Pink on You+Me: why I've ditched the acrobatics and leotards to go country

Pink, last seen belting out hits while swinging through the air with topless hunks, has taken up country music. Why? Because it’s a ‘fun hang’

“I was actually pleasantly surprised,” says Pink, sprawling across the sofa of a plush hotel suite in Santa Monica, as the California sun streams in through the windows. “I only screwed up twice. But my mistakes were pretty noticeable – they usually are. When I fuck up, I go big.”

The singer is talking about her first gig in her new guise: as one half of country-folk duo You+Me. The other half is Dallas Green, former singer with Canadian rock band Alexisonfire. It is, to the say the least, something of a departure for the woman born Alecia Moore: last night’s gig took place in a tiny room in Santa Monica, which makes it a far cry from Moore’s previous show, in which she belted out platinum-selling hits while performing death-defying acrobatics with topless hunks at the Las Vegas MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Introduced to the stage by an excessively cheery local radio DJ, the pair seemed nervous. Moore, dressed in a floor-length floral dress rather than her more typical sequined leotards, began by saying “Shit, sorry, hi” to the small crowd, as if shocked by their close proximity, not to mention the bare brick walls, dimmed vintage lamps and artfully scattered rugs.

Cast a glance over the current pop landscape and you’d be forgiven for thinking that nobody actually wants to be a pop star any more. In the past 12 months, Lady Gaga has gone jazz, Robbie Williams has toured arenas with his second swing album, and Sophie Ellis-Bextor is exploring, well, Russian folk. Even Olly Murs’s new album features a song co-written with Paul Weller.

So perhaps Moore’s decision isn’t so strange. Known for her honesty and self-laceration, two very country-music traits, Moore has always seemed more comfortable singing about her own travails rather than the straightforward joy of hit single Get the Party Started; take 2002’s Family Portrait, a track about her parents’ divorce. She has also never been afraid to take risks, as in the sudden shift from the R&B of her 2000 debut Can’t Take Me Home to the pop-rock of her breakthrough 2001 album Missundaztood. But her latest shift, she says, has always been part of her onstage persona. “In the same concerts where I’m flying around, I’m always barefoot and sitting with an acoustic guitar too,” she says. “In every show, I do an acoustic section, so it’s a very big part of me.”

Despite her success, she doesn’t feel respected as a songwriter. “No – and I never will be. [Songwriter] Linda Perry told me back when I was doing Mizzundaztood that, as the pop star, you’re never going to get the credit, even though you’re writing all your own songs.” So is this the reason why she’s recorded a stripped-back acoustic album? “This wasn’t an attempt at anything other than a fun hang,” she says.

Moore first became aware of Green’s work when her husband, the retired motorbike stunt-racer Carey Hart, played her his music. She was so blown away that she listened to it while giving birth to their daughter, Willow. “I don’t remember what song it was,” she cackles. “I was high as shit on painkillers. But I’ve always been drawn to voices that make you feel one sound deeply. My favourite instrument is the violin, because no other instrument draws out the pain and the aching that’s inside of me like it does. And Dallas’s voice is like that violin.”

The album, both members of You+Me are at pains to make clear, isn’t the result of label meetings or some attempt to re-position their careers. “This is a passion thing,” Moore says firmly. “We’re friends and we wanted to sing together. We handed our record companies an album and they were like, ‘What?’ And we were like, ‘We don’t know, that’s your job.’”

Green adds: “It’s funny. People say: ‘Why did you do this?’ The answer is: ‘She asked.’ No one’s ever asked me before.” In fact, the question of why has been raised a lot online, with most commentators expressing shock that a man who’s released all of his albums via independent labels has jumped into bed with one of the world’s biggest mainstream pop stars. One YouTube comment suggested Green had sold his soul to the devil. “Well, that person probably sucks,” says Green. It’s the closest to angry he gets all afternoon.

Moore can’t resist baring her teeth. “You can do anything and there will be someone who doesn’t like it – because that’s the way the world is now. We’ve lost our manners and, unfortunately, what people don’t realise is that by being that way, they’re losing the joy in their lives and the opportunity to be pleasantly surprised. The world is a jaded, scary place and, as a mum of a little girl, it’s even more apparent to me. I chose to not live in that world with those people, because I have way too much fun.”

Green, bristling, adds: “This project is still independent for me. I’m like an independent contractor. I’ve made a conscious decision to stay independent because it’s the way I’ve always wanted to be. Alecia has earned the right to do whatever she wants. It’s only surprising and drastic to people on the outside. To us, it makes perfect sense.”

Rose Ave, their decidedly rustic and beguiling album, was recorded in six days in a studio near Venice Beach. The plan, says Moore, was to just meet up and see what happened: “I said, ‘Let’s drop off your guitar, then find a bar.’ We found a cool little spot, super mellow and vibey, and we wrote two songs.” They found that they shared a confessional songwriting style. Or as Green puts it: “We’re both pretty good at writing weird stuff about our family members.”

Pink on stage in Las Vegas
‘I love pop music. I like flying around on stage’… Pink performing in Las Vegas. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty

The album opens with a moody number called Capsized. “I was sitting at home watching Alecia sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow at the Oscars,” says Green. “I was playing my guitar and for some reason wrote a riff. I recorded it on my phone and the next day I said, ‘I’ve got this thing.’ She sang something about two ships and then we had a song. That’s how quickly everything happened. It was crazy.”

For Moore, the album was a breath of fresh air compared to the social-media-obsessed cycle of pop releases. “For those six days, there was nowhere else I wanted to be. With Instagram and Twitter, people want to share every single part of their lives all the time, so it’s fun to have a secret you created just to have a secret. No end game. No reason.” The initial idea was to release Rose Ave online with no fanfare and with no names attached, but this notion fell foul of label politics. “It was impossible because we belong to two different record companies,” Moore laughs. “It would have been illegal actually. And I like my house.”

One of its key tracks is Break the Cycle, which Moore wrote about her relationship with her mother, who kicked her out at 15 because of her drug abuse. “It’s about patterns and habits and love and trying to do better,” she says. “It’s about trying to understand someone else. You can let a person know that you know what they’re going through, or what they went through. It’s a gift you give that person.” The sentiment is clear in one of the song’s most poignant lines: “Let me heal the wounds you’ve held on to for all these years.”

Has having her own daughter changed how she views her upbringing? “No, no. I understand how much you can worry for your child. I understand more of what I put my parents through and how godawful that must have been. I can’t emphasise that enough. I feel horrible for their experience.” She stops and shrugs. “But we all chose what we chose.”

Although Lady Gaga has threatened more jazz odysseys, Moore is keen to make it clear that, to paraphrase her 2006 album title, Pink’s not dead. “I love pop music,” she says. “I like flying around on stage. I have such a good time. People say, ‘Why’s she always in the fucking air?’ Because I’m having more fun than you, fuck you.”

• Rose Ave is out now on Sony.


Michael Cragg

The GuardianTramp

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