[T]he moment you hear the line “It’s been seven hours and fifteen days” you can’t help but singing “since you took your love away” It’s one of those lines that brings back to memory that simple, and yet unforgettable video, Sinéad O’Connor forlornly staring you out with those fearless eyes.
It’s been a little longer than seven hours but after two years, the Irish singer-songwriter is releasing her tenth studio album, titled I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss and after almost thirty years in the business, she deserves such a title. After all, her breakthrough hit “Mandinka” is dated 1987 and since then, we’ve seen Sinéad shave her head, sell millions of records with “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got, boycott the Grammys, “fight the real enemy” on SNL by tearing a picture of the Pope into pieces on live TV, and more recently spar with Miley Cyrus. And did we forget to mention that she has also been ordained as a priest along the way? The glue between success and controversy has always been her powerful and moving voice and the ability to write fragile, and yet strong, honest lyrics. In her latest work, Sinéad is all woman, approaching the subject of love à la Tori Amos, through different characters, lust, theology and illusions. Hunger TV goes on this journey, track by track, with the Irish national treasure, to find out why women shouldn’t think with their dicks and why nothing compares to Lady O’C.
HOW ABOUT I BE ME
“A woman like me needs loveA woman like me needs a man to be stronger than herself”
WOULD YOU RATHER BE A MAN OR A WOMAN IN YOUR NEXT LIFE?
I don’t have the benefit of the wisdom that one might have, if one was not limited by being in a human body, in order to make a responsible choice. I imagine that I’d want to be whichever is going to be at the best service. This opening track came together because, about three years ago, I wrote some very funny articles for an Irish newspaper about sex. Ireland is a very sexually repressed place and these articles caused great scandal among the media for their naughtiness. The song was my response to their response and it’s also the title of my previous album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? I have recorded the song about two years ago but it was a reggae version, so it didn’t quite fit with the sound of that album and I decided to rework it for this album and make it more of a pop song.
DENSE WATER DEEPER DOWN
“Hijacked kiss made me feel in bliss And he’s the only love I miss”
HOW DID YOUR APPROACH IN WRITING LOVE SONGS CHANGED OVER THE YEARS?
I don’t really think that I have ever written love songs before, certainly not very much. What happened is that I got very interested in what you call “Chicago Blues” which is a happy, funky blues; people like Elmore James, Howlin’ Wolf, Magic Sam and a guy called Willie Dixon who wrote nearly every blues song that you could imagine. Everything that we know as rock music came from blues and I was watching a lot of what these guys had to say about songwriting. They were talking about keeping things simple and to not sugarcoat things, even the good things and happy moments. I suppose I began to write about characters in the last few years and I also started getting some songwriting lessons really by watching these guys on YouTube. All they were writing was love songs, and with religious or love songs there is a very fine line between corny and cool so you have to be careful and stay on the right side. I love this song; I actually wrote it about fifteen years ago and I had a much longer version of it on another album, but it got put out on a sort of closing down record company. I always wanted to take it and chop it down.
KISSES LIKE MINE
“I have a heart that flies away Betrays me every day But don’t let it stay heavy on your mind I’m just not the keeping kind”
IS IT HARD TO BE YOU IN OUR SOCIETY? SOMEONE OUTSPOKEN AND THOUGHT-PROVOKING?
The song is just a pop song and the only three songs on the album that are autobiographical, or personal, are the opening track, “Dense Water”, “Deeper Down” and “8 Good Reasons”. The other tracks are all characters that I invented. As for your question, it is not hard to be someone who speaks her mind but sometimes it’s hard to live with the consequences of doing it, but that’s OK. It’s part of the adventure
YOUR GREEN JACKET
“Oh how I wish that I could sell myself to you And do the things that only lovers do Meet me at that crazy apple tree in heaven We’ll go dancing all night”
ARE YOU REFERENCING ADAM AND EVE AND THE APPLE TREE IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN?
No, and it’s funny that you say that because this is something I’ve always said to my kids over the years when they were going to sleep. I had an apple tree and heaven in my mind so I’d say to them “OK, we’ll go to sleep now and we’ll meet you at the apple tree and go dancing”. I wasn’t thinking about Adam and Eve but it’s an interesting observation.
THE VISHNU ROOM
“Because Vishnu lives at the core of my heart Vishnu is and Vishnu starts”
THERE IS A SEXUAL YET SPIRITUAL TENSION IN THIS TRACK. HOW IS YOUR PURSUIT OF FAITH GOING?
It’s really more about sexuality. The Hindu theology believes that sex and sexuality is a sacred connection with the divine and this is one of the reason why I like it. I would subscribe to that belief that no matter how filthy or sweet sex may be, or everything in between, it’s a sacred thing. Even if you are doing it with a total stranger, actually. The line you mentioned is from a teaching and Vishnu is the equivalent of the Holy Spirit who lives at the core of your heart, the place from where you love and God is in. I had this thing from probably before I was even born; the fact that I came into this world and, I suppose, I was lucky that I was born in Ireland. At that time it was a Catholic theocracy, so I was the type of child who only took on the good part of that and I believed in Jesus. I still do, and I like to study theology from all kind of different religions but I’ve seen that God and religion are not the same thing. In fact, religion is a deliberate obstacle to God and that’s the reason why it exists. It actually creates a barrier between people and God. Everybody can choose to believe in whatever they want to, as long as they are doing to harm to anybody; we are all different and that’s why there are so many flavours of ice cream. I do believe that religion is doing harm to God and cleverly got everybody talking to the wall. When you study Jesus, He instructs you to talk to God, not to the church; He talks a lot about the science of prayers and the power of the spoken words but you see, if you don’t speak in the right place, the science can’t work. No matter how much you are praying. God gave us free will which is possibly a mistake, or at least it’s regrettable, so he can’t intervene unless we ask it and religion have us asking it in the wrong place. We could fix the world very quickly if we’d just ask for what Jesus told us to ask for, and that is not what we want but what the Holy Spirit intends for us. It’s my passion as a belief and knowledge that God needs to be rescued from religion
THE VOICE OF MY DOCTOR
“When I opened my eyes in your bedroom Saw a painting of a bald lady”
WHAT DO YOU ALWAYS TRY TO REMEMBER TO YOURSELF?
As a songwriter, to be emotionally honest but with as few words as possible. To only use the words that I really need. This song was genuinely inspired by a kind of Vietnamese painting I saw in a shop. It was just a giant, concrete head and face of a man and there was one little tear going down his face. He took up most of the frame and beside him there was a tiny buddha priestess leaning on his cheek. When I saw it, I just begun to ask myself many questions about what was actually happening in the painting. That’s the way you work when you write a song.
“No man is her father She fought for something holy Found only the dreams of Don Quixote”
THERE QUITE A BIT OF ANGER IN THE WAY YOU SING THIS TRACK…
There are approximately four female characters on the record, apart from myself. One character appears in about six songs starting with “Your Green Jacket”. The central character is going on a bit of a journey where she’s learning the difference between illusion and reality when it comes to matters of romance. Tracks like this one, where she appears, are conversations with the man that she loves and by the time “Harbour” begins, he has asked her to explain some marks that he has found upon her. The song is her answer to what’s gone on before.
JAMES BROWN (with SEUN KUTI)
“I know I may look a little square I know I look like a wooden chair”
WHAT ASSUMPTIONS MADE BY PEOPLE HURT YOU THE MOST?
What hurt me the most was that I’ve never got the Rear Of The Year Award, because I’ve secretly had the greatest ass throughout all of these years and no one knows. Kylie Minogue won it! It’s the one thing about me that has never been understood the most: how great my butt is! I could still win it though! I’m sorry, I’m just joking with you because I’m trying to not take myself too seriously. Back to the song, this is not the central character but it’s not me either. I guess I just wanted to create different characters, write love songs and have a very romantic record but I also wanted to perhaps show the different types of woman that even one woman might be. The central character is this very romantic woman but she also has these other parts which are represented by other more naughty characters, in “Kisses Like Mine” and this one. I think there is a bit of every character in each woman; it’s just a question of whether we express all of those parts or not.
8 GOOD REASONS
“You know I love to make music But my head got wrecked by the business”
IS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT BEING IRISH THAT HELPED YOU COPING WITH THE BUSINESS?
Strangely and ironically it was the fact that I had a Catholic upbringing. I really believed what I was taught about Jesus in particular, and the Holy Spirit. That was the thing that kept me alive during my childhood and led me into music. It’s the thing that led me to deal with pretty much anything in life. At the same time, I was able to see beyond Irish’s theocracy in a way, so it helped me through.
TAKE ME TO CHURCH
“What have I been singing love songs for? I don’t wanna sing them any more I’m the only one I should adore”
DOES HAVING FOUR CHILDREN CHANGE THE KIND OF LOVE THAT WE HAVE FOR OURSELVES? AS FOR THIS SINGLE, YOU LOOK BARELY RECOGNISABLE IN THE PROMO PICTURES…
I don’t think anything makes it better or worse; it’s not like a switch that you can flick. It doesn’t come from outside or inside you in the form of a baby, it’s an understanding that you reach one day and you wonder “Ah, OK, I get it now!” It was just a way to attract the public and media attention to the album, that’s the only reason. It was not supposed to be the album cover in the first place, I just wanted to throw out two publicity shots and to put on a wig and a dress because nobody ever saw me looking like a woman. I knew that everybody around the world would run the shots and would have to mention the album but then, the record company asked if they could use one of these shots for the album cover. It was a purely calculated publicity stunt. It did the trick.
WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?
“Colour all gone, no iris in sight I saw darkness where I should have seen light”
WHAT HAPPENS TO THE CHARACTER IN THIS SONG?
She has been singing to this man through many songs by now, even though they are not together, and she has these ideas about him, like that he’s a lovely man for example. What happens now is that she has a brief experience with him, and it turns out that she gets quite afraid. This causes her to examine how she found herself in this frightening situation and, as you can see from the end of the album, she begins to talk about safety. It’s basically her response to the fright she has got after receiving what she wished for. “Take Me To Church” is her eureka moment and she decides that she’s got to be very careful about what kind of songs she writes in the future because all of that romanticising, led her to get what she wanted but, what she thought she wanted, was very frightening and unsafe. In the last track she understands that what she wants mostly is to be safe and what she was actually longing for was herself.
“If I were dying, if I were dying What would I want, what would I want with me?”
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
A peanut butter sandwich! Music I guess, and playing live. The line you mentioned sees the character talking to herself and not to him anymore. “What would I want with me?” We’re all supposed to live as if everyday was our last day and, if this was her last day on earth, would she want this guy around her? The answer is no, and in fact, what she thought was love for this dude was actually an illusion that led her to that frightening situation. She finally takes these informations and use them to transform herself instead of responding negatively. Her longings switch towards herself and she’ll make safer decision in the future about what kind of man to be with. She’s not gonna be thinking with her dick! You could really encapsulate the record into that; the first half, she’s thinking with her dick, and then she gets five minutes with the man and decides to never think with her dick again! She decides to be careful about what she asks for.
I’m Not Bossy, I’m The Boss is released on August 11th
Sinéad O’Connor live at London’s Roundhouse on August 12th – Tickets http://www.roundhouse.org.uk/whats-on/2014/summer-sessions/sinead-oconnor/