The name Goldfrapp is synonymous with thrilling, visionary and slightly off-kilter pop music. Beginning with 2000’s Felt Mountain, singer Alison Goldfrapp and her composer collaborator Will Gregory went on a seven-album musical odyssey that gave us era-defining glam bangers (Strict Machine, Ooh La La), otherwordly folk-pop (A&E, Happiness), and retro rollerdisco anthems (Rocket, Alive). They even wrote a modern disco hit, Ride a White Horse, about Bianca Jagger’s legendary equine arrival at New York’s Studio 54 nightclub.
Now Alison Goldfrapp is releasing her first ever solo album, The Love Invention, which she co-wrote and produced with pop alchemist Richard X and Kelly Lee Owens collaborator James Greenwood. Featuring heady electro gems with titles like So Hard So Hot, NeverStop and The Beat Divine, it’s a cool and classy blast of dance floor nirvana. When we meet at her managers’ office in north London, she gets settled with a cup of tea, then talks candidly about everything from her creative process to meeting Madonna. She also displays a nice dry sense of humour – perfect for the 50 Questions challenge.
1. Why did you name the album The Love Invention? It comes from a song on the album about a doctor who’s invented a potion that makes people feel the ultimate love. That song was inspired by the wellness mania we see on the internet now, but I thought The Love Invention was a nice way of summing up the overall feeling of the album.
2. How would you describe the album's sound? Very electronic, rhythmic, contemporary and retro.
3. How do you want it to make people feel? Joyful. I think it has humour as well as a sort of tongue-in-cheek euphoria.
4. What is the hardest part of going solo? Ask me that a little later!
5. When do you feel most creative? When I’m relaxed and have time to stare out the window, and not have my mind cluttered with banal everyday things.
6. What’s your favourite thing about performing live? The connection with the audience. There’s nothing like the energy of being in a room with a load of people.
7. What is your earliest memory of performing? Much to my mother’s embarrassment, I used to stand up at Brownies and recite these poems I’d written to anyone and everyone. I understood them but no one else did because they were total gobbledygook.
8. What would your parents like you to have done for a living? My mother said the best hope for me was to be a secretary. My dad tried to get me to go into the army.
9. Did your parents support your performing career? When I was about 21, I sang with a dance company in Belgium, and they came out to see me perform. I think they took it quite seriously because the British Arts Council were paying for me to be there. And I think my dad was secretly quite moved by it.
10. What did you learn growing up in Hampshire? That the English countryside can be a sinister and violent place, as well as very pretty. Growing up as a teenager in the countryside can be really quite hard because there’s not anything to do. And I think sometimes – well, quite often – people have different attitudes than you find in the city, so it can feel very claustrophobic.
11. What did you learn working with Richard X? That I enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone, which is exactly what I wanted to do with this album. Richard is very meticulous and methodical in his approach, whereas James [Greenwood] is very laid-back and works in a more organic way. So I found the three of us together had a really great synergy.
12. What did you learn at Middlesex Art School? That rabbit skin glue is actually made out of rabbit skin. It stinks when it’s being made and it’s revolting.
13. What is the most important skill you’ve learned? Probably something else I learned at art school, which is the ability to make something from very little using your own imagination. That’s the building block of my career.
14. Where is your happy place? The Balearics.
15. What is your top tip for surviving London? Leave it regularly.
16. What is your top tip for surviving the music industry? Don’t just do what other people think you should be doing.
17. Do you believe in God? No.
18. Do you believe in the concept of a guilty pleasure? No.
19. Do you believe in love at first sight? No.
20. What is the toughest job you’ve ever done? This one!
What advice would you give to an aspiring artist? “I think David Bowie famously said: ‘When you feel like you’re in a safe place, scrap it and push it more. Because then something interesting is going to happen’” – Alison Goldfrapp
21. How you describe your occupation on official forms? ’Artist’. Though I remember being told once not to say I’m an artist because apparently it makes it harder to get car insurance. What the fuck do they think you’re going to do? Leave your car outside some dodgy places?
22. What’s the nicest compliment you’ve received? Being told I’m a very good friend.
23. What advice would you give to your younger self? I would definitely take myself aside and say, “Come on, don't be so hard on yourself.” I’m still very hard on myself now. I’m my worst critic.
24. What advice would you give to an aspiring artist? I think David Bowie famously said: “When you feel like you’re in a safe place, scrap it and push it more. Because then something interesting is going to happen.”
25. Who would play you in a film of your life? Who’s that old English bird who’s always insulting people? Miriam Margolyes? Yes, she could do the much later years, and then Kirsten Dunst could do the rest.
26. How did Gwendoline Christie come to appear with you on the Strict Machine artwork? She happened to know our manager at the time, so we became friends. When I asked her to do it, she just said, “Oh yeah, I’m definitely up for that.” She’s done so well now, hasn’t she? It’s brilliant.
27. Who do you call when you need a laugh? My friend Hells, or Charlie and Davidé who used to play in the [Goldfrapp touring] band.
28. What feels like true luxury to you? Having several lovers in several houses in several countries. Each with a fridge full of chocolate.
29. Which of your songs do you have the most complicated relationship with? A&E is a funny one because it’s so autobiographical. It’s not fantastical at all, it’s kind of [about] what happened. You know, I was in A&E in a hospital gown having a bit of a meltdown. So it does feel slightly odd now when I sing it.
30. What was the first club you went to? The Hippodrome in Leicester Square. This would have been some time in the 80s when they played big, clubby stuff there. And it would have been really quite messy.
31. If you could go back in time to Studio 54, who would you want to find there? Oh, everyone. I would love to have been in New York at that time.
32. What was the last thing you changed your mind about? Having a hot cross bun for breakfast this morning.
33. What was the final decision? Well, I sort of dithered a lot, as I do quite often. I was like, “I’m going to have a hot cross bun – woo!” But then I thought, “But I just had one yesterday, so maybe I’ll have it without the butter.” But then it was in the oven and smelling delicious, so of course I had to slather it in butter. So the final decision was that I would just have half. Honestly, there were quite a lot of parts involved in that decision.
34. What keeps you awake at night? Talking to journalists – usually something I said that I wished I hadn’t!
35. What makes you excited? Making and creating.
36. What is your most prized possession? Probably something that belonged to my dad. Having said that, if my boyfriend smashed a piece of pottery, I’d be really pissed off.
37. Do you keep things or throw them out? I have lots of things, which is something I find really annoying.
38. What is your most biggest regret? I wish I’d never smoked. I started when I was quite young, gave up for six years, and then still managed to start again. But I haven’t touched cigarettes for about 15 years now.
39. Have you ever been truly starstruck? I met Madonna once and I was so starstruck that I couldn’t get off my chair. I just felt like I was teeny-tiny and she was this amazing giant. I hope she didn’t think I was being rude.
40. What do you do when you have an unexpected day off? Stare out the window for a very long time.
Have you ever been truly starstruck? “I met Madonna once and I was so starstruck that I couldn’t get off my chair. I just felt like I was teeny-tiny and she was this amazing giant. I hope she didn’t think I was being rude” – Alison Goldfrapp
41. What makes Glastonbury so magical? Oh, it’s a lot of things combined. It still has the real offbeat, hippie stuff alongside the more commercial stuff. And it’s in such a beautiful place, of course. But I think the people who run it are very special. You can tell they come at everything from a very good place in their hearts.
42. What makes a great music video? A bit of mystery. And someone who really knows how to edit to music – that’s a real skill.
43. What song is guaranteed to get on the dance floor? Acapella by Kelis.
44. What was the last film or TV show to make you cry? That episode of Succession, probably because it reminded me of my dad.
45. What are you reading at the moment? The Haunted Boy by Carson McCullers. It’s one of a few short stories I’ve lined up for a flight.
46. Do you read a lot? I have phases where I read really intensely. But then at other times I’m like, “OK, I’ve got a spare hour, I’m going to lie in the bath with a book.” And then I spend the whole hour on my phone instead. Which feels like such a waste, because it isn’t the same thing at all.
47. Where is the strangest place you've heard a Goldfrapp song? This really dodgy toothpaste advert in Brazil where they used one of the hits – Ooh La La, I think – without asking permission. It was totally illegal, but I found it quite amusing.
48. If you actually had a rocket, who would you put on it? Oh, so many people! Including a lot of British politicians. And Trump.
49. What makes the beat divine? This whole album in a way is about being taken to another place – a utopian place in your mind. I think that’s what music and dancing can do. It’s just such a primordial thing that gives us this feeling of euphoria. So that’s what makes the beat divine, I think.
50. Finally, did you enjoy this interview? Yes, thank you. I will be able to sleep tonight.
Alison Goldrapp's album The Love Invention is out May 12.