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British pop legend Alison Moyet explores otherness on her new record

By David Chiu
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On her latest album, Other, Alison Moyet’s songs are observational and topical, told from the perspective of someone on the outside looking in. It’s a unique approach considering the singer’s 35-year career built on romantic hits, first as half of the British duo Yazoo and then as a hugely successful multiplatinum solo artist in the U.K. The record continues her return to synth-pop, which started with 2013’s The Minutes, tackling subjects such as locked-out syndrome, the internet and dyslexia. Before her career-spanning show at Irving Plaza this week, Moyet talked about the personal things that shaped her new record.

Why did you want to work with producer Guy Sigsworth for the second record in a row?
When you’re a woman working in the industry, the assumption is always that you’re not a creative force, that you’re a muse. I’ve never been really anybody’s muse. At the same time, it’s always a bit of a battle to make sure that your voice is heard. The thing with Guy is, it just felt completely equitable. We were speaking the same language.

Was there anything you wanted to do differently this time?
My life changed radically. I sold off my big house, and I moved to Brighton [in England], which is full of diversity and acceptance. As someone who’s never really felt like I belonged anywhere, I found myself at home. The invisibility of middle age really played well for me, because suddenly I was allowed to be the observer in a community that I belonged in. [The songs are] mostly describing what I see.

What kind of insights did that give you for the record?
Here I am as a middle-aged woman where the romantic narrative is not of interest to me. All of my life I’ve been other. Even as a small child, someone always had something to say about the way I looked, the way I carried myself [and] the unusual level of aggression I had in my character that wasn’t expected in a young girl in the ’70s.

The title track is a stylistic departure from the album’s other songs.
It's the most unusual in that it's an acoustic song as opposed to an electronic song. It was really significant to the mood of this record. This talks about this whole idea that as a child being other is a frightening experience. When you get older, you realize how much glad you are other, how glad I am not [affiliated] with what I see so often as the norm, and actually how so many of us are other.

“The English U” is a very personal song for you.
This is a song about my relationship with my mother. I lost her recently lost her to Alzheimer's. The one thing she could still remember was grammar. What mattered to her was that she absolutely hated not seeing a u where it should be in the English language [like colour vs. color
]. I can't find my mum, but I can find her u.

What could we expect from the setlist on this American leg of the tour?
On the whole it’s electro, which means I am able to revisit Yazoo with the same intensity. I'll do [my solo hits such as] “All Cried Out,” “Is This Love?” and then go on to The Minutes and this [new] album. It has a fair spread from my career.

How would you characterize your American fans versus British ones?
In England, I was a very big mainstream act. In the ’80s I was the biggest-selling female act in the country. In America, I’m marginal. I have more of a cult following and what I love about that is I’m allowed to grow. I can get that now in England, but it took me a long time.

Did you ever imagine that you would still be performing 35 years after Yazoo?
No. I’ve never been someone with ambition. I never looked much beyond the day. I come from a very working-class background where we weren’t really expected to have careers. I played in punk bands and I found a place for my aggression. I never thought I was going to be a singer. I was expressing myself with my friends in the way that we could when we had no money to do anything else. How do I feel now? I feel entirely blessed.

Alison Moyet plays Irving Plaza on Friday, September 15 at 7pm (irvingplaza.com). $40.

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