six male musicians and the female musicians that inspire them
To celebrate International Women's Day, we asked some of our favourite musical men to tell us all about the women artists past and present that provide them with eternal inspiration. Whose story does Stormzy understand? Who has caused Olly Alexander a...
Rejjie Snow on Sky Ferreira:
"To me she's the new Madonna, but without the fuss. She embodies everything I love about women. She's a star. I first heard her song Red Lips in a cafe and then funny enough that same week somebody sent me the video to it because it's got a spider crawling all over and even though that's kind of sexy, I fucking hate spiders! But nonetheless, I fell in love with her music because her songwriting is great. Anyways, I better shut up because I don't want her to unfollow me on Instagram. Her new album is about to be crazy."
Thomas Cohen on Judee Sill:
"Judee made two albums and was the first signing to Asylum Records. She had a really difficult childhood, was arrested and put in juvenile detention, and then came out of that and found God. She became really involved with the church, where she learned to play piano and the organ. She had a really interesting personal life too; she ended up robbing a few banks and living in a car, and it was then that she heard 60s girl groups, Phil Spector, stuff like that, on the radio.
Her albums are incredible; there's a lot of religious element and influence to it, the chord changes and arrangements, it's really beautiful, heartbreaking, weird music. There's a song about the apocalypse and aliens coming to save all the good people and take them off to another planet. Even a simple song like The Kiss, which you'd think is about people kissing, is actually about the mixture of holy love and human love combining as one.
She had a really sad life though. She had a few more famous people cover her songs and she performed on The Old Grey Whistle Test, but then she got in a fight with David Geffen, who owned the record label she was on. She slagged him off for being gay, even though she was bisexual, and then David Geffen dropped her. I think it was kind of more her being self destructive. She ended up being a cartoonist for a bit, and then died really young."
Olly Alexander on Joni Mitchell:
"My mum used to play Joni Mitchell CDs when we were driving in the car. I was around 11 years old when she bought the 2000 album Both Sides Now. For anyone that knows this album, it's a world away from her earlier work - most of the songs are covers set against lush orchestral backgrounds and her voice is gravelly and deep. I wasn't keen then on her voice or the sound of the songs, but I loved the lyrics. I remember hearing the lyrics to Case Of You and Both Sides Now and experiencing somewhere in my chest some new feeling that I couldn't verbalise or understand, it chimed almost painfully with the words she was singing - from there I discovered Blue. There aren't many albums I know all the words from start to finish but I do with Blue - I had a ripped copy in my CD Walkman that I played until it broke. I still think she is one of the greatest songwriters we've ever had. In Blue the vocal melodies are complex and surprising yet memorable and singable, her lyrics are heart-stoppingly honest and raw yet detailed and poetic. Her output is prolific and spans genres from acoustic to jazz to electronica. I love her so much and when I listen to Blue or Hejira now I feel the same intoxicating whirlwind heartache I felt when I was a teenager. Her songs framed the way I think about love, disappointment, happiness, and life.
She's often mentioned in the same breath as her troubadour compatriot Bob Dylan, but she almost never receives the same kind of recognition or veneration even though her songs are just as good if not better, her voice is a million times better and her lyrics and poetry are incomparable. Dylan received god-like status whereas the media tended to view Joni as more of a drippy-hippy, a lightweight and now in her old age she's seen as a bitter, angry old woman. I like Dylan, don't get me wrong, and partly it is my queer male heart that relates more to the sweet bruised longing in Joni's lyrics and the stories of the men she loved and lost than it ever would to Dylan - but I can't help but think the reason she never achieved the same status is because she is a woman. Mitchell herself doesn't identify as a feminist (she recently described feminism in this continent as "too masculine") but she has fiercely and consistently engaged with social, environmental and political issues across many decades. She has never been afraid to sing about sex, never been apologetic of her talents or ashamed to voice her opinions. So if she is now sometimes angry or dismissive in her interviews then let her be, we let plenty of older male stars do and say what they like because they've "earned it". I worry about her ill health and what the world will be like without her - but I will always have her music and for that I will always be grateful. I'll finish with my favourite lyric of all time, from Case Of You. "I remember the time you told me - love is touching souls, well surely you touched mine because part of you pours out of me in these lines from time to time." I love you Joni!"
My Panda Shall Fly on Daphne Oram:
"It's impossible for me to think of anyone else who has done as much for electronic music as Daphne Oram. Not only did she co-found the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958 (an avant-garde sound effects team decades ahead of its time) but she continued to pursue her own inquiry into sound art by developing a unique form of audio-visual synthesis known as Oramics (a contraption which allowed the user to draw onto strips of 35mm film which in turn would produce strangely beautiful sounds). Daphne's tireless experiments helped pave the way for future musicians, sound recordists and engineers around the globe. Despite living most of her life in obscurity, thanks to new musical releases, exhibitions and archival projects, her extensive back catalogue of recordings and soundtracks are being given a new lease of life. Much of her work still sounds as ground-breaking today as it did in the 50s and 60s!"
Fred Macpherson on Cosey Fanni Tutti:
"My favourite rumour about Cosey Fanny Tutti is that her response to the infamous punk blueprint of 'Here's three chords, now form a band' was simply "what's a chord?". As part of Throbbing Gristle and Coum Transmissions she'd been dismantling rock n'roll clichés for years before punk broke, challenging any artistic or societal rules put in front of her. Despite listening to TG since my teens, a subconscious indie sexism had me underestimating her role in the band until I finally saw them play at Heaven in 2009. Their performance that day stuck with me for a lot of different reasons (Genesis spent a lot of the gig 'playing' an iPhone, and they were the first/last band I've ever seen performing with the house lights up) but Cosey's guitar was particularly striking. Part of the thrill of their records is not knowing what sounds are coming from where (or whom) so it was a brilliant shock seeing her get such beautiful and horrible sounds out of her headless guitar and laptop set up - a relatively simple one compared to Chris and Sleazy's tables of sprawling electronics. She played in such matter of fact way, without any of the posturing that continues to plague live music, making sounds that I'd bet no other single living guitarist could match. And not a chord in sight."
Stormzy on Amy Winehouse:
"Amy Winehouse, that's my G. I loved her as an artist, as a musician. I saw the film and it struck a chord with me in the sense that, as a creative, it looks like on the outside, that it's very 'go studio, make a hit, go and perform it around the world, champagne in the club, loads of girls'. But the graft and the emotional strain of being a musician is very hard. No one ever sees that part. So I understand what happened, in a sense, to Amy. It's so fucking sad."
Continue to explore our International Women's Day content by following Molly Bair and Natalie Westling on a great American road trip to discover what it means to be an American woman in 2016.
Photography Angelo Pennetta
Styling Victoria Young