Everything But The Girl releases first album in 23 years

The children knew nothing about anything but the girl. Her parents, Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt, thought that was the best. The pop duo they’d taken 18 years to navigate the world from lounge jazz to trip-hop to Hull University were quietly shelved after a final bow at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2000. Now it was time for the family. The past was nobody’s business.

“One time,” Watt admits, “we tried to show a video of ourselves top of the pops to our twin girls [Jean and Alfie] when they were six or seven years old and they thought it might be interesting for them and they just burst into tears. They just couldn’t figure out what the hell was going on.”

“Why is she on TV?” Dorn howls. “You stole my mother!”

“Tracey has always been very adept at doing her solo projects without anyone noticing,” says Watt. “She would put dinner on the table for five and then unveil her new album.”

Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn predict their latest album, their first in 23 years, will

Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn predict their latest album, their first in 23 years, will “blow people away”.Credit:Edward Bishop

Thorn made four of them after her son Blake started school. Elsewhere in the house, Watt has been busy as well, with three albums and his own record label. Mum and Dad have written six books together, all memoir ballpark and all highly regarded. But the duo who made their fortunes spent 23 years in obscurity until releasing their forthcoming album. BACKUP.

It was a tentative, even secretive reunion, they explain via Zoom from their home in the UK. Gung-ho, big-beat titles such as Nothing left to lose And Beware of the wind came late in the process, Watt says. The mantra during recording was more like, “If we don’t like something, nobody needs to know we even tried,” says Thorn.
But once they were done, she says, “we started to really look forward to it.”

“It’s not like we’re going to say to people, ‘Oh, we did an Everything But The Girl record, how cute.’ Part of me was like, ‘You know what – we’re going to blow people’s minds easily. We made a really good record’.”

The duo have conquered a lot of ground under their feet since arriving in acoustic jazz-pop Eden in 1984. From orchestral splendor to indie pop and acoustic covers, they mostly kept their idiosyncratic twists on the sidelines until Thorn’s fateful collaboration with Massive Attack. Protection, ’94. Her hugely successful swing to sophisticated ’90s club music was sealed with another crossover, Todd Terry’s world-shattering house remix of her 1994 song Miss.

Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt in London in 1982.

Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt in London in 1982.Credit:Getty Images

One benefit of secretly preparing for her comeback, Watt says, is that no one called from the office to ask what kind records they made. Two decades after their last, claiming specific musical territory was less important than simply reconnecting.

“Psychologically, we knew it was the right thing to do. We’ve both had a pretty difficult lockdown,” said Watt, who wrote in his 1997 book about surviving Churg-Strauss syndrome, which causes inflammation of the blood vessels Patient. He initially kept his distance from the rest of the family.

“When we came out the other end I guess we both knew that somehow it had changed us.”

In her latest book My rock ‘n’ roll friendSpeaking of her friendship with the Go-Betweens’ Lindy Morrison, Thorn is more explicit on the years leading up to her creative reunion with Watt: “A 38-year relationship, however successful, can have pockets of poison in it: unresolved issues, personal… Baggage, mutual complaints. Some of it is black as tar and just as difficult to remove.

“During the pandemic,” she says, “some repair work was being done without our necessarily knowing it.

“A few years ago it didn’t seem possible that we could work together. I felt like we were in slightly different mental worlds related to music. But I suddenly thought: ‘If we don’t do this now, there’s a risk we never will’.

“It’s another reminder that you’re never as much in control of your life as you think you are. You think you control everything. But then something massive happens. A bloody global pandemic strikes and all you have to do is work your way through. And that’s where we ended up getting away with… in a better place than when we started.”

Everything but the Girl performed in London in 1996.

Everything but the Girl performed in London in 1996.Credit:Getty Images

The beginning of the musical reunion, says Watt, was “a very humble place.” Scratchy voice notes, piano improvisations and smartphone “field recordings” were massaged into atmospheric pieces in which Thorn began to weave words and melodies. Her voice had changed; 20 years later it was deeper, smokier.

Lyrical, If you screw it up is symbolic of this change. It sounds like a song of forgiveness for a child.

“It’s really more me to myself,” she replies. “The last few years have been classic transition years. Stepping into a different phase of life… reaching the point where the kids have left home, looking to the years to come and thinking, “What do I want to do next? Who am I?’ And some of that uncertainty, that inner turmoil, reminded me of my adolescence.

“Your teenage years, your early twenties, it’s often really difficult. You’re trying to establish your identity, you’re trying to figure out what you want out of life. And there was something about my late 50s that reminded me of some of that turmoil… you can doubt yourself a lot.”

watts Go through a red light is another learned perspective on a particularly youthful headspace. “It’s about the kind of characters he’s met before,” says Thorn. “That guy at the end of the night with the big talk; He’s going to make it, he’s going to run the best club ever, he’s going to be such a big shot…”

The stunning video is one of several directed by Charlie Di Placido and choreographed by Miranda Chambers. Thorn and Watt were clear they didn’t want to appear on screen, but they were close to the process. “The guy who’s the main dancer, Samuel – when we saw him we immediately thought he had this brilliant mix of bravery masking a kind of vulnerability. And he dramatizes it beautifully,” says Thorn.

The last song on the album is perhaps the most profound and thoughtful. karaoke began with a few verses of a report on a night Watt spent in Los Angeles. Thorn’s additions take the random snapshots of amateur singers to an almost existential place.

“It just made me think,” she says. “Why do people sing karaoke? Why do people sing at all? Why am I singing? I wrote the choruses and the middle eight and we realized we ended up with this kind of meditation on the purpose of making music.”

Filling concert halls is no longer on the EBTG’s list. “No, we don’t tour,” says Watt. “The idea was just to go into the studio and try to make music together and we did that. Going down the legacy trail and playing people all the old hits in arenas, that was never part of the plan.”

Fair enough. What would the kids think?

“Well, now they’re grown, they’re in their 20s,” he says. “I think they have a real mix of pride in what we’ve done in the past and I think they’re extremely relieved that the new album is good and we haven’t embarrassed them.

“I suppose there’s a residual feeling of ‘Are they still mom and dad? If we let ourselves in on a Wednesday night, will we find them just watching TV like they used to?’”

“The answer,” says Thorn, “is yes.”


BACKUP will be released on April 21st through Virgin Music Group.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/music/music-icons-or-just-mum-and-dad-turns-out-you-can-be-both-20230331-p5cx3q.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture Everything But The Girl releases first album in 23 years

Jaclyn Diaz

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