Interview: Daphne Guinness

Daphne Guinness

Take one heiress and fashion muse, throw in a legendary producer, add smatterings of glam references and an all-star band and what do you get? Why it’s Daphne & The Golden Chord, the new album from Daphne Guinness…

Heir by direct descent of 18th century Irish brewer Arthur Guinness and former muse to Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow, the designer-turned-singer-songwriter is back with her latest offering which follows 2016’s critically acclaimed debut Optimist in Black.

Daphne & The Golden Chord finds her teaming up once again with long-time David Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti; the two were introduced on Bowie’s recommendation.

Recorded almost entirely live to analogue tape, it’s a record that wears its retro influences on its sleeve, with wah-wah guitars, proggy swirls and Phil Spector beats circling around Guinness’ smoky-rich vocal takedowns.

As Visconti says: ‘This second album is glam! We were channeling Marc Bolan and T.Rex (whom I produced in the seventies), and yet she made that sound her own. Daphne is one of the most prolific writers I’ve ever worked with. She has so much to say.’

Backed by members of Thin Lizzy, Generation X and Roxy Music, it’s a bonafide rock ‘n’ roll cut with unflinching honesty at the heart of it. ‘It’s the closest thing I can get to a memoir without making people I know very cross indeed. It’s all there: love, hate, nervous breakdowns,’ Guinness says.

Here, she tells us more about how the album came together, her early opera years plus what’s in store next…

What was the thinking behind Daphne & The Golden Chord – how did the album come together, where/when was it written and what themes does it tackle?

The golden chord is the imaginary ‘lost’ chord made up of the notes between the notes. Tony Visconti has said that I’m very good at writing a song in no key. The songs on this album came to me very quickly and the lyrics, as usual, are catharsis through poetry. A kind of diary, but one that addresses themes that are common to us all!

What were you listening to, and what was inspiring you, leading up to making the record?

I listen to all kinds of music from Wagner to St Vincent but when I’m in the studio I don’t listen to anything but my own music. I am inspired by artists who simply do their own thing regardless of what people think of them. Picasso, Dylan, Nick Knight, David la Chapelle.

Loving the high-charged glam rock of Remember to Breathe. How did you land on that sound? Did it help having Andy Mackay (Roxy Music) contributing?

The glam sound was essentially pioneered by Tony Visconti who produced this album and of course if you want glam rock sax, Andy is the only man for the job.

How do you work with the other band members? Are they involved in the writing?

I demo the songs in a very basic arrangement with my co-writer Malcolm, then get in a room with my band and let them do their thing. They are excellent musicians who each bring their individual magic to the party and they are all such cool people. We have real chemistry.

You were an aspiring opera singer in your teenage years, what drew you to that? Is opera still a part of your life?

I can’t conceive of a time when music wasn’t a part of my life. It has always been my secret friend. I still listen to opera and regularly sing along with pieces such as Son Qual Nave ch’agitata by Ricardo Broschi and Richard Strauss Lieder. It’s a great exercise for the vocal chords and good for the mental discipline of singing but it’s very different to rock ‘n’ roll obviously. What I do with my writing is try to match a word to a note in a poetic and honest way and to inhabit the song, so in that respect there is a similarity. Classical music was the rock ‘n’ roll of its day!

This is your second collaboration with Tony Visconti. What’s it like working together?

Tony is a real genius. He has a constant curiosity married with the most astonishing mastery of the technical aspects of recording, as well as an encyclopedic knowledge of musical history. He also has a great sense of humour which is essential in the studio. His string arrangements are truly sublime.

How does fashion inform your music? Do you write with an aesthetic in mind?

Fashion, poetry, painting, songwriting… They are all different strands of the same thing and I simultaneously conceive these things in a multifaceted way. I know what I am aiming for, and in the process I feel my way through. The aesthetic is what it is!

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself as an artist since making the decision to record an album?

How much I still have to learn! Everyday brings a beautiful new adventure.

What else are you working on at the moment and what’s coming up for you over the next few months?

I am releasing the album with a mini sci-fi movie for the song 5 Planets which I made with my longtime friend and collaborator Nick Knight. Nick is a visionary. I have also been working with art couple The Fashtons on films and sculptures to accompany the album. The films feature outfits by Iris Van Herpen, Gareth Pugh as well as my own creations. I am constantly experimenting and combining my twin worlds of sound and vision.

Daphne & The Golden Chord is released digitally on 20 April and on CD/vinyl formats on 15 June 15 via Agent Anonyme/Absolute. New single Riot is out now.  

Main photo: Mick Rock