Bio : Kylie Minogue
“Now that I've been to Nashville,” Kylie Minogue says with audible affection, “I understand. It's like some sort of musical ley-line...”
Golden, Kylie's fourteenth studio album, is the result of an intensive working trip to the home of Country music, a city whose influence lingered on long after the pop legend and her team returned to London to finish the record: “We definitely brought a bit of Nashville back with us,” she states.
The album is a vibrant hybrid, blending Kylie's familiar pop-dance sound with an unmistakeable Tennessee twang. It was Jamie Nelson, Kylie's long-serving A&R man, who first came up with the concept of incorporating “a Country element” into Kylie's tried-and-trusted style. That idea sat there for a little while, with Minogue and her team initially unsure about how to bring it to life. Then, when Grammy-winning songwriter Amy Wadge's publisher suggested Kylie should come over to collaborate in Nashville, a city Kylie had previously never visited, something clicked. “You know when you're so excited about something,” she recalls, “that you repeat it an octave higher and double the decibels? I was like that. 'Nashville?! Yes! Of course I would!'. I hoped it would help the album to reveal itself. I thought 'If I don't get it in Nashville, I'm not going to get it anywhere.'”
Kylie's Nashville trip involved working alongside two key writers, both with homes in the city. One was British-born songwriter Steve McEwan (whose credits include huge Country hits for Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood), and the other was the aforementioned Amy Wadge, another Brit (best known for her mega-selling work with Ed Sheeran). It was then a truly international project: Golden was mainly created with African-German producer Sky Adams and a list of contributors including Jesse Frasure, Eg White, Jon Green, Biff Stannard, Samuel Dixon, Danny Shah and Lindsay Rimes, and there's a duet with English singer Jack Savoretti.
However, the album's agenda-setting lead single Dancing was, significantly, first demoed with Nathan Chapman, the man who guided Taylor Swift's transition from Country starlet to Pop megastar. If anyone knows how to mix those two genres, Chapman does. “Nathan was the only actual Nashvillean I worked with. He's got a huge studio in his house, which is probably due to his success with Taylor... there’s plenty of platinum discs of her, and others on his walls.”
There's something of the spirit of Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is?, of Dylan Thomas' Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night, even of Liza Minnelli's Cabaret about Dancing, a song which not only opens the album but sets out its stall, providing a microcosm of what is to come. “You've got the lyrical edge, that Country feel, mixed with some sampling of the voice and electronic elements, so it does what it says on the label. And I love that it's called 'Dancing', it's immediately accessible and seemingly so obvious, but there’s depth within the song.”
The experience of simply being in Nashville was an overwhelming one, before Kylie had even arrived. “Once I knew I was going to Nashville, people talked about the place with such enthusiasm. They said without doubt I would love it and, I would come back with songs. They were sending lists of restaurants, coffee shops and bars. It really was a beautiful and genuine response and it felt like I was about to have a life changing experience and in a way, I did.”
The reality came as something of a surprise, when she found a far more modern metropolis than the vintage one she'd envisaged. “I thought it would be like New Orleans: little houses and bars, with music spilling out onto the street. It reminded me more of Melbourne: apartment blocks going up everywhere! The main strip, Broadway, where the honky tonk bars are, that’s where the street was filled with music and it was just amazing.”
Mainly, Minogue remembers the heat and humidity. “It was 100 degrees. It was like it was raining with no rain.” She also relished the chance to wander around unrecognised, visit a few venerable music bars and soak in the atmosphere. “I didn't get to the Grand Ole Opry or the music museums but I managed to go to a couple of the institutions there like The Bluebird Cafe and The Listening Room, and just by being there, through some kind of osmosis, you get this rejuvenated respect for The Song, and the writing of The Song. There's no hoo-hah around it. There's a singer-songwriter there, talking about the song and singing the song, to an audience who are there to listen. Although, I have to confess I was guilty of starting to clap too soon during a long pause at the end of one of the songs. The guy made a bit of a joke out of it and got a laugh from it, but I thought 'Of all people in the audience, no...'”
It's probably no coincidence, therefore, that every track on Golden is a Kylie co-write, making it arguably her most personal album to date. “The end of 2016 was not a good time for me,” she says, referring to well-documented personal upheavals, “so when I started working on the album in 2017, it was, in many ways, a great escape. Making this album was a kind of saviour. I’d been through some turmoil and was quite fragile when I started work on it, but being able to express myself in the studio made quick work of regaining my sense of self. Writing about various aspects of my life, the highs and lows, with a real sense of knowing and of truth. And irony. And joy!”
The songwriting process allowed Kylie to get a few things out of her system. “Initially, she admits, “it was cathartic, but it also wasn't very good. I think I was writing too literally. But I reached a point where I was writing about the bigger-picture, and that was a breakthrough. It made way for songs like Stop Me From Falling and One Last Kiss. It also meant I had enough distance to write an autobiographical song, like A Lifetime To Repair, with a certain amount of humour. The countdown in that song: 'Six-five-four-three, too many times...'. I don't know if that will be a single, but I can just imagine a girl with framed pictures of past boyfriends, and kind of going 'Oh god, when am I going to get this right?'”
When she listens back to Golden, Kylie can vividly hear the Nashville in it. It is, she'll agree, probably the first time that a Kylie album has sounded like the place it was made. “You wouldn't normally relate my songs to the cities. Can't Get You Out Of My Head sounds more like Outer Space than London. But Shelby ’68, for example, was written in London but it was done with Nashville in mind. It's about my Dad's car, and my brother recorded Dad driving it! I don't think I'd have written a number of the songs, including Shelby ’68 and Radio On without having had that Nashville experience.”
The latter, she says, is “about music being the one to save you.” Throwing herself into the making of the record, she says, crystallised that idea. “If there's one love that will always be there for you, it's music. Well, it is for me, anyway.” That song, in particular, carries nostalgic echoes of the golden age of Country, as heard through Medium Wave transistors and tinny home stereos in the distant past. Like any child of the Seventies, Kylie had a basic grounding in Country music, mainly absorbed from older family members. “My Step-Grandfather was born in Kentucky and though he lived most of his adult life in Australia, he never stopped listening to his beloved Country artists.” If there's any classic Country singer whose imprint can be heard on Golden, it's Dolly Parton.
Kylie saw Dolly live for the first time at the end of 2016, at the Hollywood Bowl. “It was like seeing the light,” she beams. “It was incredible. Everyone, whether they know it or not, is a Dolly Parton fan. When I was in Nashville, I did pick up a T-shirt that said 'What Would Dolly Do?' Maybe that should be my mantra.” And, whether consciously or otherwise, there's a timbre and trill to Kylie's vocals on Radio On that is distinctly Parton-esque. “My delivery is quite different on this album,” she says. “A lot of things are 'sung' less. The first time I did that was with Where The Wild Roses Grow. On the day I met Nick Cave, when I recorded my vocals, he said 'Just sing it less. Talk it through, tell the story.' This album wasn't quite to that extreme, but a lot of the songs were done in fewer takes, to just capture the moment and keep imperfections that add to the song. I remember on my last album, a lot of producers were trying to take out literally every vibrato they heard. And that's not natural to my voice. I mean, I can make myself sound like a robot, but it's nice to sound like a human!”
Working within the Country genre also gave Kylie permission to write in the Nashville vernacular. “Because we were going there, I wasn't afraid to have lines like ‘When he’s fallen off the wagon we’d still dance to our favourite slow song', ‘Ten sheets to the wind, I was all confused’, ‘I’ll take the ride if it’s your rodeo’. The challenge of bringing a Country element to the album made the process feel very fresh to me, kind of like starting over. I started to look at writing a different way, singing a different way.”
If ever Kylie lost confidence in the Country-Pop concept, and found herself pondering “This is great, but back in the real world – my real world – how will this work?”, Jamie Nelson was there to badger her into sticking to the path. “We found a way to make it a hybrid with what we'll call my 'usual' sound. It had to stay ‘pop’ enough to stay authentic to me, but country enough to be a new sound for this album. The closer we zoomed in, and the more we honed it, I knew Jamie was right. We sacrificed good songs that weren't right for this album, because we wanted it to be as cohesive as possible. The songs that were hitting the mark were these ones, so we decided to be strong, and that's how we wrapped up the album. What he said, that stuck with me, was that 'I'd hate to get to the end of this and really wish we'd gone for it.'”
Having worked with Kylie for so long, Nelson was able to put this latest shift of direction into perspective. “He said 'You've traditionally done it throughout your career. You had your PWL time, then you did a complete turn when you went to deConstruction, then another complete turn with Spinning Around, and R&B dance-pop, and then another turn with Can't Get You Out Of My Head, icy synth-pop, and this is another one.' He was right. It felt like the right time to have a change sonically. New label, new stories to tell, and a new decade almost upon me.”
Kylie Minogue will, it's scarcely believable, turn 50 this year. This looming milestone is partly behind the album's title, and title track. “I had this line that I wanted to use: 'We're not young, we're not old, we're golden' because I'm asked so often about being my age in this industry. This year, I'll be 50. And I get it, I get the interest, but I don't know how to answer it. And that line, for my personal satisfaction, says it as succinctly as possible. We can’t be anyone else, we can’t be younger or older than we are, we can only be ourselves. We're golden. And the album title, Golden, reflects all of this. I liked the idea of everyone being golden, shining in their own way. The sun shines in daylight, the moon shines in darkness. Wherever we are in life, we are still golden.”
One of the album's shiniest moments is Raining Glitter, an exuberant banger which ventures closest to Kylie's traditional dance-pop comfort zone. “Eg White, who is one of the producers and writers and a great character, was talking about disco one day. I said 'I love disco, but you know the brief.' We needed to be going down the Country lane, so to speak. But we managed to bring them both together. When I wrote it, I was thinking about the Jacksons video for Can You Feel It where they're sprinkling glitter over everyone. And I think there's a Donna Summer record that's got that feel to it. I think that's my job: I basically leave a trail of glitter after every show I do anyway.”
Kylie is looking forward to the challenge of incorporating the Golden material into her live shows. “Mixing these songs in with my existing catalogue is going to be fun. And it could be fun to do some of those songs with just a guitar. It'll make my acoustic set interesting...”
Her incredibly loyal fans – to whom one Golden song, Sincerely Yours, is intended as “a love letter” – will, she believes, have no problem with her latest stylistic shift. “My audience have been with me on the journey, so I shouldn't be afraid that they won't come with me on this part. I've had fun with it, and I'm sure they will too.”
The time spent making Golden has, Kylie says, been a time of creative and personal renewal. “I've met some amazing people, truly inspiring writers and musicians. My passion for music has never gone away, but it's got bigger and stronger.” And if there's an overriding theme to the record, it is one of acceptance. “We’re all human and it’s OK to make mistakes, get it wrong, to want to run, to want to belong, to love, to dream. To be ourselves.”
“I was able to both lose and find myself whilst making this album.”