To say that Goldfrapp‘s brand new album Tales Of Us (purchase here) is a departure from the UK duo’s previous studio set, 2010′s ’80s synth throwback Head First, would be a huge understatement. (“It will sound best as the seasons change, a soundtrack to falling leaves and lit fireplaces,” we noted in our review of the record.) Frontwoman Alison Goldfrapp made it quite clear in the past that she and Will Gregory were under a looming, tight deadline to get Head First completed, and the result — a quite enjoyable pop album when stacked up against those of their contemporaries, to be honest — wasn’t one she was particularly fond of.
And so here we are with Tales Of Us, which is released today. The lush, string-laden LP is a world unto its own, each song (save for one, “Stranger”) bearing the name of the person whose story is told beautifully and melodically by Alison and Will.
Goldfrapp will celebrate the record’s release with a special concert at New York City’s Beacon Theatre this evening. Ahead of that, I had a conversation with Alison — my third in three years for Idolator — who happily discussed the two-year labor of love that is Tales Of Us.
Hello, Alison! Always lovely to speak with you. When last we spoke, in early 2012, you said you and Will wanted to expand upon the sounds of Felt Mountain and The Seventh Tree for this album. Do you feel you achieved that goal?
ALISON GOLDFRAPP: I think [this album] is of the same DNA, if you like, but it goes deeper into it. I feel very passionate about this album. I’m loving this sound world. It’s quite intense to play live because it’s so much more minimal than we’ve done before. That was one of the things I wanted to do, just strip things out. I think with a lot of our other albums, there are a lot of layers in there and sounds — which is great, but I was really interested to see how much we could take out. I like that tension and intimacy you get with just voice and a couple of sounds, really.
What’s the overarching story this album tells, if any?
AG: I don’t think there is an overall story. They’re little moments in time focusing on these different characters. They’re women apart from “Alvar” and “Clay.” But they’re all very different stories, so there isn’t an overall message. They’re tales of these individuals’ lives.
What can you tell us about “Clay.”
AG: “Clay” was inspired by a true story. I found a letter on a website called Letters Of Note. It’s basically a letter from a soldier to another soldier. They met in [World War II] and became lovers, and tragically one of them dies in battle. So they’re not able to every resume their love. This letter is written on the anniversary of the other’s death, and it just moved me so much that it inspired the song.
And, since you mentioned it, what’s the story of “Alvar”?
AG: “Alvar” was inspired by a trip to Iceland and my obsession with water and myths and legends of Philomena Lee. I read a lot of noir books and I’m a huge fan of European cinema — all these things fed into the narrative of the music and also the narrative of the lyrics. I wanted to make something where each song felt like a little film.
I saw on Instagram that you recently took a trip to Iceland — and went snorkeling?
AG: [Laughs] Yeah. I love Iceland. I’ve got an obsession with lakes, mountains, lava — basically I love wandering into nature. I find it very inspiring.
Goldfrapp — ”Drew”
Tell me about the short films Lisa Gunning is doing for each of the songs.
AG: There will be five videos but it will culminate in a 30-minute piece. It’s not part of a feature.
Did you always have the idea to do that with this album, or did the idea for the 30-minute piece come about later?
AG: That came about later, actually. I’ve always had a funny relationship with videos. There are some that I love — I really loved working with Dawn Shadforth and Dougal Wilson — but generally speaking, I’ve always felt quite uncomfortable about videos. We got about halfway through the album and we thought it’d be great if Lisa got involved. She’s my partner and she’s a really experienced film editor. She said, “I’d love to do something for you.” And I thought, god, yeah, of course. So we all decided what a great idea it would be, and it’d be fun to do. And I’m so pleased — it’s just been an amazing experience working with her. You know, at the beginning I was a little nervous about working with my partner. Sometimes that’s not necessarily the best idea. [Laughs] But I just enjoyed every minute of it. I’ve never had such fun making videos. I feel like I’ve learned so much. It’s just been a great thing to be so involved this time in the making and the process of it. We’ve done it on a shoestring, and everybody that’s been involved has been doing it because they really want to do it. It’s been a real cottage industry. And it’s been the first time where I felt that the visuals really compliment the music.
Where did you find the old mansion for the “Drew” clip?
AG: Well, we spent ages trying to find somewhere. We wanted somewhere empty. Funny enough, I did have this idea of going to France and finding something there. But we couldn’t afford to do that. It actually turned out brilliantly. We scoured the country for empty houses. It’s actually really hard to find an empty house, one that didn’t have anything in it that’s sort of crumbling. There’s this wonderful place, it’s in Wiltshire, beautiful place. And this lady was living in this house on her own.
Your previous album, Head First, was released three-and-a-half years ago. How long did it take you and Will to put Tales Of Us together?
AG: A good couple of years. On Heard First we were so rushed — oh my god, so rushed. I swore to myself that we just wouldn’t be rushed this time; we’d take our time and do things how we wanted to do them. So that’s what we did do. I think it’s great to set yourself goals and deadlines. But I just feel like whenever you’re rushed, you skip things. So I was very determined that this time that wasn’t going to happen.
Goldfrapp — ”Annabel”
Is it safe to say that Tales Of Us is more true to who you are at this point, sound-wise, than something more commercially pop-minded like Head First?
AG: I think parts of it [are]. We’ve always had these two worlds that exist alongside each other — the sort of more pastoral, orchestral sound and then this much harder, synthetic sound. I love both, but I’d say I think this more acoustic, simple sound is where my heart is at. All the artists that I really love and listen to all the time and always go back to are of that ilk. That’s what I feel really passionate about. You know, I love singing “Strict Machine.” I never get bored of that song. I love it and still find it really exciting. But I love this, and I feel somehow that I can explore this world more. And I feel very comfortable with that. I don’t know how to explain it, really.
I think you just did. It’s where you’re at now.
AG: It’s kind of where I was at, and then I went somewhere else and now I’m back with that again. [Laughs] But I don’t think it ever left me, really. It never left me. I don’t know how to explain it exactly. I think I’ll let the album explain it for me.
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