Annie Lennoxs fourth solo album may not be her best (that accolade belongs to 1992s Diva), but thanks in part to Sing, her much-ballyhooed collaboration with Madonna, Cline Dion, and Gladys Knight, among others, it may be her most ambitious. The opener, Dark Road, and its immediate successors (Love Is Blind, Smithereens, and Ghosts in My Machine) represent some of her strongest offerings to date, her brooding introspection tempered with spry, robust melodies. In one of her few interviews for the U.S. press for this album, the 52-year-old singer discusses her process, the problem with men, and why we need to care more about Africa.
Out: How do you feel when you look back at the Annie of 25 years ago?
Annie Lennox: Its quite intense, its a hell of a journey, a load of work, and a lot of aspirations to achieving things, artistically, and in all kinds of ways that now, I just think, How the hell did we as the Eurythmics ever do that? It took me a while to assess the whole thing, to take stock of it, and I started to do that about four years ago. I had this warehouse that was all full of awards and disks and things, and I took it upon myself to start to be accountable for these things and got them out of their bubble wrap and their dusty filthy whatever, and it was a kind of clearing, symbolically, because Id never really thought much about it. An artist is always going on to the next, its always more interesting -- next, next, next -- whats done is done and youre on to the next. At that point I thought Id like to take stock of everything, take photographs of everything and put it on a Web site that will launch hopefully in October called Annie Lennox: The House of Meand it is a house, and the rooms will enable you to see all the things that used to be wrapped in bubble wrap under dust, things that I didnt used to think about very much. I love the idea of a virtual world that you can step into; theres your lifes work, theres the body of it, and you can keep adding to it, and I find that really interesting.
And for Annie junkies, even more of an insight into your life and work.
Definitely an aspect of it. No one -- unless theyre my really close friend -- can really know me, any more than I can really know anyone else. Thats whats so interesting about our existence: How well do you actually know a person? People assume they know me, but actually its my projection. I never got into anyone myself in that kind of way; I love peoples work, but Im not obsessively interested in the minutiae.
But I think theres a dichotomy there for all musicians and especially musicians like you. Your music is so emotive that listeners are inevitably going to create a relationship with you because of it.
Thats dead interesting because I was just with someone earlier today -- a lovely guy called Jason who comes to fix my computer when it goes down -- and he said, Oh, I forgot about who you are as Annie Lennox; I see you as a human being. [laughs]. I said, Thank god for that. Very few people would ever have that experience, of others not quite seeing them as human, but then I would feel that way of other artists too, because Im a bit in awe of other artists, but nevertheless its terribly important to be a human being.
From this perspective it seems there will always be at least two Annies: public Annie, the Annie of the music, and the private Annie.
The thing that I didnt buy into was the celebrity industry, but Ive tried as much as I can to stay beneath the radar, because I can see that is a really odd place to be, and people seem to want it, and they want it for the wrong reasons. They yearn for this so-called celebrity-dom, but they have nothing to offer behind them, so its just them -- its just them wearing a dress, or its them showing up at a party, or its them having their pubic hair photographed as theyre getting out of a limousine, and Im like, Shit, that is scary, I dont like that. I see that as a goldfish bowl that doesnt appeal to me, and the only reason for it is because it makes money. Thats the only reason: money. The idea of celebrity for celebritys sake and not driven by real talent in a sense. No artistry or social commentary or intelligence or creativity or anything else. Its what Warhol predicted all those years ago, and were getting it back in spades, and were getting it back because were asking for it. Were feeding the monster, and its built on peoples lack of self-worth, inferiority, and they are looking to others, and at the same time they desire their downfall. Its a slightly sick phenomenon, I think.
With all your albums, I often feel like Im in one of your therapy sessions, and if they find an audience thats great, but theyre really songs written for yourself.
I cant write a song for an audience, because I dont know how to do that, so its an expression of ones innermost feelings, but at the same time its universal. Life is paradoxical. I can be intensely private and incredibly open at the same time, and I can also be very straightforward and very complicated, or I could be an immensely dark person and at the same time have so much light potential. Its not that people are hypocrites, its that we contain these contradictions.
Although listening to your music I get the feeling that you find more of your material in pain as opposed to pleasure. At one point you quite literally scream, Come and take this pain away.
Yes, well Im struggling with it. I think everyone struggles with pain, and I think somehow externalizing it transforms it into something of beauty and power.
In contrast to your last album, Bare, the melodies themselves seem more upbeat and that creates a great tension with the lyrics. Its very compelling.
Its weird, but I started to discover that I had another aspect to my voice that I hadnt encountered before, and it was kind of more open or raw, and it made me feel that I was almost channeling deep Mississippi Delta blues, or some kind of spiritual place, very black, real black African. Its something in me, and it comes out of me, but Im white and Im not pretending, but thats the place where I feel most authentic, when Im singing like that.
And youve always gravitated to singers like that -- you covered Dusty in your Tourists era, and there was your collaboration with Aretha on Sisters Are Doing It for Themselves. And on Sing, on this album, you collaborate with a bunch of female vocalists, including Gladys Knight. What was the idea behind that?
I think it was a question of timing. I almost never write a song with a preconceived notion behind it, but I thought, Look, Ive got this opportunity, and I need to fuse my activist concerns with my artistic vehicle, and since going to South Africa several years ago, where I met Nelson Mandela, I started to understand the enormous impact that HIV and AIDS have had in the form of the pandemic that has devastated people in this country by the millions and when I heard Mandela describe this pandemic as a genocide, I really sat up and took notice, and thought, The world doesnt know it. It might know that theres an issue with HIV/AIDS in Africa, but it doesnt know theres a genocide going on, and it became my moral imperative from that moment on to try to become a voice for this issue, especially for women, because women very often do not have a voice. They are very often victims of domestic violence or domestic abuse, and they are in fact the mothers, the ones who are giving birth to children who, if their mothers could get access to anti-retroviral treatment, would have a chance of being born free of the virus. I feel incredibly strongly about this issue, and Im not leaving it alone. You know, the abolitionists came in and changed slavery. This is, to me, a very similar story. Slavery hasnt gone away, and people who are raising peoples consciousness about social injustice are coming to it from the historical viewpoint of the abolitionists.
Whats the solution?
I think at the moment there is a great deal of shift. If you look at the great number of grassroots organizations, there are people working on the front lines, millions of these organizations, and I just dont understand why Paris Hilton is more interesting than a woman in a hospital trying to save peoples lives against all odds in a flood of death. These people are absolutely incredible and heroic, and we need to celebrate that. That leads to social awareness and a drive for change. The HIV epidemic in Africa could have been dealt with really effectively 10 years ago, but unfortunately President Mbeki and his health minister took a denialist stance, and a generation has been wiped out -- millions of children have been left as orphans. Sorry, Im talking very stridently, but I feel really strongly about it. Im not interested in what Lindsay Lohan is doing, bless her; she might be going into rehab for the third time, but its not about Lindsay Lohan, its about the media driving this complete inane pointlessness. I dont get it.
Youve always had a huge dedicated following among gay men. Have you given any thought to why that might be?
Ive thought about why historically gay men are drawn to somewhat emotive, dramatic female singers. They seem to identify with them very strongly. The more developed female side of a homosexual man must identify with pain and femininity in some way.
Several of the songs on this album are addressed to women. Do you think men are the problem in our society?
Yes, I do. I think theres something really odd about the testosterone-driven need to go to war, and fight, and the ego thats so insatiable, so power hungry, and yet so insecure. I slightly despair, in a way, of women ever having reasonable partnerships with heterosexual men, because I think were just such different creatures, on such different planets. I think thats why homosexual men seem to get on so much better with each other, because they know their own mind-set so much better.
Does it matter to you that youre not in a relationship?
I think relationships, whether friendly or intimate, are immensely complex, and certainly my position doesnt simplify things particularly. It hasnt been a smooth journey -- Im just trying now to be the best human being I can, and Im learning, and sometimes I do despair, thats obvious, but theres a good reason to live, and there you have it. Ive just come back from South Africa where Ive been with orphans who have no mother or father, and no close family to even take care of them, and I think thats kind of pretty tough, so if Im not in an intimate relationship thats not the worse thing in the world.
Your relationships do seem to have had a powerful influence on you?
Yeah, well, I feel things really strongly. All my relationships have been very intense in all kinds of ways, and obviously Ive drawn from that. At the end of the day, when alls said and done I do want to be a loving person, thats the ultimate thing that all human beings can be -- a respectful, loving person.. Its just never been that simple.
Does God exist?
It depends whos using the word God and how theyre using it. God is a term to describe the universal life force and its manifestation in all its life forms, which is highly mysterious, and some organized religions have come up with some books that are supposed to explain it all to us. The only trouble is, when I see how they behave I dont see much love, compassion, or respect. And so those dogmas concern me, because they deal with an us versus them, and I think God is surely inclusive of all things, because that is the Creation after all.
Do you communicate with fans on Myspace.
Yes! I have a little forum going on, I love it. Its marvelous, because theres no middle man. Through MySpace, if I want to send a statement or a blog, its direct, its for me, and theres no censorship, or even an editor, its just me.
In an interview in The Face in 1985 you said, If I disappear tomorrow, not many people would remember me. Thats obviously not an option any longer, but how would you like to be remembered?
How long will we have to wait for the next Annie Lennox album?
Now that Ive created this album Id like to be more forthcoming with my musical output, definitely. The future is interesting, because my dream is that Sing is a kind of brand name of a project that can go on in partnerships with other female artists to raise awareness and hopefully financial benefits too, for grassroots projects.