Silver Eye, the seventh album by the electronic duo Goldfrapp, is centered around the idea of the moon – the silver eye hanging in the sky. On this expansive, often gorgeous LP, themes of ritual and transformation clash with steely electronics and thumping beats.
Silver Eye represents a few new directions for the long-running duo. Not only did Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory work intensely with producer John Congleton (St. Vincent, John Grant) on the album as a whole; collaborators like composer-producer Bobby Krlic of the Haxan Cloak and guitarist Leo Abrahams also added their input on individual tracks, while Alison helmed the striking visuals for the album, including the video for lead single “Anymore.”
Rolling Stone caught up with the pair via phone to discuss the album’s “elemental” themes, their desire for a darker sound and how Instagram gave them a whole new visual outlook.
When did you start writing Silver Eye?
Alison Goldfrapp: About two years ago. We toured Tales of Us for about a year and a half, and then we took some time out to work on a play that we did some music for – a modern take on a Greek tragedy. It took us a while to find a way of doing it that didn’t sound too much like Supernature or Head First – we wanted to do something a bit different. One new thing for us was writing with some other people.
When were collaborators like Bobby Krlic brought in?
Will Gregory: We both knew about the Haxan Cloak and we were tossing about, as we quite often do, for maybe a third ear or another head to come in and give us something that maybe we couldn’t do ourselves – or a fresh approach. I think by then we also knew we wanted [Silver Eye] to be darker and more minimal and tougher maybe than some of the other stuff we’d done, so he seemed like a very good candidate for that; we really liked his work with Björk [on her 2015 album Vulnicura] and we really liked his own stuff. It was great that he was able to come over – he’s very quick, too.
What drew you to the moon as the album’s central symbol?
Goldfrapp: There’s a lot of moon in the whole theme of the album. I don’t quite know why – I guess I look at it a lot. I find it very comforting that it’s still there and relatively unscathed by human beings. It still holds mystery, which it seems like a lot of things in our daily life don’t.
Gregory: What’s it called when it goes red? Is it a blood moon?
Blood moon, yeah.
Goldfrapp: The blood moon featured quite a bit on Tales of Us, actually. It’s a constant source of inspiration. The elemental is a theme throughout; I like the juxtaposition of the organic with the metal sound of the music as well. I like those kinds of clashes; I’m kind of interested in the whole idea of human versus nature, and science versus nature, and the idea of ritual and mysticism and all these things. That kind of landscape – volcanoes, the desert – is evocative of those things, and it’s been inspiring for so many artists and musicians throughout history, really. It’s become a backdrop or metaphor for our psyche.
The video for “Anymore” is striking – especially the contrast between the volcanic desert landscape and the red cape.
Goldfrapp: They’re elemental colors, aren’t they? They’re kind of fiery and –
Goldfrapp: Earthy and evocative of lots of things – blood, death, volcanoes, things literally bubbling under the surface. Dramatic, passionate stuff.
You directed that video, and your photography is part of the Silver Eye packaging. How did that come about?
Gregory: It was Will’s idea, actually. But it just seemed to make quite a lot of sense – I’ve been getting back into photography. And on a practical level it made a lot of sense, because it’s so much cheaper for me to do it than to pay someone else. But it was really good fun. We’ve always been giving ideas to a director; they start from us, but always end up being through the prism of someone else’s eyes. Doing it ourselves this time feels like a truer representation [of our vision].
What kind of cameras did you use for the photography? I know you’ve been posting your own photos to Instagram.
Goldfrapp: I got a digital shutter release for self-portraits. It’s a bit like a key fob – it looks a bit like I’m about to open the key of a car door. It’s weird. The camera is just a Canon 5D.
Instagram definitely got me back into taking photographs, without a doubt. It’s really interesting how it’s such a massive thing, isn’t it? The self-portrait is a whole other level now. Obviously we’ve been doing self-portraits for hundreds of years, but we’re just seeing them on a mass scale now and it’s really interesting.
I love looking at people’s Instagram. I feel like it’s opened up a whole world. I love looking at other people’s lives – people who live in New Mexico in the desert, or people who I’d never ever get a glimpse of their life otherwise. And it’s so much nicer than Twitter or Facebook or any of those things because it is just pictures.
You’ve reposted shots from [Silver Eye producer] John Congleton’s Instagram, too. What drew you to work with him?
Goldfrapp: John Congleton’s Instagram, by the way, is hilarious. His stuff is so funny.
Gregory: He likes English humor, doesn’t he?
Goldfrapp: Yeah, he’s quite … what’s the word?
Goldfrapp: He’s got that in his sound a bit. Working with him was as unusual a situation for him as it was for us.
Gregory: He normally sees things through from literally the first note that’s written to the end, and his producer role becomes like a composer role as well. He told us up front that he wasn’t used to working with nearly finished projects.
Goldfrapp: We’d written everything.
Gregory: We wanted him to take things out that he thought weren’t necessary and he did. He took a lot of things out. Some of them were probably were necessary, we discovered later, but it was a really useful process. Sometimes what you see is the thing that’s holding the whole thing up – you’d never think of taking it away. But he was fearless. It was like somebody throwing everything up in the air and seeing what sticks to the ceiling.
Goldfrapp: Fearless is a good word to describe him. He just says what he thinks, and he’s not frightened to tell you what he thinks, which is actually really helpful. You kind of need that sometimes.
Gregory: Yeah, you don’t want a producer saying, “Well, what do you think?” We haven’t got any time for that.
Alison, the photo of the giant eyeball that you had the view of while staying in Dallas was really something.
Goldfrapp: It seemed to represent a lot of what was going on in my mind at the time. Every time I opened up the curtains, it would be staring at me. It was quite odd. And that heat – that August Dallas heat – was so intense.
Did that affect any of the writing?
Gregory: There is some heat shimmer in there, isn’t there?
Goldfrapp: Yeah, mirage, now that you mention it.
How did the song “Become the One” come about? I read that it was inspired by the documentary My Transgender Summer Camp.
Goldfrapp: That song is actually one of my favorites. I was really inspired by the girl in that film. Watching how articulate she was about her feelings was very touching and moving. She says, right at the end of that film, “I’m not changing. I’m just becoming the person I know I am.” I just thought that was kind of amazing, to be able to say something so poignant. You can apply that thought to anything in your life, really. If you can just find that confidence in yourself, or look within yourself, you can be this other thing. … Maybe that’s how I was feeling at the time, too – in a state of transformation.