After achieving international mainstream success with the electro-pop duo Yaz — or Yazoo, in the project’s native England — alongside former Depeche Mode and future Erasure man Vince Clarke, Alison Moyet went solo in 1983. She was able to reproduce that glory with 1984’s Alf.
Never one to rush a follow-up, Raindancing came out in ’87 and tickled the top of the charts in Britain and throughout Europe — but it failed to land full-force over here. Subsequent albums, from 1991’s Hoodoo onwards, barely bothered the charts at all, but that doesn’t mean that the work is worthless. In fact, the opposite is true.
In the late ’80s, somewhere between the releases of Raindancing and Hoodoo, Moyet made the decision to quit approaching her career as a mainstream, popular act in favor of making the sounds that she wants to make and saying what she wants to say. The money might not be as good, but the tradeoff is that she can look at herself in the mirror without feeling shame.
“It wasn’t enough for me to be famous and have a big audience, if I was standing there feeling mildly embarrassed by what I was doing,” Moyet says.
Fast-forward 30 years, and Moyet has just released Other, her ninth studio album. Critics have heralded the record as a return to Moyet’s electronic roots, but that’s rather simplistic. The British singer has had one foot on that area for some time now. Not that she cares what anybody else thinks; Moyet long ago stopped prioritizing anybody’s ears above her own.
“I’m an artist, I’m creating, and as I go along some people will like what I do and some people won’t like what I do,” she says. “That is not something I really want to carry around as a thought when I’m making a record.”
That’s commendable, particularly when considering that the greatest artists of the modern era, from Bob Dylan to David Bowie, have alienated fans by experimenting but ultimately created a phenomenal legacy in the process. The idea of sticking with the sound that brought you success in your 20s when you’re in your 50s is bizarre, anyway.
“I think the biggest way that you change is less in the sound that you make and more in the narrative that you want to speak,” Moyet says. “Obviously, as a 56-year-old woman, my agenda is totally different to when I was 21. Romance is not at the forefront of my thinking. Whereas once, it would have been this whole Janis Joplin voice of ‘the man’s done me wrong and I’m gonna bleat about it’ — that might have worked for me once, but now I’m more, ‘For fuck’s sake, this bloke, kick him into touch.’ ”
Fair enough, then. If she doesn’t want to harp on about men at the age of 56, she certainly doesn’t have to. So what is she writing about then? As it turns out, she recently moved out of a big country house and into a smaller place on a busy street in Brighton, the southern coastal town known as the venue for the Quadrophenia-esque battles between the mods and rockers in the ’60s, and for its gay population. Her new home is naturally informing her work.
“For example, on ‘The Rarest Birds,’ this song was very much written about the town I live in,” Moyet says. “Brighton is the gay capital of England. It’s such a diverse and creative place. Really old people dressed up completely eccentrically walking the streets in the afternoon. Young people who don’t give a shit what they look like. Gay couples can be openly affectionate, huggy and touchy in the streets, and transgender people can walk safely. It’s a brilliant place with a lot of color and acceptance, and a really creative community. This song describes that.”
Stylistically, any changes that Moyet has made have been entirely organic rather than cynical, business-based decisions. This is an artist whom the first wave of English punk bands strongly influenced, before she shifted towards the Thames Estuary blues scene that included Wilco Johnson and Dr. Feelgood.
“Your first forays into music will be playing with the things that have touched your life,” Moyet says. “Then you feel your way out of that. In terms of playing music in a band from 15 or 16, I was playing punk rock. For me, it was then a natural transition to get into Estuary blues. That made a far more natural trajectory for me than those that went from punk to new romantic. They were disparate sensibilities for me. From punk where we were making our own clothes to suddenly this high-end fashion.”
On Monday, Sept. 25, Moyet returns to San Francisco to perform at the Fillmore. She’s excited to get back to a city that she says she’s had some amazing times in, though she likes playing everywhere in the United States because she feel less shackled by the trappings of mainstream success that still bind her in Britain.
“It’s not like in England where I’ve had a massive hit, which can be a rock around your neck as much as a boon,” she says. “It’s been a boon in that I made money. Where it becomes difficult is when this is who I’ve been pinned down as, and it’s going to take me many, many years to convince people otherwise.”
As for the gig, expect a three-piece to play a largely-electronic set. They’ll pull out a guitar and bass on occasion, but mostly it’s synthesized music.
“My set, as you’d expect, runs the gamut of my 35-year career,” Moyet says. “It runs from Yazoo and forward. It has in this electronic vibe, so we don’t end up with some nasty karaoke renditions of old songs. That can be a real problem.”
Alison Moyet, Monday, Sept. 25, 8 p.m., at the Fillmore; 1805 Geary Blvd., $39.50; 415-346-6000 or thefillmore.com