Returning Home: An Interview with Daphne Guinness
Sometimes we find ourselves entering onto new paths in life without even recognizing it. However, for Daphne Guinness, it is more accurate to say she recently rediscovered a previous one. Revered in the fashion sphere as a muse and purveyor of haute couture, she is now ready to release her debut album, after initially starting out as a singer during her teens. In an interview with Andrew Darley, she explains how love and family intervened but is now ready to immerse herself in her primary passion.
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While respected for her devout belief in the transformative power of clothes, as the opportunity arose to record a Bob Dylan cover, she found herself penning her own words and melodies along with it. Along with her musical partner, Patrick Donne, she created a solid body of demos before taking an opportunity to contact the long-time Bowie and T. Rex collaborator, Tony Visconti. Communication ran back and forth, while he agreed to come on board and guide the songs where they needed to go. Working with the producer who shaped records she has cherished throughout her life gave her own musical exploration a vital energy. The album's title, Optimist In Black, nods to her outlook on life while referencing to the period in her life following the loss of close friends and inspirations, namely fashion designer Alexander McQueen and magazine editor Isabella Blow.
Daphne describes how this album became a way of channeling and, more importantly, understanding that grief. Optimist In Black is a musical map of her life so far - one which she believes only she could decipher. She touches on the rock and blues scenes of the '60s and '70s, such as Bowie, Jefferson Aeroplane and The Small Faces, while exploring experiences she has had in her dynamic career. Much like her fashion ethos, songs such as 'Evening In Space' and 'Marionettes' maintain a sense of theatre and performance, as much for herself as anyone else. Daphne's debut album is built on the belief that music is the most potent art form.
Those who have come to know you from the fashion world may be surprised to hear that as a teenager you initially started out in music. Going back to that time, what stopped you from pursuing it?
I fell in love, got married and had children. All wonderful things, but life just got in the way.
This album began after you made a cover version of Bob Dylan with Patrick Donne. What was it about this process that sparked your desire to start writing your own songs?
No, I was going to do a cover of a Dylan song but ended up waiting for my friend to turn up and wrote my own song to kill time. It happened by mistake.
Was it instinctual to return to the sounds you loved from the '60s and '70s as a starting point for this album?
I don't think about that - I just started singing them. It wasn't engineered; there was no plan. It happened organically.
Once the demos were written with Patrick, you sent them to Tony Visconti, who worked on several Bowie records, and he agreed to come on board. Was it surreal working with someone who helped shape the records you grew up with?
Tony is the person I respect most in music. I emailed him and asked if I could come and see him. He heard a couple of them and after a few months of going backwards and forwards, he agreed to produce the album. It was fascinating to work with him. As a producer, there is no one I respect more.
Is there an arc to the final songs that made the album?
There was never an intention for there to be an arc, but funnily enough there is a sort of arc; because it is an encryption of my life. An unintentional arc, then, which perhaps only I could decipher.
The album's title, Optimist In Black, is a reference to a period of your life following the passing of family and close friends. Looking back, do you think songwriting may have been a form of coping during this time?
Yes, songwriting definitely has been. It has helped me cope with life in all it's tragi-comic elements, to turn it into something meaningful, and make some sense out of it all.
You have previously described your relationship with clothes and fashion as a "form of defense". Would you say music enables you to be at your most uninhibited?
Yes. I take no prisoners with my music.
There is a sense of humour and wit in your lyrics too, even when you deal with heavier subjects. In your career, have you found that people can take you too seriously?
Yes, completely. People take me too seriously, but in general I think they take everything too seriously.
Did you discover a pattern in how you wrote songs? Did the words or melodies usually come first?
Depends - sometimes it is words, sometimes melodies. I usually know what I want to say and then it becomes a jigsaw puzzle to fit together.
Do you feel this album and its process allowed you to express something that you hadn't before?
It's easy to look at it with hindsight, but because I didn't set out to write an album, I was completely honest. I was having such a good time. No plan, I just said what was on my mind, one step at a time.
The video for 'Evening In Space', which was directed by David LaChapelle, is very vibrant and theatrical - it feels like an experience. 'The Long Now' has a striking monochrome aesthetic. How do you see the relationship between visuals and your music?
Because the lyrics are pretty visual, any song (not just my own) can be listened to and will mean different things to different people. Any one song can release a kaleidoscope of different emotions. I am a pretty visual person. The visuals that I choose to do happen when an artist says "God I love this song, let's make something to accompany it." I don't ever have a long plan. It becomes clear within the process and if it hasn't worked, which has happened a couple of times, I just start again. If another artist has an instinct about a particular song, then I trust in that.
Will your relationship with these songs will change once the album is released? Are you concerned about how it may be received?
No. What I can say is that at the time, I did everything I could do to stop them being released. It's like sending your children to school. I am very possessive, but they are strong enough to take any criticism, and you have to let go at some point.
What was the happiest moment for you in making this record?
The whole thing - every minute was wonderful.
What did you learn about yourself making this album?
That I had two decades of diversions and I have landed back at home.
You have voiced your belief in the transformative power that fashion can achieve, do you believe music has the same potential?
I think it has a greater potential. My aim is for sound and vision to become less divorced, because the combination is dynamite. I believe music transcends the visual. To me, it is by far the most evocative art.
Optimist In Black is out May 27th on Agent Anonyme/Absolute.
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