Thirty years after a novelty remake of Little Eva's "The Loco-Motion" turned an Australian soap actress into a pop singer with an international spotlight, Kylie Minogue is eying the release of her fourteenth album, Golden, from a vantage point afforded to few of her '80s contemporaries. While most veterans of the era's dance-pop boom bubble up in pop culture when their signature hit gets new life in a movie trailer, Kylie Minogue has – for the better part of the 21st century – released music that her modest-but-dedicated American fanbase still deeply cares about. Her last visit to the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 was in 2002 with the thudding electro banger "Can't Get You Out Of My Head," but her consistency as an album artist in a singles genre has afforded her a level of cultish adoration and critical seriousness bestowed upon few singers who seemed destined for one-hit-wondership when they first appeared.
On Friday (April 6), 12 years after beating breast cancer and a little over a year after a difficult breakup, Minogue unveils Golden. As tipped to with mortality-minded lead single "Dancing," Golden is an organic stylistic detour that finds the Aussie pop goddess smack in the middle of a "Dolly Parton/Disco" Venn diagram. Oh yes, there will be sequins.
Ahead of the release, Minogue took a break from signing cassette copies of Golden that she insisted her team create ("I don't know how many people have cassette players anymore, but it's just a beautiful little throwback moment") to discuss why she turned to Nashville for new sounds, doing her best to avoid writing a breakup album after a breakup, and why she still gets nervous about fans hearing her new music.
When I first heard "Dancing" I was curious how the whole album was going to maintain that strangely effective line between country and your more familiar dance-pop sound. How did...
How did we find the balance? We just kept trying! It took six months to find the DNA of what it was we were looking for. It was such a concept at first, no one could describe the sound. First I went to a studio and was working with more dance producers, trying to inject a country element into that, and find some inspiration through that. Then I went to Nashville in July (2017) and everything made sense from then on. I had two weeks there and when I came back, we knew where we were heading. And I knew I had three songs ("Dancing," "Golden" and "Sincerely Yours") that were keepers from the numerous songs I'd done there. That made the homestretch easier. You still gotta write the song, find the song, do the song, but after that we knew where we were headed.
And it was a case of balance. Sometimes we'd listen to the mix and some of us in the studio or Jamie [Nelson], my A&R guy, would say "oh no, you've gone too far," or "no it's not country enough." At one point one of my producers, Sky Adams, was throwing his hands up in the air saying, "Not country! Too country! Not country enough! Too dance! Not enough dance!" (laughs) Getting the balance was key. One thing that helped me was thinking back to (2010's) Aphrodite and "All the Lovers."
Great song! At that time, Stuart Price produced that for me, I don't know how we started, but we were singing a country version of it, but really over the top. We were trying to be Dolly and Kenny basically and that became our names for each other for a long time. At the time I said, "It's a Dolly Parton litmus test: if you can sing the song just strumming on guitar and get enjoyment from it, just let it stand up as a song." Then I thought no further of it, but once we got into making this album, that little thought was in my head. It isn't as far-fetched as it seems to have that influence, because it's about storytelling, and that's where I was at and how I wanted this album to work lyrically. So yeah, it's about balance and experimentation.
What about the Nashville songs you wrote that didn't make the cut. Were they too country?
They just weren't as good songs. With "Dancing" for example, I arrived on a Sunday in Nashville and Monday I started work. And I was in with a writer, Steve McEwan, we had a week together, and then a week with Amy Wadge, we were co-writing with various producers. So (Steve and I) grabbed a coffee first, then he said, "come to the apartment, I've got my piano and guitar and stuff there." Then he played me the idea of "Dancing" on a guitar. It wasn't fully formed, but the songs I did with him that week, it was just about the song, knowing it could be produced any way. If you heard the demo vs. the produced version of "Dancing," that's where the dance came in. That's where the synths and electro dance elements were put in by Sky Adams, the producer.
So why didn't the others make it? Probably because they weren't as good. Being in Nashville is like being at the altar of song. Going to the Bluebird Café and the Listening Room, I didn't know who these writers and performers were, but they were great nights. You're there to hear someone tell their story and sing their song. That was all new to me and it was crazily inspiring.
It is a songwriters' Mecca – was your experience with Nashville writers different than with writers you've worked with before?
That is a difficult question to answer, because in some ways, not at all. You're still just a few people in a room trying to find a song, but I would say, it's the vibe there. Like, I clasped my hands together on the Sunday before I started writing on Monday, with a couple friends on a rooftop bar, talking about, "God I'm so excited to be here in Nashville, da da da," and I literally looked up to the heavens and said, "Please please just give me one song. Two or three would be really nice, but one is what I need. I need that song, and I want to get it from here." And that's what happened. I was very focused, I had no distractions there. And it was just incredible. Certain places give way to certain things, and one of them in Nashville is music.
Before I went I started asking around, and the response was so enthusiastic, more than saying you're going to L.A. or New York or London or whatever. A couple producers I worked with couldn't write the email fast enough saying "you're going to love it, this is where to get the coffee, go to these restaurants, go to these bars." It was an outpouring of desire for me to have a good time. Not only a successful songwriting time, but to enjoy the city.
I'm curious about "Raining Glitter." That song isn't exactly country, but it has an acoustic riff that links it to the other songs. How did that come about?
Interesting you picked that one. That was done back in London with three British writers and producers. I'd worked with this guy Eg White before and Eg said, "I really feel like something disco" and I said "whoa whoa, you know the brief, if it doesn't fit into the space we've created, it's a waste of our time, it's not going to make it." And because we got on that subject, I think I said, "That's party of my raison d'etre, my job or my being is spreading joy and emotions and the feelings that you hope a pop song can potentially do." And I said it made me think of that Jacksons video where they're sprinkling glitter, I think it's "Can You Feel It," and they're epic and huge and standing above a skyline and sprinkling glitter on everyone, and that's where that came from. But you hit the nail on the head because then we had to get the guitar element in there, which is what it starts with. That was a good hybrid because it's taking the main area of the album and linking it to more of my dance sound. Taking it to the disco, let's say.
Lyrically, this album seems a little more personal, with songs like "Music's Too Sad Without You" (with Jack Savoretti) and "A Lifetime to Repair." Was that a conscious decision to open up more?
Yeah definitely. It's probably going to take me a few more years to be able to talk succinctly about that time. You need a bit of distance to clearly say what happened. But already I can see it was an incredible turning point in my life. Yes, it was linked to a breakup, but for me it was more than that. That was more a result of choices. Anyway, to cut a long story short and not get too deep into it, I was not brokenhearted but a bit broken. And it takes that sometimes to have a good hard look at yourself and where you fit into the world and where you want to go and what changes you want to make. And that's exactly the time I went into the studio.
And of course I wanted to get to all the dramatic breakup stuff, questioning "how did I get into this in the first place?" All the questions you ask yourself -- we all know that. I was so, I just come back to using the word 'broken.' I hadn't been kind to myself. I probably deep down knew it, but it took me a while to confess that to myself. A lot of the lyrics I wrote initially, it was getting it off my chest and out of my system. So the songs weren't that great, and I'm so thankful for that now, it's like "get it out of your system." And I didn't want a breakup album – that's the last thing I wanted. And there's elements of that of course (in the final album) and I know it's an easy press bite, but it's more about being honest with yourself and saying, "Okay, I'd like to express these emotions." Some are fairly recent, others are – well, a song like "Raining Glitter," that theme has been with me a long time. "Shelby '68" is a made-up storyline. And "A Lifetime to Repair," that is a snapshot of me throwing my hands up in the air and going, "well I don't know what now!" And by the way, whoever does know?
The songs that were not necessarily about something in my life at that minute, what ties them together is I'm singing from a knowledge of whatever that feeling is, whether it's joy, sadness or loneliness or questioning. I know that I believe in the feeling I'm singing about.
Does it help knowing that you have fans who love you and are always curious to see what you're up to next?
Yeah, it's a beautiful thing, but I would be lying if I said I didn't feel any pressure. I want fans to love it and take it to heart and add it to whatever our journey is together. But it's the same with every album – you get so nervous before release. I even had a week of being sad I wasn't in the studio anymore. It can be the most frustrating place in the world, but it's an amazing place and my experience of writing on this album was so different. It felt like a penny had dropped: maybe Nashville, maybe nearly being 50, but I really enjoyed it. So I had a week of being a little sad, and then, okay, "these are the songs that made the album, what visuals do we put with this?" Every step of the way is a challenge. I would say yeah, the fans are there (in my mind), but around the corner. You know that's the end result: This album will go out into the world, and of course you hope people like it.