New album sees Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory back to their stomping, sexy, glamorous synth-rock best. The pair tell Lauren Murphy about the fun of walking that fine line between cheesy and cool
MAKE NO BONES about it: Alison Goldfrapp’s reputation precedes her. A group of journalists huddle around a table in the bar of a swanky members’ club in northwest London, worriedly discussing the singer’s reputed obstinacy when it comes to dealing with the media.
And then she arrives. Today, the petite musician – aged anywhere between 41 and 45, depending on what you read – is dressed in a baggy shirt, trainers and tinted Ray Ban shades. Her trademark golden ringlets are twisted into tight knots, and she’s got a surprisingly firm handshake. Blimey, there’s even a slight smile creasing the corners of her mouth as she unleashes one deadpan barb after another. Alison Goldfrapp is, well, normal. Although it’s clear that she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. But what were we expecting – six-inch stilettos and fake horse tails?
And besides, there’s really no reason why she shouldn’t in “good form” – as her label rep has reliably informed us earlier – anyway. Goldfrapp (comprising Alison and co-songwriter Will Gregory), are about to become a permanent fixture on the chart, airplay and festival landscapes this summer. Their fifth studio album Head First marks a return to the stomping, sexy, glamorous synth-rock sound that has informed most of the duo’s career. And it’s a hell of a lot more upbeat than their comparably pastoral last effort, Seventh Tree. Does this about-turn in direction signify a new found happiness in life, or is it simply further progress for one of the most evolutionary bands in recent memory?
“Well, Will’s always happy, and I’m always miserable,” she says with a wickedly sharp cackle. “No, that’s silly. Yeah, I think that’s definitely why we wanted to do this album.After Seventh Tree, we wanted to do something like Supernature again, but differently.
“We’d done the more introspective, dreamy thing, and it just didn’t feel right doing it again. We wanted an ‘up’ sound. We loved all the synths and the drums, and we wanted that – but we wanted it to be different from Supernature. I think what we learned from Seventh Tree was that it had a kind of warmth to it, and a melodiousness to it that we really liked, and we wanted to apply that – but to the synths and that sort of stuff.
“Y’know, it’s bloody good fun doing that stuff. I think our previous stuff had a coldness to it that we got a little bit bored of. There’s something really satisfying about going ‘errrrrrhhhhhhh’ on a synthesiser,” she laughs, thumping the table with her fingers. “It satisfies some basic need. I suppose it’s the same as if you play the guitar, plugging it in and just playing a power riff.”
Finding the right balance between cheesy synth riffs and catchy pop music isn’t always easy, adds Gregory, but it’s something that they’re both aware of when they’re writing. Much of Head First sounds influenced by the 1980s, not least Rocket, and Van Halen-esque love song I Wanna Life.
“I think we do like playing with what lives on the edge of being cheesy,” he nods. “It’s good fun, but you’ve just got to be really careful, because it is a precipice, and it definitely gives things an extra tension when you’re on the edge. Just one extra note in there, and you’ll be like ‘Woaahhhh! I’ve tumbled into some terrible cliché’. I think we do play with that, and I think the 1980s were