The singer Alison Moyet on her new album, the minutes
The English singer Alison Moyet started out as one half of the influential synth-pop duo Yazoo. Hits such as Only You paved the way for a solo career, which began with her multimillion selling 1984 debut, Alf. Moyet’s latest record, the minutes, packs sophisticated electronic pop, produced by Guy Sigsworth (Björk, Robyn, Madonna).
Why is your new album called the minutes? And why is the title in lower case?
I was in Amsterdam and I went to see the film The Tree of Life because I fancied a bit of Brad Pitt. The first half-hour is all planets exploding and cell division; there’s no real narrative. People were walking out but I stuck with it.
Right at the end of the film there’s this scene that lifts your spirits immeasurably. It summed up how I feel at the age of 51, which is that our lives are about brilliant little minutes suspended in years. But those minutes aren’t necessarily very dramatic or specific, so I put the album title in small letters.
What other themes does the record explore?
When I started out the age of 17, my lyrics were driven by that distraught French Lieutenant’s Woman thing, but that doesn’t relate to me as a human being any more.
I’m not looking for romantic love and I don’t need that anymore to define myself, so I think the main theme on this record is schizophrenia. Songs such as Remind Yourself and When I Was Your Girl are about the opposing dialogues within oneself. There’s a lot of that with me.
The lyrics of the last song, Rung by the Tide, are especially intriguing.
Yes, that one’s a bit different. I was researching how, in the Middle Ages, great swathes of the English coastline fell into the sea and priories and monasteries and their bell towers were lost.
Then I started to think about what it would feel like to be a bell [laughs]. I thought, maybe the bell would be completely delighted about it. Maybe the bell thought: “All this time you’ve told me when I could sing and when I could stop, but now that’s over.”
When you formed Yazoo with Vince Clarke in 1981, electronic music was still a brave new world. Can pop be as innovative today?
I don’t think there are any brave new worlds in music anymore. I can’t imagine where it would come from. I think the only shocks will come from us being moved by what we are hearing.
You sang the Marvin Gaye hit That’s The Way Love Is with Paul Young at Live Aid in 1985. What are your memories of that day?
I thought it was at Wembley Arena, so I was really confused when they put me in a helicopter to Wembley Stadium, sitting beside Bono and David Bowie.
I remember Freddie Mercury waving at me and blowing kisses, and I did that thing where you look behind you because you don’t think he can be blowing them at you.
Later, when I saw the footage of us all singing Let It Be with Paul McCartney, I was horrified. It looked as though I was hogging the mic from David Bowie.
In 2001, you played Matron ‘Mama’ Morton in the stage musical Chicago. Was that a good experience?
Yes – it actually changed my life quite a bit. I have a tendency towards agoraphobia. If I don’t go out and work, I’ll stay home and not even answer the telephone.
So when Chicago came up, I jumped at it. I was terrified, but at the same time I’m someone who will occasionally pull out a toenail to see if I can do it. It turned out to be great. I wasn’t the star; I was part of a collective and I loved that. It eradicated stage fright for me and it felt like a very normalising experience.
You’re close to the actress and comedian Dawn French. What makes your friendship tick?
I have a social deficiency, like I say, but Dawn just put herself in my face until she was family. I’ve known her since I was 21. I’m her confidante. We met at Elvis Costello’s first wife’s birthday party. Dawn was over in the corner with Len [Lenny Henry, French’s then husband] and she asked me to dance. We’ve been friends ever since.
Tell us something surprising.
I’m moving house at the moment, and the other day I threw all my gold discs in a skip. It felt very -liberating.
• Alison Moyet’s the minutes (Cooking Vinyl records) is out today
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