Tracey Thorn is more confident and self-assured than ever
It’s been eight long years for fans of British singer Tracey Thorn, but last week marked her official return with the release of her new solo record Record.
“I do tend to take breaks between the records now,” she tells Double J’s Caz Tran. “I think I need that time and space to recharge and come up with new ideas and come back a bit fresh again.”
The record is defiantly feminist, with its nine tracks examining the different facets of life of a woman, largely based on Thorn’s own experiences.
“I had an idea that I would make an album that talked about different aspects of a woman's life,” she says.
“I had a notebook very early on where I'd just written these single words down that were either going to be titles for songs or ideas for songs. They kind of went through things like 'daughter', 'childhood', 'sister', 'school', 'work', 'music', 'mother', 'babies', all these things. That formed the basis for lots of the songs and just this idea that you're going through a woman's life.
It's very easy to think, when you start getting older, that it's just gonna be downhill from here. But there are positives that come with it as well.Tracey Thorn — Double J, 2018
“Some of it is my life, some of it is more universal than that.”
While some of the themes are universal, Thorn definitely writes from her own distinct perspective. She explains that, while her 2010 record Love and its Opposite was about ‘real life after 40’, Record sees her embracing the next stage in her life.
“On the last album, when I was interviewed about it, I talked with a lot of people about how it had the feel of a midlife crisis record,” she says. “Talking about friends getting divorced and some of the things that start to hit you when you're getting older.
“When they first hit you they can feel quite difficult to deal with. But, I'm eight years further on and, in the meantime, I've gone through my menopause and come out the other end. I think, like a lot of women, I've ended up feeling more confident on the other side of it. I feel quite revitalised about life.”
This confidence shows in her approach to her career as well. Thorn famously ceased playing live many years ago and definitively notes that she will not be changing that anytime soon. And, frankly, she doesn’t even care who likes her records.
“I don't really care whether or not I should be making a record,” she says. “I don't really care what people think of it, I just want to keep making things.”
Such optimism and confidence is reassuring, coming from an artist in her 50s. The music industry has a long, turgid history of discarding former pop stars – and Thorn certainly was one with her group Everything But The Girl – after a while. But Thorn is feeling stronger than ever.
“It's a good thing,” she says. “It's very easy to think, when you start getting older, that it's just gonna be downhill from here. But there are positives that come with it as well. And once you embrace those, then you realise there's lots to be gained from every different stage of life.
“I've got a different outlook on some things, I've got a different perspective on things, and I suppose I'm just trying to make the most of it.”
Personal growth is a powerful thing, and something that Thorn has now learnt to cherish.
“I don't think I've suddenly become an entirely different person. I think it deepens as you get older,” she says. “Inevitably, experiences that you have kind of layer up upon each other.
“Sometimes I listen back to very early records and I think, 'Wow, I do sound pretty world weary' and I'd barely lived at all!”
Record is packed with great guests too, women like Shura and Corinne Bailey Rae lend their vocal prowess, while Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa and Jenny Lee Lindberg also appear.
“I'd dreamed of having them as the rhythm section and lucky Ewan [Pearson], who was producing the record, had worked with them before, so he was able to get in touch with them,” Thorn says.
“The great thing about working with them, they came in for just a couple of days, but they gave it everything. While we were working on the songs, you'd have imagined they were working on their own record. They really treated it like a project they were giving everything to. They were amazing.
“The track 'Sister' especially, which ended up being this very long, eight-minute groove in the middle of the album, that really took off because of them. They got this amazing groove going and we just kept recording. I think we took about 11 minutes of it in the end and had to edit it down to the eight-and-a-half-minute version on the album.
“They really brought a lot to the record.”
Another highlight of the record is the opening song ‘Queen’, in which Thorn posits on what may have happened if she’d made different decisions through her life and career.
“I'm partly looking back over my own life, especially my working life, and just having one of those moments wondering how things could have been different. It's got that sort of sliding doors thing, if you had taken a different path, would you have ended up being the person you are?
“I'm thinking about where I am now musically, and just wondering at different points of my career, whether I might have done different things.
“There's a line when I talk about that, 'back seat of a blacked-out car' and I suppose I'm deliberately referring to the album cover of the Walking Wounded record. It's me being slightly detached from my public self and just looking back and wondering how things might have been different.
“’What does it all mean? How does it affect the person I am now?’ It's not a song about regrets or anything particularly, it's just that curiosity about your own life.”
Thorn is also starting to allow herself to feel ambivalent about her career, despite the success and acclaim
“One of the things I've often tried to be honest about is having mixed feeling about things,” she says.
“How, on the one hand, you can absolutely love the career you're in, the success you're having. On the other hand, it brings certain problems with it that can be difficult to deal with.
“I think that ambivalence about things in life is very natural and very normal. We're often encouraged to have very strong feelings in one direction or the other and feel uncomfortable with having mixed feelings. To me it seems a normal way to be. It seems natural to me.”
Record is out now