloody email so I get there on my own and I [had to] start making up the songs and I thought, “Oh I better think of something fast.” So that’s where it began. I used to sing in the bathroom because it’s the only thing that makes me happy and it’s the only thing…you can shut your eyes but you can’t shut your ears.
How do you think your past has shaped your appreciation for music? You hear at 16 decibels but you feel at a much lower level. Like when you’re in front of a speaker, you feel sound. You can see one point of view, but sound comes in through every pore of your body. I grew up in a chapel four months a year, so my obsession with reverb probably comes from that, and my obsession with Bach is probably because my father used to play on the piano in this chapel up this mountain…that’s why you’re not going to believe any of this but it’s absolutely true I can send you pictures. But that’s what happened, my bedroom was behind the altar, and I was waking up and he’d be playing Goldberg variation [laughs]. You know but that’s all reciting poetry. “Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night / Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight.” I mean it was all that sort of thing, we didn’t have telephones or electricity or anything like that or any kind of toys. I was living up a piping mountain and you had sort of, you know, “Darling,” and all that lot, but I didn’t know anything different. And unless you’ve had a parallel childhood, how could you know anything different? It was just how things were.
Okay, wow. And I have no idea what’s going on in fashion, I mean I know, I’ve got friends that work in that industry and I’m constantly amazed at how they can know what collection is—“Oh my goodness, that’s Galliano ’92, and that was on that…”—how do you know all of these facts? Because I know nothing about it and I mean I wish I did, I’m intuitive and I work with the artists normally, you know like Alexander [McQueen]. It starts with a friendship point of view, he’d come over to my house and we talked about our sex lives, not clothes. I mean who listens to someone that talks about clothes? He’d like make off with a few things and dismantle them and I’d tell him to please sew them back together before he brought them back, maybe, that’d be quite nice. You know, that’s how it is, it’s like I connect with people I like. But music…I mean, ask David [LaChapelle]but I’m never without my headphones. It’s the only thing that [has] saved my life. Through all the sort of weird things that I’ve been through, you can put your headphones on and you’re in, you can breathe. You can shut your eyes and you can block the world out.
What’s on your playlist right now? On my playlist right... Funnily enough, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I tend to listen to T. Rex a lot, Marc Bolan had a very, very, very cool children’s television program. BBC had The Magic Roundabout, which was all about drugs. You know, hidden under the tree. And then before that, Marc Bolan had a children’s show so of course I knew about him very, very young, and he was a friend of my aunt Penny’s, funnily enough, so I actually know a bit about him. Tony Visconti, I can say it now, produced this album; his first act that he produced was T. Rex. Tony was from Brooklyn; he went to London where he worked for a man called Denny Cordell, who alas is no longer with us, who, strangely enough, married a cousin of mine. I mean the world is so…but he’s been Bowie’s producer ever since A Space Oddity. I mean yeah, he did the last one [The Next Day], I mean he’s been a saint. He did Lou Reed, he’s done the new Pulp, he did the Sparks. He’s the only producer that I respect, there was another one, the other one that I liked was the one that produced the Doors, but he snuffed it in 2004. So it’s a slightly different sound because I’ve got this other side where I like the Doors, I like the Beatles, I’m someone that will listen to every single take of every single song. I like the mistakes, in fact some of the best songs are the ones [with mistakes]. I modulate a lot, “Evening in Space” for example—the one that David made the video for—I did that in an afternoon when I was supposed to be finishing up some lyrics on another one. Anyway, I was with my husband in Dublin, I would do it normally with an unplugged electric guitar so I didn’t have too many overtones and to harmonize far too quickly, I go in the next morning and I go [gasps]! “53 chord changes!” [Tony] says, and I say, “Oh my God, shit, okay.” It was probably quite a good thing, I did all those notes, and it made it Eastern sounding, but it makes it very difficult for musicians to kind of place it as an E or E-Flat.
I was actually at your video shoot in West Hollywood, at David’s shoot. Man, wasn’t that great?
It was amazing, his studio is so great. Do you remember the first album you ever bought? The Stranglers.
Oh, nice. It was actually [The Gospel According to] Meninblack, that’s what it was. I used to get such a high-toned mind because if I didn’t listen to what my brothers were into they’d jump on it and smash my records. I mean when I was little I loved ABBA, I still think they’re really good songwriters, but you know, of course it was deeply uncool— disco didn’t hit the South of England. My sister was working for Andy [Warhol] so there was loads and loads of Lou Reed going on, and a lot of Velvet Underground. I thought “shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather” was about Wellington boots and I would sing this round the dining room table, because my brothers and sisters would say, “Now listen to this song and sing it to our parents.” I didn’t realize that [“Venus in Furs”] was about S&M—I was about six. “Shiny, shiny,” you know? They were always putting me up to stuff like that, that kind of thing.
Do you think your lyrics might be misinterpreted? You can get misquoted—but a song or a poem, you can’t get misquoted. “It wasn’t me, it was the song!” But with prose, you can be taken out of context, like “I’ll eat when I’m dead.” That was taken out of context. I mean, you’re on a shoot where you can’t touch your lips or your nails, or whatever. And you crack a joke; but in print, that was like the poster girl for anorexics. Songs are the only place where you can actually say things that, “It wasn’t me, it was the song.” I hate all of these materialistic songs, it really pisses me off that all these girls are product placement or like one drum loop—it just really gives me an instant migraine. Call me a hippie.
There’s something artificial about it for sure. It’s awful, it really is awful. You know until six months ago, I thought The X Factor was a porn show. A friend of mine on Twitter was freaking out about it and I said, “Aren’t you a bit young to be watching a porn show?” She was like, “No, no, it’s a music show.” I felt deeply, very uncool. I don’t know what’s going on at all. I just kind of checked out a long time ago.
Also, I really hope that I can actually give some hope to the people who do this stuff, and actually show that you can do this. If you apply yourself, you can do it and you don’t need to have all sorts of auto-tunes around the place, and that’s the whole point I think. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I mean if you’re an opera singer then yes, it has to be perfect, but the whole point about rock & roll is that you slide around, jump up and down, get very sweaty, and it’s fun!
Photographer: David LaChapelle for creativeExchangeAgency.com. Stylists: Daphne Guinness and Brett Alan Nelson. Alien Model: Sundar Mims. Hair: Laurent Philippon for timhowardmanagement.com. Makeup: Kabuki at Kabukimagic.com. Manicure: Stephanie Stone for NailingHollywood.com using NCLA. Production Designer: Annie Sperling. Lead Prop Construction: Marc Greville. Art Department Coordinator: Shepherd Stevenson. Scenic Airbrush Artist: Tom Hall. Paper Fabrications: Ana Serrano. Scenic Paint Artist: Rebecca Haze. Miniatures: Eamonn McGlynn. Choreographer: John Byrne. Casting: Mara West. Photography Assistants: Reid Welsh and Jack Alexander. First Assistant: John Schoenfeld. First Assistant Technician: Hennadiy Kvasov. LaChapelle Studio Assistants: Oscar Hernandez and Glen Vergara.