ALISON MOYET first came to prominence with YAZOO, the famed electronic blues duo that was the first project of VINCE CLARKE following his departure from DEPECHE MODE in late 1981.
Although they only released two albums ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ and ‘You & Me Both’ on Mute Records, YAZOO’s impact was lasting. Despite their success, Clarke was reprising the personal disillusionment that had seen him leave DEPECHE MODE and decided ‘You & Me Both’ was to be YAZOO’s swansong. He then moved on to produce his mate ROBERT MARLOW, record as THE ASSEMBLY with Fergal Sharkey and YAZOO producer Eric Radcliffe before settling down to form ERASURE with Andy Bell.
Meanwhile, Moyet signed to Columbia Records and began a successful solo career with a run of chart singles that included ‘Love Resurrection’, ‘All Cried Out’, ‘Is This Love?’ and ‘Weak In The Presence Of Beauty’. So highly regarded was ALISON MOYET that the legendary Motown producer Lamont Dozier penned ‘Invisible’ for her in 1984. Her massive selling ‘Alf’ and ‘Raindancing’ were dovetailed by a pair of stand alone covers ‘That Ole Devil Called Love’ and ‘Love Letters’ which widened her audience. The result was well deserved Brit Awards for Best Female Singer in 1985 and 1988 where during her acceptance speech for the latter, she acknowledged the debt to her former YAZOO partner.
However, all this commercial success didn’t sit well with the down-to-earth girl born Genevieve. When she pursued more artistic musical avenues, she met resistance from her label following the less than enthusiastic response to 1991’s ‘Hoodoo’.
As a result, its follow-up ‘Essex’ was heavily controlled by Columbia. The album yielded a hit single ‘Whispering Your Name’ which was accompanied by a hilarious promo video starring comedienne Dawn French but spelt the end of her relationship with the now Sony owned record company. But this single’s release included a remix by Vince Clarke and rekindled public interest in YAZOO, eventually leading to the ‘Only Yazoo’ compilation in 1999.
Her next album ‘Hometime’ wasn’t until 2002 as she extracted herself from Sony and licensed the recording through Sanctuary Records. Further albums ‘Voice’ and ‘The Turn’ kept her busy, but Moyet formally reunited with Clarke as YAZOO for 2008’s well received concert tour which was subsequently issued as the ‘Reconnected Live’ album. In 2011, they played ‘Nobody’s Diary’, ‘Ode To Boy’ and ‘Don’t Go’ as part of a joint YAZOO / ERASURE / THE ASSEMBLY set as part of a joint set by YAZOO, ERASURE and THE ASSEMBLY at the Short Circuit Presents Mute Festival.
But since then, Moyet has been working on her most exciting AND electronic project since those heady YAZOO days. Entitled ‘the minutes’, it is a collaboration with producer Guy Sigsworth, best known for his work with BJORK and MADONNA. With overtly synthetic but contemporary tracks such as ‘Right As Rain’, ‘Filigree’,’Love Reign Supreme’ and ‘Changeling’, the album is rightly being hailed as one of her best recordings for many years. ALISON MOYET spoke to The Electricity Club about her new album and more…
Your last album ‘The Turn’ was 2007 and you did the YAZOO tour in 2008. What was the spark to record an electronic based album?
What you have to remember with me and electronica is that it was reported for a long time that I left YAZOO… I didn’t leave YAZOO, Vince split the band! I’ve been wanted to do it for ages, I was kind of disillusioned in the 90s with it because technology has been brilliant and allowed a lot to people to come up and be creative. However only some of those have a profound musicality… like Vince! He taught himself electronica but came from a musical enough background where he was listening to well constructed music like SIMON & GARFUNKEL as opposed to the techies say in the 90s who grew from previous techies.
There’s something that I still want a vocal to be a part of the song as opposed to being jammed in because you had to have a voice in there, which happened a lot in the 90s. You had a feeling that there wasn’t a real synchronicity to it all. It’s a big sweeping statement but the ones I met were so entrenched in the techie-ness that it was all like a one-note wonder thing and I find that dull! I love interesting things but I have to have taken some strong sh*t to tolerate some of those trance things.
It was difficult meeting the right person because I’m restless about meeting new people anyway. But I got introduced to Guy without any great expectations and it turned out he was perfect for me. The whole thing with ‘the minutes’ is that it’s an artist’s album, it’s not a singer’s album.
It’s quite a different thing. I’m singing on it but it’s not about me showboating or using the album as a platform for me to sit above as a vocalist. The lyrics in some ways are more important and the whole sound…it’s a music album.
Was there any particular work of his previously that you liked?
I knew a bit of his work with BJORK but it was more a case of when I met with him that we connected musically in what it was we were looking to do. For me, one of the things that puts me off whenever I work with someone is when they say “what kind of record do you want to make? What kind of song do you want to write?”
How the f*** do you know what song you are going to write until you’ve written it? I’m not trying to replicate anyone else’s record, I’m not trying to write for an audience, all I want to do is sit in a creative place with someone and open the box, that’s what I want to do so I can’t tell you what it is until it’s done! And there’s so much of that! I never had to do that in YAZOO and I didn’t have to do that with Guy. What I enjoyed about the YAZOO period is there was none of this horrible “let’s theorise what kind of record we’re making”… we made the record that we made.
You said you’d wanted to make an electronic album for quite a while…
…because it’s the space. There’s something about the sonic space in it. I love the air that comes within electronica. Of course you can have pads but it’s not so common and when you have pads, they’re not ten finger pads. D’ya know what I’m saying? There’s just air in there and there is a wider, more unusual palette, a more unpredictable palette than can be had with a generic line-up.
Did the YAZOO ‘Reconnected’ tour in 2008 inspire this?
No! No! No! I would have worked with YAZOO anytime since the time that we stopped because I really enjoyed that plus for me when I first started out as a musician, I started from the live element and then went to recorded work.
So the very fact that ‘You & Me Both’ had never been played live could never be a project finished for me. You have to sing a song live to actually find out what you would have kept and what you wouldn’t have done.
So when Vince presented you with ‘Only You’, did he do that on acoustic guitar?
I have a feeling I would have heard it as an electronic demo on his portastudio. I’m assuming he must have had ‘Only You’ in electro form because he’d have presented it to DEPECHE MODE and they knocked it back! I remember singing the first vocal demo in his kitchen and I had such a fantastic musical memory at that stage that I only had to learn the tune once and the lyrics once; they were consigned to memory.
The subsequent songs we did together we played to one another on guitar. ‘Nobody’s Diary’, that was a song that I wrote which was played in bands when I was 15-16! So when me and Vince talked about making an album together, he goes “got any songs?” and I replied “yeah, I got a couple!”… they were written but they were never intended for recording.
How did ‘Nobody’s Diary’ go down with the people in the bands you were playing in?
At that point, I was part of that Estuary Delta kind of vibe and playing on the Canvey Island scene. So it was punk mixed with pub rock, the bed that kind of related to ELVIS COSTELLO, DR FEELGOOD and those kind of people.
No, none of my mates were particularly complimentary about it! But I can understand why, the muso lot were very partisan for blues so they wouldn’t have been interested and your mates that you leave at the time as your life goes another way, I think there’s going to be an element of people finding it hard to be happy for you.
Did REX THE DOG’s sampling of ‘Midnight’ for 2008‘s ‘Bubblicious’ and acts with YAZOO influences like LA ROUX and HERCULES & THE LOVE AFFAIR have any bearing on your reawakening with electronics?
I wasn’t particularly aware of it. I’m not aware of what’s going on until I’m working on something and someone says “have you heard so and so…”
The songs on ‘the minutes’ do cover all sorts of directions… which have been the key songs for you?
I would say ‘When I Was Your Girl’ is the least like everything else. The reason it’s the single is that it was picked up by radio. That can cause confusion because out of all of them, it’s the only one I wouldn’t call electronica. But there’s absolutely no point in me giving them ‘Rung By The Tide’ and say that’s the single because no f***er’s going to play it, it’s not going to happen!
And also single smingles, it’s not like any of my singles are ever going to sell but that’s the one you can present to radio. And that just happened to be by accident because that was the song I wrote on guitar and Guy worked it up from that. The rest of the album, they’re all quite different. But I think there’s no weak spots on this record, that’s quite a big statement to make because I can think of every album where I know there’s a track that I would skip…
They can expect songs from ‘the minutes’, ‘Hometime’, YAZOO, ‘Alf’ and maybe ‘Raindancing’. But on all of the tracks, there’s going to be screens, it’s going to be me and one other who will be John Garden. He’s going to be my computer whizz kid and playing live. It’s going to be programmed but I haven’t decided if I’m going to have a backing singer yet, I don’t know. It’s going to be like a minimal set-up but all electronic.
So no jazz covers?
No jazz covers! *laughs*
Has that been a bit of a millstone round your neck?
What you’ve got to understand with me is that I’m an artist… I use that word advisedly because some people won’t even know that. There’s a great assumption that when you’re the female counterpart, that the creativity always comes from the man. It’s always the case! I wrote half of the YAZOO songs… even ‘Don’t Go’, the melody that was sung was very different from the one that was presented to me. And you only have to compare YAZOO to ERASURE to see the colours within that to see what influence I had on YAZOO to what Andy Bell has in ERASURE. Different bands y’know!
But I’m also an instrumentalist and my voice is my instrument. There are certain songs that as an instrumentalist, I want to sing, that I want to try myself out on that I would never write. Jazz is another matter! Jazz is a format that I don’t like! I’ve never been interested in jazz, I don’t consider BILLIE HOLIDAY jazz, I consider her as pop music of that era.
Now when I released ‘That Ole Devil Called Love’, that was a time when ‘Alf’ had gone triple platinum in the UK and they wanted to pull a fourth single off… because my fans are going to buy that and have already bought it, I’m not going to have them buying it again! So I said “if you want to put another single out, why don’t we do this track I do live?”
What you have to remember about ‘That Ole Devil Called Love’ at the time was that none of that sort of music was played on the radio and there was none on the television. The acts that recorded that stuff were not in the music shops, only in specialist places… they were not high profile. In fact, it was quite a risky move to make.
Consequently, it was my biggest selling single and all the record companies that had the real deal, the proper acts that did that sh*t better than me released all of their records and they end up all over the adverts, on the telly and there came a big revival. It looks it retrospect like I’ve done a very safe thing. So what has been a mill around my neck is that one little thing, that actually for the time was quite leftfield, has ended up being quite mainstream and people think of me as a jazz singer when I don’t listen to jazz, I don’t own jazz records and that’s it!
Was that the same circumstances when you released ‘Love Letters’ after the success of ‘Raindancing’?
‘Love Letters’ was me shooting myself in the foot! That was me being a show-off! That was me showing I had an A&R thing…”oh, I know what a hit is”! I did that twice, I did it with that and with ‘Weak In The Presence Of Beauty’! Two times that I recorded songs knowing they were hits, as opposed to the fact I loved them! I say that honestly, that’s the only time I’ve ever recorded anything cynically!
Of course, all this reaccquaintance with all things synthetic will remind people of YAZOO. Can you remember your initial reaction to Vince Clarke replying to your “blues musicians wanted” small ad?
I’ve known Vince since he was 11 so we both went to Saturday morning music school at Laindon High Road School.
I was also in the same form class as Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher at school plus Perry Bamonte who later joined THE CURE. And then I went to college with Dave Gahan.
So I knew all of the Depeche Boys much better than Vince who I knew by face… we were on nodding terms.
Out of all of us, I was the first person to play live in bands. So they already knew what I sounded like. Vince was looking for my number anyway and it was a coincidence that he picked up on the ad… it was serendipity.
So I had that kind of funny mixed feeling because me and Dave had been punks while Vince, Fletch and Martin were what we called Godbotherers at the Christian camp. But when punk started dissolving and the New Romantics started to take shape, I was appalled! I believed in my naïve 16 year old way in the ethics of punk and how we didn’t care about ownership, beautification and acceptance. Suddenly, all these people were buying poncy clothes and it was the opposite. So that’s when I ended up going toward Canvey Island and hanging out with DR FEELGOOD because that had far more of a punk ethic that this kind of thing.
I’ve known these boys since when they were children and seen them right up to the month before in ordinary clothes. So when they all got Depeche away, my first thought was “what the f***?”! But that is also balanced with “oh how interesting” and “fair play, you got it away”! All that kind of stuff!
Interestingly, Vince’s album with Depeche, I didn’t like it whereas the darker stuff later, Martin’s writing… later Depeche appealed to me more than early Depeche.
So when Vince asked me to do it, I was really excited to be even able to sing into a tape recorder and thought “great, I’m going to have a demo now”. So I didn’t think anything of it or that it was going anywhere. I got a phone call a week later saying “let’s record it”; we recorded it and they said “let’s do an album, have you got any songs?”. It was bizarre, he just did what he was doing, I still did what I was doing and sung the way that I sang. We did it together. I was singing over his chords or he was arranging over my chords and we didn’t have any discussions about what we were making. We just did our own thing in the same musical collective.
In YAZOO, you and Vince mostly wrote songs individually?
Yes, we only co-wrote twice… one being ‘Situation’, the other being ‘The Other Side Of Love’ which is probably our weakest moment! I dislike it, it’s my skipper!
Yes, it’s hateful, I think it’s horrible!
On a similar subject, ‘Happy People’ from ‘You & Me Both’ is not exactly Vince’s finest moment… is that why you didn’t sing on it?
I completely forgot about ‘Happy People’… I’d wiped that out! *laughs*
That could have been the beginning of the end for us… in fact, no it wasn’t because Vince had already decided to leave. ‘Happy People’, I just tried singing it a couple of ways and I just hit him with “I can’t do this, you want it sung, you sing it yourself mate!”… so he sang it himself, fair play to him. And funnily enough, it was a massive hit in Poland!
‘Happy People’ does have a strange cult following, I’ve never understood it!
I think it is improved by him singing on it, because you don’t have to be a singer on that track. Him doing it with that real Basildon accent in check, there’s something more interesting about it. It’s not a good song and Vince has written some great songs, but that was not it! It had something that obviously struck people that came from him… if I’d had sung it, I don’t think it would have been lifted at all.
Did Vince ever tell you what ‘Happy People’ was about?
Nah! I don’t think Vince was very obtuse, d’ya know what I mean? I don’t mean that in a rude way, we were young and when you’re young, you don’t try to explain something if you’ve got something to hide… I don’t know what he was trying to hide! *laughs*
For me personally, it would have been ‘Ode To Boy’ and ‘Winter Kills’ because they were obviously songs I wrote on my own and the arrangements didn’t take away from what I’d written. They were intact. In fairness, all of the songs we wrote were intact but I relate to those two more as an artist maybe than I would do to some of the others that some of the other things that I wrote that are of a time. They resonate more truly in my current state.
When YAZOO ended in 1983, much was expected of your solo career. Can you remember the sort of pressure you were put under?
There was no pressure other than the fact that I wanted to carry on working. So there was a big bidding war that was going on and it came down to between Columbia and Virgin. Virgin were actually offering me a lot more but Columbia had JANIS JOPLIN which impressed me and also they had tidy offices! As someone who has ADHD and is panicked by my own lack of organisation, I feel safer around tidy people. And that swung it more me bizarrely *chuckles*
What was being on a major record label like after the indie family atmosphere at Mute?
The first thing they said was “what kind of a record do you want to make?”… dunno, I’d never thought like that, I hadn’t intended to make records in the first place, I was a live act. And then they introduced me to Tony Swain and Steve Jolley and I said “yes” to the first people who came along as I didn’t want to meet lots of people.
As it transpired, they were really nice fellas. They were working on SPANDAU BALLET and came round my house, one the first day we wrote ‘All Cried Out’ in about 10 minutes. It was really easy and there was no pressure, just left to your own devices.
We recorded it and but the first time I noticed there was a problem when I’d written a song on my own. Then you’re suddenly aware that it becomes about publishing, all those kind of things which I’d never thought about. Before, it was always about the project; I wasn’t thinking about who would make more money from what and I suddenly realised they weren’t going to let me do record it and the record company weren’t supporting me in that. That’s when I first noticed there was some differences going on.
Had remaining at Mute as a solo artist ever been an option?
It had been an option but I tell you where I had the problem with it. Everyone at Mute had been Vince’s contacts. There were only three people working at Mute at the time and all the communication was via Vince so I had no relationship with anyone. So when Vince split YAZOO up, I was very much on the outside, not through lack of care but because they had the relationship with him. I think Daniel Miller cared very much but he’s not a verbose person, neither of us were great talkers!
And it got to that point that Depeche are there, now Vince is there as a solo act… we’d already gone in there before and I’d felt the animosity from Depeche, there was a bit of frisson going on between them… y’know, all school boy stuff, completely understandable. Nothing malicious, just competitiveness and I thought “There’s going to be a third one! Vince is not in a good place with me, I’m not in a good place with him. I stay, there’s going to be three acts at loggerheads with one another! It just doesn’t feel right!”. So I chose to leave and I did regret that!
I was in America recording with Jimmy Iovine who’s mates with Dave Stewart. I was also working with David Freeman who was published by Dave Stewart.
Dave was in America and just said “shall we do some writing?”; he came up with a little track and melody idea that I went away and wrote words to. I don’t know whether he had issues about whether Annie Lennox or his record company wouldn’t like it but he wanted to do it under a pseudonym.
He told me he wanted to be named Jean Guiot so I said fine and then it was quite funny because that came out the same time as ‘Thorn In My Side’ and ‘Is This Love?’ did better! He then never told me he waited to claim it so I did an interview with someone who said “you co-wrote this with Dave Stewart”, I said “no!” and the interviewer said “You liar, I’m mates with Dave Stewart!” and I thought “You f***er, you’re the one who told me I had to use a pseudonym because your publisher would have problems with it!” *laughs*
When the first ERASURE single Who Needs Love Like That? came out, I thought it was an unreleased YAZOO song…
Oh did you? *laughs*
What did you think when you first heard it and how did you feel about Vince recruiting a vocalist who initially had a very similar voice to you?
I can’t remember what I thought of it, but Andy could obviously sing and Vince was doing what he always did… I’m sure that I would have felt resentful at the time! I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t have done because I didn’t want YAZOO to spilt up, I didn’t like being replaced, any of that kind of stuff! It’s probably one of my preferred ERASURE tracks; they are more naturally poppy than something I would gravitate towards, but you can hear the craftsmanship in it.
Is it true you and ERASURE had tried to record a duet version of ‘This House’?
No, I sent them the song and asked if they wanted to do it. They came over and I think Andy didn’t want to do it because Vince really loved that song. But it’s not a song for duetting, it’s a loner’s song.
The ‘Reconnected’ tour in 2008 and the Mute Short Circuit show in 2011 was your chance to deal with some unfinished business with YAZOO. Thinking back now, have you seen it as a worthwhile experience for you either personally or artistically?
Oh, I loved it, loved it, loved it! I had a brilliant time! On a personal level, Vince and I connected in a way we never did before.
I actually found out he was funny and he found out I wasn’t an axe murderer, d’ya what I mean? There was these kind of things that you discover about yourself when you’re more relaxed and you’re not carrying all the weight of the darkness he felt after leaving Depeche, the darkness that I felt about being thrown into the spotlight and feeling quite alone with it because Vince had already removed himself; I was very much on my own with no-one to mitigate it. It was a dark place for both of us but the reunion was wonderful because we were both in happy places and didn’t see each other as the cause of our misery.
Never say never but I would say I doubt it would happen again… that’s not I would not do it again.
That’s more to do with the fact that Vince was married to DEPECHE MODE, he’s married to ERASURE and I’m like that transitional relationship.
So it’s almost like when he comes back to perform with me, it’s a bit like kinda having a shag for old times sake and that doesn’t really work when you’re married! *laughs*
Of course, me and Vince have never been biblical, it’s obviously a metaphor! But it’s that kind of thing! Were I Andy, I would not want my musical partner to go and get too involved with an ex! That’s how he might take it but that’s not from conversations I’ve had with him but Andy is Vince’s singer which is why Vince could do the VCMG project with Martin Gore, he’s not replacing him with someone else.
The Electricity Club gives its grateful thanks to ALISON MOYET
Special thanks to Duncan Clark and Rhianon Davies at 9PR
‘the minutes’ is released as a CD, red vinyl LP and download by Cooking Vinyl.
Text and Interview by Chi Ming Lai
10th June 2013, updated 11th April 2015