Neneh Cherry for i-D
Words by Paul Bui. Photography by Mark Lebon. Styling by Judy Blame.
Neneh Cherry and i-D have a longstanding friendship. When i-D was in its infancy, Cherry was on hand helping publishers Terry and Tricia Jones staple the early issues together. Since then the Swedish chanteuse has had quite a colourful career. In her teens, Cherry dropped out of middle school in New York City to return to London and front several punk bands. Alongside immersing herself in the Bristol drum and bass scene (legend has it she helped bankroll Massive Attack), Cherry carved her own solo path with her lauded debut album Raw like Sushi. The lead single Buffalo Stance would go on to capture the style of the time, embodying the spirit of Ray Petri’s ingenious fashion house. Two more albums soon followed, as well as Cherry lending her voice to several collaborations (including tracks with Pulp, Cher and Gorillaz). But it’s been 18 years since the last solo record. i-D catches up with our old friend to ask why the long pause?
You’ve had a very worldly upbringing. Which place feels most like home - New York, London or Sweden?
I think they’re very different connections. In London I’m always going to go there for the creative source. I have my tribe there. I miss New York like I miss an old lover. I think once that city has gotten under your skin it’s hard to let go. I use it a lot as a landscape when I’m writing lyrics. And then Sweden – that still is my family home. It’s a place that doesn’t really change that much. That’s the kind of heartbeat.
This is your first solo record in 18 years. Why the extended pause?
To tell you the honest truth, I don’t really know why. It’s not that I can’t be specific, but I just know that I’m here now more than ever. You know, I’ve been working, I’ve been writing, I’ve been doing stuff, but I suppose I just wasn’t in a place where I really was able to release something … it just wasn’t time. I took a left turn and I chose to come off the treadmill, and here we are.
Four Tet produced this new album and Robyn makes an appearance. What was it like working with them?
Robyn is a beautiful goddess and I love her very dearly. We had a fantastic day when we did the track in her studio in Stockholm. Working with Four Tet was also really amazing. He has a very pure way of recording music. I wouldn’t say puritanical by pure, I mean that he just wants to go in and capture what’s happening there in the moment rather than layering something up fifty million times and bypassing the original spirit of the record.
And what exactly is that spirit?
Well the new record is a series of ten songs that I’ve written – some just by myself, and some with Cameron McVey and Paul Simm who I did a whole writing spell with. It’s very fierce but connected into the ground. It’s tough, beautiful, it’s kind of organic but it’s also roughneck electronics.
Your classic hit Buffalo Stance is such an iconic song; do you ever get sick of getting requests to perform it?
If I were forced into being in a karaoke relationship with my old songs, where I didn’t have other things going on, maybe it would be difficult. But to me they’re just wonderful little gems of my life. I really have to appreciate that they still carry on and that people are still interested in listening to them.
That Buffalo aesthetic, championed by you, Ray Petri and his collaborators in the late 80s is still very relevant today. It was a big influence on designers, stylists and magazines like i-D. What was it like being part of that scene?
We were all really good friends. I remember Ray and myself put together a gang of Buffalos to go on a freeform modelling trip to Japan that was quite nutty. Ray was really someone that made me look at myself, and taught me in a very natural way about style. In a video that Mark Lebonwas shooting, he put me in an Azzedine Alaia dress with trainers, and I was like “Yeah, this feels kind of good!” It was a style based in something that I recognized and knew. That’s why I still think it’s timeless, it’s classic – it’s the street
Did you know you were a part of something special while it was happening?
I think during times when things are going on, you don’t sit around agonizing or analysing the fragments of what it’s about. You’re just doing it. It was really a time where it was about breaking down the boundaries and it was quite - may I say - revolutionary, without us knowing or thinking about it in that way. But it [Buffalo] was a bit like “Up yours! I’m just gonna get up and get on with this and unload.”
Do you find that over the years you’ve acquired a whole new audience for your music?
I hope so, and I hope that I’ll continue to make new friends through music. It’s difficult for some people because I’ve always changed a lot, without trying to. I suppose that I’m always following slightly different threads. But if you listen to what I’m doing now, I think there’s energy of other things that I’ve done. It isn’t Buffalo Stance or Seven Seconds; it’s a new sound but I hope it reaches new people.