So, yesterday we had a chat with Hilary Duff. After several years in the semiwilderness she’s signed to RCA, knocked together a new album and is on the verge of re-entering the ‘pop milieu’.
During the course of our telephone conversation she talked about why the time is right to get back in the pop saddle, her vision for the new album, how she might leak the songs that didn’t make the cut and why she chose the ones that did. She also acknowledged that while the whole ‘staging a comeback’ thing might not be easy, she’s going to give it a good old go. (Oh, and she wouldn’t mind recording ‘Boom Clap’ after all, thanks very much.)
Here’s how it unfolded.
Hello Hilary. You’re back!
I’m back! (Laughs) Yes.
Let’s begin. Is this a comeback that’s principally based in nostalgia or in something brand new?
I think it’s a combination of both. I definitely have a little place in people’s hearts from the past, but also I think they’re interested to see what I’ve come up with and who I am now. I want to believe that. I don’t think people are so fickle that they only want to see me because I’m Lizzy McGuire or something.
Who, in 2014, do you think is a Hilary Duff fan?
I think it’s a pretty broad range. It’s amazing with the internet now, how you can pinpoint who your target audience is. I think a lot of them are my age because they grew up with me and maybe a little bit older because of them wanting to see what I’m wearing all the time or young mums who have kids the same age as my kid. I think it’s also 14-to-18-year-olds still.
What sort of hair do they have?
What sort of hair?
Erm, I think they’re fashionable girls who try to look fashionably dishevelled. Like me, I never want my hair to be perfect, I want it to be a little fucked up. I want to wear boots with tight jeans and a t-shirt that looks really old but is probably quite expensive. I’m a flea market digger. Sometimes I manage to pull it together and be like ‘I look cute today’ and then other times I’m a hot mess with a two-year-old. He’s in this whole thing where he doesn’t want me to put my hair in a ponytail.
Does he like the new songs?
Yes he loves them, it’s really cute. I’ve been away from him for two days, and his dad took him camping to have a little boys trip, and I was talking to him on the phone last night and he doesn’t like talking on the phone unless he thinks he’s talking to Elmo, but I started singing to him and he said ‘more, more’ and it really made my heart hurt a little bit.
What was it about the single ‘Chasing The Sun’, among all the other piles of amazing songs you probably heard, that made it seem like the right first single?
Honestly it was a really tough choice. I think it was a close tie between ‘All About You’, ‘Chasing The Sun’ and ‘Tattoo’ probably. It’s a really carefree, summer song and I guess I didn’t really know what people were expecting from me. This song is definitely a top-down [we imagine she means cars not garments], carefree, super catchy singalong song and so I guess we thought that would be a good move.
Most singers these days find it important to stamp their name all over a song, but you haven’t written on this one. Have you still found a way to make it personal?
I’m not a snob, like ‘I have to write everything’. There are so many amazing writers out there and one of the best things about this record for me was that I did get to write as much as I wanted and work with other people as much as I wanted. Some of the best work comes from when you’re collaborating with people and then sometimes a song comes along and you hear it and you’re like ‘okay, I think that’s a smash, don’t give it away!’.There has to be a balance. Some of the biggest pop acts out there love to write, but a lot of their singles aren’t things they’ve written.
The big ‘Hilary’s back’ press release says that you arrived at your new label RCA “with a vision for the album”. What was that vision Hilary?
When I first started recording, the album was a lot heavier. It was a lot more serious. I started to steer away from that because as part of my personality, I do like to have fun and I do like to live as carefree and big as possible and do things that make me happy and be a positive person. So the album took on those kinds of legs and I got inspired by some of the folkier-type music (!). I love Mumford & Sons and I love The Lumineers. It’s definitely a straightforward pop album but with a bit of that influence in there. When I came to the label I just kept saying ‘I want it to feel a little earthy and authentic’ because I’m from Texas, and they were like ‘earthy? What does that mean?’. But that’s the best way I can describe it. It’s definitely pop – I wanted to have those melodies that get stuck in your head – but also have some foot-stomping and claps that bring me back to my roots.
Is there any EDM on there?
No, it’s all gone! (Laughs) Even though that’s where I started. A few songs I came up with were really cool and you kind of get heartbroken when you realise no one’s ever going to hear them and they’re going to be trashed.
(Laughs) You know what, that’s not a bad idea. After the album’s at the end of its cycle that would be cool to let the fans see a different side, but it wasn’t the push that I wanted to have out there.
Another press release claim: “The album is a great representation of the experiences I’ve had in my life and where I want to go from here!” What experiences are you talking about and where are you going?
Oh gosh. Let me think about some of the songs…
But were there experiences you’d had that you definitely wanted to be represented on the album?
I’d taken such a long break. It wasn’t like I was totally gone – I was doing a little bit of acting here and there, and if you’re living in LA it’s kind of hard to hide so my life was definitely still on display. It’s not like people haven’t seen me in seven years, I just wasn’t interested in doing music. I had a lot of time to grow and become the person I want to be and not be exhausted with work and on tour. I got to remodel a house, which was amazing, and I met my husband. I got married, I had a baby, I travelled all over the world. A lot of it was really hard. I shut down a business [Lizzy McGuire] that was making a tonne of money and everyone thought I was crazy at the time, you know. That was a tough challenge for me at a young age to decide to do that and be like ‘I need a break and I need to hang on to my sanity’. That was a really scary thing to do. I learned a lot about my strength and fighting for what I needed and there’s some of that on the record. Obviously I’ve had a little bit of heartbreak and troubles in my relationships, so there’s some of that on there too, plus, even though I’m a mum, I like to let loose and get a little wild sometimes.
Do you think artists are right to view pop as a job for life, or do you think increasingly it has to just be one of various things you do, and perhaps only for a certain period?
I guess everyone’s different but for me, I had toured for five or six years pretty much in a row and then when I wasn’t touring I was squeezing in filming a movie and I just got to a point… Well, I love my fans and I’ve loved all the travelling and being on stage, there is no bigger reward to have that feeling of people who don’t even speak the same language as you screaming the words of your songs back to you, it’s so ridiculously rewarding. But it is isolating and it was lonely and once I had turned twenty I was like, ‘I’m going to go crazy’. I needed to learn what I liked and who I was and make normal people decisions, not these epic and crazy [ones]. There was a lot of pressure. I was also struggling in my acting career and trying to get people to see me in a different way. There are lots of routes you can take to try and convince people you’re not the same as you were and I think my choice was to take a step back from everything and then just deal with the consequences of that fact that I might never get it all back again. But I’m going to try damn hard!
You touched on it there but obviously there’s a lot of chatter about how the transition from Disney product to proper popstar makes it difficult to stay normal and not go a bit crazy…
For a while there I was so busy I didn’t have time to get in trouble. I think I was just ready to experience a lot of things. I’m not saying I was perfect – I managed to find a little bit of trouble, you know, just normal things for my age. I was just a bit more private about it. I was ready to live my life and not be blasted on the cover of Star magazine, you know, all of that shit.
This is your fifth studio album. You’ve made some great singles but not a classic album yet. Is this one it?
Well to date this is definitely my favourite album but who’s to say what’s a classic? Hopefully my fans will think that it is and I think that it is. The thing that has always drawn my fans to me is that I am authentic and I am reachable to them and I am honest. I’ve done everything I can to accomplish that on this record and it’s taken me a long time – I started in September and I’m here now.
You’re also going to be doing some more acting in a TV show called Younger. How committed are you to pop? Won’t the TV stuff get in the way?
I mean, [music] is definitely my focus right now. When I start shooting it’s from September to December, so my record should be finished by then and I think we’re talking about a fall [she means autumn] release, so I’ll be around to do press and then when the show wraps on December 12 I’ll be doing a full press push for the record and I just have to commit myself to that.
Then you can put your feet up for Christmas!
I’ve been in hibernation for seven years so I’ve got a lot of energy! I’m an all or nothing kind of girl – I need my plate to be either completely empty or completely full.
You’ve shifted 15m records worldwide. Do you think you’ll sell another 15m?
HELL YEAH! Of course. I think you have to believe it and be confident in anything you want. So of course I believe that. It might take a few years, but I think I’ll do it again.
‘So Yesterday’ is probably one of the greatest songs of all time isn’t it?
Oh wow, that’s a big compliment, thank you.
What do you remember about recording it?
I remember not wanting to record it or have it on my album and my manager was like ‘no, you’re recording this one’.
Oh. Why didn’t you like it?
I don’t know. You know what’s funny is that my mum is a major Cher fan – I’m actually a huge Cher fan too – and she [Cher, not Hilary’s mum] just played the Staples centre in LA and I surprised my mum and got tickets to see her like tenth farewell tour. (Laughs) It was amazing and I just love her. Before she performed one of everyone’s favourite songs, ‘Just Like Jesse James’, she told this whole story about how she didn’t like the song and her manager made her do it and it was kind of the same thing with ‘So Yesterday’. The Matrix were really hot at the time and they had done a lot of work on one of Avril Lavigne’s records, and I was a big Avril fan so I was excited about working with them, but I was just not into ‘So Yesterday’. I ended up just sucking it up and recording it and it turned out amazing.
Did you see that Cher also didn’t like ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ and Diane Warren had to physically restrain her in the studio to get her to record it?
That’s so crazy to me. Some people are touched by certain things and some people aren’t, but that’s what I mean about recording music that I haven’t written on – there are so many talented people out there so if you get a chance to work on a song and make it your own then you should. And ‘Chasing The Sun’ is such a relatable song and it’s close to something I would have written for myself.
Presumably what you’ve learned over the years is when to fight for a song and when to trust other people.
Yeah of course. Even when I was working for Disney and I didn’t get to write and I was working with certain people if there were songs I didn’t like they wouldn’t make me do it, but they did have a heavier influence on what the records would sound like in compared to what my tastes were at the time. But now the tables have turned and the fans want to be so connected to the artist and if you’re singing something that isn’t authentic then they’re going to smell it on you.
Finally: why did you turn down ‘Boom Clap’?
I didn’t know that I had an option to have it. It’s my favourite song on the radio right now. I remember there was talk about my label trying to get us to write together and it was in New York and I was flying home so I didn’t have time to have a session with her. I am literally obsessed with that song and I didn’t know that it was an option for me.
Do you think it would have worked as a Hilary Duff song?
Yes I do. If she wants to give it to me now I’ll still take it!
‘Chasing The Sun’ is out in the autumn. You can keep up with Hilary over on Facebook.