Sinead O’Connor talks ‘Bossy,’ Beyonce, sex appeal and Kurt Cobain
Sinead O’Connor has never been a stranger to controversy. To promote her new album, “I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss,” the singer has been doing a round of press, but journalists were instructed not to bring up mental health issues or Miley Cyrus, with whom she had a public spat after the younger singer reacted unfavorably to O’Connor’s open letter to her about the evils of the music industry. She cautioned Cyrus about using sexuality to sell music, so it was surprising when O’Connor’s new album arrived and the singer is looking quite sexy herself (above) in a leather dress and (gasp!) an actual hairdo.
With the new album, I hear a bit of the honesty and direct lyrical style that was present in your breakthrough album, “I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got,” more so than any of your recent albums.
To some extent I’ve changed the platform from which I write. When I was younger, before I made [the 2002 album] “Sean-Nos-Nua” and the Rasta record [2005’s "Throw Down Your Arms"] and into [2007’s] “Theology” I guess I wrote from a different platform, as far as I was a young person who had a lot to get off her chest, and that was the way I was doing it. Because I had grown up in a situation where there wasn’t another way to do it. So I guess I wrote from a much more personal point of view in those days, but since then I guess I closed the chapter, very much beginning with the last album [2012’s "How About I Be Me (and You be You)"I’m inclined to write characters, mostly. So they’re not necessarily autobiographical. In fact, for the larger part, they’re not at all. I would call myself a method singer/songwriter. Although I’m acting the part and I can identify with the characters, they’re not necessarily autobiographical. Having said that, you’re not a million miles away. They’re love songs, and I’ve never really written love songs. They’re probably the most intimate songs that I’ve ever written insofar as they’re all romantic. And the characters are all very sensual. So perhaps for that reason there’s an intimacy there that wasn’t on other records because they didn’t touch on such intimate things.
And there are a lot of universal truths that seem like they could be from your perspective. What’s the line from the single, “Take Me to Church” about music.
“songs are like a bolt of life”?
Tell me about that.
Well, that’s really about how songs come true in your life, so you have to be careful of what you write, and when you are a creative artist, you have to be very observant and careful with your intention and to be aware that what you write will happen in your life, so that’s pretty much what that’s talking about, or how what you declare or what you state or what you believe if you’re not a musician the stuff will come through your life.
Where does the album title come from?
I just saw this great picture one day of Beyonce with that saying behind her head. And I thought, “Oh my God! What an incredible saying.” I was identifying with it at the time as a boss, as a female boss. It can be a very tricky thing to be perceived as a boss at all in the music business, when you’re an artist, male or female. We are all treated as if we were working for the people who are working for us. And I think that can possibly be exaggerated when you’re female and when you’re young, whether you’re male or female.
You have a line on the song “Eight Good Reasons” on the new album that goes, “I love to make music but my head got wrecked by the business.” This feels like a theme.
It’s kind of about how for a lot of musicians, you get into music for the sake of making music, and you only spend about 4 or 5 percent of your time making music and the rest of the time it’s business, and quite a lot of the time the business end of music is very ugly. It’s very much pimps and hos, and we’re the hos, and that can be demeaning. It can wreck your head to have to deal with the kind of people you wouldn’t drink with.
If we’re talking about lyrics, there’s another line in the song “James Brown,” where you say, “I know I look like a wooden chair,” which is definitely not the case on this album cover.
Well, thank you. I’m going to take that as a compliment. But I look even better without the hair. If I had that dress on and I had no hair I’d look way better. It’s just that I know if I slapped on hair, everybody would talk about it, and it worked.
Talk to me about the promo photos in relation to the pimps and hos theory and the notion of sex appeal.
It’s very interesting to me that people say “sex appeal,” and I’m having a ball with it, and I think it’s based on the fact that I have hair. Because I’m dressed, certainly on the album cover, I’m dressed from head to toe.
I think the leather dress probably helps too.
Yeah, well, you know, that’s something I’d wear in my own life or going out or whatever. ... It just so happens that I had my picture taken. It wasn’t supposed to be the album cover. I decided that. I knew that if I got shots taken like that with hair and looking all gorgeous, everybody would run the shots and they’d all have to run the name of the album, so it was purely to draw attention to the album. And then it was supposed to be just two shots as a laugh and that was it, and that was going to be the end of it. But then the record company asked if they could use those shots as the cover of the album. And I then agreed to do a video, which is quite hilarious. So I wear those clothes if I want to, but I don’t wear hair. It was purely to get attention for the album.
Tell me about the video.
I can’t, because it’s a surprise.
We have a photo service that we subscribe to at the paper and every time I'm preparing to interview somebody, I check out the archives and see if there is anything worth finding out the story behind, and I came across this one curious photo of you with Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love and Peter Gabriel. Tell me if you even remember that.
I do! I remember the very moment that photo was taken. I was standing at some point behind Kurt and Courtney. And I remember I felt a great sorrow for Kurt at the moment we were all standing there, for some reason, the moment that we were all standing there. I was feeling very sorry for him, and I couldn’t tell you why, but I thought, “oh my God. That’s a man that’s suffering.” I believe that night, and I nearly cried my eyes out because we were all in such a f—ing state. I suppose in a way he expressed what a whole lot of us were feeling, frankly. And that night REM sang, “Everybody Hurts,” and that of course was even more poignant, with what happened to Kurt, so I was roaring, crying that night, when they played that I was roaring crying, and partly because I felt so sorry for Kurt. There’d been some talk about whether he was in trouble or not.
There’s one song on the album that even sounds like Led Zeppelin.
Excellent! Justin Adams, who plays guitar on that does play with Robert Plant That’s my favorite track on the album, “The Voice of My Doctor.” I like it because it is kind of Zeppelin and it’s kind of mental. I like the character. She’s quite mad.
When you create these characters, where are they coming from, if not from yourself?
I don’t really know. I come from a family of writers. Numbers and numbers of my family are writers of different types, and I can’t explain it any more than a person who writes books comes up with characters. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t enormous aspects of me in the characters. But they’re just fun, for example, “Voice of My Doctor” I saw a painting of this giant concrete head and face of a man, with a tiny little tear falling down his face.and up leaning against him was this tiny little Buddhist priestess giving him a snuggle, and for some reason, I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m an O’Connor, I just sat there and for some reason, the little female figure picture, I began to imagine who might she be and how come she’s hugging him and why is he crying and how come he’s made of concrete, and it’s just a thing that writers do, I think.
You mention this painting, which has religious overtones. Tell me about your fascination with other religions. On this album there’s a song called “The Vishnu Room.”
My children would say that I’m a religious maniac, I would say interested in theology of all different kinds and I’m into the idea of music as a priesthood and I agree with Lee Perry when he says music is the holy spirit. One of the traditions I really like and admire and am inspired by is the hindu tradition and in that tradition part of what I love is their attitude towards sex and love. They see sex and love as very much a divine connection. In fact, the Kama Sutra is a theological scripture. And theyre very open-minded about love and I guess I have similar ideas I would say with love and romance and sex. No matter what potty mouth I may have, in actual fact alongside that I would see sex and love as quite a sacred thing also. So the song is very much about lovemaking. It’s about a very shy female. It’s the bride behind the bathroom door, which is the best way to put it. But the way she’s feeling about this guy. Love is a sacred thing.
Well, I see we are almost out of time. I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you about something I’d read today, where you had told one news outlet that you were going to be doing a certain parody video.
I had read somewhere you were working on a parody of Miley Cyrus’ “Wrecking Ball.”
BEHIND THE CLICK
After what clearly seemed like a hang up, O’Connor’s publicist reported that “a connection issue disconnected the call.” When we requested more info on this “Wrecking Ball” parody that we had read about, we were told that it was “a joke that got taken out of context.” While we awaited clarification on the secret video, the day after the interview took place, O’Connor released a promo video for her latest single, “Take Me to Church,” which was not a Miley Cyrus parody at all.