The New Statesman recently published a first-person column about how, in the era of #MeToo and Time’s Up, generational clashes are increasingly disrupting the communal tables of feminism, with baby boomers often feuding with their millennial counterparts.
“Sometimes I can’t quite remember which wave I am,” the writer confesses, before concluding, “I’d rather put all the waves together and be an ocean.”
Tracey Thorn, formerly of the British band Everything But the Girl (best known for its 1995 hit, “Missing”), wrote that column, a job she’s held for the London-based weekly magazine after the publication of two critically acclaimed memoirs, ‘Bedsit Disco Queen: How I Grew Up and Tried to Be a Pop Star’ (2013) and ‘Naked at the Albert Hall: The Inside Story of Singing’ (2015).
She’s not the only author in the family. In 2014, Ms. Thorn’s duo partner and husband Ben Watt, was nominated for the Samuel Johnson Prize, the top British award for nonfiction, for “Romany and Tom,” a memoir about his parents. Over the previous years, he had worked as a DJ, as well as a record label and club owner, as Ms. Thorn oversaw the couple’s three children before re-emerging as a solo artist in 2007.
Speaking by telephone from her north London home, shortly before the release of her fifth solo album, “Record,” on the Merge label, Ms. Thorn talked about her dual careers of writer and musician, and how her newest work casts a sweeping eye backward over, as she says, “my entire life.”
Your columns concern book prizes and anxiety, Kate Bush and cardio. Have they influenced your songwriting?
Some subject matter you might write about in a column then might appear in a song. The good thing about doing both is that it allows you to address slightly different aspects of subjects — or come at them in a different way, like someone who might write both poetry and prose. But even though I aimed for clarity this time, there’s always something a little more suggestive about songs that allows an emotional response. Column writing is writing practice. You develop a good eye for short phrases that work well: You want to end and start on a good phrase. With these songs I tried to reach the point where I was editing them, the way I edit when I’m writing a column. What’s the good bit?
You wrote in your first book about passing on an offer to tour with U2 after “Missing,” telling Mr. Watt, “I think I want to stop now. “ Why?
I think we had ambitions to a certain level but not that compulsive ambition that wants to become the biggest star in the world and stay there forever. I think it’s an amazing quality when I see it in other people. I was never that comfortable being the star, the person up there out of reach, bigger and better than the audience, unknowable, untouchable. I always found that just a bit scary, creepy.
Are you now a cross-media star?
I write things in the New Statesman. It’s not mainstream news. I’m not on TV. I’m being played on the radio a bit at the moment. Ben and I have been lucky to evolve in different ways, which means we can carry on changing now. It’s the result of having never let ourselves get too pinned-down.
Don’t all businesses encourage that?
I think we had some kind of instinct that if we weren’t careful at certain points we would get trapped. I started out in the Marine Girls, the archetypal indie band. I could see early on that could be limiting. There are loads of different boxes you can get put into. Sometimes the alternative box seems to be a route to freedom. But it often seemed narrow, with a lid on it like other boxes.
What’s more challenging these days, the music or writing business?
I can’t answer. I’m making music from the position of someone who’s had a long career. Same thing goes for writing. When I started making indie records I had the feeling that if you had a modicum of talent you could break into that scene. Nowadays my kids have friends who already are putting out their songs on SoundCloud. They’re making music at a very sophisticated level because of the technology they use in their bedrooms, streets ahead of anything I could have achieved at their ages. But how they then distinguish themselves from all the other people who’ve got access to the same technology, that’s what makes it difficult.
“Face,” a song on your new album, portrays your Twitter advocacy in reverse, addressing the incursion of the tech industry into romantic lives. Any secret to getting so much intersecting work accomplished?
People sometimes identify Ben and me as very sensitive characters responding very sensitively to the world. That’s a part of us. You can’t defeat the mainstream music business. You just have to come to an accommodation with how you’re going to work within its structure and still try and do what you want to do. If we were as sensitive as some people might imagine, I think Ben and I both might have been blown to pieces by our encounters with it.