TRACEY THORN: THE COOLEST MUM IN POP
The Everything But The Girl woman is back with a fab new dance record called Record.
However well they think they know their parents, for a gay teenager there is always that moment of thinking, ‘Are mum and dad going to be cool with this?’
“Missing” for years as a stayat-home mum, Everything But The Girl’s Tracey Thorn returns triumphantly as queen of the dancefloor, writes Marc Andrews.
Tracey Thorn has been making music for the better part of four decades. She’s best known as half of Everything But The Girl with partner, and later husband, Ben Watt.
This year, after a seven-year break to escort her kids through adolescence, Tracey returns with a new solo album titled Record. Even better news, it’s a return to the “melancholy on the dancefloor” vibe that has kept Everything But The Girl’s Missing and subsequent hits like Tracey In My Room as perennial club classics.
Record, led by killer anthem Queen, is easily her gayest album yet, possibly inspired by Tracey having a gay daughter. She launched the album at OTT gay London party night, Duckie with hostess Amy Lamé and, afterwards, guest DJ-ed, spinning a few of her own dancefloor faves.
In London, sharing cookies and girlie giggles, DNA met up with the affable and articulate Ms Thorn to talk about her career-best new Record, her daughter’s coming out, and bumping into George Michael on the school run! DNA: This is probably the gayest record you’ve ever made.
Tracey: [Laughing]. Now that’s saying something! The album’s track listing looks like a drag queen put it together – Queen, Sister, Face, Dancefloor…
True. When I started writing the songs I had a page in my notebook where I was writing down single words that would map out a woman’s life – it might be me, it might be another woman. A real woman?
[Giggles]. Yeah! It wasn’t like I was doing a concept album but there was a sense that, maybe, there would be this through line. It gives it a kind of clarity.
You have described this album as “9 feminist bangers”.
[Giggles]. Yes. I’ve done this in the past, too – written songs about things that don’t usually get written about in songs.
You’ve talked, in the past, about never touring again. Has that changed?
No. I still don’t have any desire to. In the past I struggled but I was motivated to overcome stage fright. I wanted to be in a band and prove I could do it. I forced myself through it. I did it for years and don’t feel [now] that I need to prove anything to anyone. Given that I don’t enjoy it, I think I can let myself off the hook. You once said you found performing as Everything But The Girl rather boring because it was like a recital. With this album you could really unleash your inner-drag queen on stage!
You could do a full dancefloor number, but then half the audience would be a bit cross thinking, “Oh, I just want to sit down and listen to a ballad!” You can’t please everyone. EBTG’s 1996 megahit Missing must have paid your mortgage and still be paying royalties. [Nods]. Yeah. What happened to it was completely unexpected to everyone, even after we had the Todd Terry remix. Then it went to #1 in the US dance charts and all this happened after our label had just dropped us. It just goes to show that anything can happen in pop music. It proves that there are no rules and you can’t control a hit record; it’s out of your hands. Of all your back catalogue, why was Missing such a mega hit?
[Shrugs]. The lyrics really hit home with people. It’s melancholy on the dancefloor. It’s very
potent and incredibly powerful. People just took it to their hearts.
You must be very proud of that.
If you can achieve that once in your life, it’s amazing. We had long since given up thinking we’d ever have a hit single. We thought being an albums band was lovely. To have a hit, when you have stopped looking for one, is probably even more fun.
And then you went on to work with Massive Attack on the hit Protection.
Actually, I’d done the Massive Attack thing before Missing was a hit. We did Walking Wounded as the follow-up because we thought it was new and exciting.
It became the first drum-and-bass track to make it into the UK top ten.
It was, yeah. No one expected us to be the ones to do that, so never take anyone for granted. [Laughs].
After EBTG, your partner (and husband) Ben Watt went on to become a big-name DJ. You didn’t want to follow him in that?
He took that on, pretty much, because I’d retreated into being at home with the kids. That was all-absorbing to me. I went through my über-domestic phase and didn’t want anything else. For Ben it meant Everything But The Girl retiring at the peak of their career. Instead of moaning about it, he started a dance label and immersed himself in that scene. It was actually a brilliant time because, apart from when he was off travelling as a DJ, he was running the label at home. We had little kids running around on the floor and 12” singles everywhere and pumping dance music throughout the day. It was good fun.
Weren’t you and Ben also good friends with George Michael?
He was someone we bumped into and he was always lovely. With other artists you, maybe, don’t even get the time of day, but George was always really friendly. Once, when I was pushing a pushchair, he came past in his Range Rover. The tinted window came down and he called out, “Hi Tracey!” I turned around and said, “Who’s that? Oh, it’s George.” I got a lot of kudos with the mums, as you can imagine. You’ve written two autobiographical books. Any plans for more?
I’m just finishing book three. It’s the bit preBedsit Disco Queen [her first book] about growing up in suburbia in the weirdness of small town 1970s and how to escape it.
Are you aware EBTG had a big gay following? Yeah, and from quite early on, too, pre-dating our dance era. The gay following was always a part of it. When I met fans or read letters from fans, I began to see that there was a pattern emerging. [Laughs]. I could see where we were appealing, which was great.
Are there many gay people in your circle? [Laughs]. Yeah. One of my daughters came out in her mid-teens. She runs the LGBT society at her uni. Does that mean we’ll see you at Pride Events with PFLAG (Parents And Friends Of Lesbian And Gays)?
My daughter hasn’t let me go with her… or doesn’t want me there! She went to her first Pride a few years ago and that was an amazing moment as she went off with her friends and a rainbow flag.
Was it easy for you, as a mum, when she came out? However well they think they know their parents, for a gay teenager there is always that moment of thinking, “Are mum and dad going to be cool with this?” Of course, it was cool with us! [Laughs]. There’s lots of clues dotted through our music and our group of friends, like George Michael. Around the time of the Orlando nightclub shooting I wrote a column in The New Statesman about her coming out. I wrote it from the perspective that, when it comes down to your own flesh and blood, you feel it in your blood.
What do your kids think of your musical career now?
They are very sweet. They are old enough now that their friends are interested and it’s a bit more exciting. There’s a bit of cachet now in saying, “My mum’s on Spotify!” [Laughs].
The beauty of your new album is you can dance and listen to it.
I’ve always liked records that do both. I’ve never believed that as soon as you put a beat on something it [automatically becomes] bland or generic. People can dance and think at the same time, miraculously, and people can also dance at the same time as it’s sad. It’s that thing, again, of melancholy on the dancefloor. I like that combination.
Do you have any melancholy dancefloor favourites?
Well, Pet Shop Boys obviously encapsulate that. There’s something, even in their most uplifting songs, about Neil Tennant’s voice.
You never wanted to work with them?
I’ve been waiting 20 years to be asked! [Laughs]. Have you ever danced to Missing, or one of your own songs, in a club?
I actually have. [Laughs]. Ben was DJ-ing and afterwards someone else came on and played Missing or Tracey In My Room and I was with a little group of friends. Then I ended up in the middle of this throng. It’s very euphoric and celebratory. Quite fun.
Any plans to go out dancing with this record? I am doing my launch event at Duckie with Amy Lamé. I’m going to play a few records. It’s pretty much anything goes at Duckie, which is good. The first one I play might be Gypsies, Tramps And Thieves by Cher. That’s a good one to start off with. Speaking of grand music divas, it’s nice to have you back.
Thank you very much.
TRACEY SAYS… “PEOPLE CAN DANCE AND THINK AT THE SAME TIME… I LIKE MELANCHOLY ON THE DANCEFLOOR.”
ONE OF TRACEY’S THREE AUTOBIOGRAPHIES.
(ABOVE) TRACEY’S NEW ALBUM
(ABOVE) TRACEY WITH BEN WATT, AKA EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL.