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Tracey Thorn, Singing Stories Of Fear And Loving

The British pop-jazz duo Everything but the Girl scored an unlikely hit with a dance remix of its 1995 song "Missing." But in the midst of a successful career, vocalist Tracey Thorn took an extended hiatus from the music business to raise her three children with musical partner Ben Watt.

Just a few years ago, Thorn reappeared with a solo album, and now she's back with another. Her latest release is a stark, powerful record called Love and Its Opposite. The record centers on themes of second chances and starting life again at middle age -- topics Thorn says are often ignored in pop music.

"If people carry on making music, but write lyrics always from the perspective of younger people, they're actually missing a trick," she says. "There are different stories to tell."

A Different Perspective

"Long White Dress" discusses fear of marriage; in it, she sings, "Nothing ever scared me like a wedding did." But ironically, Thorn recently married her musical collaborator, Ben Watt, following a 28-year relationship. She says the song is more about what weddings represent, rather than fear of her own matrimony.

"[Our wedding] was quite impulsive, and we did it very quickly," she says. "There was no long white dress."

Another song, called "Oh, the Divorces!" chronicles the heartbreaking collapse of a marriage. Though she and Watt have a long-lasting and celebrated partnership, she says it wasn't difficult to imagine a different scenario.

"I don't think it takes much of a leap of imagination, however happy and settled you are, to be able to picture your life with different things happening," she says.

Thorn says she's happy to have returned to the music business, but says she has no plans to record new material as Everything but the Girl. Artistically, she says, it's not something that excites her.

"I'm really much more interested in doing something new, even if it's at quite a small level, rather than just raking over the past the whole time," she says.

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Transcript

(Soundbite of song, "Missing")

Ms. TRACEY THORN (Singer): (Singing) And I miss you like the deserts miss the rain.

GUY RAZ, host:

In 1995, the British jazz-pop duo Everything but the Girl scored an unlikely hit with a dance remix of their song "Missing." Singer Tracey Thorn and her longtime partner and now husband, Ben Watt, haven't recorded as Everything But the Girl in about nine years. But their partnership is alive and well.

Thorn took an extended hiatus from the music business to raise the couple's three children. She reappeared a few years ago with a solo album, and her latest is a stark, powerful record called "Love and Its Opposite."

(Soundbite of song, "Long White Dress")

Ms. THORN: (Singing) I know I'm not an independent woman. So you might say, well, really what's the difference? Is it all in my head?

RAZ: And Tracey Thorn joins me from our studios in London. Tracey Thorn, welcome.

Ms. THORN: Well, thank you for having me.

RAZ: The song we're hearing, "Long White Dress," it's about the fear of marriage. And there's a line you sing, it says: Nothing ever scared me like a wedding did.

Of course, you finally got married last year to your partner, Ben Watt - after, what? Something like 28 years together and three kids.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Why did you guys decide to do it?

Ms. THORN: I mean, I think if anything, that song's more about the fear of actual weddings and what they represent. You know, it was kind of a dread I had, I think, of this sort of overblown, you know, really romantic version of what love was supposed to be about. And I always shied away from that when I was younger.

And I'd had some of the lyrics for that song lying around in a notebook for years, and finally I managed to tie it all together and turn it into a song that I thought, you know, made sense of what I felt about it.

(Soundbite of song, "Long White Dress")

Ms. THORN: (Singing) And I don't know why I felt so scared. I just knew I didn't want to wear a long white dress.

Ms. THORN: And when we talked again about the possibility of getting married, which we'd talked about before, I don't know, this time I just kind of thought, oh God, let's just do it. You know, let's just go for it. So it was quite impulsive, and we did it very quickly. And there was no long white dress.

RAZ: There was no long white dress.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. THORN: No.

RAZ: It was at the registry, a local registry in London, right?

Ms. THORN: It was. You know, it was a really quiet, small, intimate affair, and it was very nice.

RAZ: A lot of this record is about second chances in middle age. Is that sort of what you wanted to say right now, at this point?

Ms. THORN: Well, I'm certainly, you know, I'm flying the flag for this kind of subject matter as being something that I think is worthy of being written about in pop music. And it's the kind of subject matter that isn't often used as subject matter for pop lyrics.

I just worry that if people carry on making music but write lyrics always from the perspective of younger people, that they're actually missing a trick, you know? There's quite a lot of interesting stuff, it seems to me, that carries on happening to people as they get older. And I think there's a lot of, sort of conflict-type experiences that carry on happening into middle age.

RAZ: You write about it in one song called "Singles Bar," and it's about a woman - I'm assuming, presumably divorced - sort of gaining the courage to go out to meet someone new.

(Soundbite of song, "Singles Bar")

Ms. THORN: (Singing) Is there room for one more at the singles bar? I've been working up the courage all year. I pull off my ring as I push my way in, won't be needing it here.

Ms. THORN: Some people have said to me they find that song really sad. But you know, there's also an element to that song that's quite playful, I think. You know, it's partly based on the experiences of friends of mine who found themselves unexpectedly single again. And you know, they've shared with me, you know, some of the stories of what it's like being out there dating again, and some of it's not pretty.

(Soundbite of song, "Singles Bar")

Ms. THORN: (Singing) Can you guess my age in these jeans? Can you tell me what any of this means?

RAZ: I'm speaking with Tracey Thorn. She's best known as the singer with the jazz electronic pop duo Everything But the Girl. Her new solo record is called "Love and Its Opposite."

Tracey Thorn, this record, it's your second release since you put everything on hold for several years to raise your family. How was it sort of making that transition from being a pretty public figure, you know, recording with Massive Attack and Everything But the Girl, to becoming a mom and trying to do it privately?

Ms. THORN: I was very happy to do that. The thing I found difficult was trying to combine the two. And we tried that for a year or two. Everything But the Girl made one more album, "Temperamental," when I'd already had twins. We even tried going on tour. We took the girls with us when they were about 18 months old.

RAZ: Oh, wow.

Ms. THORN: And that was an eye-opener. I think at that point, I thought, you know, I just can't do both these things at once. I'm not enjoying either of them, and I'm not doing either of them very well. So, you know, it came at a point in my life when I was ready to stop.

RAZ: And why did you decide to come back now - or in the last few years?

Ms. THORN: Well, I began to miss singing.

RAZ: Do you ever do it at home? Do you ever just...

Ms. THORN: Yeah, I do. I mean, we all sing all the time.

RAZ: Yeah.

Ms. THORN: You know, we're one of those ridiculous families who are constantly breaking into song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Except we don't all have the voices of Tracey Thorn.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. THORN: Oh, thank you. But I just realized, you know, people started asking me, you know, why don't you sing anymore? And I'd sort of go, oh, well, I've stopped doing that now. You know, I've got the kids. And then I thought, well, actually, you know, that's becoming a bit of a non-answer now, that there's no reason why I can't make this work on my own terms and, you know, do some recording and fit it in around my life. And so that's what I've gone back to doing.

RAZ: I want to ask you about a track on the record, and it's called "Hormones." First, I want to listen to these lyrics.

(Soundbite of song, "Hormones")

Ms. THORN: (Singing) Yours are just kicking in. Mine are just checking out. You're at the beginning of this tunnel, and I'm just coming out.

RAZ: I'm guessing that lyrics like, yours are just kicking in, mine are just checking out - I'm guessing this song has something to do with what you're experiencing as a parent of teenagers?

Ms. THORN: Yeah. I've got two daughters now who are 12 years old now, and I'm 47. So, you know, it just struck me one day that here we are, we're at opposite ends of the hormonal spectrum. And I thought, it's not a song I've heard before, you know, despite the fact that there are, you know, lots of other women out there, carrying on making records through this kind of age.

But you know, many of them seem to prefer to take the route of clinging on to eternal youth rather than actually admitting to the fact that, you know, as you get older, things change.

RAZ: What do your kids think about your music?

Ms. THORN: Oh, well, you know, they're barely interested.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. THORN: As seems to be completely normal for kids approaching teenagedom. You know, the stuff of their peer group is far more interesting to them than what their dear old mum's doing.

RAZ: Tracey Thorn, I know that it was Mothering Sunday in the U.K. a few months ago, but here in the U.S., it's Mother's Day now. So before I let you go, I just, I wanted to wish you Happy Mother's Day.

Ms. THORN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Tracey Thorn's new album is called "Love and Its Opposite." It's available next week on Merge Records here in the U.S. If you'd like to hear the record, you can go to our website. That's nprmusic.org. Tracey Thorn, thanks so much and good luck.

Ms. THORN: Thank you.

(Soundbite of song, "Hormones")

RAZ: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. To all the moms out there, Happy Mother's Day. Thanks for listening, and have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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