Daphne Guinness already looks like a rock star. The 48-year-old longtime philanthropist, muse and visionary of the arts is breaking new ground with her first full-length album this month deemed “Optimist in Black.” The 14-track album was produced by David Bowie’s acclaimed producer Tony Visconti and early releases — including the haunting, steampunk ballad “Marionettes” and the addictively repeatable “The Long Now” — provide a taste of what’s yet to come. The full-length follows Guinness's documentation of a period of her very public life with tragedy, beauty and of course, great art, as written by her own pen.
Am I right in saying that you’re classically trained? Did that influence your approach to music at all? I’m trying to relearn theory. I suffer from perfect pitch and — this is probably being too technical — but music theory makes a lot of sense to me, it’s like math and physics. I can get the key immediately by hearing it, but writing [a song] down, other people are faster at that than me.
However, there are a lot of people who can hit notes, and I can hit them, but you’ve got to understand what you’re saying, and that’s what’s very important about this album. There’s not one word that I don’t mean. It’s not about me — I’ve cut myself out of the album ruthlessly — but it’s about my life up until this point to a certain extent. Poetry should be universal and everyone has been through S-H-1-T; it’s not just a vanity project. It’s about love and war and depression and coming out of it, then melancholy and all then all of that goes into rock and roll. It was like an extreme 10,000 hours out of two years. Being classically trained isn’t great for rock and roll — you can hit the notes, but if you don’t understand the groove or have the beats, it’s like you’re not feeling the song.
You were able to work with producer Tony Visconti who is best known for working with David Bowie for decades — and of course, the album has a Bowie-esque vibe. What has that been like for you?
Tony is Buddha. He’s so amazing. I can’t believe I get to walk into his studio and play what I had. He’s the most musical person on earth and a proper artist. He’s not someone who suffers fools and if you’re not doing [a project] right, he’ll tell you. That speaks volumes.
Has approaching music — like any new field — been intimidating or challenging for you? All of this homogenized music, I’m not trying to preach, but I will not record a music that I cannot sing live. I just don’t do it. There are all those prerecorded vocals that carry on if you drop the mic, you know what I’m talking about. The whole point of singing live is the process, things can go wrong, the mic can go wrong, and then that’s the whole thing. We’ve got this album and that’s what it is.
Are you excited to play live?
Oh yeah, I have a gig next week. I get so nervous. I’m just so shy, you wouldn’t think it, but I’m really shy. I’m getting used to it but I like being on stage with my band. I love them so much and knowing I have people there that love the music and want to have a good time helps.
Going back to the album, it’s called “Optimist in Black.” Is the “optimist” supposed to be you?
That was a very, very dark period of my life. It was trying to make sense out of poetry and not do what my friends did. I had so many people die on me, it’s too much.
And writing about that period of time was helpful?
Of course, and my writing process is lyrics. Getting it down to 14 songs was really something. I understand the lyrics have to make something so it’s not just a pointless exercise. “Optimist” was the material of my depression. If I had gone much deeper than I probably wouldn’t be here.
Do you write all the time?
Absolutely, but I see with my fashion friends, they’re under contract to produce and do collection after another collection. If someone was telling me to [write songs], I would probably get writers block.