Nine Songs: An Interview with Sophie Ellis-Bextor

 

If recent single “Love is You” sounds familiar, you might just recall the sample it’s built on. The last time that beat was riding high in the charts was August 2000, when Spiller’s “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” became the soundtrack to every WKD-soaked dancefloor from Ipswich to Ibiza, promptly ushering a 21-year-old Sophie Ellis-Bextor into pop stardom.

What’s perhaps more remarkable is the constant evolution she’s worked hard to maintain ever since. Never interested in playing it safe, Ellis-Bextor made a conscious decision that 2014’s Wanderlust would be created independently and without any disco or dance tracks, a philosophy that largely carried over into 2016’s Familia. Both were written with Ed Harcourt, both carried a sophisticated blend of hooks and heart that made them two of her finest records, despite being largely overlooked in various corners of the press. Not that she cares too much about that sort of thing.

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Tune-Yards implore us to listen to other voices, and the way we use our own

When I talk about voices, I am gesturing around the room. It is understood that voices are non-white, female, queer, working class, trans, excluded or otherwise compromised narratives that require underlining in urgent reds and blacks.

The privileged storyteller never hears the sound of their own voice, because – unless they have elsewhere known the feeling that some essential part of their being is second-class – it has never required any validation to be heard. Reading interviews with Merrill Garbus, it’s obvious that she invests a lot of time in thinking about how her own tongue carries the names of the African people and places she’s known and adored: teaching music at a primary school in Kenya; seeing Taarab music live; the ongoing influence of Fela Kuti, among others. For the fourth Tune-Yards album, I can feel you creep into my private life, Garbus chooses to examine the inherent privileges she is afforded by swiping her white-American library card through other cultures, while simultaneously fighting patriarchal bluster at home.

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