In the '90s, Tracey Thorn shot to stardom as half of the act Everything but the Girl ( with Ben Watt ), which had a huge dance hit with a remix of the song "Missing." ( The lyrics "And I miss you/Like the deserts miss the rain" remain haunting. )
Now, Thorn is releasing Recordher first solo album of entirely original material in seven yearson March 2. The songs have an electro-pop feel, and collaborators include singer Corinne Bailey Rae.
Thorn recently talked with Windy City Times, and discussed music, family and LGBTsand even revealed something about one of her children.
Windy City Times: It has been a while since we've heard from you. Was it family time that took you away, or was there some other reason?
Tracey Thorn: Well, it's not like I haven't done anything. [Laughs] I have been doing quite a lot of different things.
The last full album I made was the Christmas one, Tinsel and Lights, in 2012. Since that time, I've written two books and did a film soundtrack, for The Falling. So I've gotten into the habit of thinking that I do all these other projects. And it just hit me: I just thought, "I have a few songs that I've written over the past few months. Maybe it's time to make a new album." So it just sorta swung back aroundI thought, "Maybe I have something to offer."
WCT: Well, you do. By the way, is the album's title pronounced "REC-ord" or "Re-CORD?"
TT: I do tend to say "REC-ord," but it's deliberately ambiguous. Because I don't play live anymore, I thought it was quite a good play on the fact that, now, I re-CORD. I think the ambiguity is fine.
WCT: There are many things to admire about this album, including smart lyrics. I wrote three words that I associate with this album: "hope," "strength" and "freedom."
TT: [Laughs] Well, that's great!
You know, one of the things that inspired me to make something was the political events that have happened in the U.S. and the U.K. There's been a feeling of doom in the air, that things have taken a turn for the worsethat we've taken a step backward. And I got down-hearted about that.
And then I had a thought that gave me a kick up the ass: "You can either sit around feeling the world is going to shit, or you can make something." There's a kind of defiance in thatyou're defying the negative forces out there and start making stuff. The record was made with that sort of spirit, so I'm glad that the hope and strength come through.
WCT: My favorite track has to be "Air." I think a lot of people identify with those lyrics.
TT: Well, yes; I hope so.
WCT: But tell me about the song "Smoke." It has a sense of history in it.
TT: I researched my family history a few years ago, and I went back as far as I could go. I'd basically grown up just outside of London, but I knew my parents were born and grew up in London. When I researched, I discovered that my family lived in London for at least a couple hundred years.
The oldest ancestors I could find were Miriam and Job Bush, who came from this little village in Norfolk and moved to London in the 18th century, I think. So it's a song about the really deep connection I have with London. As someone who lives here, I can see some of the power changing in some ways, which is not dissimilar to a lot of other cities around the world where the makeup has changedthey're not as mixed as I think they should be, and there are increasingly more rich people living there.
What make a city great are its people. When I sing the lines, I'm saying that what's great about a city are the people who live in it, so you want to make sure that it's open to everyone.
WCT: Indeed. And with the track "Sister," how did you come to collaborate with Corinne?
TT: Well, the track was almost finished; we had done the backing track and I think I had even done the lead vocal. But I thought it really needed a counterpart and that it would be fantastic to have another woman sing.
Corinne is someone whose singing I absolutely adore, and she's a really great songwriter as well. So I asked her and she said "yes." I sent her the track, and she recorded her part in her own home studio. I really didn't give her much direction or guidance except to say, "I just think you need to come in at this point and, as the song goes, feel free to let it rip." She created her own vocal part. I thought the track was already good, but she really made it sound amazing.
WCT: Well, I would be remiss if I didn't mention "Missing." There I was in the '90s, sitting in a gay club, when I discovered the remix of the song. Is it true that your label [Blanco y Negro] had dropped [Everything but the Girl] just before this song became a massive hit?
TT: Yes, that is true. [Laughs] There was some mutual consent involved. I think that it was a working relationship that had slightly run out of steam, and I think it got to the point where they had to pick up the next option on our contract or not do so.
I don't think they were getting any strong feelings from us that we were desperate to stay, even though Ben and I actually knew that we had new ideas and were incredibly positivebut they weren't necessarily the people to go forward with. To be honest, it's not like we were horrified by that; we felt that maybe it was a good time to move somewhere new. I'm sure, six months later, they looked and thought, "What happened there?" [Laughs]
You know, it worked out fine. We signed up with Virgin for our next album, Walking Wounded, and had a really happy relationship with them. It was all good.
WCT: I have been heartened to see your support of the LGBT community on [social media] and, in the past, you've written a song about gay-bashing, "A-Z," [on the CD Out of the Woods].
TT: Yes. The documentary, Olly Alexander: Coming Out Gay, was on television. I think he's just so fantastic. I was just great to see and it was about his relationship with his mom. And one of our daughters came out as gay when she was in her mid-teensso I'm obviously interested in those kinds of family stories. You're always heartened when you see those stories of immediate acceptance.
WCT: And speaking of children, if they wanted to go into the music business what advice would you give them?
TT: None of them are yet, although our youngest son is very into music now; he spends time in his bedroom playing the guitar and so simple recordings. But Ben and I were just talking about this last nightbut I don't even know how I'd advise him because it's changed so much since we started. I think he'd be better off getting advice from someone younger or who started out more recently. It's a very different world now; you can be very independent nowadays, but I'm not sure how you turn that into a career.
WCT: I think you're underselling yourself.
TT: [Laughs] Well, some things don't change. But I guess the point is that every generation is different, and you have to go out there and make your own mistakes, and you learn as you go along. It's important to have that drive to try and try again.
For more on Thorn, visit splash.traceythorn.com/ .