Our favourite music interviews of 2014: Taylor Swift, AC/DC, Pharrell

This year our writers had a dinner date with Taylor, listened to Abba impersonate drug dealers and even got on Dolly Parton’s tour bus – so let’s relive our favourite musical interviews of 2014

Taylor Swift by Hermione Hoby

Even though her publicist had told me that this was exactly what was going to happen, I just didn’t believe that Taylor Swift was going to be waiting for me in a restaurant one weekday lunchtime in September. And so I had – embarrassing to say – a little moment of overwhelm when I walked in and there she was, meekly texting in a booth. Better to exorcise it than battle it, I thought, so I just told her that this was a treat for me and I loved her music. She instantly pulled a perfect “Taylor Swift surprised face”. From there on in it only got better: I found her smart and sweet and impeccably self-aware. I was under strict instructions from my editor to get a selfie with her so I stoically did my professional duty. For several days afterwards my inbox was characterised by emails with subject lines of “TAYYYYYLOOOORRRRR!!!!!!!!!!!!” asking things like, “WHAT DID SHE SMELL LIKE????” The burst of Swift-centric Twitter followers was bewildering, but not nearly as batshit as reading Instagram commenters confidently averring that I was Taylor Swift’s assistant/new bff/girlfriend.

AC/DC by Michael Hann

The first album I ever bought was Powerage by AC/DC. Aside from everything on the Grease soundtrack, the first single I ever bought was Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution by AC/DC. In fact, AC/DC are the one great constant of my musical life. I’ve been pursuing an interview with them for years, and the chance to meet Angus Young and Brian Johnson finally came in November – in the midst of the most trying period of AC/DC’s career. To be honest, I was a little trepidatious. AC/DC interviews rarely produce anything in the way of revelation: they tell the same stories every five years, when they have a new record to promote, and that’s your lot. What’s more, you can’t really delve deep into their personalities based on their lyrics: “So tell me, who is big Jack, and why does he have a big sack?” But I needn’t have worried: the pair were delightful company, and surprisingly frank about their departed bandleader, Malcolm Young, and his dementia. It was one of those rare occasions when meeting your heroes is as pleasant as you might hope for.

Abba in their stage outfits in 1974
Abba ... do these people look down to earth to you? Photograph: PR

Abba by Tim Jonze

I usually find it a bit of a cliche when journalists describe celebrities as being “just like a normal person”. Yet the gargantuan contrast between Abba’s mega-success – 400m records sold – and the two entirely grounded people I was sitting down with really was astonishing. “I think being Swedes we have a very down-to-earth way of looking at ourselves and what we do,” admitted Frida. “We’ve never had any, what do you call it … hubris?” Not that this prevented them from telling their incredible story with flair – Bjorn even kicked things off with an awful impression of a drug dealer.

Judas Priest by Alexis Petridis

In person, some rock stars are completely different to how you might imagine them. Others are exactly as a fan might hope them to be. Rob Halford comes into the second category. More than 30 years after he successfully hoodwinked middle American teenage metal fans into dressing like the denizens of a gay S&M club – surely one of the most genuinely subversive acts in rock history, the stuff of Malcolm McLaren’s dreams – Halford is a total delight: smart, charming, thoughtful, possessed of that bone-dry, doleful sense of humour peculiar to Midlanders. Metal deserves an elder statesman like him.

Dolly Parton Glastonbury
Dolly Parton wows Glastonbury in June. Photograph: Brian Rasic/REX

Dolly Parton by Tom Lamont

Dolly likes to keep a firm hand on her public image and has done so very effectively for the better part of 50 years. Partly by maintaining a fearsome mental logbook of comebacks, wisecracks and anecdotes, from which she plucks appropriate nuggets during interviews, always keeping a firm control on the flow of information. When we met in Nashville for an interview, I asked my questions and listened politely whenever she went in to one of these mini-routines, about her music, her background, her looks, her lovelife, many lines from which I’d heard or read before, some of it even used as stage patter at Glastonbury, where Dolly had triumphantly performed in the summer in front of 180,000 people. But here and there we were able to get on to fresh, unscripted ground, and we seemed to get on, and when her manager invited me aboard to explore her luxury tour bus later, it felt as significant as being handed a dossier on alien existence, or being trusted with the nuclear codes. Exposure to the real life of the real Dolly! I don’t think a journalist had ever climbed up that bus’s steps before ...

Brody Dalle by Charlotte Richardson Andrews

I’ve had a framed poster of punk icon Brody Dalle on my wall for the last 12 years. It’s a tatty, monochrome thing that came free with 2002’s Give ’Em the Boot compilation, bearing the image of Dalle during her Hellcat years – liberty spikes slicked high, eyes heavy with kohl (the very same image that US megastore Macy’s recently “borrowed” for a storefront display). This year, I had the daunting pleasure of meeting Dalle in the flesh. As she explained to me back in the spring, in an interview spread across two days at Shoreditch’s Ace Hotel, a lot has changed since that power portrait was taken …

Ariel Pink
Ariel Pink: music’s most hated man? Photograph: Sasha Eisenman/PR

Ariel Pink by Rhik Sammader

I’d been warned Ariel Pink could be tricky. Indeed, the day before our scheduled meeting, the oddball popstar went awol. When I eventually met Pink in LA, he was cresting a wave of unpopularity: labelled a “delusional misogynist” by Grimes, and a troll by most of the music press. Unrepentant, he treated me to a bizarre, occasionally brilliant two-hour monologue in which he courted further controversy, admitting he was giving me “all the ammunition needed to take him down”. Underneath the self-sabotage and bravado, I discerned an intelligent, conflicted outsider artist, amused and horrified by the heat of the spotlight.

Rick Ross by Lanre Bakare

When I was told I could hang around with Rick Ross for 24 hours I felt a mix of excitement and apprehension. This was the Boss. The bellicose teller of apocryphal tales. But when I first met him, backstage at The Tonight Show, he merely looked a bit sad, sat there in joggers while eating a burrito and playing on his phone. Once his entourage got him talking, though, he spewed forth a hilarious mix of yarns about feuding with his neighbour John McEnroe and theories on the illuminati that didn’t make much sense. Ross definitely likes to play the part, and the transformation from backstage sulker to onstage performer was impressive. When we sat down for an interview he clicked into character again. Most rappers have that ability, but Ross’s is probably the furthest away from his actual, real-life self, who just seemed to want to hang about in Miami and eat nice food.

Lostprophets/No Devotion by Caroline Sullivan

The conviction of Lostprophets’ singer Ian Watkins for child sex offences in December 2013 ended the band’s career, leaving the other members in limbo. It was partly to respond to accusations on social media that they must have known what Watkins was doing that guitarist Lee Gaze and bassist Stuart Richardson agreed to be interviewed in July. How does an interviewer address such a sensitive subject? Luckily, having decided they were going to talk about it, they did, at length. Gaze in particular was eloquent on the subject of Watkins’s betrayal – it was clear that they’d been as shocked as anyone else. I was moved by his need to talk it through. He and the other ex-Lostprophets had by then formed a new band called No Devotion, but he barely mentioned it. It was pretty obvious that this wasn’t a promo opportunity for him – it was a form of therapy.

Pharrell Williams
Pharrell Williams ... looks good in anything (even that hat). Photograph: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Anheuser-Busch

Pharrell Williams by Simon Hattenstone

It’s not what he said that I remember – Pharrell is pretty much non-verbal. It’s what he looked like. I’ve never met a man so effortlessly cool. There were racks and racks of clothes at the shoot, and whatever clashing poncho/hat/shirt/dungaree combo he picked up, he looked wonderful in. Astonishing cheekbones, too. Bastard. Before we met his people said he wanted to pay homage to a wilderness Johnny Depp in the shoot. So we hired two huge horses. He was appalled when he got there. Turned out he was terrified of horses. But he agreed to be photographed with them so long as we didn’t linger. “Take your picture, bro,” he told the photographer, Gustavo Papaleo. “I’m not going to do this 20 million times. It’s freaking me.”

Frankie Goes to Hollywood by Paul Lester

I recently read a statistic – which at first made me recoil, because it seemed grossly inflated: that in the summer of 1984, one in four teenagers in Britain owned one of those Frankie Goes to Hollywood T-shirts with the “Frankie Say” slogans on. But the fact is, Frankie were so big that summer that the statistic might actually be an understatement. They were that once-in-a-generation pop double-whammy: massive and dangerous, like the Sex Pistols if they’d sold spectacular quantities of records, or One Direction if they’d comprised two openly gay frontmen and three disgraceful, debauched yobs on bass, guitar and drums. They were astonishingly big that year. Even more astonishing is that they barely get mentioned in rock histories these days or cited as an influence. So I decided to write a feature asking why that might be.


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