lundi, mai 31, 2004

The Others: The kids are all right

London, Saturday night. Teenagers are crowd-surfing down the aisle of a moving Tube train. Two carriages have just been commandeered by 200 fans of The Others, who are somewhere at the front playing a gig, announced over the internet hours earlier. The crowd-surfers are the self-styled 853 Division, the commandos of The Others' private army.

The Others are signed to Alan McGee's Poptones label, have been dubbed "the most worshipped new band in Britain" by NME, and have released one single, "This Is for the Poor", which just missed the Top 40 last Sunday. It is a good, class-conscious anthem, but it doesn't explain the band's fervent fan base. That has more to do with what happens after the gig, when singer Dominic Masters, 26, leads us through the streets to a pub near his East End home for an impromptu after-show party. As usual, fans too young to travel home alone sleep at his flat in their dozens. Others arrange house shares between themselves. Masters has also persuaded a promoter to let underage fans into clubs after hours, so no one has to be left out.

In the two years that The Others have existed, they have built an innocent, idealistic society around themselves. Playing music a world away from corporate fame and fortune, to hardcore fans whom Masters knows by name, the band's shambolic gigs are an excuse for exuberant teenage bonding.

"I know they're quite basic and everything," one teenage girl tells me, standing on a Tube seat to glimpse some action, "but what more do you want? They're not playing for the recognition. It's like they're playing for you." Now that the recognition is coming, of course, the fragile, private world The Others have built is in danger of dilution. But when I meet Masters, all that worries him is how to keep his ideals intact.

"What happens when there's too many people to care for?" he wonders. "Because partying with the audience, spending time together and not being on a different level is important. If they're putting an investment into your life, you should try and give as much of your life to them. And if it grows like it might, I've got to work out better ways to make sure that there is still equality, so that no one feels excluded."

The Others' movement seems mostly about fun, and tiny, intoxicating acts of rebellion - like the boy who illegally lights a cigarette during the Tube takeover. But Masters does detect some shared values. "I've got a boyfriend, see, called Johann," he shyly admits. "At first, when the band was going off, I didn't know what our appeal would be. When the heterosexual, Oasis kind of kids supporting us found out I had a boyfriend, I thought there might be some kind of backlash. But nothing was ever said. When we socialise, there are loads of gay kids, some Asian kids, some black kids, some real south Londoners, and kids up from Hertfordshire. We get the kids no one else wants."

The notion that The Others are a home for the excluded is emphasised by "This Is for the Poor", a calling card specifically rejecting the wealthy. The glut of posh girls merrily moshing to it on the Tube therefore leaves Masters utterly nonplussed. "This is a contentious issue," he says, brow furrowing. "I wrote 'This Is for the Poor' genuinely for my own social class. I can't say that it's an inclusive song. I find it hard to understand how a middle-class kid could go through the pain or troubles that a lot of working-class kids have to, just to leave home. There is this divide, and I wanted to write for people like me."

Masters's roots are in Somerset, the son of a strong mother who sold marijuana to get by and a welder father who left when he was four. When he got out at 18, to study politics in London, he was soon dealing to students himself before "getting a bit carried away", and quitting just in time. He was married then, too, to an Israeli girl in a New Romantic group. For a while, he lived the conventional life, and dreamed of joining the Civil Service. Only when that hope was dashed, and the loving cocoon of his marriage collapsed, did he think of rock'n'roll. Becoming a face on London's underground rock scene, he pretended to be in a band. When the Portuguese rockers The Parkinsons called his bluff by offering him a gig, he formed The Others just in time to play. The Parkinsons took the fledglings "under their wing", then The Libertines "adopted us". It's a fan's story, more than a star's.

The cloud on the horizon remains the limits that Masters may one day find to his vision of an inclusive rock'n'roll community, when not every fan who jumps on stage can be trusted, or named. But that won't stop him trying. "To give people a good time - I think that's a good quality," he muses. "It's just, how long can you give them a good time for? After the concert and the sleepovers, when it goes back to normal life - that's when you can't keep looking after them. That's why we should try and build something out of this, so that if it does only last for a few years, we can at least forge a community centre out of it, or a youth club, or a pub.

"Maybe a pub," he decides. "Because it'll take two years to get the money together - and by then, all our fans will be old enough to drink..."

'This Is for the Poor' is out now on Poptones

Sweet sounds of freedom

Apartheid ended 10 years ago, but South Africa's music still pulsates with life, love, protest and pain. And Britain is preparing to welcome it, says Jane Cornwell

28 May 2004

A few years ago, sightseeing in the middle of a British tour, the famed South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo strolled into St Paul's Cathedral, looked up at the dome and marvelled at the building's ambience and acoustics. There was only one thing for it: they burst spontaneously into song. "Just talking quietly to each other filled the place with sound," sighs their leader, Joseph Shabalala, 63. "You knew you were in a place of God. We started singing bits of Zulu, Swazi and Xhosa songs. Then, with all the tourists staring at us, we stood in a circle and sang 'Amazing Grace'." After which Shabalala asked the verger if, one day, his group might stage a concert there. "I knew," he says, "that it would be something great."

Zulu music's veteran exponents play St Paul's on 24 June under the banner of the City of London Festival. They're headlining the festival's Trading Places strand, whose sole focus - South African music - celebrates the 10th anniversary of freedom in the Rainbow Nation.

The jazz god Hugh Masekela is coming with his songs of liberation, delivered in collaboration with the British-based Jazz Jamaica Allstars and choirs from east London schools. The classically trained diva Sibongile Khumalo, one of her country's most acclaimed artists, will present an innovative repertoire of jazz, gospel, opera and folk. The musical show Gumboots sees voices, bodies and boots used as instruments. The Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble joins the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment in a programme of Baroque chamber works and township kwela songs. They'll also play Handel's Water Music as it was intended to be given - on a boat on the river.

A number of popular South African names await international discovery. The jazz-roots singer Gloria Bosman - lauded by Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela - has yet to be recognised here: ditto the singer/songwriter Vusi Mahlasela, a Dylan-esque bard christened "The Voice" by his countryfolk and "a national treasure' by the Nobel laureate Nadine Gordimer. Then there's the multi-instrumentalist and singer Neo Muyanga, suggested to the festival by Masekela: "Neo is a great entertainer as well as a great musician," he said. And Shiyani Ncobo, who grew up playing maskanda music - the lively neo-traditional music of the Zulu people - on a guitar made from a tin can. Oh, and DJ Oscar "Oskido" Mdlongwa, the maestro of Afro-house beats and producer of some of the biggest kwaito (South Africa's own brand of hip hop) acts in his country. Democracy, so bitterly won, has never sounded so sweet.

Variety is the key. South Africa has the greatest profusion of popular musical styles on the African continent. The Zulu, Xhosa and Sotho people have been singing out their lives for centuries (this is the music that attracted Paul Simon to South Africa before he recorded Graceland), but many styles emerged as a direct result of oppression. Ladysmith Black Mambazo's "tip-toe' iscathimiya music, with its high-kicking, soft-stepping dance, has its origins in miners' hostels in Natal province in the Thirties, with workers at pains not to wake the bosses. The now joyous tradition of gumboot dancing began in the gold mines, when labourers - chained in silence in water up to their knees - communicated by slapping their boots and stomping their feet.

Kwela music, like most modern styles, came out of the townships. ("Kwela", meaning "jump up', was the instruction given to those about to be thrown into police vans during periodic raids.) Areas like Soweto, Sharpeville, District Six and Sophiatown, now infamous, gave rise to urban, pan-tribal genres, mostly inspired by music - jazz, swing, jive - coming in (or back) from America. Black South Africans added an urban spin: kwela, with its penny whistles and one-string bass, became sax jive, or mbaqanga. Marabi soul took off in the Seventies. Bubblegum pop dominated the Eighties (and suffered a blow with the sudden death earlier this month of the superstar Brenda Fassie). Kwaito exploded in the Nineties, and it remains, apart from gospel music, the country's most popular genre.

The City of London Festival, then, can only hope to scratch the surface. "We could have gone on and on," admits the festival director, Kathryn McDowell. "But we decided to focus on artists we could present really well. Ladysmith Black Mambazo have a huge audience here and a long relationship with the festival. They were perfect for our major venue, St Paul's." Ladysmith will also feature at a special South African church service the following Sunday, where they'll add their purring harmonies to Mozart's Coronation mass and hymns from the South African church - a legacy of the Protestant missionaries who developed the choir tradition in the 19th century.

Many South African artists, including Gloria Bosman and Sibongile Khumalo, started singing in mission-school choirs or church, and the largest recording industry on the continent was there when they went professional. South Africa made its first commercial recordings in 1912: the South African music pioneer Eric Gallo set up its first recording studio in the Thirties. Today, the major South African record companies are BMG, Gallo, CCP/EMI, Teal and Tusk.

The largely white-owned industry often failed to give black artists their due, but music fuelled the resistance nonetheless. Former exiles, including Masekela, Miriam "Mama Africa' Makeba (coincidentally performing at the Royal Festival Hall next Tuesday) and the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim played a central role in the struggle against apartheid. (They all, with Khumalo and Mahlasela, feature in the director Lee Hirsch's prize-winning documentary film Amandla!, screened as part of the festival.) The music in the townships mourned - and celebrated.

"Township music is about the evil of what was done to us," says Masekela, the author of hits such as "Grazing in the Grass" and the Mandela-inspired "Bring Him Back Home". "But it's also about the resilience of our people." South Africans need to remain vigilant, he insists. Ten years after the electoral triumph of the ANC, "we sort of don't know how to translate what freedom is. We still need time to recover its sweetness. Billions were spent on keeping us separate and lowering our self-esteem. The effects of that will stay with us for a long time."

His country is all too aware that the world is watching, he adds. "We have to build an environment of strength and security were people can protect as well as enjoy themselves. But it's hard. All the solidarity groups and all the non-governmental organisations that supported us have left and said, 'You're free now. Good luck. We have to go.'"

So has the music of South Africa lost its fire? Sibongile Khumalo doesn't think so. "I think it is true that artists are mirrors of society," she says. "Our music has just changed its focus." Launched into the spotlight after winning the Standard Bank young artist award at the Grahamstown Festival in 1993, the mezzo-soprano and ethnomusicologist - who holds degrees from two South African universities - Khumalo has since worked across a range of genres.

Indeed, the ease with which her powerful voice tackles everything from jazz to classical (she achieved fame in concert with the South African Symphony Orchestra) and opera (she sang in Handel's Messiah under Sir Yehudi Menuhin) has seen Khumalo hailed as an emblem of the new South Africa. (During the Commonwealth celebrations in 2002, she famously treated Buckingham Palace, and the Queen, to a sudden and exultant Zulu ululation.)

"Sibongile's mix of styles is very attractive to audiences," McDowell says. "Her versatility, and the celebratory nature of her music, fit in with what is happening in South Africa right now. She has this incredible magic on stage, too, which is something you don't get to see very often. Wherever she plays, she collects these armies of passionately adoring fans. She's also trailblazing a path for a lot of younger artists."

Khumalo echoes Masekela when she says that, post-1994: "We'd put our crosses next to that famous face on the election ballot and assumed that things would be okay, but they weren't. Stories still needed to be told. We still had to be vigilant about the effect of apartheid on our lives, our culture." It was quickly apparent that other scourges - HIV and Aids, the abuse of women and children, poverty - had to be addressed. "We realised that there was a whole lot more to write about, sing about, talk about, make art about, other than apartheid.

"But the current climate of cultural and artistic expression is thrilling. I think people are really feeling a greater freedom to do what they want to do. There's a big wave of traditional musicians making very traditional music, for example. There's also a constant cross-pollination of styles. And jazz! There has been a huge resurgence in South African jazz in the last * * 10 years. Young performers are showing a lot of interest. Not just singers, but instrumentalists as well."

If musicians of the calibre of Khumalo have been slow to break out, this has much to do with the support they now enjoy in South Africa. "South Africa went through a phase of, 'If it's from outside, it's better,'" Khumalo says. "But then the South African public revalidated its artists. Take the North Sea Jazz Festival in Cape Town: its audience now gives the South African performers more of a reception than the visiting musicians. With that kind of support from your home crowd, perhaps there isn't such a pressing need to prove yourself elsewhere."

Try telling that to the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble. The group was born out of a charitable project founded by the British viola player Rosemary Nalden (also a founder member of the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) in the early Nineties, in which hundreds of professional UK musicians took part in simultaneous "busks' to raise money for young musicians in the townships. Corporate sponsors and individual donors followed suit, and the Buskaid Soweto String Ensemble was created in 1997 with members drawn from underprivileged local communities. The project has 70 members, 25 of whom are in the ensemble. It has performed for presidents and royalty, worked with the conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner and members of the English Baroque Soloists, released three bestselling CDs and toured the world.

Nalden attributes the ensemble's meteoric rise to three factors: motivation, talent and teaching. "These youngsters are highly motivated," she says. "Things are getting better, with more sports and cultural organisations and projects being established, but there really isn't a lot for kids to do in the townships. In some parts of South Africa, you can't talk about culture to a youngster who has lost both parents to Aids and is trying to find food for his or her family. But in the urban areas it's improved enormously, even if there still aren't many after-school facilities. I've had eight-year-olds coming to the door asking if they can learn the violin." (Nalden and her team work out of a small school in Diepkloof, Soweto.)

"Musicality has a strong presence among the African community," she continues. "It's just a fact of life. The missionary history of South Africa also means that there are connections with classical choral music; the church played a large part in giving people somewhere to express sadness and frustration with the apartheid system. In that sense, composers like Handel are very well known. You can play a bit of Handel and someone will walk into the room and respond very quickly."

Nalden's teaching methods involve the use of the whole body, an approach she says works remarkably well. "These children are very flexible. They're not at all embarrassed to be seen moving around with their instruments, which means that they connect in a much more spontaneous way." There have been criticisms, of course. A local newspaper printed an article querying the merits of township children learning the music of European imperialists. "I challenged the writer to come and visit and see the joy and motivation in these kids, who play European music in a way that expresses who they are. And the inspiration is mutual: this isn't about big white people coming and patting the heads of little black children. There's no question that European musicians who work with them go away with renewed energy for the music."

Indeed, Nalden (appointed MBE in 2002) goes as far to say that Buskaid stands for everything South African democracy is about. "Buskaid is the truest representation of what should be happening here. That youngsters should be free to go anywhere, express themselves any way they like and have access to the sort of educational and cultural facilities that should have been available but weren't." The project also demonstrates what is possible with the proper ingredients. "If you get the right financial support and put that money to first-class use, you get the energy right," she says. "We get loads of kids just coming to sit and watch. Now they love classical music as much as something like kwaito."

Ah yes, kwaito. A genre that, according to Hugh Masekela, is changing South Africa's music industry. "Kwaito came up like rap here," he says. "It was something the white establishment didn't know anything about. The kids taught themselves the technology and as a result, they became players in the South African economy. Now there are a lot of small independent African record companies."

The major labels will try to buy these up, he adds. "But I believe that, in 10 years' time, the recording industry in this country will be basically a black industry. What the content will be is another question, but hopefully social consciousness will be a big thing. I don't think that arts and music can survive without addressing the problems that exist socially."

Joseph Shabalala insists that Ladysmith Black Mambazo - wrongly considered "typical" South African music by many Westerners - helped to break down apartheid by bringing the music of South Africa to the world. So did artists such as Hugh Masekela, for whom the fight will never be over. "Apartheid has been smashed politically, if not economically," he says, "but hopefully our role is always to sing out for freedom and justice. The best of our music has always built on our roots and taken them forward into radical, exciting new forms, from marabi to mbaqanga, from bubblegum to kwaito. And long may that continue."

The City of London Festival will demonstrate how a recovering country can still produce sophisticated talent to the highest international standards. It will also underline South African music's amazing variety. "I guess it is inevitable that people want a sound to identify with South Africa, in the way reggae defines Jamaica or samba defines Brazil," says Sibongile Khumalo. "But I think it would be a pity if something becomes typical and the rest disappears. What makes South African music so interesting is its range."

City of London Festival: 1 June to 25 August, various venues (0845 120 7502;

dimanche, mai 30, 2004

Chile's slopes

Today's lesson - how to make the most of Chile's slopes

As ski season opens in the southern hemisphere, Minty Clinch heads for the Andes where the resorts are learning the true value of their natural assets

30 May 2004

In Chile, fabulous ski slopes are guaranteed. The longest, narrowest country in the world is dominated by the mighty Andes, rarely out of sight as they run parallel to the coast for 2,000 miles. Fabulous skiing should also be guaranteed, but in South America, development is often subject to political crises. Chile is now the continent's most stable democracy, but the election of the left-wing president Salvador Allende in 1970 crippled the economy, and it took two decades under the Pinochet military dictatorship and its democratic successor for the country to recover.

Chile's two leading ski areas are not as big or as interlinked as they might have been, but they are close to Santiago, very user-friendly, and starting to appear in competitive ski package brochures for the first time. Tour operators are offering a week's full board in Portillo or Valle Nevado for around £600. This doesn't include flights, but the internet has some bargains.

As the resorts could hardly be more different, anyone who is prepared to travel that far should opt for a combo holiday. Portillo is the grand dame of Andean skiing, in action since the late 19th century when Norwegian engineers surveyed the Uspallata Pass for the railway. After it was completed in 1910, the train acted as a ski lift, though not a very rewarding one because it ran only twice a week.

The resort took on its present form with the building of the Hotel Portillo in 1949. It is an ocean liner of a building, standing alone among remote peaks overlooking the mysterious Laguna del Inca in the catchment area of Aconcagua, at 6,959m the highest peak in the Andes.

Throughout the skiing world, the Hotel Portillo is synonymous with its legendary American owner, Henry Purcell. After graduating in hotel administration from Cornell, he came to work for his Uncle Bob, the resort's new owner, in 1961. "I didn't know how to ski," he said, "but I liked the idea of learning the language and getting to know another culture. I planned to stay for two years, but I never left." Now in his early seventies, he runs the hotel with his son, Miguel, skis for at least two hours every day, and hangs out with two-year-old Henry Jr, his son by his second wife, Ellen.

In Portillo, what you see is what you get. No shops, no bars, no restaurants, just a hotel that takes a maximum of 450 guests, served by 450 staff. The public rooms are handsomely traditional, with gleaming polished wood and deep comfortable sofas. As there is nowhere else to go, all guests are on full board, three meals a day served with due formality by red-coated, bow-tied waiters. Purcell presides over the dining room throughout the season, inviting regulars to share his table. The clientele is Chilean, Brazilian, and American, a cheerful polyglot crowd who mingle freely, seduced by Purcell's time-warped country-house style. A few are British. Grant Hamilton, a London-based tax lawyer, booked his holiday on the internet. "I've travelled in Burma," he said, "and I find the colonial atmosphere similar here."

Portillo means "narrow valley", an accurate description of terrain that determines the nature of the lift system. The lake and the hotel stand between two unconnected areas. Turn right for the El Plateau chair to Tio Bob's, the only mountain restaurant. When it's sunny, which is most of the time, lunchtime crowds gather for wine-tasting on the terrace overlooking the lake. This may provide the courage to edge into the rocky jaws of Garganta, the challenging black run back to base, rather than glide down the friendly blue.

Left out of the hotel opens up sweeping Juncalillo, at 3.2km the longest piste in the resort. Portillo has radical terrain on both sides of the mountain, but the first challenge is to reach it, which means tackling one of two va-et-vient slingshot lifts. Skiers are linked together on buttons four or five abreast and blasted upwards at high speed. Debutants ask for advice; new friends are guaranteed.

From the top of Roca Jack, a high traverse leads to a series of testing couloirs and the Flying Kilometre downhill track, which regularly generates world speed records due to the altitude. When the lake is frozen, skiers can take the steep powder slopes down to the shore and skate across back to the hotel. At this point, custom dictates a dip in the heated open-air pool, followed by a roll in the snow banks and yet more new friends.

Although Valle Nevado, La Parva and El Colorado could develop into a Chilean Trois Vallées, they still have some way to go. La Parva is condoville for Santiago's élite, a collection of apartments occupied mostly at weekends, while El Colorado offers a scattering of accommodation around a shabby base station. The piste map suggests they are connected, but bridging the gap in reality requires an enterprising river crossing.

Both are efficiently linked to Valle Nevado, a compact development resembling a mini Les Arcs, its high-rise wood-clad buildings silhouetted against the surrounding peaks. Its architect, Eduardo Stern, studied in France before returning to design Valle Nevado in the late 1980s. Residents can use the facilities in the other resorts and wear passes to access complicated arrangements in six restaurants, of which the best are La Fourchette d'Or and Don Giovanni.

Advanced skiers should sign on for spectacular helicopter flights over 5,000m peaks to the awesomely remote powder fields. In good snow years, when flights are short, it's exceptional value at around £60 a shot, including powder skis.

Santiago station is the starting point for the four-hour journey south to Chillan, with onward taxi connections to a luxurious ski and spa complex under twin volcanoes. No one speaks much English and the pistes are not extensive, but the food is excellent and the welcome warm. In skiing terms, this is as Chilean as it gets.


How to get there

The author travelled as a guest of Ski All America (08701 676676;, which offers seven nights at Hotel Portillo from £628, Hotel Tres Puntas in Valle Nevado from £584 and Hotel Valle Nevado from £947. Flights cost extra but can be booked through Ski All America. The easiest route is via Madrid. Returns from around £700.

Where to find out more

Chilean embassy's tourism division (020-7580 1023; Chile). The season ends in October.

Travel Offers World

jeudi, mai 27, 2004


Avril Lavigne : Under My Skin

Originally released: 2004 BMG Entertainment

Avril Lavigne conquered the pop charts by refusing to get dirty. No skimpy clothes, no suggestive dancing, no tabloid adventures, no hip-hop collaborations, no provocative lyrics. She was both more defiant and more clean-cut than her peers: Her just-say-no message intrigued millions of kids while reassuring their parents.

But Avril Lavigne might also be the most inscrutable teen-pop star of all time. For the past couple of years, her army of Avrilites has been staring at her, eagerly and hungrily, and she has stared right back, betraying nothing. Even now, after the years-long media blitz that followed the extravagant success of her debut, Let Go, Lavigne still seems somehow unsullied by it all: a nineteen-year-old blank slate.

That blankness is what makes her best songs so irresistible. Whether it's a fit of faux punk or a maudlin ballad, she sings it all absolutely straight: You can hear whatever you want to hear. Her music is maddeningly (and admirably) difficult to categorize: The hit "I'm With You" had an almost imperceptible country twang, a vaguely new-metal melody and a chorus that wouldn't be out of place on American Idol, though none of the contestants would have had the good sense to sing it so plainly.

For her new album, Under My Skin, Lavigne split with Matrix, the team that wrote much of Let Go. Working with an unlikely crew of songwriters -- her guitarist Evan Taubenfeld and the Canadian singer-songwriter Chantal Kreviazuk -- she put together an album that's both more satisfying and more formulaic. Lavigne doesn't incorporate any new ideas on Skin; instead, she shines up her old ones, often multitracking her voice to make sure you don't miss the mile-wide choruses. The lead single, "Don't Tell Me," might be her most Avril-ish song yet, a petulant kiss-off to a horny boy. As the guitars get revved up behind her, she asks, "Did I not tell you that I'm not like that girl/The one who gives it all away, yeah/Did you think that I was going to give it up to you?" The syntax may be tortured, but the singer sounds just fine: a righteous prude, confidently fending off the creeps.

There's nothing here like "Nobody's Fool," the anomalous hip-hop experiment from Let Go. What hasn't changed is her meticulous delivery: She pronounces every syllable individually, avoiding the slurred consonants and distended vowels that singers often use to convince us that their lyrics mean something. All Lavigne delivers is the words and the tune, and it's often enough.

Some of the ballads are a bit vague, and Lavigne's deadpan approach doesn't help. In "How Does It Feel," she asks, over and over again, "How does it feel to be/Different from me?" You get the feeling she doesn't much care about the answer. Still, no one conjures up bored teenage blankness like Avril Lavigne. The album's best song, a raucous three-minute sprint called "He Wasn't," has a pretty vacant opening line ("There's not much going on today/I'm really bored") and a simple yet ambiguous chorus: "He wouldn't even open up the door/He never made me feel like I was special." The words are full of contempt and self-pity, but she sings them like she doesn't really care.


The Tracks:

1 Take Me Away

2 Together

3 Don't Tell Me

4 He Wasn't

5 How Does It Feel

6 My Happy Ending

7 Nobody's Home

8 Forgotten

9 Who Knows

10 Fall To Pieces

11 Freak Out

12 Slipped Away

vendredi, mai 21, 2004



by Colin Snowsell

I'm not the man you think I am.
— "Pretty Girls Make Graves", The Smiths

In 1991 Morrissey toured North America for the first time since the generation-defining break-up of The Smiths four years earlier, a split so unexpected, so premature, and, in retrospect, so unnecessary that many of the band's fans remember where they where when news of the break-up reached them, the way others remember where they when they learned of JFK's assassination, or the Challenger disaster. As Simon Reynolds wrote, in what remains perhaps the best article ever written about Morrissey, "Fanaticism is the true experience of pop, not discrimination and broad-mindedness." Smiths fans have always been among the most fanatical fans of them all. They make Deadheads look uncommitted. To those infected with the Morrissey disease, the Smiths were never just another band: They were everything. They were more important than family and friends, than fortune or the plans for the future.

So, in 1991, when Morrissey toured, mounting the first of what would prove to be a series of comebacks, the response was staggering. It made Beatle-mania seem restrained. Although frequently cited, the statistics continue to amaze: on the '91 tour Morrissey sold out the 18,000 seat Hollywood Bowl in record time, breaking the previous record held by The Beatles. The tour set a new merchandising record, breaking the previous mark set by U2 on The Joshua Tree tour. The video evidence of this tour -- and the one that followed the next year -- is fairly conclusive proof of this fervor. Captured as Live in Dallas it shows wave after wave of fans - most of them young men -- scrambling over each other, through security and around or over barricades to reach the stage and embrace the singer. In the introduction to the book Morrissey Shot, a book of photos taken by Linder Sterling during the '91 tour, Michael Bracewell writes: "The Kill Uncle tour was an event which surpassed even American standards of pop hysteria. Towards its conclusion it had become dangerous to continue."

Yes it's shocking: Fans were putting their own lives and the lives of their idol, his band and his security team in mortal danger to see performed songs from Kill Uncle, the record universally cited as the singer's worst, and the start of his creative decline. Petering out at just 33 minutes, Kill Uncle is a tepid, horribly produced collection of uninspiring songs about nothing meaningful at all, a record that finds the best British lyricist of his generation, arguably of all time, croon: "I tried to surprise you / I crept up behind you / With a homeless chihuahua / You "coo"-ed for an hour." Furthermore, Morrissey toured with the support of a new band who, with the exception of Boz Boorer, veteran guitarist of '80s rockabilly revivalists The Polecats!, had not played to rooms much larger than local community halls. The band was handsome and stylish, but they were anything but tight. Bad songs played poorly, but with Morrissey on stage who cared?

On Your Arsenal, the excellent '92 Mick Ronson-produced and Grammy-nominated glam rock/rockabilly record, Morrissey flirted, not for the first time, with racist lyrics that seemed to celebrate football hooliganism and the dark side of nationalism. A furore ensued. Several damning articles were written, questioning this once great anti-Thatcherite's alarming new political leanings. Did his fans care? Of course not. They twisted themselves into pretzels trying to explain how Morrissey loved all people equally and attacked suggestions otherwise as aught but heresy. Most of his fans took the position of Tony Parsons who commented about the allegations, "Morrissey could invade Poland and I still wouldn't believe he is a nazi."

The rapturous reception Morrissey receives regardless how much his records stink, regardless the indefensible things he sings and talks about, underscores the most important thing to bear in mind when considering his new record, You Are the Quarry. To most of his fans it has long since ceased to matter what the singer says or does: Morrissey changed their lives once, changed it in ways both deeply significant and largely irreversible, and whenever they get the call in the form of a new tour or a new record they will be there to pay tribute and offer thanks. If critics like the records, as they did Your Arsenal and 1994's Vauxhall and I, great. If they pan them, as they did 1995's Southpaw Grammar and 1997's Maladjusted, all the more reason to rally 'round their leader, and protect him from hurtful words slung by the big meanies at the NME.

The trouble is that, metaphorically, Morrissey has invaded Poland. Yet his fans, both the old and the new ones, refuse to believe the evidence. To them, he is still the singer of The Smiths, the thin white boy with the Elvis quiff who sang about despair and loneliness and youth in ways so intelligent and personal that they felt once, and mostly still do, as though he knew their souls. To them he is forever the introspective genius who understood the power of a pop song more than anyone ever has. As he explained to the Melody Maker after the release of The Smiths' eponymous debut,

It's a matter of life and death to me. Music affects everybody and I really think it does change the world! Everybody has their favourite song and people's lives do change because of songs.

For the most part products are disposable, but just for that extra one song that changes your direction in life, the importance of popular music cannot be stressed enough. Music is the most important thing in the world.

Mark Simpson, author of the recently released quasi-biography Saint Morrissey, argues that Morrissey's biggest achievement was in perverting a generation to believe that pop music matters. He did this, no doubt, but the reason his fans remain so many and so blindly loyal is that he managed to convince them that each of them as individuals mattered, that fitting in was over-rated. The Morrissey people remember is the one who instructed his audience to, as he once sang, "throw life's instructions away," to reject normalcy, to nurture their eccentricities, to fly their freak flag high.

It's almost understandable, then, why his fans cover their ears, bury their heads in the sands and scream "I'm not listening!" when their savior seems to share more in common with Rush Limbaugh then he does Billy Bragg. In a 2004 interview with the NME, in advance of You Are the Quarry, Morrissey was given the chance to explain away his disturbingly nationalist lyrics and set the record straight once-and-for-all. This is how he responded:

Well, it's a question of how many people you'll continue to allow to flood into the country, regardless of where they're from or why they're arriving. It's a question of how it affects the people who still live here. It's a question of space. And they're very tight about it in the United States, so it stands to reason why they should be here [Great Britain]. But it's very difficult when people are being persecuted.

Predictably, a small furore ensued. Predictably, his comments put not so much as a small dent in his latest comeback juggernaut. Even before anyone had heard the new record, it seemed to have been decided that Morrissey was overdue for a triumphant return. The few voices of dissent have been dismissed as emanating from bitter and jaded fools, from mean spirits who never really understood his genius to begin with.

His fans are right, about his return being overdue. Seven years without a record, and without a record deal is, an almost incomprehensibly long absence for a living legend; Morrissey has been away for too long, and it's fitting that his return is regarded with anticipation. Named by the NME as the most influential band of the past 50 years, The Smiths have been cited as the formative inspiration of and by a number of today's most popular acts, among them Radiohead, The Stills, The Libertines and Franz Ferdinand. In no way is this surprising or undeserved. The Smiths were never just an '80s band. Both the lyrics and the music of the band effortlessly transcend the time in which the songs were written. The same can be said for Viva Hate, Morrissey's first and still greatest solo record, released in '88. No one has before or since written so convincingly and so plaintively about the despair of youth, the terror of conformity. All of The Smiths' records and quite a few Morrissey songs deserve the immortality they've attained.

Yet if the value of these records has not changed, the man behind them has, clearly. The principled celibate, the vegetarian and passionate Thatcher-hater, the man who once defined alternative, the once impoverished son of Irish immigrants who refused to make music videos and who gave voice to all those who, like him, felt marginal has morphed into someone entirely different. The celebrity who has emerged to promote You Are the Quarry lives in a Los Angeles mansion next door to Johnny Depp. He drives Porsches and Jaguars and does fashion photo spreads for GQ and Spin, appearing in luxurious haute couture suits worth more than the annual salary of many of his fans. Despite his many millions, he refuses to pay former drummer Mike Joyce, after a British court ruled in an acrimonious 1997 lawsuit that Joyce was owed performance royalties from Morrissey and Marr. The man who once complained that the music played by DJs "says nothing to me about my life" now writes songs about accountants and lawyers and the luxuries afforded by royalty cheques. He's always sung about his own life. But once millions felt as though his life was like their lives. Now, few beyond Sting and Simon Le Bon could possibly relate. In a song from the new record called "The World Is Full of Crashing Bores," Morrissey complains of the "uniformed whores" and "educated criminals" who rule the world. In it, Morrissey suggests that he must be one of these bores. He's right, of course, but not for the reasons he suggests. It seems certain that the witty and wonderful Morrissey of The Smiths, the idealistic boy who told us the Queen was dead, would have found the 2004 Morrissey, the hefty tanned bloke gone Hollywood, to be the quintessentially, utterly definitive crashing bore of them all.

Once Morrissey used music to reach people the same way David Bowie, the New York Dolls, James Dean and hundreds of other mass-mediated rebels inspired him. Once Morrissey held out for the chance to be mass-mediated to ensure that he wasn't just preaching to the converted, that his music might reach outside his core audience, have a shot at inspiring others to be different, to change the world. During the seven years since he was dropped from his last record label, Mercury, after his last studio record, Maladjusted, shifted an under-whelming 86,000 copies in the United States, his fans have waited for his return, confident that he would once again change their lives. Throughout his so-called wilderness years, Morrissey insisted that he would return only if he were allowed to compete again, if his new record was promoted well, if he weren't treated as a has-been. Accordingly, he declined offers from smaller labels and ignored suggestions he release his new songs over the Internet.

During this time he adopted as his cri de coeur a quote from Bathsheba Everdene, the heroine of Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd: "I shall be up before you are awake; I shall be afield before you are up; and I shall have breakfasted before you are afield. In short, I shall astonish you." Well, Sanctuary gave him the deal. He gave the public You Are The Quarry; and the results, while occasionally good, do not astonish. Much of the talk around the record has record has focussed on the production by Jerry Finn, former helmsman to Blink 182 and Green Day, and on the unprecedented introduction of some electronic beats. But that's not where the story is: the music, irrespective the new beats, is the same enjoyable mid-tempo fare we've come to expect from his long-serving band, and the choice of producers astute. Morrissey's voice is in fine form and his talent for innovative phrasing and clever lines is amply evident. The real story of You Are The Quarry is this: Morrissey no longer has anything interesting to say.

In the spring of 2003, Channel 4 in the UK premiered a new documentary about Morrissey - called The Importance of Being Morrissey. In it, U2's Bono notes that Morrissey requires what he terms "friction", that Morrissey works best on the radio alongside Britney Spears and Limp Bizkit. Stylistically, Morrissey remains easily distinguishable from anything else on contemporary pop radio. Well-dressed, smooth crooners with a sense of humor and a flair for the melodramatic have been in short supply in the Anglo recording world for a couple of decades, at least. Yet the substance that once set Morrissey apart seems to have vanished for good. It exists only in records made 15 to 20 years ago. Which is why it's so difficult to view You Are The Quarry as a comeback.

What a cruel dilemma this must be for Morrissey. He's finally positioned where he wants to be. He is currently in receipt of more attention and more adoration than at any time since he was a Smith. He's back in the spotlight he's always craved. Yet the Morrissey people want is not back, because that Morrissey no longer exists. The spotlight reveals a man wholly at odds with his former self, and wholly out of touch with the lives of his listeners. In April of this year, responding to a question from The Guardian, regarding whether or not he thought his audience sometimes missed the point about him he replied, "What point? [There's] absolutely no point whatsoever, but they think there is - which is extraordinary." Once one is able to acknowledge that there is no longer any point whatsoever to Morrissey, You Are The Quarry becomes a perfectly pleasant record that says remarkably little to anyone about their lives. There's nothing wrong with that, of course. Pop music is thick with such offerings, and much of it is wonderful. Yet Morrissey remains, as he likely always will be, haunted by his own words, imprisoned by the expectations of fans whose lives he changed, cursed by the beliefs he instilled in so many. The fans who love him so devotedly do so not because of who he is, but because of who he once was, despite the evidence that who he once was is no longer who he wishes to be.

— 21 May 2004

samedi, mai 01, 2004

PJ Harvey * Björk * Tori Amos

Q (UK magazine)
May 1994


PJ Harvey * Björk * Tori Amos

Well, would you spill their pint? In the last 18 months, Polly Harvey, Björk, and Tori Amos have rogered the charts with their special brew of spooky, left-field weirdness and estrogen-marinated musings. Q invites the gleesome threesome over for a tupperware party with attitude. Adrian Deevoy pours the tea and supplies the fondant fancies.

The Elfin Eskimo, the Kooky American chick and the Mad Bitch Woman from hell are drinking tea and talking about other people’s perceptions of them and how wrong they always seem to be.

Gathered around a low table in a photographic studio in Islington, North London, they make for gently intense yet engaging company. Soon, the conversation is taking the unlikely B-roads hinted at in their expressly non-linear music. It is punctuated at regular intervals by staccato bursts of manic laughter. If Andrew Lloyd Webber were ever to make Macbeth The Musical!! (The Scottish play as you’ve never heard it before, starring Nick Cave and Sarah Brightman) he’d need look no further for his three witches.

As they talk, parts of their characters begin to emerge: Polly Harvey is a cotious cove, quietly looking on and rolling her own cigarettes, following rather than leading the proceedings; Björk is a more abstract customer, immediately giving voice to her more random thoughts and pursuing the unlikeliest of tangents; Tori Amos’s off-centre broadsides come in elliptical form, often stopping off for a spot of free association and shrinkspeak en route to her original point.

With 5 LPs between them (two unsettling albums apiece for Polly and Tori and one half-million UK seller for Björk’s startling debut), they have given spooky, left-field label weirdness back its good name and everyone from Kate Bush to Evan Dando a run for their money.

But what sets these women apart from the mainstream soft soul of Mariah Carey and Dina Caroll is their extraordinary singing voices. Björk’s is a heavenly hiccuping thing that almost defies terrestrial description; Polly’s is as if opera diva had eaten a drum kit - swooping and percussive, and Tori’s is a finely tutored instrument that manages to simultaneously preach, purr and plead.

Their speaking voices are no less unusual: Björk boasts a yodelling Cockney Icelanding hybrid with occasional East European overtones (that old one); Polly has the soft Rs and sleepily stretched vowels of her native Dorset, while Tori possesses a dreamy mid-American accent which, of the trio, bears the closest resemblance to that which you hear on her records.

All three have met before, most poigniantly at this year’s Brit Awards where Björk collected a brace of gongs and performed Satisfaction with Polly. Seeking refuge from the corporate black slapathon, Tori sought out her fellow female singers backstage, harbouring the suspicion that they might be soul mates. She was, she maintains proudly, correct.

Q: Do you feel a connection between the three of you?

Polly: I think there is a connection. For me, anyway. This is the first time I’ve really had the opportunity to meet other women that are in the same kind of situation that I’m in. It’s been really helpful for me to see that other people have to deal with exactly the same sort of things that I have to deal with. I was feeling on my own. I was thinking that other people don’t have to go through these things, seeing lawyers, getting sued left, right and centre while you’re trying to write an album.

Björk: Are you being sued as well?

Polly: Yea, I’m being sued at the moment. It’s really horrible.

Björk: I’m so sorry for you.

Tori: Do you want us to shoot the lawyer?

Polly: But meeting up with these two has made me stop feeling so sorry for myself. It’s just living and everyone has to deal with these kinds of things in their different ways.

Q: You’ve met before, haven’t you?

Björk: Me and Tori met in Iceland.

Tori: She came backstage to see me at my show two years ago. I had been aware of her because of The Sugarcubes and I went to Iceland because I wanted to go so bad. I’d been fascinated by it and studied a bit about it so I eventually went. Everybody like, gets drunk, don’t they?

Björk: That’s Icelandic culture, that’s all there is, really.

Tori: It’s the most expensive place to buy alcohol on the planet.

Björk: It’s a joke. One beer costs about five quid.

Tori: But they were a really good audience for a country that’s drunk.

Björk: But that was the way you kept the concentration going. It was amazing. I’ve done gigs in Iceland that have been ridiculous because people know you and when you’re singing, they’re shouting, Hey, you didn’t make your Engish degree! Your uncle is fucking my niece!

Tori: They could have shouted that at me and it probably would have been true. But we went snow-mobiling on the glacier. Polly, you should go there, you’d love it.

Polly: I’ve never been. In my head I’ve just seen snow and cold.

Tori: There aren’t many trees but it’s very green. And it’s icy in Greenland. They got the names wrong

Polly: Is it hilly or flat?

Björk: It’s very hilly. Geographically, it’s very young, so it’s still in the making. It’s not got to the tree stage yet. It’s still making moss.

Tori: It’s a very unique place. It makes sense that Björk comes from there.

Q: What were your impessions of each other before you met?

Tori: Total respect for them.

Björk: This might sound really arrogant, I don’t know, but when it comes to people who make music, I’m not very interested in most cases. That doesn’t mean I think they’re bad, they just don’t do anything for me. But I could tell very quickly when I heard Polly’s album and Tori’s album that I’d like them. When I met Polly, it was really relaxed and I have to say that she was like I expected her to be.

Q: Were you anxious about meeting each other?

Polly: I wasn’t really. As soon as we met it was very easy.

Björk: You can suss some people out pretty quickly. Not completely, obviously, but you can sense whether or not you’re on the same wavelength.

Q: Do you have, or have you ever, felt in competition with each other?

Björk: no way.

Polly: No.

Tori: Never. It’s funny for women because journalists pit women against each other. If you think about Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and Eric Clapton they were all much more similar to each other than we are. We have tits. We have three holes. That’s what we have in common. We don’t even play the same instruments. It really disappoints me when some sort of competition has to be manufactured for their little minds and fantasies. That’s not growing, that’s not support. There is room for everybody on the planet to be creative and conscious if you are your own person. If you’re trying to be like somebody else, then there isn’t. We see things from different points of view and that affects people in different ways and I think that should be encouraged. It shouldn’t be like, two tits too many. Like with radio in America, they tell you, well, we’re already playing one female this week. They wouldn’t think about that with guys.

Q: In the last 18 months, you have all felt the pressures of success at full tilt. How have you, in your own ways, coped or not coped?

Björk: I guess I was lucky in that I became a public property in Iceland when I was 11, so I had 15 years of hardcore rehearsals before all of this hullabaloo. I guess at the end of the day you realize that this hullabaloo is not about you, it’s about that person you’ve created. It sounds cold and horrible but you feel very lucky that the person who you are - the relationship that you have between you and yourself - is different than with some person who’s never met you. It’s good to have that distance, because when you get Brit awards and front covers, it’s not about you, it’s a symbol for what you do. And when it comes to what I do, it’s got so little to do with myself. I’m writing songs about other people, my favorite things, whatever, and it’s the most unselfish thing you can imagine.

Q: Do you agree with that, Tori and Polly? Your songs, ostensibly, seem to be more about first hand personal experience?

Polly: No, I definitely agree with what Björk was saying. I’m just growing to realize that it’s not you when you see your picture in the paper. I can now see that it’s something completely removed from what I am.

Q: You had some problems with that, didn’t you?

Polly: Yeah, because I couldn’t remove myself and I found it very difficult. Anything that I read would really upset me. Or I wouldn’t realize at the time and then later on it would really upset me. But now I can disassociate myself from that. I think maybe it’s just time that does it. The longer I’ve done this, the more I’ve learnt how to deal with it and not be dragged down by it. But I did at the start. It really upset me.

Björk: You have one relationship with your Grandmother and one with your boyfriend and one with the guy in the grocery shop. That doesn’t mean you’re being fake or untrue, it’s just that you have those different colors in you.

Tori: You have to know what your intentions are. In this little time we’ve spent together, supporting each other, I sense that our intentions are about exposing things within our own beings which become mirrors for other people. Like when I listen to Polly’s words, I see pieces of me that I’m not willing to see. So I’m like (taking a series of deep breaths) OK, be with this for a moment, Tori, and hear what Polly is saying. And I hear pieces of Björk that I cut out a long time ago. The girl that jumps off rooftops, that part. It’s all about consciousness. We’re not actors. I think songwriters are the consciousness or the unconscious of the time. That’s what the poet’s job is. I’m only a mirror. If someone hates my guys, then they only hate half of me. Do you understand? 50 percent of it is me and 50 percent of it is them. A great review? Half of that is them.

Björk: Sorry, it’s nothing personal but generally journalists don’t have a clue. I don’t expect them to have one. It’s very rare that you read something with some insight. Maby five percent of reviews I can identify with and then only a little bit.

Q: But certain reviews must stay with you.

Björk: Uhm, I’m not saying (laughter).

Tori: What I remember is spending three hours with someone for an interview and you’ve gotten to know them a little bit and talked about intimate things and tried to be open. Then you’ve read what they’ve written and you think, God, this is not where I was. You feel really invaded. You think, well, that is a Cornflake Girl. People want to know what a Cornflake Girl is? That journolist right there.

Q: Don’t you feel you sometimes reveal too much of yourselves?

Björk: I think if there’s a place to reveal yourself then it’s in the songs. It’s not like you decide, OK, I’m going to reveal myself. It’s just a certain need. You’re just focusing on the things you’re talking about and not necessarily yourself. I compare what I do to sleeping, because most journalists seem to get that pretty easily. There’s no way you can decide what position you’re going to be in when you wake up in the morning. You just roll around the bad and it happens. And if you don’t do it for a week, you go mad.

Q: Do you feel in control of your lives?

Polly: Yep, I do. Nearly. (laughter)

Björk: I could be more in control but I don’t want to be. I decide what happens. I’m always so thirsty for this element of surprise that I don’t want to plan more than a few days ahead.

Q: But surely in your current position you can’t do that. It must be difficult to be spontaneous.

Tori: What’s spontaneity? There isn’t any spontaneity. I’m just speaking for me right now. On stage, when I play, that’s my moment of freedom, but 19 hours a day are packed with what’s got to happen to get to the next show. I’m a bit of a road dog. I love to play. I guess it’s because I did clubs for 14 years before Little Earthquakes happened. So I know what I’m doing September 6 or August 7. Will you call me up and cheer me up on August 7?

Polly: Course I will. It’ll be funny, you’ll have to try to keep this balance between being organized and being creative and keeping everything in balance in your head and monitoring everything that’s going on.

Björk: It’s about allowing enough space for accidents to happen. Being in control and yet not. Being just in control enough. That really turns me on.

Polly: I got that last night! Half a bottle of wine and I was thinking, Wor! What a great life!

Q: You all perform with a great degree of abandon. What does that mean to you?

Tori: It’s everything.

Polly: It’s what gets me life. It reminds you about why you wanted to do that in the first place because you have a love and a need to do it.

Björk: it’s hard to pin it down without bringing out a string of cliches. It’s an addiction, but it’s not JUST that.

Tori: You’re not even thinking anymore. You just free up your mind and express. There’s nothing calculated. I don’t play the piano, the piano plays me.

Björk: You sacrifice yourself. And you lose everything - like the fact that I’m this big and an Icelandic female and all that. I think that this is the reason that music and sex are so often compared with each-other. The most common way of feeling this is probably in sex. Because when you’re having sex, you don’t think, I’m now going to move my left arm 30 centimeters. You just have to do something and you follow your instincts. In that sense, although I’m not saying I’m thinking about sex all the time when I’m on stage, it’s a very similar feeling to having very good sex with someone.

Tori: That’s so good that you have sex like that. I have a much harder time opening up in the intimate sex realm because I have stuff to deal with. I don’t have to go there emotionally when I play. It’s harder for me to feel that in sex. The only time I can really feel it is when I play and I guess that’s why I do so many shows. I’m dry. In real life I’m bone dry, and when I play I’m a mango and in sex I’m starving to be a dripping mango.

Björk: I’m not very good at communicating things but with music it makes sense.

Polly: I think you’re really good at communicating.

Björk: Yea, but I have to use my brain a lot, and it’s taken 28 years to get to this.

Q: Do you go mad when you tour?

Björk: You bet, man. You start out with fucking health foods and no alcohol...

Polly:’re totally cleaned out and you’re eating well and doing excersize, swimming every day, and by the end of the tour you’re drinking to calm down instead of meditating or whatever, and eating crap and smoking.

Tori: It’s really great for me to hear this because my tour starts tomorrow.

Björk: And your reading just goes down the toilet. You start off reading highly spiritual, good-for-the-brain things and by the end I’m just reading about fucking and sex orgies.

Q: Do you ever feel like you can’t be bothered to perform?

Tori: Yeah, of course but you can tap into that source. I’m just a conduit for some kind of power. I’m just a vase and the water is flowing through me. You put your hands on the voltage and it just surges through you and if the crowd are giving that out too, it can completely energize you back.

Q: How do you deal with hecklers?

Tori: There’s always someone who wants to make you doubt yourself and scream at you. I have a very quiet house when I play, so I can always hear them. I don’t know if there are any hecklers loud enough for Polly to hear from the stage.

Björk: Meat Loaf!

Tori: Get off the stage, you fucking whore! They shout that and so you (leans forward agressively) and go, look, I’m here for an hour and twenty fucking minutes and if you don’t have a gun to blow me off the stage then I’m staying.

Polly: I’ve had people from beginning to end just shouting, You fucking bitch! Go back to fucking Yeovil! I always wonder why they’ve paid money to do that. I just smile and sing at them and that seems to work. Dedicate a song to them, that always works.

Tori: When that happens, your first reaction is to crawl into a bubble bath and have a pizza. But you have to respect yourself and draw the line and deal with it. I don’t like confrontations but you have to do something.

Björk: And you learn, after a while, to turn everything into something that turns you on. it’s like you’ve got this button. You learn to use things. If someone shouts at you, you can use it to make a song better.

Q: Can you be megalomaniacs?

Björk: In my case, I wish I was a little bit more of a megalomaniac. Just kidding, OK. I’m guilty!

Polly: Me too!

Q: unbearable?

Tori: Of course.

Björk: You might attack some innocent room service people or something.

Q: How does it feel to be an object of lust?

Polly: An object of lust!

Tori: What’s lust? (laughter)

Q: Student desire.

Björk: Student desire. Mmmm. I have to say a lot of that is created by the media.

Q: But it’s true. You are all lusted after in some way or another.

Björk: I just can’t relate to it.

Q: But that doesn’t stop it existing.

Björk: I know. Maybe we should talk about this. It’s very difficult.

Q: Didn’t you fancy pop-stars yourself when you were very young?

Björk: No. I was into Albert Einstien and David Attenborough. I really lusted after him.

Polly: David Attenborough was lovely.

Tori: Sorry girls, but Robert Plant did it for me. Sorry. I was 10 years old and I wanted to give him my virginity. I decided he was better than all the boys in my class.

Björk: I just wasn’t interested in boys until a few years ago. I thought they were shit. You can’t talk to them, especially as a teenager. You could play with them in a band but as people they were so limited. You can’t get properly drunk with them. Like, all the way drunk.

Tori: Are you serious?

Polly: I’m a late starter as well. I didn’t start dating until I was 20 and I’m 24 now.

Tori: I was in love with this boy when I was five years old and I knew we could really make it work. I was trying to convince him and he took this hammer and hit me with it really hard and, you’re going to really hate me for this, but I was so stupid, I tried to get my dad, the minister, to invite them over because I wanted to see him and conquer his heart. I was going to give him bubble-gum and then he’d let me into his treehouse to play with his toy machine-guns. I just wanted to be with him so bad.

Q: did it work out?

Tori: No, never. He called me a nerd.

Q: Do you ever use drugs when you’re writing?

Björk: Drugs? What are you talking about? (laughter)

Polly: You mean drugs as a tool to write? Only really alcohol and then not much.

Björk: I sing best without anything. I know this sounds really hippy, but being on top of a mountain in the middle of the day would be best for me. but to be able to socialize with all these people, because I’m quite an introverted sort of person, I’ll have a cognac before I go on stage. But even that’s more of a ritual more than anything. And maybe a bottle of wine afterwards to chill down.

Q: Do you ever fancy pop-stars now or do you understand the contrivance of image too well to do that?

Tori: I think we’ve all been doing this too long to fall for that.

Q: Don’t you ever look at a picture of Morissey and think Phwoar!

Björk: Morissey? You’re joking.

Polly: It’s more likely to be someone who works in the pub down the road. You don’t fancy people just because they’re pop stars. And it’s not just men. Women can be attractive too.

Tori: KD Lang is kind of attractive. And that grip who was on the video shoot the other day was very attractive.

Björk: Headphones really turn me on.

Polly: headphones?

Björk: and good literature. The Story of the Eye by Georges Bataille usually does the job.

Q: You all draw on sex very heavily in your work.

Tori: Sexuality. There is a difference. Sex is this (inserts right index finger into left thumb and fore-finger ‘O’ shape). Sexuality is being in touch with something that isn’t just that. It’s passion. Sexuality is a much greater thing than, Do it all night, honey.

Q: Sexuality, then.

Polly: It’s a very natural thing to write about, I think. It’s like getting yourself turned onto a play in a way. For me, music is something that is very sexual. It’s a turn-on. It’s not something to do with your head, it’s to do with your body, which is a very sexual instrument. To bring sexual elements into the lyrics to go with the music just makes perfect sense to me. It just happens.

Q: A lot,in your case. Did you read Elvis Costello saying that a lot of Polly’s songs “seem to be about blood and fucking”?

Polly: (pause) Well, he’s wrong. (laughter)

Q: Are you flattered when elder statesmen of rock (Eric Clapton, Costello, Warren Zevon - announce that your records have been their favorites in the last year?

Björk: Half of me is a bit of a rebel, thinking that someone my dad used to listen to, stuff like Cream, saying that my stuff is all right must mean I’ve gone wrong somewhere. But half of me is really flattered. If you want the honest truth, I’ll be sickly sentimental and say that if my best friend says she likes a song it would affect me a lot more.

Q: Are you aware of what the public think of you?

Björk: I think in my case, it was decided that I was an Eskimo Elf. And I guess that’s...(laughs) something I’ll have to live with.

Polly: And I’m a mad bitch woman from hell. I can’t get enough sex or blood!

Tori: People’s perceptions of Polly seem to be completely off. Compared to when I met her, excuse me, but Polly was like an angel. So loving. So I think whoever made her out to be this mad bitch women has done her an injustice.

Q: But you must have done something to give people that initial impression.

Polly: I suppose I give as much as I want to give. I decide immediately if I like a person and if I do, then I’m myself, and if I don’t, then I give nothing. With Tori I liked her straight away, so she got me. But people do have completely the wrong idea about me, almost the opposite, in fact. And I’m quite happy for it to be like that. Do I want loads of people to know who I am? I’d much rather they didn’t have a clue.

Björk: I didn’t get that “mad bitch” impression from listening to Polly’s records. I thought she sounded like a caring person. I didn’t expect her to turn up with a chainsaw.

Q: Finally, do you have anything to add?

Polly: Just, thank you, really.

Tori: Could I ask you just please not to use any exclamation points? it looks so awful.

Björk: I’ve said far too much already. I should learn to say less.

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