Daphne Guinness Interview – Optimist In Black
March 12, 2018
Daphne Guinness released her debut album last year, entitled: Optimist In Black. Its name, synonymous of the artist. It is Guinness’ first real journey into music, after becoming fashion royalty over the last two
With her artistry ever present, the music videos for her recently released double A side; Evening In Space / Old School, showcase this. With friend of Guinness, David LaChapelle creating the visual wonderland for Evening In Space.
We sat down with Daphne to talk music, fashion, the afterlife and even a touch of quantum physics.
What are you focused on right now?
My whole thing at the moment is sound and vision, trying to get them undivorced. I observe that my visual friends have no sound to put anything to, they have to deal with record labels, but it’s easy to generate sound. The record companies are very non-artistic and the mainstream seems, well, if you turn on Radio 1 it’s just one drum loop. It’s terrible, I like classical, jazz and listen to – it doesn’t really matter, it’s either interesting or not.
I’ve found that there’s been a huge disconnect between visual content and sound, people seem to patch some sound on top of something with varying degrees of success. You always get to that point at the Oscars, where they announce “a movie couldn’t be what it is without the sound division”, there is a round of applause, and I think “you know what, sound people are treated like shit.”
Sound is everything, hardly ever scored to the actual film, and it has nothing to do with the feeling, some people can get it right, but it seems very very disconnected.
I think that’s why Hans Zimmer has done so well.
Yeah, he’s great, and also Quentin Tarantino, he uses a lot of other people’s songs but at least he gets it right. He’ll take something he loved as a child and use it in the soundtrack. But a lot of people have absolutely no idea that sound is more important than vision.
I’m one of the very few people that goes to listen to an opera, I don’t go to see it. I’ll go and listen to a prom, I go to listen to a play. That’s how audio orientated I am.
The opera comment is definitely intriguing.
I think so, I think the visuals can be distracting, however, when it works together then that’s serious magic. In the video for Evening In Space [created by David LaChapelle], David is my friend but his music tastes are not always my music tastes, but he heard Evening In Space and he went ‘I love that song!’. I said you want to make this video?’ When he said he did, I was so surprised.
Within two weeks, he got it right. He is the most astonishing artist. I never told him, it wasn’t about an evening in ‘Space’. Evening In Space was about being at dinner or being with someone that isn’t listening to you and being in the space of a very very boring individual. Tony, my producer, understood it, he understood that song more than anyone. But it’s actually that you can be in space – any space.
Talk to me about Optimist In Black and the title of that.
It was either slash my wrists after that one or come out of the depression I was going very seriously into. It went Marionettes and then into Optimist, in February about three years ago, and I was getting more and more dark and I had to take a break. Then I came back and wrote Magic Tea, because Optimist is probably the most difficult song emotionally, that I’ve ever written.
In that song you sing about ‘the shining light of the exit’. So I wanted to ask you what your view on death was, is it a romanticised ideology, one of spirituality, an ending?
I was making a decision at that time, was it a shining light, or was it not a shining light? But ‘I remain here an optimist in black’ / ‘a tournament of shadows’, because it seemed to me that my friends that were living with depression were fighting shadows, they couldn’t live in what they were. I understand more about manic depression now, but they were fighting things they didn’t understand. They decided to do what they did and they leave all their friends behind and their family, and I didn’t want to be the next one on the block. Then suddenly I was the poster child of fashion suicide and I was like what do I do? Write a song. That was a better plan.
We are born in the bodies we are in, and we have our lives in which we can choose certain paths. However, I believe when we die we go back into the great beyond and then one is re-born somewhere else. I’m not sure if it’s an afterlife or a parallel life. Physics is starting to catch up with all of these things, it’s not about religion, it’s about physical reality.
I read somewhere you were interested in quantum physics when you were younger?
I still am. There was something that came out the other day, I’m going to explain this badly but – when you can have two parts of an atom that behave exactly simultaneously on different parts of the globe, what is it called?
Yes, exactly, so entanglement is what we are all experiencing at every point in our existence. It makes sense, space isn’t empty, it’s full. It’s more like being at the bottom of the sea actually, people think that there’s nothing there. There’s actually nothing but something.
It’s kind of spooky entanglement, isn’t it.
That was Albert Einstein right?
Yes exactly, and Einstein was a musician, Oppenheimer was a musician, music is the only way to understand any of this to me.
You’ve kind of gone across all art forms, and I wanted to ask which has given you the most expression, from what you’ve just said I assume that’s music?
Yes. The only thing I can do is what I do. I think poetry to music, I mean what was a huge learning curve for me was that I’ve written a lot and I’ve written prose, but actually being able to write a song is a completely different thing. Fitting in the chorus and the verse – but actually saying something that you mean, because I can’t sing something I don’t mean. When I did classical music I had to translate everything, and think can I get into the skin of that person and if I couldn’t, I couldn’t sing the song.
If you write your own songs it’s a little bit easier as you’re saying what you want, but you still have to fit that into the meter of the song. It’s quite an art and I feel I am only a beginner. Always a beginner. That’s good enough for me man!
You’re talking about truth though expression aren’t you?
Exactly. How lame would be to stand up and say something that you don’t mean.
When we started this conversation with mainstream music, it just doesn’t have truth in it does it?
I haven’t heard anything I truly like in ages, some people do really interesting chord progressions but it doesn’t feel real. I always look at Bob Dylan when it comes to being a lyricist. The only thing about fitting it into a musical line or song, but you want to be able to say something and touch someone in someway. People may get too political and go on about war and peace and hate. All of those are universal.
But that’s my job as a lyricist to try and engage what I feel could be something that means something to someone. Whether it’s that their boyfriend chucked them, or whether it’s the choice of our next president.
Did you discover anything recording this album about yourself that you didn’t already know?
That you could quite easily go mad [laughs]. That’s what I discovered, everyone brings something to the table, and if someone doesn’t bring something and has a huge ego, they need to go. At one point I said “listen man, I’ll fire myself” [laughs]. It’s true, if it’s not good for the song, its not good at all.
The song Old School, I read that was completely analogue?
Funnily enough it is, but what I’ve done recently is use more analogue. If you listen to something that’s recorded on tape, you don’t have to double the guitars and something happens. I’ve got the whole last album on analogue tape. It’s more dif cult for the musicians because you don’t have as much room to fuck up. So you have to know what you’re doing.
For the album I’m doing right now we have two reels of tape going at the same time, and it’s just live. It’s like a live session. and that’s how everyone did it until about twenty years ago! The modern programs just don’t have that magic.
Everything has gone over to digital, and it’s not good you don’t have those sound waves, those sound waves are magical!
So you just mentioned a second album?
Yes, it’s probably two actually, it’s two different vibes, one is jazz and the other is kind of early 70s.
This sounds exciting…
It’s quite a trip! I was listening to it today, thinking God what have I done! [laughs]
A lot of this album seems seated in the 70s, do you like that era? Do you feel like that’s your time?
I’m not sure really, the way I’m doing it is as if someone is recording an album in 1971, it’s more like that, more glam rock. I’m not sure if that’s my time, because I was only slightly born then, but its the process and having more people around.
I want your take on the colour black. It hasn’t really been a morning colour for more than 200 years. You’ve famously embraced black within your fashion over the years.
I love black, well, I’m wearing black right now! I also like white and grey. I don’t really like colour very much. Because black is simple, but I also like lots of shades of white, you wouldn’t believe how many shades of black and white there are. There’s blue black, red black – black is the only colour really. It’s interesting, white was more of a mourning colour.
The Optimist In Black, a friend of mine liked that line and suggested it should be a title for the album, I wasn’t sure at first. It’s the one song I can hardly listen to, it makes me so depressed. But it sums up the whole album really. It wasn’t my happiest hour, but I think it’s a great song.
I think a lot of great art can come from torment. I don’t think great art comes from happiness.
Yeah, I hate this idea of being the tormented artist but sometimes it happens. It makes me pretty happy on the whole. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again.
The double A side single featuring Evening In Space and Old School is out now, alongside the debut album from Daphne Guinness: Optimist In Black.
This interview first appeared in the print issue seven of STYLENOIR Magazine
Image by Tim Petersen