Lily Allen has never been one to shy away from speaking her mind, but her latest record ‘No Shame’ is her most sincere work yet. Touching on everything from the breakdown of her marriage and motherhood to substance abuse and new relationships, the singer-songwriter says it’s the first time that her music has scratched deeper than the surface.
‘No Shame’ is Allen’s fourth studio album and her first since the release of the polarising ‘Sheezus’. Allen has admitted that the 2014 record felt inauthentic and was largely dictated by her label, which is why she chose to be unabashedly herself this time around.
Her candid creative pursuits don’t end there either. Along with world-renowned pop star and pioneer of the dress-and-trainers trend, Allen is adding author to her ever-growing resume. Her debut memoir My Thoughts Exactly is dropping on 20th September. Rather than a straightforward recount of her life, the book is a series of essays that tackle topics from relationships and family to fame and drugs.
For Allen, the motivation to write the book is perfectly articulated by the title. After having her personal experiences hijacked by the media for more than a decade, it’s her chance to set the record straight. When describing the book, she says “when women share their stories, loudly and clearly and honestly, things begin to change – for the better.”
Aussie fans will get another chance to hear Allen share such stories when she tours Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth in February of 2019. It’ll be her first Oz show since headlining Splendour in the Grass in 2014, so tickets are already selling like hot cakes.
We caught up with the London local while she was down under to talk No Shame, her stripped back Australian tour and what you can expect from her memoir debut.
Music Feeds: You’ve been in Australia for the last few days, how’s it being back?
Lily Allen: Yeah, it’s been really cool actually! I really love coming back to Australia. It’s always fun. There’s always great food and the people are great. Everyone speaks English which is nice because it isn’t always that way when you’re on tour (laughs). So yeah, it’s a breeze!
MF: You’ve also just announced an Australian and NZ tour for early next year, what are you looking forward to the most about that?
LA: Huge, rapturous applauses after every single song I play, mainly (laughs). The weather, you know? It’ll be really freezing cold in the UK, so it’ll be nice to escape and get over here to enjoy some sunshine. My kids will be at school, so that’ll be nice. I’ll be leaving them behind for a week or so I’ll get a little break from being Mummy (laughs). No, I’m just kidding I’ll be sad. But I really enjoy playing shows, so it’s going to be fun.
MF: Your previous tour was heavy on production with stage sets and backup dancers, but are the shows going to be a little more stripped back to match the vibe of No Shame this time?
LA: Yeah, exactly. They’re smaller shows, smaller venues, smaller production and smaller band. It’ll just be me and two guys. There will be no backing dancers or anything like that. It’s definitely more raw, grown up show.
MF: Do you prefer that over extravagant stage set ups?
LA: Yeah, I do actually! I think the all frills, singing and dancing is really fun but I think it’s best suited to other artists. I just like getting up on stage and being myself and singing something that’s connecting and that feels like me. That definitely didn’t happen on the last round of shows. So hopefully this time it’ll be a little more real.
MF: Writing No Shame was a very cathartic experience for you. Does this feeling extend to the shows when you’re sharing some of these vulnerable moments with a live audience?
LA: Yeah, for sure. When you’ve written the music, you definitely feel it when you get up on stage. Each one of the songs on the record triggers a real emotion that goes with that. Sometimes if I’m feeling a little bit low or really tired or something, there’s definitely a bit more of a chance of that happening than if I’m feeling a bit more perky. It’s a challenge but it’s a nice challenge.
It’s fun for me to connect with those emotions even if they’re sad, in a way. I really think the audience picks up on that as well and feels like we’re all there for a reason rather than just some dancers and luminous baby bottles and me getting drunker as the show goes on.
MF: No Shame was designed as a body of work that should be listened to as an album, rather than just singles on the radio or a random Spotify playlist. Do you try to incorporate this into your set lists? Or can we expect a range of old and new Lily bangers?
LA: We do put old songs into the show. I think the fans would be a bit annoyed if I didn’t, but I also I like to do it. This album is pretty intense, so it’s nice to have a respite from that and bring in old hits like ‘Fuck You’ and ‘Smile’ and ‘LDN’. So there’s definitely something for everybody on there. There are definitely parts of the show where it’s like “Oh my god, it’s like my heart has fallen on the floor” and then it starts to get a little quicker and a little more light-hearted. So it’s a journey but it’s good. It’ll be fun!
MF: It’s been a few months since the new record dropped and you’re just starting to take it on the road, have you been pleased with the response from the fans so far?
LA: Yeah, for sure. I’ve just been really overwhelmed and touched by the fact that so many people seem to relate to it. Especially mums and people who are recently coming out of relationships or people who’ve got divorced. They’re difficult subject matters and not ones that you often hear in pop music. So it’s been really nice to play my small part in helping people with some of these things that they may find difficult to deal with on their own.
MF: Yeah, although the you’re singing about your personal experience, you’re touching on themes that are quite universal.
LA: Yeah, there’s a song on my record called ‘Three’, which is about motherhood and about having to leave my kids behind to go on the road but there are millions and millions of mums who walk out the door every night to go do a shift at the hospital or whatever it is that they’re job is and it’s equally as difficult, so that’s what I think makes it relatable. It’s not really about being a mum who has to go on tour. It’s about being a mum who has to say goodbye to her kids everyday and go to work.
MF: You’ve said that you were trying to please a lot of different people when making Sheezus, whereas you created No Shame on your terms. Does that make any critiques easier to handle at least?
LA: Yeah, precisely. I think with Sheezus I felt very bitter and angry towards the people who were around me and telling me to do certain things. So when it didn’t work out, I didn’t feel like I could take responsibility. I like taking responsibility for my own actions and my own stuff. So when it felt like things went wrong because I listened to the advice of other people, it was really, really frustrating. Even though this album hasn’t been as commercially successful as previous albums, it just feels right. It feels like the right thing to be doing and I’m really enjoying it.
MF: After losing creative control, that must’ve been a relief for you.
LA: Yeah, things had started to feel a little contrived and shallow and I was competing in this social media landscape which is changing. I was definitely sort of a pioneer in the Myspace days and in the early Twitter days and then it kind of all exploded and became very commercially-driven social media. So I think I felt a little bit like I was getting left behind. I felt like a failure as a result and that was never really my thing.
People liked me on social media because I was myself. So I think that kind of reclaimed myself rather than get stuck in that numbers game and likes. It’s a popularity contest and you know what? I was unpopular at school and I’m happy to be unpopular now (laughs).
MF: You’re also releasing your debut memoir My Thoughts Exactly this month! Rather than a chronological recount, the book is arranged as a series of thematic essays. What made you want to go down this route rather than the more traditional autobiography?
LA: I think it’s because they were the subject matters I wanted to hit. I wanted to make them the focus rather than them be little anecdotes within a larger story. I also read a book by an author called Nora Ephron that was called I Feel Bad About My Neck and that’s very much how that book was set out, like a collection of essays. And I just really liked that format.
MF: You’ve always been very open in your music and on social media, so why release the reflections of your life in a memoir?
LA: Over the last few years, especially just coming out of the whole Sheezus situation, I felt pretty misunderstood. I think that the newspapers or the tabloids in the UK sort of hijacked my narrative. I also went through some other difficult things apart from my divorce, I had a stalker and the way that was covered in the press wasn’t quite accurate as well.
So I guess part of it was wanting to set the record straight but also documenting a particularly difficult period in my life and having something to give to my kids. When my kids get to 14 or 15 and go “What on earth happened with you and dad?” and they’ve got Google and the internet as a reference point which isn’t factual, I can hand them this book and say well actually, this is my version of events. And hopefully I’ll make some money out of it as well (laughs).
Catch Lily Allen touring live across Australia in February 2019. Dates here.