Annie Lennox

Music + Passion + Freedom + Authenticity + Nostalgia + Evolution

Maranda Pleasant: You’ve made such a huge impact on millions of lives, especially women, and you’ve been such a strong voice for so many of us. Before we talk about your album, can you tell me some of the things that you are passionate about?

Annie Lennox: I’m passionate about everything, actually. I’m passionate about life. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific thing, because I think the whole experience of being a human being on the planet is such a mystery, to be honest. Trying to figure out one’s purpose and [asking] “What is it all about?” I guess what I’m passionate about is, I see so many things that I find that there’s no real solution to, and you’re only here for such a brief moment in time, even if you live to be a hundred years old. Yet, what happens within that time frame? So many things happen. Sometimes, I think, How do people stay positive? How do they manage to deal with some of the challenges they have to face? Imagine living in abject poverty and not knowing anything other than that for generations. Or alternatively, imagine being born into a really wealthy family, but there was no real love. Everyone’s living these extraordinary, interesting lives whether they know it or not.

MP: I love that. “Everyone’s living an extraordinary life whether we realize it or not.”

AL: In a way, it’s all down to perception, isn’t it? And everyone has their own take on everything. I mean, each individual is as individual as their fingerprints, and I think that’s extraordinary.

Nostalgia, the title of this album, was really about memory in a strange way and time, the change and evolution of what takes place and what’s left behind. When I referred back to these songs from the ’30s, they’re this incredible archive of deeply moving songs that are testimony to the musicians that performed them. So many people have performed them and recorded them, and now, almost a hundred years later, they’re still resonant, these songs; they’re still about the human theme.

The momentum of time is always going forward. You cannot repeat what has been done before. You can’t go back. That’s so interesting to me, because in memory, you can access something from the past, anything that you’ve experienced that you remember—it’s there. Now, you might have a memento of it in a photograph or in a film or a building or some clothes that you wore. There might be something that connects you to this memory. But all of us are just all caught in this time, whatever that is. It’s a human invention, after all. But nevertheless, we’re all born, and if you’re going to live to be elderly, you’ll have gone through a life journey different than anyone else’s. It’s unique to you, but you’ll have some common themes. We think that this is just our world and we don’t know what other people are thinking. Music actually is a phenomenal connector in that respect. It’s a special language that defines certain boundaries and connects people in a particular way, a very emotional way, I have found.

MP: When I was younger, I remember you gave so many of us women permission not only to be strong but to be super creative and to be different. And you single-handedly came out as strong, beautiful, talented. You came out with these amazing videos. You were not trying to be a Barbie doll; you were a creative artist.

AL: It was a challenge because I didn’t want to be a Barbie doll. I didn’t want to be a passive entertainer. It wasn’t how I wanted to present myself. Obviously, at that time, it’s hard for me to talk in a sense of I, only I, because I was in a partnership. I was in a duo with Dave, and it was a joint vision. So whatever I was thinking and whatever he was thinking, we shared it.

I want to be true to who I am. It wasn’t about fashion. It wasn’t about style. It was about having the freedom to express and be authentic and to explore and not to have to repeat oneself to go forward and to reinvent. Especially around that time, when you could make these videos. We were really getting the kind of opportunities to recreate our music and present it in a visual sense. But more than anything, I think everything about appearance is illusory. People see you, and they think they understand what you’re projecting, but actually, they have their own interpretation of it, or they put a label on you.

I had a number of different labels. A lot of people assumed I was gay because I was wearing a man’s suit, and one had to learn that it’s OK, people will do that, and you don’t always have to explain it one hundred percent, because they’re never going to accept what your own interpretation is. It’s all illusory. Everything is illusory. You cannot label something and feel that that is the beginning, middle, and end of it.

I wasn’t trying to be a role model for anybody. I don’t think that you can. I think that you can only be true to yourself. Nobody can live up to other people’s expectations. You will always let them down. There will always be something they won’t like about you. So you have to be quite grounded, and I don’t know what that is. Sometimes, that means being vulnerable. You say you saw a beautiful, strong woman. I didn’t necessarily always see that beautiful, strong woman, and I felt very vulnerable at times, and to be labeled as a strong woman when you feel vulnerable is a strange place to be, because then you’re, like, “Oh, I have to be strong now. But I don’t feel strong. I feel alienated. I feel isolated. I feel that things are very surreal, and they’re not authentic, and this is all just very overwhelming.” So it’s a lot more complex, in a way.

MP: I think that only when we’re vulnerable can we be truly strong. When we’re vulnerable, we’re compassionate, we’re more sensitive, we’re more feeling, we’re more intuitive. We can connect more.

AL: Tricky, isn’t it? Because vulnerable without strength is vulnerable, and being vulnerable means you can be victimized. There’s a flip side to everything, right?

I think that the thing is, all those years of creating music or trying to express something of a dark shadow, an existential angst that I have felt most of my life and still feel today, to not be overwhelmed by it. Music, in a way, is a great vehicle, a means by which one can express all these somewhat contradictory feelings. One realizes after a long time that, actually, we are contradictory, all of us. We are not consistent. We have both these dark sides and some light as well. To be human is to have a whole spectrum of these experiences that arise within us. As you get older, there will be a new challenge arising. What you thought you’d accomplished once, maybe the goal post has shifted and it’s not what you’re pursuing anymore, because you’re not interested in that anymore, you know?

MP: When you talked about your existential darkness, you hold so much of it, but you reflect so much light. You are so absolutely vulnerable and questioning, but you’re at the same time strong, like “I’m going to do it anyway and I’m going to keep expressing.”

AL: I guess that’s true. I can’t deny that. At times, I’ve been so absolutely terrified of what I was about to do, whether it was public speaking or performance. Whatever it was, sometimes it had me really, really shaking in my shoes, and I decided that I was going to do it no matter what. And, of course, the critic is there, and afterwards, there’s this, “Was it good enough? Was it really all I wanted to say?” I think it takes a lot to put oneself in a place where, you know, that thing about “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” You wonder what the driving force is that makes you want to do that and not just stay in a safer place. For example, I’m not a risk taker physically. I just have no interest in swinging myself off a mountaintop or parachute gliding or skiing down a totally vertical drop. These things don’t interest me in the slightest, but I get so caught up in the color or the texture of the sounds of something. That’s so funny to me.

MP: Is there something about this album that felt important for you to do, or was there something special about this one?

AL: I don’t think I would have recorded this album when I was younger. In fact, I know I wouldn’t have. If I had wanted to, I would have done it a lot sooner. Somehow, I was at a point where I was thinking, I want to do something musical. I don’t know quite what it’s going to be. And there was something I hadn’t done, and that was to explore this particular jazz genre, and I felt that my voice had something in it. There’s a quality in my voice that I wanted to put down in the record, and I wanted it to be there for posterity.

Whether somebody likes it or hates it doesn’t matter. I needed to do it. It was my personal challenge to myself. Not in a competitive way, but it inspired me. I thought, I don’t want to make an album of cover versions of other people’s songs—it’s not that. I have to make something that really interprets these songs in a particular way that brings something fresh to them that people haven’t heard before; otherwise, there’s no point, because so many artists have covered thousands and thousands of different versions. And some of them I actually didn’t know. I didn’t grow up with them. I learned them. I captured them. I assimilated them. I transcribed them. I arranged them. It was very much a labor of love. It truly was.

At the end of the day, the work is done and this album is what it is. Now it’s a kind of journey, talking about it and performing the songs. I wouldn’t have known when I was a teenager that when I was coming up to being a sixty-year-old woman that I’d be making music, I’d be recording music, talking about music, and incorporating my views on the world into the music-making. So it’s a very rarefied place to be, and I’m very grateful for that.

MP: Can you tell me about some of the causes you’re involved with?

AL: I’m very intrigued that in this culture of reality television and celebrity—which is an enormous industry and generates billions and billions of dollars—we’re so resourceful. There are so many things that we could do to change the world in so many aspects. There are people working in nonprofit organizations, tackling the issues that we so desperately need to face, while governments fail so appallingly. It’s extraordinary, the complexity of that fact.

We’re not interested to know the real heroes. We’re really more interested in the villains, actually, and they seem to thrive, and it continues to be business as usual. And the very fact that the planet is probably unsustainable with all that we’ve done to it and are doing to it, it’s an appalling piece of evidence. It shows our complacency, our lack of passion or inclination to be authentic and really understand our true values. It’s consistently depressing, but nevertheless, we carry on. There’s good stuff and bad stuff, but you continue on. I’m not prescriptive—I cannot tell anyone else what to do with their lives, and I’m a deeply flawed individual—but this is it. We’re all just living it and…bless us all.

ANNIELENNOX.COM

PHOTOS: ROBERT SEBREE

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