Interview: Up close with Annie Lennox

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When Annie Lennox stepped up to the stage to accept the 2004 Academy Award for Best Original Song From a Major Motion Picture, something unique happened in living rooms around the world.

Time stopped, and for a brief second, this legend of music… a woman who has won countless Grammys, BRIT Awards and the respect of musicians worldwide, became a kid again.

Annie Lennox gushed. She grinned from ear to ear. In a time when some artists accept awards like they’re a mandatory pay off for a job well done, this music icon rushed the stage like a kid in a candy store, pouring the thanks on thick for recognising her song from the third Lord of the Rings installment.

Watching Lennox, elegant yet thrilled, poised yet completely bowled over, it was shocking to think that this was the same woman who turned gender politics on its ear with the release of Sweet Dreams, which catapulted Lennox to fame in 1983.

Close-cropped orange hair in a business suit and tie, the music industry wasn’t quite sure what to make of Lennox or her bold statement. They just knew they loved the music.

And that’s pretty much how the singer has played her hand throughout her career.

Lennox is an artist who can do things her way and, eschewing the standard that hit songs are made of hooks and songwriting teams and a glossy facade, gets away with it.

In the 17 years since parting ways with Eurythmics partner Dave Stewart (save a brief, one album reunion for 1999’s Peace,/I>), it’s amazing to note that Annie Lennox has put out just four solo slbums.

Since every musical venture to come from the Royal Academy of Music-trained classical musician is a mindblowing, lilting adventure, one would assume she’s sitting on piles and piles of recordings.

But don’t call her out on her brief but fullfilling solo repetoire – she’ll fill you in on exactly what she’s been doing in her down time herself. It’s amazing to me that this is only your fourth solo album.

Annie Lennox: Why is it amazing? I’m a mother. I spin a lot of plates.

GW: Well, I more meant that it seems like you’ve put out so many more. Do you like to take a lot of time with the recording process?

AL: In actual fact, the album took a couple of months to write, six weeks to record, and three weeks to mix. I was just doing a lot of other stuff in between.

GW: I will say, when you decide to record, you certainly don’t make it easy on yourself. Celine Dion, Fergie, Madonna, Gladys Knight, Joss Stone – you have so many artists on the song Sing. How did you manage to get them all?

AL: I sent everybody a letter with my mission statement on it. They all got back to me pretty quickly, which was amazing.

GW: Were there any people you wanted to get who couldn’t participate for the single?

AL: There were one or two, but it was only that they were tied up with other stuff. People lead busy lives, with hectic schedules and heavy commitments. I know how it is.

GW: How did you decide upon doing a charity song for the Treatment Action Campaign (a South African based organisation dedicated to changing the rights for people living with HIV)?

AL: I don’t really look at TAC as a “charity” organisation. I see them as campaigners and activists.

But nevertheless, it really stems from my profound admiration for Zachie Achmat, who founded TAC, and the fact that it’s so a grassroots network, spread across the whole country of South Africa.

GW: I’d assume that some of what’s going on there and in the world is what lead you to the album’s title Songs of Mass Destruction. How did you arrive at that place?

AL: I’m just sort of outraged at what I feel the human race has done, and is doing, to the planet. We have such potential for incredible creativity, yet it seems that we have still to come out of the dark ages in terms of savage warfare, exploitation and the abuse of resources.

On top of that, I was amazed at how the US and UK governments managed to trick people into going into Iraq with the blatant lie of Saddam having weapons of mass destruction.

GW: It’s a scary world we live in, that’s for sure. Back to happier things. I want to take a trip back to some of your first videos. From your androgynous look in Sweet Dreams,/I> to the drag aesthetic of Savage and I Need a Man, you’ve been a forerunner in examining gender roles through your imagery. Was that something you thought of much from an early age?

AL: No (laughs). I just like dressing up, and pushing boundaries through play-acting. Basically I think that material appearances are fairly illusory and deceptive in any case.

GW: Is your gender play more about theatricality or politics?

AL: It’s both, but I’m more intuitive than by design.

GW: Your videos, at least, are full of theatrics, From King and Queen of America to Walking on Broken Glass.

Even Dark Road. Have you ever wanted to do stage or film, say like Cyndi Lauper in Three Penny Opera?

AL: No! I couldn’t stand the idea of having to show up for matinees and evening performances. And as for acting, there’s already too many players out there.

GW: Well said. You know, it’s not often an artist appeals so across the board to gay and straight audiences, and more so to both lesbian and gay male audiences. Why do you think you’ve been able to cross those boundaries?

AL: Because I don’t spend too much time thinking about it. I don’t really care too much whether people are gay or straight. I observe. I perceive. I draw things in like a sponge, and I feel a lot.

GW: Do you think that’s what drew you to become a performer?

AL: I love having the ability to enter into different states and alter egos through music and performance, but I take it off like a coat when I’m off stage. I don’t live like that.

GW: You have achieved so much already. Are there things you hope to attempt in your career that you haven’t already?

AL: There are still lots of musical and artistic journeys to investigate. It’s not about “career” so much as possibilities. On the other hand, there are loads of other things I’d like to do. I don’t get bored easily.

GW: We got a new Eurythmics album in 1999. Any chance we’ll get another?

AL: Right now I’m feeling somewhat autonomous… but who knows?

For more on Annie Lennox, visit her offcial website.

Songs of Mass Destruction is on sale now.

Ross von Metzke © 2007 Gay Wired; All Rights Reserved