I had Hallowe’en parties every year, as it was my birthday five days before. My parents would actually put prosthetic noses on, and my dad would wear a top-hat and tails, put on a fake curly moustache, and hold a pipe.
I feel empathy for people who are trapped in a prison of self-consciousness in an uncomfortable way. We can be free, but we’re so held back. So perhaps that’s why I feel a duty to make my work. I feel liberated when I’m doing it, and I want other people to feel liberated through it.
I cry a lot when I feel empathy. I can feel heartbroken by life, and I cry quite easily, sometimes for no reason. It’s healthy, I think.
To be a great artist, you need to know yourself as best as you possibly can. I live my life and delve into my own psyche. It’s more about exploring how I feel rather than making pale imitations of something that came before. We are unique beings, and the way we look at things is our own.
When I was young, I wanted to be a writer or painter. I was always writing stories, and I excelled at drawing. My teachers encouraged my art work. When I was 9 or 10, I began learning piano and started writing music.
There’s a part of me that wishes I could go out in T-shirt and jeans, ’cause I really love Patti Smith, Cat Power, girls who look so casual; that appeals to me ’cause I guess it’s the opposite from what I do. But I can never let myself just do that – I always have to try and dress up and create something.
I don’t like to be too submissive in the way I dress. I like quite boyish things, so I hardly ever wear high heels.
The record company doesn’t know what to do with me, because I’m not a Lily Allen, but I’m not really an indie artist, either. All the best artists have been in the middle.
I’ve hidden behind my hair more than clothes. Sometimes having long hair with a fringe is very useful when you don’t want to look at people. I used to have very short hair, but long hair is my thing – a black nocturnal shield.
I got really good input up until the age of 11, which is perfect. That’s when adolescence starts, when I would have really wanted to rebel. Up until that point, though, it didn’t feel like doctrine, and it gave me a great moral structure.
I think music naturally wants to be played with more than one person. There’s a surprise element, and you don’t know what it will be, and it’s up to that other person’s energy to help create this third thing.
When I’m doing just music all the time, it can get really overwhelming. It’s always challenging to switch it up a bit. And just because you’re a musician, it doesn’t mean that music is your only creative outlet.
I find the world pretty overwhelming, so I’m getting into meditation and doing lots of yoga. And I love my garden, and I love nature, and I feel like that grounds me and keeps my mind clear.
I want to add something worthwhile rather than just chucking loads of stuff into the world. I don’t want to feel responsible for adding to the soup of mediocrity.
David Bowie worked with Brian Eno and dressed up in extraordinary clothes, but he was also a brilliant songwriter who captured the thoughts of a generation. He was hugely successful, without compromise.
In the music industry, intelligence in women is undervalued.
When I was little, I grew up in a place called Hertfordshire, which is just near London, but out in the country, and I visited Pakistan in the summers to go and see my family on my dad’s side.
I was a nursery school teacher, and I worked with youth groups. I loved that job. It was exhausting, but you got a lot back – all their purity and insight and innocence is so on the surface, and they’re so unrepressed; they’d really scream at you and then give you a massive kiss.
I live in a Moomin house in East London which I fill with blankets and nice crockery and get people round for dinner. When you travel a lot, you feel rootless and adrift – this is my sanctuary, where I can breathe out.
We are bits of energy floating about in various guises, and when we die we rejoin the big cosmic soup of the universe.
When I finally finished the ‘Two Suns’ tour, which went on for quite a long time, I felt like a bit of a husk. And I remember thinking, ‘I need to spend some time in one place, and just be at home.’ So I guess the first year of that three and a half years was spent just trying to kind of get back to normal again.
I don’t think music is the first thing I turn to. For me, I think visual art is more the thing. Sometimes when I’ve been doing music for a while, I can’t really take any more in.
The first album I started out, I just did everything completely alone. I think it has to do with confidence. The more confidence you develop in your own sound, the more you can open up and alchemize that with other people, just set it free, and not feel challenged by that.
Mentorship is really important. I really like to talk to people who have been in the music industry much longer than me about artists’ block, things I’m struggling with, or the music business. It’s really important for artists to have a community. Sometimes you can feel quite isolated.
The creative part of your brain needs to be stimulated. Sometimes you get blocked in the thing you do, because there’s so much pressure to do it.
An album is a whole universe, and the recording studio is a three-dimensional kind of art space that I can fill with sound. Just as the album art and videos are ways of adding more dimensions to the words and music. I like to be involved in all of it because it’s all of a piece.
Each album takes two or two-and-a-half years to finish between recording and touring. It’s like being with an old boyfriend every single night watching the same things on TV. There is a world out there going on that I’m missing.
I was brought up by the English side of my family, who are very repressed and working class. Absolutely lovely, but very English.
I want to communicate to the everyday person. I don’t want to just roll around in my own avant-garde pool of coolness.
I always think that the exceptional people are those who remain outsiders but still communicate on a grand scale. I think I want everyone to feel more free, and so I feel really claustrophobic on behalf of lots of people.
I’m not really frightened by experimenting – that’s the main thing. I really like mixing very old beautiful pieces that are from thrift shops or that have some historical value with quite new futuristic things.
I think Deborah Harry has a really sexy, cool and quite playful sex-kitten kind of style I really like.
There’s this label called Neurotica by these sweet girls that have given me some lovely things to wear, and we might collaborate on making a little piece. They’re really lovely, and I think they’ve been quite inspired by me in turn.
I could talk for ages about how women are amazing, but essentially we shouldn’t be manipulated by the media’s expectations of our bodies. I’d recommend every woman to read ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’ – it’s about being in touch with your more wild, free and powerful side.
I have been listening a lot to The Carpenters and Neil Diamond, Elton John, and thinking, like, ‘God, it’d be great to write a sort of subversive, alternative ballad,’ like Lou Reed does so well with ‘Perfect Day.’ And I really loved ‘Video Games’ – at the time, it hadn’t really got as big, but it’s a classic song; you can’t deny it.
I get invited to premieres, and I’ve been to a few fashion shows and stuff, but I always get really bored. I feel quite awkward. You have to wear something by them, and it all feels like, ‘Why am I doing free advertising for you?’
‘The Haunted Man’ is about communication barriers between men and women, and in that song it’s a woman’s wait for her husband to come back from war. The vision for me was of a group of men and women on the opposite sides of two cliffs, trying to move or sing to each other and communicate, but they’re kind of misfiring.
The way you wield your power is about using it to afford you opportunities that you wouldn’t otherwise have. So I’m very creatively ambitious, and I just hope people notice it; that’s all I want.
I love dressing up.
I quite like androgyny.
I get people being frightened of me. One time I did this photo shoot where I had hairy armpits – I was really digging it, but they were like, ‘We’ll airbrush that out.’
Mum says that, since I was a tiny baby, I’ve had the most strong-willed and stubborn personality known to man. Although that was a real pain for her, she admired my resolve.
It can be frightening to turn your back on what others think is right. But I’m not the same as a lot of people – I’m quite artistic and quite eccentric sometimes. If you honour that, you fit into yourself better – and people accept you for what you are.
Dad was an amazing storyteller and illustrator, which he did in his spare time – very inspiring and dramatic.
There’s something in me that loves to inspire people: when I’m playing music, I imagine all this sparkly stardust going through everyone. I want to make people come alive.
I like it when people make an effort to wear things that you wouldn’t normally put together – I like eccentrics.
I have lots of clothes that I don’t wear because I’m bad for impulse buying. They sit in my cupboard looking forlorn, but if I haven’t worn something for a couple of months, I usually realise that it would be much better off in one of my friends’ wardrobes.
When I was little, people like Talking Heads were on the radio. There was something geeky yet groundbreaking about them.
When I finished touring ‘Fur and Gold,’ I was just like, ‘What am I doing? What do I have? Where is my home?’ I didn’t really know where it was, so I went to New York to try and make it there.
My dad was a Muslim and would pray five times a day. I would pray with him as much as I could, in the morning before school. Sometimes he would tell us moralistic tales about genies, magic carpets and wondrous lands. My mother is not religious – she’s just English.
I usually speak with all my drummers so that I write my songs with them in mind, and we’ll have bass sounds, choir sounds, and then you can multi-task with all these orchestral sounds. Through the magic medium of technology, I can play all kinds of sounds – double bass and stuff.
All of the art that I love is about peeling back layers and delving into something that’s in a subconscious or dream realm. People like Jan Svankmajer, or the artist Yoshimoto Nara, or David Lynch.
I think there’s a karmic purpose that souls make before they decide to come into people’s bodies and become someone’s parent, or become someone’s child. Maybe my dad disappearing was his way of giving me material with which to work, or a predisposition to feel heightened emotions.
When I was writing my dissertation, I wrote about Freud and the process of sublimation, which is when you learn to stop breast-feeding, or stop going to the toilet whenever you want to. It’s about learning to repress a desire for instant gratification.
In a repressed society, artists fulfil a sense of harking back to instant gratification, or immediate expression, by doing things that function on the edge of society, or outside of what is conventionally accepted.