With four decades in the music industry under her belt, Annie Lennox is showing no signs of slowing down.
The 59-year-old Eurythmics icon is back with her sixth solo studio album and with it comes a new musical direction.
Speaking exclusively to Yahoo Celebrity, Annie opens up about her latest collection ‘Nostalgia’, her thoughts on the current state of the music industry, and why the idea of turning her back on the public eye for good appeals.
“Probably because it’s something I haven’t done before so I felt I’d reached a stage in my musical life where I thought ‘I’ve never tackled this, this could be interesting’.
“So it was with that curiosity that I just had the idea that I could maybe do this. In a more practical sense, a couple of years ago I was rehearsing with some musicians who were playing with Herbie Hancock and I was just having fun and spoofing jazz riffs, thinking ‘this is really funny’. Then I sort of realised that my voice kind of naturally fell into that area quite easily. And I thought ‘wow, I never thought I could sing like this’ and so I logged that thought in my mind.
The majority of the tracks aren’t particularly well known, how did you go about finding them?
“I just started to explore the songs very quietly while I was having some downtime in my life. I was by myself, with my laptop, exploring this wonderful archive.
“They have such beautiful melodies and such interesting lyrics. I was trying to find songs that I could really interpret well. One approach would have been ‘OK I’ll find a producer, we’ll hire an orchestra and we’ll go into a big sound studio and record’. But I just didn’t want to do that. It had no interest to me whatsoever. I wanted to really explore them and really personalise them.
So did this help you decide on the final track listing?
“That took a while. I think first of all it was about transcribing the songs from simply hearing them. The way I work, I’ll go to the keyboard and I’ll just explore it. To learn a song you have to go over it and over it until it becomes part of you so you can’t just hear and song then sing it. It doesn’t work like that. It’s so personal. So you have to have a process where you’re listening, you’re absorbing and then you start to explore what kind of sounds and structures would work well with it. Where is the core of this song? What is it I’m feeling in it? What can I draw out from it?
“It’s almost like you’re mining for gold, going along this exploratory route and feeling something. Sometimes the songs are so moving that you feel quite emotional. And you should because your job as an interpreter is to feel the emotion and represent it for other people to feel emotional through it.”
“I would say that I’ve recognised the feeling element has become quite reductive. It’s come down to a very, very, very hard beat that goes through things and bashes you on the head. It is also hard edged sexualised, which is, OK, I guess, sort of.
“But music that is coming out nowadays – some of it is great, absolutely – but it’s not music to soothe you, it’s not music to make you feel introspective in anyway, it is not thought provoking, and it’s not music to make you tender.
“In my stage of life I really feel this is why I’ve turned to this nostalgia because I feel like I want music to do that for me. I want music to be a quiet spot where I can just be transported by it.”
And how about the industry, what is the biggest change you’ve seen?
“It’s interesting because I don’t think you get a lot of that experimentation nowadays. Back then, and I’m talking ’81, the beginning of that decade, there was a freedom to be really radical and people loved it. I think what has happened nowadays music-wise definitely are very quickly formulated.”
Why do you think that is?
“I think the reason being is that the music industry is so unsustainable because record companies are looking for something they can be sure of so they have a formula in mind. When they hear something that will fit the formula it matches, it won’t be so risky for them. They won’t sustain something that is just experimental because for them, they don’t think there is any longevity in it whatsoever, and by longevity, I mean a Nano second.”
What effect do you think this has on new artists?
“They don’t sustain young artists anymore the way they used to. It’s the law of diminishing returns. It’s the same thing with media, they have information about the ratings of their audience, and so they have to go by those pieces of information meaning that if you try to do something out of the box and innovative and visionary and different that’s going to be a challenge. Because it just might not work. And I think what that does is it starts to reduce creative, inspirational ideas.”
So during your time as part of the Eurythmics, when were you at your creative peak?
“I think ‘In The Garden’, ‘For The Love Of Big Brother’ and ‘Savage.’ Those three albums were more of the kind of album for me that was more close to my own root – Sweet Dreams too – we were quite diverse. We went from place to place because we were experimental with our sound and style. We were flexible, we were always like ‘we want to reinvent ourselves, we don’t want to repeat what we did before’.”
“I think it’s very much dependent on what are you looking for. What is your goal? What is it what you really want to do? Do you want to be a long lasting artist of calibre? What is your aim? Do you just want to be there to be famous? I think the real artists know better than that. I would say that it is very important to keep your grounding.
“Humility, kindness, and respect go a long way and they are very important qualities to have in life. If you lose sight of those things and you become a really arrogant son of a b***h? I’m sorry but you are going to burnout eventually and people will be glad and they will applaud you in your burnout. They will be glad to see your demise.”
Have you ever bore witness to this first hand?
“You sometimes see this tremendous arrogance. Breathtakingingly so. The majority of artists truly are wonderful people who haven’t lost touch with where they really are in the big scheme of things. On this planet, you’re just a human being, like everybody else, you’re nothing, you’re just nothing.”
“It appeals to me, I blow hot and cold with it. Sometimes I just feel like ‘you know what? It would be quite interesting to live an incredibly quiet life somewhere,’ which is something I’ve never really done.”
What is it about a quieter life that attracts?
“This life that I’ve been living is a very interesting one. Sometimes I feel like I want to be truly anonymous. Just like everyone else. You may say ‘there is nothing special about being anonymous’ but to me I feel like there is a tremendous value in it, a real beauty in it.”
So would you say that you make a conscious effort to avoid the limelight when possible?
“Right now my profile is going to go up because I’m doing interviews, I’m talking about my music, I have a reason to talk. But then there comes a time, and I’ve always been this way, I’ve dipped into this world of publicity but it’s never been about my own private world, it’s about the work I do. Then I steer clear of it for a bit because I feel like it’s a toxic place. You can’t stay there for too long or it will start eroding your value as a person, as a human being.”
“On the one hand, that’s an incredible pedestal to be put on. And if they feel that way about me, OK, I accept it and it’s kind of flattering.
“But it’s also kind of like ‘ow, I’m not sure I can live up to that expectation.’
“For me? I’m always a human being and I’m nothing. I’m nothing! That’s where I come from and that’s where I’m going, the same for all of us – that’s the great equaliser.”
So when did you first come to realise this?
“When I had children, it was the most incredibly transformative thing to experience. To have my children and to bring them up and to care for them and to love them, and to see how lucky am I to have health care for my kids. We have access to the great things in life that billions of mothers, girls, and boys haven’t got the possibility of getting.
“It’s very humbling when you have the chance to see how people live, my god, it takes your stupid, inflated ego and puts it right in its place.”
Nostalgia is available to buy and download October 27.