Toyah Willcox has shared a new single ‘Levitate’, the first taster of her forthcoming solo album, ‘Posh Pop’. Check out the video below along with our exclusive interview with the singer.
Her first album of new material since 2008’s ‘In The Court Of The Crimson Queen’, ‘Posh Pop’ was made with Simon Darlow, following on from his work as co-writer and a producer of her aforementioned previous album, and features guitar lines from her husband, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp – with whom Willcox has become known for Sunday Lunch video series, sharing renditions of songs by Nirvana, David Bowie, Metallica, Billy Idol, The Rolling Stones, Judas Priest, The Prodigy, Guns N’ Roses, Alice Cooper and many more.
Of the opening salvo ‘Levitate’, Willcox told NME: “It was the second song Simon and I wrote for the album. I went into the studio with a few chords and started singing a song which was very thrashy and punky and that slowly evolved over two weeks.”
She continued: “‘Levitate’ was something I wanted to connect to people who are educating their children at home in a two-bedroom flat. The idea of the lyric: ‘How’s your day?’ and then suddenly this music comes along and lifts you through the roof and into the sky. It’s about levitating out of a situation to find who you were before lockdown.”
Each song on the 10-track album, which is released on August 27 via Demon Music Group, is accompanied by a video which created and directed by Willcox, and inspired by the success of her weekly viral Toyah & Robert’s Sunday Lunch.
We asked asked her about her new music, and her unlikely internet fame.
Hello Toyah! How did ‘Posh Pop’ come about?
Toyah: “When COVID stopped everything last year, it allowed me to concentrate on writing and recording the next album. We recorded in Simon’s outdoor studio with just him, my husband and I. ‘Posh Pop’ was a magical experience created out of the need and ability to make contact with our fans in a heartfelt way. Also the terrifying distance between those who run the world and those on the ground inspired my writing. Working with Fripp in the studio, we just handed him the chord charts the day before and said: ‘We want you to come in and improvise and that’s what we’ll use’. It was spontaneous.”
Did any of the anthemic songs you were covering as part of Toyah & Robert’s Sunday Lunch have any influence on the album?
“It hugely influenced the album. I felt very much that what we were writing was going to lift people out of anxiety, help people dance with friends again and connect, and I wanted on many levels to say: we have shared this experience with you.”
Is there a song that you feel might help people the most?
“‘Barefoot On Mars’ is having the biggest impact. I had discussions with the record label about whether I could use the line ‘I held you when you died’. In recent years, both Simon and I have both lost parents and we wanted to write about that but in the context of lockdown, where people have not been able to visit relatives in hospital when the NHS was overloaded. It changed grief for the whole world.”
And it’s a hugely personal song about your mother?
“I wanted it to recognise that love is always there, even though sometimes it’s buried. In those last days I had with my mother, I was the only person she allowed near her physically. She never held me once in my life other than when I was baby and she never said she loved me, but at the point of death, she accepted me. We all have experiences like that but it feels taboo to share them – and that taboo became greater during the lockdown.”
Every song on the album is accompanied by a video. You’ve even managed to convince Robert Fripp to take part in a synchronised dance routine for the song ‘Space Dance’…
“He’s in all the videos. With ‘Space Dance’, I wanted to hit the late ‘70s with videos from Devo and Kraftwerk which were all about very stilted movements. Fripp and Darlow are the best musicians I know but neither of them can dance! I wanted to do something I found utterly inspirational in the late ‘70s, and have been influenced by the arthouse movies that were coming out of Germany and New York.”
It seems lockdown has been good for Robert Fripp. Would you have imaged years ago that he would ever be dancing in one of your videos?
“He hated being on camera at first, but he was moved profoundly by getting messages saying our films, like us performing Swan Lake, saved their lives. It’s that British thing of laughing in the face of adversity. Slowly, that evolved into us playing rock songs. What’s incredible is Robert has never played that kind of guitar and he took on a student who’s a heavy rocker and the student took on me and taught me guitar. And Fripp now has a Mohican and is studying heavy rock. It’s glorious!”
Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi observed of your ‘Paranoid’ rendition: “I think this lockdown has drove them mental.” Have you had any reaction from other artists you’ve covered?
“When we did ‘”Whole Lotta Love’, Robert Plant – who we know – texted us with: ‘That’s a Whole Lotta Laughs’! Alice Cooper played it [their cover of ‘Poison’] on his band meeting online and they were literally fucking rolling on the floor! I’m such a fan of Alice Cooper, I felt like a naughty child! The loveliest one was Judas Priest who got in touch saying it was the best publicity they’d had in a long time!”
Do you think there’s been a shift in perception of you and your legacy during lockdown? Shirley Manson wrote an open Instagram message to you apologising for mocking you as a teenager when in fact she was a fan who “sucked at Toyah’s teat [but did’] not have the strength of character to admit it.”…
“That made a huge difference. Also, last December, my back catalogue started to be released which made things go stratospheric.”
Robert Fripp said this year you were a “cultural influencer from the late ‘70s through to the ‘80s” that he’s seen “airbrushed from history in a way which I continue to find incomprehensible”…
“Well, I think where [Garbage’s] Shirley Manson was great was she pointed out the amount of people that copied me! Around eight years ago, I got a call from somebody who said: ‘You need to know there’s a team that have come over from America linked to Lady Gaga that are looking at everything you’ve done.’ I said: ‘That’s great. If that’s what she wants, she’s welcome. I did it first’. I’m still functioning and incredibly creative. I play sold-out shows, act constantly in award-winning films, I have high-end directors contacting me – like JJ Abrams – regularly. Perception of me is not something I’m at the controls of, but what Robert says is he sees how hard I work and the influence I have.”
Toyah releases ‘Posh Pop’ on August 27.