Tracey Thorn: ‘Not everything you do is cool’

Everything But the Girl’s Tracey Thorn on performing, her parents and her second memoir, Another Planet

• Read an extract from Another Planet: A Teenager in Suburbia

You mined your teenage diaries a little in your first book, Bedsit Disco Queen. Did you find something different going back to them this time?
When I wrote Bedsit Disco Queen, I think I tried to present a slightly cooler version of myself. Implying that I’d only bought these records and that I’d immediately bought a guitar and formed a band. And when I came to look at my diaries again I thought: “Well yeah, but at the same time you were still going to venture scout meetings and discos at the British Legion. Not everything you do is cool.”

The boredom of living in the suburbs could be “inspirational as well as dispiriting”, you write. How was that?
Life was still a lot more primitive in many ways. So we were still thrown back on our resources a lot more, making our own clothes, putting on our gigs: “Let’s do the show right here!” It just struck me how old-fashioned those times seemed.

Do you wish you’d had social media back then?
I was more starry-eyed about that a few years ago. I remember writing that I wished Twitter had been around when we’d been in the band to connect with fans. But that was before Twitter went quite as sour as it is now. Now I think, “Jesus, I’m glad there wasn’t Twitter and I didn’t get trolled by people who didn’t like a new B-side!”

Your daughters have just come out of their teenage years. Was theirs a very different experience to yours?
I think so. No one really expected very much of me and my mates: we went to school and people suggested we learned to type, because that’s probably what we’d end up doing. When I got myself to university – and was the first one in my family to do so – my parents were proud of me but on the other hand they just thought: “Well, it’s useful that you’ve learned to type as well. Because maybe you’ll end up being a secretary and that’s all just on the way to getting married anyway.” My girls would have considered that quite shocking.

Tracey with Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl in 1984.
Tracey with Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl in 1984. Photograph: Peter Noble/Redferns

There are some very moving passages in the book about your parents. Do you regret that you grew apart?
Yeah, there is regret there, especially about my relationship with my mum. We’d been very, very close when I was young and then became so distant when I was a teenager. And it never completely healed and we ended up being on different sides of every argument and every conversation. But I’d written in a song: “We’re as unalike as frost and fire” – implying that we were complete opposites. And I thought: “You know what, I want to put on the record that I don’t really believe that.”

You don’t perform live now as a singer, but you’re doing lots of book-tour engagements. Do you feel differently about those?
Yeah, I don’t think of them as performances really. When I first starting doing events for a book I thought: “Am I going to clam up on stage and not be able to say anything?” And actually I find it really easy. It’s because you are just chatting and I find that books come to life, especially funny passages.

Your solo album, Record, was very well received last year, and the books are very popular, too. Do you feel creatively satisfied?
I do, and I feel very lucky to still feel like I’m full of ideas. I think sometimes being in the beginning or the middle of things is almost the best bit. This sounds terrible, because it sounds so ungrateful, but I’m never as excited by the aftermath of things: whether or not they are successful. It’s lovely if they are, obviously, but actually the really exciting bit is when it’s an idea in your head and you’re getting working on it.

You’ve called writing songs a “minimalist art form”. Is it liberating to write books as well then?
It is. I like that you can start a conversation and then present the other side, walk around it and look at it from different angles. There are more opportunities maybe to express mixed feelings, which I’m always keen on doing because I think it’s true to the way we are as human beings. Having mixed feelings is something that should be stressed more and more.

Contributor

Interview by Tim Lewis

The GuardianTramp

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