Alison Goldfrapp often punctuates her sentences with “I don’t know.” It’s more than a nervous verbal tic or an attempt to dodge questions in the middle of an arduous day of press. After all, she and Goldfrapp bandmate Will Gregory have had a partnership that has lasted longer than many marriages and spanned multiple styles across seven albums. (A feat they credit to their very English habit of keeping work and personal relationships separate.) Her resume as an artist speaks for itself. To date she’s shaped her delicate soprano into the role of dancefloor queen (Supernature), ambient ghost (Felt Mountain) and haunted storyteller (2013’s Tales of Us). But talking about the machinery that puts it all into place—that’s tricky. Making music is easier…at least most of the time.
“You can spend days thinking ‘Fuck! Nothing is happening!’” she says, laughing. “You feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall. Then you’ll have a flurry of stuff happening and ideas popping out. It suddenly comes together. That’s really exciting. I think that’s why it’s so important to do stuff. Not just sit around for inspiration. Only in that process of doing do you make things happen. That’s the exciting bit, I think.”
“It doesn’t get easier,” Gregory adds. “If someone knows, send them here quick! Get them to tell us because we’d like to know.”
After a year and a half of tour and a slight detour into theater, writing a score for a Greek tragedy playing at the National Theater of London, Goldfrapp and Gregory began work on what would become Silver Eye. They knew after the largely acoustic Tales of Us they wanted to dip back into the electronic world. And both of them knew they wanted to experiment with darker tones. Rather than go it alone (“Sometimes we just sit across the room from each other and just say ‘help!’” Gregory jokes.), they brought an additional musician, Bobby Krlic—better known as witch house producer The Haxan Cloak. While they’ve always had additional musicians on their recordings, and both Goldfrapp and Gregory say they’ve wanted the process to be more collaborator-friendly. This is the first time they’ve successfully added to their braintrust during the initial writing process.
“It’s hard to find people that you click with musically,” Goldfrapp confesses. “I think it’s quite a special magical thing that happens. Just because you really like what someone does musically doesn’t mean to say that it’s going to click with you when you’re working. It’s not necessarily logical how these things work. Personality, schedule. Does it complement what you’re trying to do? There was definitely a couple of people we got in thinking it was going to connect and it didn’t. You can’t predict how these things work.”
Silver Eye is a plunge back into dance music. Its DNA extends to previous efforts Black Cherry and Supernature—particularly when Goldfrapp coo/growls “I can’t wait/I can’t wait anymore” across the aggressive beats of opening track “Anymore.” But the collection is booked by closing track “Ocean,” a slow-burning whisper to a roar cut that, keeping with the haunting atmosphere, features a line of lyrics build through improvisation where Goldfrapp demands an unknown force, “save me from the hell I’m in.” It’s the move that paints the picture of a band as enamored with the glitz of the dance floor as they are the mysterious forces that have brought them to this point. Of course, to hear Goldfrapp and Gregory tell it, it’s a triumph that’s equal parts romanticism and pragmatism. Much like their collective worldview.
“Fate is always something you look back at,” Gregory muses. “You can make a case for it. But looking forward, you can’t guarantee it’s going to happen that way around. I think you’re so lucky to find one other person in the world who has a synchronicity in their mind musically. I feel very lucky to have found that with you, Alison. It’s not an easy thing. It’s not a given, is it? There isn’t a load of people out there who are like that.”
For her part, Goldfrapp might believe in a bit of fate, or at least magic. In another first, Silver Eye features a cover shot by Goldfrapp herself. As she explains, the self-portrait came from a place as mysterious and inspired as her band’s music. In other words, seemingly out of her control.
“I think I always wanted to cover my face,” she confesses. “That was just an accident, really. Again—happy accident. It’s funny. I remember when that happened. I was standing out there and the sun was getting to that point in the late afternoon. The sun was coming down and it just hit that rock that we were standing in front of. The wind was so strong! There were these beautiful bushes that grow everywhere. They stand out so much against the black rock. They’ve got that silvery sage look. I just picked it up and suddenly it felt like something. It’s the same that happens when you’re writing and recording. You get that little moment where you go ‘oh!’ It felt something there. Something happened. A synergy of things. It reminds me of something shamanistic or surrealistic…I’m not that interested in myself at all. Probably the opposite. I’m interested in image and the idea of what that is and what that means and how it translates in a picture. I’m just a vehicle. I’m just a vessel.”
“I don’t know!”