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Interview Deborah Cox

Her remixed smash hits "Absolutely Not" and "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here" were club sensations, but Deborah Cox proves on her new album that she is much more than just a powerhouse vocalist.

On "The Morning After," Cox shows off a sexy, soulful R&B sound that might pleasantly surprise her huge dance following.

Like Whitney Houston and Alicia Keys, Cox was discovered and mentored by music mogul Clive Davis. The Canadian-born singer built a strong R&B reputation after the release of her 1995 self-titled debut album, which included the charted hits "Sentimental" and "Who Do U Love."

With the 1998 release of the ballad "Nobody's Supposed To Be Here," her career began to skyrocket. The single sold more than one million copies, reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spent 14 record-breaking weeks atop the R&B charts while a dance mix of the cut (by Hex Hector) became a club classic.

On "The Morning After" the singer works with an impressive bunch of R&B producers, such as Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Shep Crawford and Jermaine Dupri. The collaboration has led to a mix of both upbeat dance-flavored grooves and laidback acoustic-flavored ballads. Cox co-wrote most of the songs, including the pristine "Hurt So Much" and the hip-hop-infused "Up & Down."

In an interview with Arjan, Deborah Cox expresses excitement about her popularity among gay listeners.

"The admiration and loyalty from my gay fans is amazing," Cox said. "I am not sure why the gay community is connecting with me so much. I am not gay, and I don't know what it is. I am very surprised by it. Gays love glamorous singers and big voices. I guess I am one of those big voices.

"I don't mind being known by gays just for my dance remixes," Cox continues. "I am very serious about their production and adamant about re-singing the vocals, for example, to make sure the song will sound great on the dance floor."

Despite the popularity of Cox's dance remixes, she noted that most of her fans know her from her R&B songs. "My ballads get played on more radio stations than my club mixes," Cox says. "In fact, my urban audiences are surprised to hear about the dance remixes."

In 2000, Cox toured with Lilith Fair. "It was a great opportunity to be in front of a completely different audience," she says. "I have the feeling I won over a couple of new fans Ñ people that would have otherwise never known me. It is such a misconception that certain audiences only appreciate a certain type of music. It really was a nice mixture of women just doing their thing."

She also expresses enthusiasm for performing live in gay clubs.

"Performing at gay clubs is really over the top," says Cox, who delighted fans in her recent tour. "The reaction to me performing live is something that really puts gays into a frenzy. I love to sing live, so the audience gets the pure vocal energy and on top of that my passion for performing. Gays are so appreciative that I put on a decent show."

Cox said she puts a lot of time and preparation into her live club performances and likes to arrange special renditions of songs for the live crowds that encourage audience participation

"It is really great, even though I am still getting used to being up at 5 in the morning," she quips.

March 31, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Annie Lennox Bares Her Soul

AFTER WAITING ALMOST eight years, Annie Lennox plans in early June to release her third solo CD, "Bare." Since her heyday as lead singer of the Eurythmics, Lennox has emerged as one of the most enduring pop vocalists of the last two decades.

After a painful divorce in 2000 from producer Uri Fruchtmann, Lennox, a gay favorite in part because of her androgynous style, shares her despair and triumph in a powerful 11-song CD.

"In a way, this album belongs more on the self-help shelves, than in the record store," the 48-year-old mother of two says. "I knew I had to have some dark shadow in order to gain the stamp -- the certificate of authenticity, as it were.

"And I tell you, I have it now," she declares. "I've earned it. I'm there."

"Bare" is the singer's third solo effort, following "Diva" in 1992 and "Medusa" in 1995. The Scotland native became an instant icon among gay fans after her appearance on the Eurythmics' 1983 blockbuster hit "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)."

Today, her flamboyant stage presence, powerful persona, and songs about unrequited love continue to mesmerize gay fans, among others.

The release of "Bare" is preceded by and tied to "Solo," a theater tour that is landing Lennox on stages across the United States and Europe in April, May and June. She will be at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, April 15, but all tickets for the performance are sold out.

The singer/songwriter believes it is important to share her personal stories in an intimate setting without the distraction of media hype, which is common (and frequently craved by artists) when an album is released.

During a recent show in Tampa, Fla., she and her eight-member band performed a mixture of old hits and new songs on a minimal stage set accompanied by a simple light show.

Wearing dark pants and a black, glittery jacket, Lennox dutifully performed some classic Eurythmics favorites, including "Here Comes The Rain Again," "You Have Placed a Chill In My Heart," "Missionary Man" and "Who's That Girl." She also sang recent solo hits, such as an acoustic version of "No More I Love You's" and a synthesizer-infused "Walking On Broken Glass."

But it was Lennox's self-written material from "Bare" that pushed the audience into a frenzy with its raw, uncompromising lyrics. Songs such as "1,000 Beautiful Things," "Honesty," "Pavement Cracks," and "Wonderful."

"Pavement Cracks" is a mid-tempo ballad that describes the singer's sorrow as she recognizes that change comes, even when it seems it won't.

"In my darkest times, I'd walk with my head bowed, seeing only the cracks in the pavement slabs," Lennox says. "But then I'd notice the weeds pushing up through them, like a metaphor for hope."

Another gripping example of the album's sober storytelling is "1,000 Beautiful Things" on which Lennox shows gratitude for "just being here and now in the world."

The song's acoustic guitar arrangement leaves plenty of room to showcase Lennox's immaculate singing voice. Other highlights of the show included the festive jam session between Lennox and her three background vocalists when they performed the '80s hit "Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves." She also belted out a fierce rock version of "Sweet Dreams," which kept the crowd chanting for more.

Then Lennox concluded with "Why" as she reached out to audience members saying repeatedly: "I know what you feel!"

This is the art that Lennox mastered so well. After 20 years, she still has an uncanny ability to speak directly to and of our hearts.

March 24, 2003 in Annie Lennox | Permalink | Comments (1)

Interview Alison Goldfrapp

ALISON GOLDFRAPP KNOWS what it feels like to be an outsider. The heterosexual singer, who makes up one half of the London-based duo Goldfrapp, is very comfortable with her sexuality. And she believes gays can relate to that.

"Gays are as open about their sexuality as I am," she says. "I have noticed that gays and lesbians confront themselves with where they stand in life, and this makes them very open and tolerant."

Goldfrapp and musician Will Gregory make up England's newest electronica sensation. They are proudly following in the footsteps of other British alternative electro acts such as Soft Cell, Portishead and Cocteau Twins.

The duo recently released its highly anticipated second album, "Black Cherry," in the United States. After their critically acclaimed 1999 debut album, "Felt Mountain," they hope to extend this success to America. They already are very popular in the United Kingdom.

"I hear we have a lot of gay fans in the UK," says Goldfrapp, who likes to keep her age a secret. "I suppose gays like the theatrical, cabaret-esque qualities of our music. [But] I can't really tell who our gay fans are. It is hard to see that from the stage.

"They don't really dance differently or anything like that. I wonder if it matters," she says. "If I am honest, I don't really care who is straight or who is gay. I hate to stereotype people. In the end, we're all sexual beings."

Goldfrapp is not for the squeamish. The duo's music is like abstract art to the ear, with fragmented beats, piercing synths, soaring strings and Alison's delicate vocals. "Black Cherry" has a thickly layered, suggestive quality that creates imaginative landscapes that transport listeners from one sonic mood to another.

SIMILAR TO THE album's surreal artwork, the group's vibe is unpredictable, which might initially create a disturbing momentum but fades quickly after repeated play.

"Black Cherry" has a powerful disco slant. The songs "Tiptoe" and "Strict Machine" are reminiscent of '80s tunes of Giorgio Moroder and Donna Summer.

"I am very inspired by the disco era," Goldfrapp says. "I love the drama and the strings."

The group also revisits Olivia Newton John's gay anthem "Physical," a seemingly odd choice for the offbeat vibes of Goldfrapp. But Alison Goldfrapp shared another view.

"I love that song," she says. "The words, the visuals, it is a great song from the '80s."

"Black Cherry" has a playful sexual undertone, which is a departure from the ambiguity on "Felt Mountain."

"We set out to make an album that is more direct, joyous and spontaneous," she says. "I did not want to stick to the formula that worked before. We both wanted to try something new."

Goldfrapp responds to some of the letters she has received from American listeners who are deeply insulted by the artwork for the single "Train" on the new album.

"The picture features a photo collage of a wolf licking a man's crotch," she says. "It is an artful expression. It was never meant to offend anybody. Perhaps Americans are a bit more uptight about sexuality. I am not sure."

The album's title song is one of the most personal songs on the album.

"All of my world in a grain of sand," Goldfrapp sings, "and I've blown it."

But she prefers not to talk about the lyrics more.

"People can decide for themselves what that is about," she says. "'Black Cherry' is a metaphor for a lot of things. I dreamt about it one night, and I decided it would be the album title."

Alison Goldfrapp is quickly emerging as the leading siren of alternative synth music. She is in full control of the band's creative process and presentation, and even continues her side gigs as a DJ.

"I don't control everything," she laughs. "I don't decide how many records we sell."

March 14, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (30)

Powerhouse Britney Turns "Pop-Corny"

Love her or hate her. I decided to love her. But not unconditionally. When I saw Britney printed on popcorn bags at my local movieplex something struck me. In an effort to promote her new movie, I realized Britney’s massive promotional onslaught was starting to work against her. Powerhouse Britney has become pop-corny, turning her sexy art into a shameful farce.

Crawling on the music scene three years ago, Britney created a teenage girl craze and a high-school boy fantasy with ’Baby, One More Time.’ The anthem that ignited Britney to superstardom, creating a cash cow business that record executives most often only dream about.

Never change a winning team, must have been the credo of Britney’s recording company. All her music albums were a set of cleverly produced pop tunes by Swedish Max Martin. It all sounded very much the same. But it was all cool. It was Britney - what was not to like about her? We adored her and she couldn’t possibly do anything wrong.

Then there was Pepsi. Brit signed a mega-sponsor deal with the mighty soda boys. As official spokesgal for the company, Brit appeared in skimpy Pepsi outfits on television, movie theatres and on zillions of Pepsi cans. There was no way back -- Brit was massive!

The year is 2002. The 20-year old Powerhouse blond is debuting in her first feature movie ‘Crossroads’ and another ad offense kicks off on Superbowl Sunday with a new generation of Pepsi commercials.

But something is cracking…

Is it her make-up? Is it her voice? Is it, oh my, her highly-publicized-but-never-confirmed silicon breast implants? No, it is Britney’s pop throne that is getting shaky at the bottom.

Face it.

Britney’s musical progress is basically non-existent. Her artistry is static with all of her three albums sounding completely similar.

But there is more. In her quest to crossover from teen star sensation to mainstream pop icon, Britney is trying to please all. Being the sweet Disney girl while acting as the sexy Playboy kitten at the same time is clearly a fake, fabricated personality. Fans will recognize this and soon lose interest.

Britney’s management sees the problem. Her latest smash ‘Not a girl, not yet a woman,’ is blatantly created as an excuse for the ’flesh nor fish’ persona she is forced to take on to appeal to all demographics.

There is a better formula to sustain superstardom. Madonna was a teen sensation in the early eighties, but weathered through musical styles and looks for more than 20 years. She stayed on top by reinventing herself, by choosing one style, not compromising her art to satisfy all. This created a level of artistic quality and superstar integrity that has eventually created respect amongst critics and fans.

Pop queen Britney goes corny. She is becoming her own caricature. Hey Brit, take a long vacation and come back stronger and better than before. Surprise us! In the meantime, I will just have my popcorn without you.

March 5, 2003 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Interview with Fischerspooner

"A cultural phenomenon," boasts the CD cover of Fischerspooner’s long-anticipated debut album "#1." The group’s outrageous punk electronica and androgynous personalities are stirring up the music scene and infatuating fellow musicians, fashion designers, critics and hip urbanites.

Fischerspooner’s sensational live act easily compels art aficionados, but it might challenge the comfort zone of mainstream audiences.

The group is the brainchild of visual performance artists Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, who first collaborated while attending the School of the Art Institute in Chicago.

"Fischerspooner is just telling you a story," says frontman Spooner. "But I am not telling you what the story is about until it is over. … I can tell you it is a fantastic story."

Fischerspooner's music is a cocky blend of bleeps and blurbs with a pulsating electro beat, flat synth arrangements and heavy sampling that is reminiscent of '80s electronica and also finds roots in '70s tunes from Kraftwork and Africa Bambaataa.

Fischerspooner became an underground sensation in New York as a visual performance group joined by an alternating line-up of dancers, singers, filmmakers along with wardrobe, lighting and set designers. After fine-tuning their act by performing at eclectic locations, the group went to Europe with performances in Berlin, Barcelona and London.

Their single "Emerge" became an overnight success in the European underground club scene in 2002.

The group’s size and variety change daily, according to Spooner.

"I have no idea how many people are in the group," he says. "They look good, they feel good and they sound good. All of them come and go. Sometimes amicably, sometimes not."

Fischerspooner uses style as substance by merging spastic electro beats with extravagant costumes and asymmetric, pink haircuts.

"The music and the visual aspects are intertwined," Spooner says. "The lyrical content creates the visual idea, and the lyrics develop as the music is written."

The group has a distinctly avant-garde image that they like to play with, Spooner says.

"The only goal is to make something that is entertaining, but interesting," he says. "Maybe the interesting part fucks some people up."

Fischerspooner’s image quickly evolved at the turn of the century, Spooner remembers.

"If I was going to die in the apocalypse at the turn of midnight, I wanted to make sure I had a fucking blast," he says. "I wanted to die glamorously."

The group plays with pop culture elements and turns those into visual art with a purpose.

"I like to find depth in things that are superficial," Spooner says. "There are some trivial and common elements that a lot of people are seduced by and that are referred to as guilty pleasures, such as pop music. Our idea of dressing up, performing and celebrating trivialities turns out to be extremely powerful and meaningful."

By provoking deliberate confusion in their show, Fischerspooner challenges the perceptions of audiences with their play on androgyny and gender. Spooner refuses pigeonholing and denies there is any rationale behind the group’s cross-dressing and gay sensibility.

"The show comes very intuitive," he says. "It is about doing something that feels good. It is really about embracing those things that you’re naturally drawn to regardless of what people might think."

Their philosopy comes from believing people should pursue their desire, Spooner says.

"Gays actually know how to do that very well," he says. "They trust their instincts and let themselves be drawn to things."

March 3, 2003 in Interviews | Permalink | Comments (20)