Almost 40 years after she was known as Mick's girl, rock heroine Marianne Faithfull is now courting a whole new host of younger beaus on her latest album appropriately titled Kissin Time. With the help of admirers Billy Corgan, Beck, Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker and Dave Stewart this 55-year old survivor has created one of her most potent albums of her career.
ConcertLivewire presents an interview conducted by Barney Hoskyns, where Marianne not only discusses her new musical affairs but also strips the covers back and reveals what's really behind each song from Kissin Time.
Why did you call the album Kissin Time?
Marianne: Well, it was the first song we had for the album. It's sort of about Damon (Albarn) and sort of about me. I've been close to Blur for a long time, especially Alex James, who really brought Damon and the others to me. My relationship with Damon is very special, and we know each other very well. There was a moment when the album was going to be called Sex With Strangers or Sliding Through Life On Charm, but all the while I knew it was called Kissin Time.
Sex with Strangers has a very sexy electro-funk groove, but at the same time it's about anonymous, passionless sex - "Completely empty, you have nothing left inside". Are you taking the moral high ground here?
Marianne: I think you know that I'm nothing like people think I am, but we still have to keep a certain illusion. In a way, all my songs are about me. So although she's talking to this man or woman, I'm sort of talking to myself too. At the same time, it was a real event: it was when Billy (Corgan) was staying with me in Dublin, and we started to work. But it was quite hard: we'd do one hour a day, and that's what I call hard work. I had another dear friend staying with me at the time, and one night he got a bit drunk. And I got fed up: I had a completely straight and sober "El Corgan" and a blind-drunk lover here, and I thought, 'Fucking hell, I can't stand this!' And I went into my bedroom in a complete fury and wrote "Sex with Strangers." One of the things I've always said to lovers when I'm really angry with them is, 'You fucker! If this carries on, I'm gonna go out to Merrion Square and have sex with strangers!' It's a line I've got, and I decided to use it. But the high moral ground is for me, it's not a judgement on others. Personally I prefer to have sex with friends. I don't have sex with strangers, and I never have.
What did Beck think of the song?
Marianne: I know Beck loves Serge Gainsbourg, so I wrote a song almost like Serge would have written, a spoken song - very detached, even though it was written at a moment of passion and fury. We recorded the track at Sunset Sound, where Prince made all his great records. Beck knocked the arrangement up in three hours, and then he taught me how to sing it - the breaks in between, the Serge bits, that really alienated thing. If one sang it in a knowingly sexual way, it would fuck it up completely. Although it's certainly not about sex with strangers being good or bad. The fact is, sex with strangers is sexy. We all know that.
On "The Pleasure Song," which you did in Paris with Etienne Daho and Les Valentins, the mood of the track is again quite ominous - not exactly pleasurable.
Marianne: That was a real sleeper on the record, and I didn't like it as it was. It wasn't really right. One of the most wonderful people I've met during the making of this record is Beck's guy Tony Hoffer - he's one of those wonderful little Jack Nitzsche-type people, a little studio-worm whiz-kid. And so what I did was take Pleasure Song and give it to Tony and say, "Come on, Tony, Hofferize this!' There was everything in there but the kitchen sink - you could have taken it anywhere. "Pleasure Song" is interesting, because I wrote it right after I broke my shoulder and had my life flash before my eyes - I realised I could check out without guilt or shame, but instead I twisted in the air and landed on my shoulder instead. It was interesting to learn that I really wanted to live, and it had a big effect on this record, which was already about life and joy.
"Like Being Born" is lovely, very much in the mode of Beck's Mutations. It's clearly autobiographical: and dovetails with your early folk-pop period - it's almost As Tears Go By-ish. Did you collaborate with Beck on the lyric?
Marianne: No, the lyric is straight from the heart, and then Beck wrote this lovely tune for it. He made it into a beautiful gem. The song is about my parents, and it's also about being in love. These songs have to be made into Marianne Faithfull songs - that's inevitable and it would be wrong if they weren't. Beck was the only collaborator where I wrote the lyrics beforehand. I thought, 'Oh fuck, I've got a genius coming here in an hour and I'd better have something done'. "Like Being Born" came straight out of the subconscious, which doesn't happen to me very often. Beck made his own decision to take the song where he did. Jon Brion is on that, on keyboards and on drums. And Beck and Smokey Hormel are on guitars.
"Like Being Born" is like Mutations in the way that "Sex With Strangers" is like MIdnite Vultures. So as well as being the two sides of Marianne, the album also shows the two sides of Beck.
Marianne: Well, that's the way it should be, because it's like a real collaboration. But what I like, of course - and they all think it's hysterically funny - is when I come out with things like, 'Well, I must say, I do think we need real bass on "Sex" - and I meant it. And so Beck called Justin, and Justin came in and put down proper Holland-Dozier-Holland bass -and it really helps.
Did you ever consider calling the album "Like Being Born"?
Marianne: I did, but it's too deep. It's such a deep song. I only realised later - much later - that "Like Being Born" also means "Like Dying." It's the hermetic song of the album - sort of the album's secret.
"I'm On Fire" is gorgeous, almost hymnal. Is that Billy Corgan singing in the background?
Marianne: Yes, along with two fantastic black singers we met in Chicago, Paris Delane and Shawn Christopher. Billy is so smart that he could see I really liked them, and he suddenly said, 'I think we should bring them in to sing on I'm On Fire. And it was a masterstroke, and fantastic fun. The song was the result of an idea I've had for a long, long time, which was to write a hymn - a love hymn, really, because I'm not religious. The person I really wanted to write it with was Brian Wilson, for obvious reasons. And I was dilly-dallying, and very nervous about it, because 1 didn't want it to go wrong. And in the end I decided no, I'm going to do it with Billy.
Who is a huge Brian Wilson fanatic, of course ...
Marianne: Precisely. And I told Billy the whole story, and of course that got him interested! It's one of the reasons these boys like working with me - because I have all these references that they know. And I made Billy think Jack Nitzsche, Brian Wilson, Philip Spector, and a bit of Scott Walker. And this is what he came up with, which wasn't really what I thought it would be. It's all those things filtered through Corgan - but very modern, which is essential. I must also mention the engineer Bjorno, who has become a true friend and was obviously, with Billy, very crucial in every way to our special sound.
"Wherever I Go" is another track you did with Billy in Chicago. It's very pretty, very tender - the tender side of Marianne Faithfull!
Marianne: Well, that's Billy sitting down to write Marianne a hit. And the whole thing about "time is not my gift" is so beautiful. And it may be the single in America, and I think it will work. It'll be played on the radio. What Billy found and was pleased about, was that I still have this pretty pop voice among many others -1 can still do that. And he worked me very hard to get it. He really, really bossed me about. Beck sort of liked my odd croak, but Billy wanted it perfect. Which was why I went back to Salt Lake City, where he was writing and working up his next band with Jimmy Chamberlin and Matt Sweeney - who I absolutely love. We had a wonderful time in Salt Lake City, and I did get the perfect vocal for "Wherever I Go."
"Song For Nico," written with Dave Stewart, reminds me of the Pet Shop Boys' hit, "Nothing Can Be Proved" - the way you talk about "Andrew" [Loog Oldham] is not unlike the way Dusty Springfield talks about "Mandy" [Rice-Davies] on that song
Marianne: I think it's one of the best things I've ever written, and I'm very proud to have written it with Dave. I write these songs about other people - like Broken English is about Ulrike Meinhof - but they're really always about me. "Song For Nico" /s a song for Nico, and it's literally about her, but at the same time it's a mask that I can put myself into. The difference between us is that Nico had tremendous injustice in her life, and I've had tremendous luck. And Song For Nico is balancing that as best I can. I think her music was wonderful, and people have never really got that. And the line about Alain Delon being a "cunt" is said so beautifully and politely that nobody even realizes what I've said. I love what Nico represented, and I think she had shocking bad luck. Dave Stewart and I had written a couple of songs for a film, and obviously I'm a big Eurythmics fan and I like him very much.
What was the genesis of "Sliding Through Life On Charm," the song Jarvis Cocker wrote and co-produced with Pulp for you?
Marianne: I'd been trying to write this song for 20 years, always getting stuck because I couldn't find a fucking rhyme. And I thought, when I see that Jarvis Cocker - so I grabbed him in this television studio one day and said, Now, look, I want you to take this title and go and write a song from it. And off he went. And then he took another year and a half before I got it - and then it took another year before I understood it enough to record it. It was the first song I got for this record and I've managed to build everything around it like a beautiful jewel.
Are you going to release a cleaned-up version of the track?
Marianne: It's such a fucking heavy manifesto, that song. Jarvis has done a brilliant radio mix where he doesn't hide anything, he just drops the words out - "snatch", "fuck" etc. Really it would be my greatest dream to hear "Sliding Through Life On Charm" on Radio One and to have it on Top of the Pops.
What about "Love and Money"?
Marianne: That was written with my dear friend David Courts, who also wrote Vagabond Ways and Truth, Bitter Truth with me. Dave is the man who made the famous skull ring for Keef. I've always loved the song, and we've tried to re-record it several times, but we could never get it as good as the demo. It's quite a strange feeling for me, because it's so rough, but it sounds rather wonderful. Something I learned when I was doing the Weimar cabaret was that you have to give people's ears a break, give their emotions time to settle. You can't go from Mack The Knife to Ballad of the Soldier's Wife, because people's hearts will break. And in a little way, that's how Love And Money functions.
The version of Beck's "Nobody's Fault "sounds uncannily like the Super Furry Animals' "Rings Around the World." Was it a song you thought about doing when you first heard Mutations?
Marianne: When I first heard the song I said, 'That's a Marianne Faithfull song'. Jon Brion is all over the track on drums - Justin's on bass, and Beck and Smokey are on guitars. That really is the most organic track on the album, apart from Love and Money and Kissin Time. Real music played by real great musicians in real time, really doing it.
You were about to do "Kissin Time" with Damon and Blur when we last met, so tell me how it went.
Marianne: Well, it's all a bit of a Blur, actually! It's a Damon / Marianne song, but the track, once again, is four musicians playing their hearts out, with that wonderful man Ben Hillier, who helped to produce it.
It sounds like something off Dr John's Gris Gris - that late-Sixties voodoo-mantra kind of groove.
Marianne: I said that to Damon and got this moment of unbelievable modesty from him. He said, 'Well, I don't know about that, if it was Dr. John it would really be a masterpiece.' And I went home and thought, well, he's probably right, but even to sound a little bit like Dr. John isn't bad. And Alex and Dave [Rowntree] should be very proud, because really Dr. John the Night Tripper comes out of all that - out of the play between the bass and the drums.
Why didn't you collaborate with any women on the record? Might you do a whole album with girls next time?
Marianne: I made this record with the boys that I had at hand, and I think it was the right choice. But the next one will definitely feature Polly Harvey, who is such a great girl and who I'm going to write with very soon. There are not many women I want to work with apart from Polly, though there are one or two.
More Marianne Faithful
Concert Review - Chicago, IL Sept. 13, 2002
CD Review - Kissin' Time