Alison Moyet on the Price of Fame, Her 'Prog-Pop' Sound and Massive Weight Loss (Q&A)
Alison Moyet recently made headlines in the U.K. for two different reasons. First, her new album, The Minutes, became the highest-charting release of her 25-year career. Second, the 51-year-old singer showed off the results of a diet that saw her dwindle from a size 22 to a 10. But then, following the fluctuations of Moyet’s career and her waistline has long been something of a British preoccupation.
Moyet first gained fame in 1981 as the voice of Yaz (or Yazoo as they were known in their native land), the electro-pop duo formed by Vince Clarke after he left Depeche Mode. Both Clarke and Moyet hailed from Basildon in Essex. (Moyet went to high school with Depeche members Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore, whom she remembers as being “studious -- they did their homework.”) But where Clarke was inclined toward synthesizers and drum machines, the teenage Moyet was a blues singer with ambitions to be in a rowdy guitar band like Dr. Feelgood.
Clarke approached Moyet to sing on his first post-Depeche demo, a song called “Only You." She agreed, thinking she might be able to use it to launch her own career. Two months later, the song was climbing the U.K. charts. “I really thought that was the trajectory,” she tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I thought you made a record, you gave it to a plugger, the plugger took it to the radio stations, all the radio stations played it, everyone bought it and then you had a hit record.”
Moyet and Clarke remained together for two hit albums, 1982’s Upstairs at Eric’s and the following year’s You and Me Both, before disbanding. Moyet cites the lack of a personal relationship to accompany their working one as the chief catalyst for the dissolution.
Her first solo album, 1984’s Alf, after her nickname, was carefully designed to launch her as an international superstar. It was a No. 1 smash across Europe and produced hits like “Love Resurrection," "All Cried Out" and "Invisible." A subsequent cover of the jazz standard “That Ole Devil Called Love” was even bigger and opened the door to multi-generational mainstream success. But Moyet, always uncomfortable with the attention that came with high-charting records, resolved to steer her career in more idiosyncratic directions.
Later albums, like 1991’s Hoodoo, were less polished and accessible. Moyet eschewed chart trends, instead recording covers of Michel Legrand and George Gershwin songs. She even gave the stage a whirl, treading the boards as Mama Morton in a West End production of Chicago and in the comedy Smaller.
The Minutes sees Moyet return to electronic music. Written and produced in collaboration with Guy Sigsworth (known for his work with Bjork and Madonna, among others) and filled with ruminations on aging. The Minutes is a far cry from Yaz’s more excitable highlights, but Moyet has never been in more powerful voice.
She recently spoke to THR about that voice, her struggles with fame and why she does not appreciate compliments about her newly svelte figure. No, really -- don't go there.
The Hollywood Reporter: Congratulations, first of all, on being a British singer who puts out a record without any American intonation.
Alison Moyet: When I started singing, the fashion was to apply an American accent. But as I’ve gotten older, I’m more fixed with my European-ness and just the fact that I want to have a greater honesty in what I’m doing. I want to be able to sing the words in the way that I would speak them, and obviously I don’t walk around with a mid-American drawl.
THR: You must have been chuffed, as they say, at the U.K. reception to the album.
Moyet: It’s been well reported that I threw away all my old gold discs because the idea of having some token on my wall that tells me when I’ve been successful and made a lot of money means nothing to me. However, in this instance, I’ve had to battle for years to get a record label to even speak to me about new material. I’ve had loads of deal offers, but all for covers or unless I would do reality television. Do you really think that me getting my tits out on some program is going to get anyone to look at my art? It got to the point where I had to make this record off my own back. I had only Guy Sigsworth who musically believed in what I was doing, and he effectively funded it, because I wasn’t paying him. He was working in his downtime and in between records. And I wasn’t a natural cash cow -- someone where he could say, "I’m definitely going to reap rewards on this." So when you’ve dealt with people not even taking your phone calls and then you enter the chart higher than you have for a quarter or a century and get the reviews of your lifetime, of course that’s a vindication, and joyful.
THR: You’ve been away from electronic music for some time. What prompted you to take the plunge back into the electro-pool?
Moyet: What I enjoyed about Yaz was the fact that the sources of the songs came from many different arenas. We were doing dance, we were doing torch songs, we were doing dark songs, we were doing bubblegum pop, and all of this could be held together by the production values. I’m like a kid in a sweet shop. I’m chewing on one sweet and I’m thinking about what sweet I want to chew on next. I’m never stimulated to do the same record again in order to recreate my success. I knew I wanted to make a very produced record and for it to be electronic music. I also wanted to make an album that was intelligent and incorporated all my life experiences and illustrates that people of my generation absolutely can take experimentation. I call it prog-pop.
Moyet: Just because we’re in our 50s, it doesn’t mean we automatically fall under AOR soft rock. Our generation, more than any other generation, grew up with the most interesting palette in terms of what we were exposed to musically, be it psychedelic, prog-rock, glam or punk.
THR: It has to be said, your voice has never sounded better than it does on this album.
Moyet: The very thing that curtailed my performing career is the thing that extended it -- the fact that I became a bit reclusive, a bit intransigent and didn’t go out or meet anyone and shut myself away. I didn’t cane it [UK slang meaning to indulge in illegal substances] in my big successful years, and I can think of many people, my contemporaries, who absolutely can’t sing now because they made the most of those years and completely shot the voice. You even see it with someone like Adele, who is obviously wonderful and brilliant, but she’s been struggling with vocal nodules, and that’s completely down to overuse and trying to reproduce your studio singing onto live work.
THR: It never really happened for you in America, and it wasn’t down to the quality of the music.
Moyet: It was the fact that I didn’t work hard, because I found being famous really torturous, so I put up loads and loads of obstacles about why I couldn’t do things. That, and I got pregnant when I was recording my first album. It was an unplanned pregnancy. I was 23 when I had my son. I did a world tour, but it became evident very quickly that him being dragged around all these countries -- he was being shut in hotel rooms with a bag of toys and not socializing with other children, he wasn’t seeing enough of me -- it was just for my personal convenience. I had to make a choice. As much as a part of me would have loved to be selfish, it wasn’t my right. I couldn’t justify putting my ego first.
THR: Your weight loss is truly amazing. We'd be remiss not to ask you about it.
Moyet: I get asked about it a lot, and I won’t respond to it -- and I’ll tell you the reason: I’m really tired of women being judged on the basis of the way they look and the idea that being thinner is a mark of success or of personal achievement or of beautification. I was 40 years obese, and my character and my personality was built entirely on being a fat person. That doesn’t go away because I’ve lost the weight. I still feel the way that I did. I don’t like being complimented on it because it’s almost like I’m apologizing for the 40 years before. It’s almost like I’m not used to people talking to my face about my body. When you’re a fat person, people are full of denial to your face about it. They change when your back’s turned. I’m wholly uncomfortable and slightly embarrassed by it. The big reason I wanted to lose weight was, in my head I was coming to the end of my career -- my next significant birthday I’m going to be 60 and I absolutely did not want to be in the hands of the patronizing thin. I was aware that I was getting ever more obese. My health was my motivation.
I’ve had a lot of compliments about the way I look, and I’m not flattered by it. A guy checking you out when he wouldn’t have before -- how’s that supposed to flatter me? My next big event in life is I’m going to be a grandmother. It doesn’t flatter me at all. More to the point, I think for me to allow my esteem to be cradled in the way I look in my 50s is wholly stupid. I might look alright for a couple of weeks, but I have looked rough and I will look rough again.