British singer and songwriter Annie Lennox has released more than two dozen albums, sold more than 200 million records, performed for some of the most famous names in music and been a driving force behind some of the biggest names in pop. She is also someone who still finds joy from every note she sings, from her signature higher vocals to her playful stage presence. In an exclusive interview with The Indian Express, Annie Lennox talked about how she deals with failure, the important role that walking plays in her life and how she keeps discovering new and exciting things about herself. Excerpts:
After all these years, are you still excited by the prospect of recording an album? What goes into making an album for you?
I’m 61 now. I’ve been doing this since I was 17 or 18. I’ve been very excited by it but also by other things as well. Working on a new project is always interesting because it’s such a different thing from everything else you do. You feel a sense of freshness again after every project so there’s always that excitement behind it too (smiles). There are different things that go into making an album for me…it depends on what we’re writing about at any given time. There are times when it might be more fun to write about something different because maybe we don’t know quite where to take it just yet…but as long as we know where we

What is the secret behind your iconic higher vocal or the “opera voice”? How long did it take you to master it and how do you maintain it?

The voice I have is a voice that has been around for a very long time. I’ve had the same vocal technique for about 30 years now. My voice, that operatic voice, has been such a big part of my life since it’s always been there. It took me a while to master it but now I do it as easily as breathing. When you can do something like that easily, then you don’t really need to work at it any more because the excitement is gone but the challenge is still there because when you can master something easily then there’s nothing left to be challenged by.

You’ve sung in many languages — do you feel any limitations when singing in your mother tongue English? If yes, how do you overcome them? How important is speaking languages other than your mother tongue while growing up?

I think when you’re singing in your own language, it’s quite a good feeling to be able to express yourself. I don’t think it limits you because you have all the tools that are available to you. You can do whatever is going to resonate with your voice so I don’t think it restricts you at all. It does depend on the song though. For example, if we were doing something that was more reflective and not as up-tempo then maybe having another language might be better. But I think it’s more important that the lyrics themselves are interesting rather than anything else (smiles).

You have mentioned before that walking helps keep a check on yourself. Can you elaborate on this and why is walking so important in your life? What are some other things that help you stay grounded and balanced?

I walk over a lot of broken glass. I like to walk because it helps me keep my balance and stay grounded. It’s one of the ways that I feel centered and balanced. Walking is also what wakes me up in the morning, it’s good for your physical health, it’s good for your mental health and so it’s very grounding in many different ways. And I like to be outside because being outside takes my mind off things. There are so many things that can happen when you’re walking outdoors, you can see street artists, you can see people who are walking their dogs…you can see a million different things that go on around you while you’re out there (smiles). So I think sometimes when we’re stuck in our own heads looking at everything, we need to step back and be aware of what’s going on around us and just take a walk.

You have also spoken about having bad art habits. Can you share an anecdote of when you realised that something was wrong with the way you were writing songs and what helped change it for good?

I think I was trying to write too much. Writing is a difficult process because there’s a lot of self-doubt that comes with it. You always hope you’re doing what you should be doing but sometimes you just need to stop and start again when you feel like you’ve been going in circles. When you feel like the writing isn’t progressing, then it might be time to take a break and come back in the New Year or something like that.

You have been part of some iconic songs — which one song did not click with audiences and why was that case?

It’s always interesting because you never know where it’s going to go. You never know what the reaction is going to be. I had a song called ‘Walk On Broken Glass’ which was really a story of pain and anger and frustration, but it did okay in the UK. But when it came out in America I think it was put on a different level because Americans do like songs about pain but they also like songs about hope so that one just took off and became an international hit for me.
But I had another song too which was called ‘I Don’t Know Where To Start’ which didn’t click with audiences at all. It was about despair, about feeling stuck, feeling lost, feeling unloved and people just weren’t ready for that one…it would have been good if the audiences had come around to it later on though cause I love that song now (smiles).
What did you find most exciting when you were coming up during your earlier days?
I was excited by everything as long as I felt challenged by what I was doing. There are moments when you feel you’re not challenging yourself sufficiently enough to keep pushing yourself forward so there can be times when you feel that too and then that might lead to some disappointments either creatively or personally…but no matter what happens you always want to keep moving forward.

You are known for working with top lyricists. What makes a great lyricist for you, apart from being able to write poetry and convey emotions effectively through lyrics? Is there anything specific about a good lyricist that stands out for you or does it depend on the person too?

I think the most important part of being a good lyricist is that they are able to get in touch with their own emotions and have some sort of understanding or empathy for other people’s emotions. They can put themselves in someone else’s shoes and that’s not easy but it is essential. And I think the other thing, which I don’t know if people always realize, is that lyrics are so closely connected to melody…just because you can write prose doesn’t mean you can write lyrics. So when somebody comes to me and says, ‘I want to be a lyricist’, I say ‘Can you sing? Can you sing well? Can you write melodies?

Final words

I’m really proud of the album. It was a really tough time for me so I’m really pleased that it came out. To me, “Walking On Broken Glass” is such a powerful song and it’s been very successful both with critics and public. I’m very pleased about that and I hope people enjoy it as well.

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