After 25 years as a pop thing and with that Abbey Road album ‘on shelves now’, Kylie talks table-thumping, living in the pop bubble, and netball
Hello Kylie. Obviously the K25 business has been a way of showing everyone what you’ve done over the last quarter of a century but has it also been a way for you to take stock of it for yourself?
I’ve tried, I’ve really tried. But even when you say ‘quarter of a century’, it’s hard to get your head around that. It’s like, ‘really?’. How did it happen! It’s hard to grasp everything you’ve done: everything that’s good about what you’ve done, everything that sucked about what you’ve done, opportunities you’ve missed, and ones you’ve grabbed, and ones where it’s taken years after the fact to realise what an amazing moment it was. It’s actually been a tough year, but it’s been a rewarding year too. With things as random as the Anti Tour and Proms In The Park, which I loved equally. Perhaps one thing I’ve realised this year is that I’m defined by the variables that I am. I’m not just one thing.
Last time we spoke, you talked about the table-thumping that happens at your record label when you release an album. Have you table-thumped this time round?
The only table-thump for ‘The Abbey Road Sessions’ was to include ‘Flower’, because the concept of the album was that it was all about hits. But it just seemed like it was ‘Flower’’s time. We recorded it and it was beautiful and there was a little table-thump about that. ‘Guys, come on, it’s got to be on the album.’
It’s quite a hard song to listen to, was it hard to write?
I think it… Hm. (Thinks) It didn’t take long. I’d written the lyrics, and [producer 'extraordinaire'] Steve Anderson says I arrived at the studio in a bit of a strop that day. Of course I don’t recall it that way at all. (Laughs) But we had a day together in this little writing studio and he said, ‘okay what have you got?’. I’d written these lyrics, and I was a bit dismissive of them. I didn’t know if they were just too deep, or too personal, or whatever. And I sang it through to him, and he put some chords to it. And that was that. Actually the other song we did that day was ‘That’s Why They Write Love Songs’, which again was just from scrawls in my book. So I wouldn’t say ‘Flower’ was that hard to write, I probably enjoyed writing down what my feelings were about that subject. But if I’d been in with another producer I don’t think I would even have mentioned those lyrics on that page – Steve Anderson was the only person I’d share that with.
And what about the hits you’ve re-recorded for the album – do you think the songs sound better like this?
I think… Hm. (Thinks again) I guess it depends which frame of mind you’re in. If you want to hear “EGHH-URGGH-EGHH-URGHH” – ‘Hand On Your Heart’ – you’re probably going to be a bit disappointed with this one. But I think it sounds like we hoped it would sound. It still amazes me that how you translate a song makes such a difference. I mean we know that ‘…Lucky’ has been done as a torch song since 1998, but ‘Never Too Late’ is just so sad with the piano. So sad.
Don’t you think it was always sad though? Why do people need a song to sound sad in order to hear that it is sad?
Well pop just seduces you in such a way that you bounce along singing these lyrics being fooled that you have a great time. Nick Cave said something great about ‘Better The Devil You Know’ – I forget the exact quote but it was something wise about a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Has doing songs like this changed how you feel about them, or did you know what they were about all along?
Well, ‘Never Too Late’ for instance was done so early on in my career that I was just bracing myself and trying to spit out the lines and get it done. There wasn’t much emoting happening. So that song was a revelation to perform in this way. To really mean what I was saying and feel what I was singing.
Do you think pop artists have a harder time than rock artists when it comes to the second half of their career?
Possibly yes – with rock artists, the more wrinkly they are the cooler they are! (Laughs) Rolling Stones, U2, they’re the greatest and they’re still doing it and that’s incredible… I guess you’ve got Barbra Streisand as well. I love to see older performers still going at it. Tom Jones is probably the one for this country – just to be on The Voice every week, and have more energy than most younger artists. I don’t know what I’ll be doing at that stage. My friends all scoff – they say, ‘come, of course you’ll be doing something’. So we’ll see.
With popstars it feels like there’s a constant expectation that they’ll reinvent themselves, and that they need to keep proving themselves, throughout their career. Which perhaps isn’t quite the same for a rock artist where you can just keep going until you fall over.
And then even falling over is good for the image! I do think it’s different, yes.
You know when you were being introduced at the Q awards the other day? And obviously Al Murray was in character as The Pub Landlord or whatever, but the intro was all very ‘here she is, pretty Kylie, I fancy Kylie right lads’ and I wondered if that sort of thing gets a bit boring for you after 25 years of it, and if you think ‘yes well hang on I am more than a pretty face actually thanks’?
Um… I think in that situation he’s just – as a performer – trying to get through. As I was going up the stairs, and as I got closer to him, in that split second you’re just two performers just trying to get by and do what you need to do. And that’s totally fine. And with him being in character I was just glad I didn’t get drenched in beer! So no, that didn’t really bother me.
Was it easier to be a popstar in the 80s than it is now? It seems like quite hard work these days.
Oh I don’t know about that… We all have rose-tinted glasses when it comes to the past. It seems like it must have been easier, but at the time… Well, I don’t even remember half of it because I was going so fast and I was doing so much. I guess the measuring stick was more obvious. You knew where you were – you knew how well you were doing based on how many you’d sold. And nowadays that’s not so true. But I just remember being really busy. It took longer to write and send a fax than it does to punch out an email, and it took equally as long to fly around the world and promote.
It feels like when you first came out the job of the popstar was to make music then promote and tour it, whereas now you need to be a brand and align yourself with other brands and all that sort of thing.
That’s more part of it now, yes. You’ve actually just reminded me of the first video – ‘Locomotion’ – they had to do an endorsement in that. It was Impulse spray! (Laughs) And now it’s such a common thing.
Another thing you said when we last spoke for Popjustice was that the reason you’d made another album, ‘Aphrodite’, was that when you come off tour and you step outside the pop bubble there’s paperwork and real life that needs to be dealt with. And reading back through it the other day, it seemed quite sad, as if you were saying you didn’t know how to operate without a pop structure around you.
Yeah, I guess you could see it as a bit sad.
Is it sad?
I think it’s a little bittersweet. Let me put it this way: there’s a middle ground which I’m sure is a better, healthier, more balanced place to be. But instead of that I tend to do ‘busy busy busy’, then adrenaline gets you going, and you’re firing on all cylinders, and then you have to stop because you get ill, or you catch a cold and you’re out for a week. And then all you can do is rest. And then that creates a little depression. It’s the classic performer’s quandary. That middle ground is hard to find, or settle in.
This is why people do loads of drugs isn’t it?
Did you always feel to comfortable in that pop bubble?
I think as the years go by… Well, in the early days of my touring I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and I was constantly petrified, but touring from 2000 onwards I’ve started to feel like I’ve become competent. You need to go through all the crappy stuff to gain that experience, and then you want to that experience. You want to put it out there again and enjoy having traipsed through all the crap.
So was there a precise point when you felt like the crappy stuff had finished and you’d taken control?
I would say… Well, even with the ‘Fever’ tour, as proud as I was of that tour I was still a little uncertain on stage. So it probably wasn’t until after being ill, coming back onto the road after the ‘Showgirl’ tour stopped. I certainly wasn’t 100%, but by that point I just thought, ‘fuck it’. I thought, ‘I just can’t worry that much, people are enjoying it, I love doing it, so I owe it to myself to try and enjoy it and let go’. In anything you do, the more relaxed you are the better you will be. That’s what I try to do. Well, that’s the idea anyway. I’ll still get stressed about a show, but it was around then that I started to accept who I am. This is who I am, this is where I’m good, this is where I’m not so good, this my voice. As far as live shows go, I still had that monkey on my back from the very beginning about my voice. Aside from it getting better over the years, and me learning how to use it, and having trained myself and knowing technically what to do, I had to accept it before I could let it be. Getting to ‘The Abbey Road Sessions’, I don’t think I could have recorded this album ten years ago. It took until now for me to feel fully confident. It took until now for me to be myself.
Making and releasing this album does seem like a confident move – it’s not the sort of thing an artist would do if they felt they were on the back foot. (Going off on tangent) If it’s a song that I’ve written like ‘Love At First Sight’ or ‘Wow’ or any of those ones, because I’ve done the original delivery, it sounds like me. Whereas with songs that have arrived as a demo, I’m such a good mimick that I can easily sound more like the demo singer. And because the producer, label and I have heard it a certain way on the demo, it stays that way. I don’t know why I just thought of that, but there you go.
If you were to write a pop rulebook, what would Rule One be?
OH PETER! That’s really hard. I’m struggling to find a good answer. ‘Be yourself’ is a good start though.
You mentioned Tom Jones on The Voice earlier. Why have you always said no to being a judge on TV talent shows?
Well I’ve definitely considered them, and I’ve definitely lost sleep over the ‘should I or shouldn’t I’ question. There’s something in me that’s so far said no – whether it’s the commitment that’s required or something else… If for some reason, say someone dropped out, and I had to just step in, I would do it and probably really enjoy it and get really involved. But it’s the thinking about whether to do it or not that’s probably more difficult than actually doing it. I guess if it had been a one-off, never-to-be-repeated thing then I would have said yes, but I know that those shows are going to be around for a long time, so…
So ‘keep asking’ is your message to the world of TV?
Yes! (Laughs) Perhaps… I mean I’m a fan of those shows and of course your Twitter action is as much fun as watching the show itself, and I’m often on the couch shouting out what I want the judges to be saying. But it’s very easy to be a couch participant. When you’re in the moment and when you’re actually on live TV, it’s a lot harder to be in that seat. Whether it spins or doesn’t spin.
What’s the ultimate Kylie song?
IMPOSSIBLE QUESTION ALERT!
Let’s say we’re putting popular culture in a capsule to send into space, which one song do you put forward?
You’d probably have to put ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’ in there, wouldn’t you?
It’s literally a good song.
It really defines that time and I think it’s more of its time than, for example, my 1987 ‘Locomotion’.
What’s happening with EMI? Are you going to Universal? I’m confused.
Well there’s going to be a car boot sale. (Chortles) I actually don’t know the latest. I believe it’s still in limbo but I think Parlophone will remain as a unit, so… We’ll see.
Is it a bit like being picked for teams in PE?
I was always one of the last to be picked for teams at school. I was too small. Hey – unless you’re looking for a wing attack in netball, in which case I’m your gal.
There seems to be a strange sense of finality to all this K25 stuff. Is this going to be the last time I ever interview you?
No! I don’t think so…
Is this Abbey Road album a full stop or an ellipsis?
I don’t think it’s a full stop, no…
You don’t think so?
I’m sure it isn’t.
Basically if you’re sitting there doing a pros and cons list for carrying on and one person’s opinion is going to sway things then you can put me down in the ‘let’s have some more Kylie’ camp.
Well I think there’s more. Recently, with Steve Anderson, I was putting together the setlist for Abu Dhabi – I’m going to be doing a show there soon [WITH NICKELBACK] – and I’m not promoting a particular album, I’m just playing a bunch of hits. And Steve said, ‘okay, which songs are going in?’. And I sat there with a pen and paper and I was trying to remember all my hits. And I looked at the list. And I went, ‘hm, that’s quite a good list’. And I afforded myself a little pat on the back. But I also thought that there’s a lot that isn’t on that list, because I do feel that there’s more to come. There’s something more spectacular to come. I really do think that. Making it or finding it is a challenge – but I’m always up for a challenge. I’d love to go the next level.
Is that reassuring enough? Actually, I think I’ve just reassured myself…