Since legendary British vocalist Alison Moyet burst onto the scene with her cropped red hair, silver eye makeup, and unmistakable contralto as the voice of the ‘80s synth-pop duo Yaz, she’s defied easy categorization. A force of nature with inimitable vocals and a presence that has tended to transcend gender and sexuality, as with other androgynous acts of the era like Annie Lennox of Eurythmics and Boy George of Culture Club, Moyet has long been an icon to queer fans. From pulsating hits like “Don’t Go” and “Situation” that she and Vince Clarke released as Yaz and established as staples at gay clubs, to her soul-searching solo work on Alf (1984), Essex (1994), and more recently The Minutes (2013), it’s a safe bet that Moyet helped provide the soundtrack to many a queer kid’s coming of age over the decades.
Tireless in her commitment to her art, Moyet has been performing, recording, or writing consistently since before Yaz’s debut in 1982, and on June 16 she releases the poetic, self-reflexive album Other, a nod to embracing difference and celebrating uniqueness.
“It [other] sums up who I always thought I was. It’s a feeling that often you have when you’re young, that it’s something that you want to overcome,” Moyet says about having always been different. “And then you come to a place in your life where you actually realize the joy of it. I am other and I am akin to people who feel the same way.”
The title track of the album, “Other,” is in itself a dichotomy, at once haunting and melancholic in its instrumentation and utterly joyful in the freedom of expressing self-acceptance. “I’m as free as I have ever been,” Moyet incants on the track, adding. “Don't want another rock to hang around my neck…”
Born in Essex to an English mother and a French father, Moyet says she was never quite like the other girls. “I was always remarkable and I’m not saying that as a way to compliment myself. People always had something to say about me because I always was not what they expected,” Moyet says. “It happened in a myriad of ways — my build, my face, my dead-eyed stare. [Laughs.] In lots of ways, I was different and I suppose kind of quite hard. I was brought up to be hard.”
After decades in the business, at 55, Moyet, a mother of three grown kids, has moved to the seaside town of Brighton, England, where she’s recently returned to college to study sculpting, something she says she always wanted to do.
“There was always a part of me that was waiting for my career to give up on me,” so that she could return to school, Moyet says. But as evidenced by her storied body of work that encompasses a couple of stints on the stage, including a performance as Mama Morton in a London production of Chicago in 2001, Moyet’s career is as strong as ever. So she spent the last year dividing her days between sculpting, writing, and recording.
But Brighton, an artsy community renowned in part for its LGBT population, has offered more to Moyet than a place where she returned to school, initially taking up sculpting at community classes before moving on to college. Because of the town’s diverse population and being squarely in her 50s, or as she says, “middle-aged,” she’s enjoyed fading into the background and becoming what she loves — an observer, and nowhere is that sentiment more apparent than in “April 10th,” a spoken-word piece on Other inspired by an afternoon observing in her adopted town.
Given Moyet’s embrace of her difference, it’s no surprise that she should gravitate to Brighton, where LGBT people abound. When she was starting out in her career, she fell in with a group of mostly queer women with whom she says she had a kinship.
“When I was a young punk I came across quite a large gay community in the south end [of London], and those women were more like the women that I understood, that I recognized in myself,” Moyet says. “There was a strength, there was a resilience, there was defiance. And so I saw myself within that regardless of what our sexuality was or wasn’t.”
To accompany the release of Other, Moyet has embarked on a three-month international tour, where she will play a few dates in the United States, a country where she says she feels more understood since she’s not a household name as in Great Britain. Her American fans tend to come to her shows from more marginalized places in their lives, she says.
While Moyet has always been "other," she’s not alone in it — certainly not at this point in her career. Her relationship with marginalized people and with LGBT fans continues to offer a beautiful symbiosis. When asked what it means to her that queer people have long sought solace in her music and her presence, she says, “It means to me that in some ways I have a kin. I have a gang that I belong to and that belongs to me and we have one another’s backs.”
Watch the video for "Other" below.