"I just woke up one day and went, ‘Come on!’": The reinvention of Alison Goldfrapp
Upon the release of her debut solo album, Alison Goldfrapp speaks to Becca Inglis about leaning into dance music, the fetishisation of youth and making the most of life
The name Goldfrapp may be Alison Goldfrapp’s surname, but for 24 years it has been far more synonymous with the synth pop duo she fronts with her long-running musical partner, Will Gregory. Over seven albums, the pair bridged the gap between dance music and pop, with 2003’s ‘Black Cherry’ pulling retro disco beats to the fore, and both 2005 follow-up, ‘Supernature’ and 2010’s ‘Head First’ securing a nomination for Best Electronic/Dance Album at the GRAMMYs. So why, after more than two decades, has Alison Goldfrapp decided to go it alone with her first solo record?
“At the grand age of 102!” she quips. “Will's always done his other projects, and I felt like I needed to do something else. I think it's important as an artist to feel like you're growing, and to do that you need to step out of your comfort zone.” On her solo debut album ‘The Love Invention’, out now via Skint Records, pushing the envelope for Alison Golfrapp has meant leaning into her dance music influences. “I wanted it to be very electronic and harder sounding,” she says. “It's something I've wanted to do for a long time. There's always been elements of dance music, but I wanted to explore that a bit more in depth.”
It's a fresh direction for Goldfrapp, which also feels like a homecoming. One of her first breaks in music came in the early nineties, when Orbital invited her to appear on their 1994 album, ‘Snivilisation’. "They came to see a performance I did – an art school sound installation thing," she remembers. “They asked me if I fancied doing some vocals.” Goldfrapp’s voice ended up forming the gauzy backdrop to the breakbeat-furnished ‘Are We Here?’.
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But it was meeting Tricky that would shape Goldfrapp’s career for years to come. “I sent him a cassette tape of some random stuff I'd done on a four-track recorder. I'd slowed my vocal right down, which he was into,” she says. “I remember going over to his place in West London and he'd set up a microphone on the landing of his house. He went out to get a bag of chips and left me to do some stuff.” Tricky later brought her into the studio to lay down vocals for ‘Pumpkin’, one of the few tracks to forgo Martina Topley-Bird’s voice on the Mercury Prize-nominated ‘Maxinquaye’. “They were laughing their heads off,” Goldfrapp says of Tricky and producer Mark Saunders. “I was actually singing complete gobbledygook. I took that as a good sign, that they thought it was funny.”
For the next two years, Goldfrapp joined Tricky on an intensive touring schedule, which meant spending a lot of her time in Bristol. By this point, she was frequenting clubs less – that came earlier for a spell in London, where “there was a whole drum ‘n’ bass scene that I was really into” – and attending more parties, which immersed her in the local music scene that was bursting forth thanks to Massive Attack and Portishead. It was through a Bristol friend that she met Will Gregory, who had already stumbled across her on ‘Pumpkin’.
It’s been the two of them together ever since, until Goldfrapp reached out to Röyksopp to suggest a collaboration. “That was little baby steps into seeing what it felt like working with other people. I hadn't done that since Tricky and Orbital,” she says. She had visions of herself travelling to work with the duo in Norway, but the pandemic put paid to those plans. To keep working through lockdown, Goldfrapp constructed a studio at home, where she recorded vocals remotely for what became Röyksopp’s 2022 album, ‘Profound Mysteries’. “I've never really done it like that before,” she says. “It gave me confidence to work more on my own.”
Goldfrapp calls her home studio setup “very homemade”, but there was enough there to enable her transition to bedroom producer – an old computer, a couple of mics and keyboards, sheepskin pinned to the wall and black felt curtains for extra soundproofing: “Although my neighbour did tell me she was hearing a lot of stuff coming through the walls.” Goldfrapp nearly cooked alive in this room during the sweltering summer of 2022, when she recorded herself singing for ‘The Love Invention’. She mimes gasping for air between takes, and frantically ripping open curtains and windows to let the heat escape. Could that be why she cites climate change as inspiration for the track ‘So Hard So Hot’? “It definitely had an influence,” she laughs.
It’s striking that, even for a solo record, ‘The Love Invention’ remains deeply collaborative. Most tracks name either Richard X (who’s worked with the likes of Róisín Murphy and M.I.A) or James Greenwood (AKA Ghost Culture, a regular collaborator with Daniel Avery) as co-writers, taking the place of Gregory in the collaborative process. Music making, for her, is in essence a shared experience. “When you're in a room with other people, there's an energy and a spontaneity there. That's a wonderful thing,” she says. “What's great about working with different people is you feeding each other new interests.” She credits Richard X with exposing her to more Euro electro and Italian disco records, which has no doubt inspired the Balearic edge to tracks like ‘The Love Invention’.
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Helping to centre that clubbiness are house music’s plague doctor mask-wearers Claptone, and Leeds’ techno pioneer Paul Woolford, whose sped-up, rave-inspired remix of ‘Digging Deeper Now’ and anthemic piano-driven take on ‘Fever (This Is The Real Thing)’ announced Goldfrapp’s record at the start of this year. It was the label who had the idea to tease the album with remixes, rather than the original songs. “Sometimes it feels like this thing that you tag on the end of an album. I wanted to incorporate that a bit more into the sound and presentation of the whole thing,” says Goldfrapp.
In previous interviews, Goldfrapp has spoken about how her partnership with Gregory was misread by the press, who sometimes treated her more as a frontwoman than an artist. “It would quite often be a thing where they would talk to Will about the music and then half an hour later comment on what a nice dress I was wearing, which used to really piss me off,” she says. That blatant sexism does seem to have eased off, which Goldfrapp attributes to a more progressive landscape within the industry, though she notes that it may also say something about her changing position within music. “Maybe it's because I'm so old. No one gives a shit anymore. Including me, probably.”
The fetishisation of youth arises frequently throughout the record, as Goldfrapp frees herself from the shackles of what society expects of women of a certain age. ‘The Love Invention’ is a fantastical satire of the wellness industry, imagining a one-stop pill that promises beauty (and one heck of an endorphin rush). “It was inspired by the idea of women taking testosterone to increase libido and muscle power,” says Goldfrapp. “Every time I look through social media, crazy stuff comes up. If you mix this potion, your hair will grow longer. Do this to your skin and you'll look 30 years younger.”
Then there are her repeated delves into the erotic. Lyrics about one-night stands in hotels and a feverish “wild affair” feel like a sly wink from a woman who is far from backing away from flaunting her desires. “I think it's an interesting subject, that as a society we feel that is only reserved for a certain part of your life,” she says. “Once you get past that age, it's like people are turned off by the idea of talking about sex. I think that's why Madonna gets a lot of flack. People want you to be more invisible.” In 2023, that invisibility may be subsiding, with Madonna, Annie Mac and Michelle Yeoh all calling out the ageism that plagues their industries. Perhaps Goldfrapp’s album can push that momentum too. “It's all irrelevant in a way as well,” she says. “What's so wonderful about music is that you listen to it, and it's surpassed everything. It matters and it doesn't matter.”
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The whole record smacks of this release, but also of grabbing hold of life with both hands. How has she arrived at this freer place? “Maybe I just woke up one day and went, ‘Come on!’” She’s miming again, this time shaking an imaginary watch. “The realisation of letting go and being in the moment and wanting to make the most of life. Making a very conscious decision to change the path.”
Goldfrapp and Gregory don’t have plans to release more music together (though “never say never”), but we can certainly expect another record from Goldfrapp the solo artist. What we’re witnessing now is a new dawn for Alison Goldfrapp. “This is the new path,” she says. “You've got to change it up every now and then. Venture out. New energy. New desires.”
Alison Goldfrapp's ‘The Love Invention’ is out now, check it here
Becca Inglis is a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter