When Kylie Minogue headed into the studio to begin work on a new album last year, she was all set to cook up another batch of the irresistible pop goodies she’s come to be known ― and adored ― for delivering over the past three decades.
But thanks to a little nudging from her A&R guy and an exploratory two-week songwriting trip to Nashville in July, the pop star suddenly found herself with visions of cowboy boots and banjos dancing in her head.
Drawn to the sounds of country music ― and its rich history of storytelling ― Minogue returned to London to record “Golden,” her 14th studio album. The first collection of songs to be entirely co-written by the singer since 1997′s “Impossible Princess,” the album, which features elements of country music but is still decidedly pop (and filled with trademark Minogue bops) is being touted as one of her most personal to date.
Though she’s currently recovering from a bout of bronchitis, Minogue ― ever the trooper ― refused to let a little coughing come between her and a conversation about some of the influences that make “Golden” truly shine. She called HuffPost earlier this week to chat about being starstruck by Dolly Parton, the dangers of line dancing and the unexpected cameo her father (and his muscle car) made on the album.
When did you hear your first Dolly Parton song?
I would have been under 10 years old and it would have been in a suburb called Wantirna in Melbourne, Australia, sometime in the ’70s. I don’t remember which song I heard first. It could have been “Jolene.” Or maybe “Islands In The Stream”? Those were probably the first two songs.
I saw her perform for the first time at the end of 2015 at the Hollywood Bowl. Back then, I had no idea that I would be making an album with any reference to her or any kind of country influence. But I did feel like I saw the light when I saw her perform. She was unbelievably inspiring.
What is it about Dolly that makes her such a goddess?
I think it’s almost impossible to say, which is why she is one. I keep coming back to this light that was emanating from her. It helped that she was dressed in white and had the spotlight on her and all of that but you really get invested in her songs, you get invested in her wit and humor — her banter is hilarious — she’s just got it. You’re so entranced by her.
So then, when I started making this album and I went to Nashville and bought the T-shirt that says “What Would Dolly Do?” I was really very pleased that I had seen her perform live. I had a sense of what those kind of songs can say and transmit to an audience, and that influenced the writing of “Golden.” That’s not to say that I don’t have 30 years’ worth of songs that connect with people but I think the fact that these new songs are story-based is the real difference.
Did you get to meet her?
I met her before that show and I was totally starstruck. I’m quite sure my hands ended up around her waist and I don’t know how they got there. [Laughs] I don’t even know what happened! I was just thrilled to meet her. I don’t even know what I said! I think it was something about Australia? Maybe “Australia loves you!” [Laughs]
It’s almost impossible to imagine Kylie Minogue being in a situation where she’s the one who’s starstruck.
It takes a lot, actually. It really does. She’s one of the people that did it to me.
You’re line dancing in the video for “Dancing.” Had you done it before? Is line dancing even a thing in Australia?
Oooh, good question. I’m sure it is somewhere. But for me, what I knew of line dancing was that everyone from 7-year-olds to 70-year-olds does it, so it can’t be that difficult, right? Now, I don’t know how difficult your basic line dancing is but what we needed to do was take line dancing and somehow mix it into my world. Let’s just say I think I suffered for that video — I really do. I know I did! The repetitive movement, all of the leg lifts on just one side of my body — in fact, when the choreographer sent through the four different sections of the dance routine I almost balked. I said to him, “Looks amazing, but I think you’re going to have to simplify it,” because I had actually had a bit of a back problem, so I was extra worried.
As per usual, I go into rehearsals and I’m still rolling my eyes and going, “That’s not going to happen” and “That’s why [these backup dancers] are dancers, they can do that but I’m not going to do it” but I ended up doing all of it.
Talk to me about Nashville. I get the feeling you fell in love with it.
Nashville was an unforgettable experience in so many ways. I went in July and up until then, I’d been working in and out of different studios in other places. In each session, I’d go in and say, “Did Jamie — my A&R guy — say ‘country’ to you?” And they’d go, “Yeah.” And I’d ask, “Do you know what he means by that?” And they’d say, “Nope!” So I’d say, “OK. Let’s just write a song.” So we went down the traditional path for me which is pop, dance, electro — whatever.
Then to go to the source, to go to Nashville, somewhere I’ve never been — already that’s exciting because it’s somewhere new. Prior to that when I was in studio sessions in London I started asking other writers and producers and musicians, “I’m going to Nashville. Have you been?” And the enthusiasm and the love with which they spoke of Nashville was pretty amazing so I thought, This has to be good. From a musician point of view — it sounded like some kind of mecca. And they were right! Suddenly I had emails saying, “Go here for coffee” and “Go here for the beers” and “Here’s my friend’s number.” It’s like you’ve landed in a community that’s all at the altar of the song.
Actually, I really did pray the night before I started working in Nashville. I clasped my hands together — OK, I was on a rooftop bar, but — I had my hands together and I shut my eyes or I looked up to the sky, I can’t remember exactly, but I said, “I just need one! Please just give me one song! Two or three would be great — but I just need one song.” And I got that song — I got three of them, actually. The whole experience was amazing and going to the Bluebird Cafe and The Listening Room and not knowing any of these artists but just being an audience member and listening to a person talk about their song and then sing, it was incredible. And I knew it was about the song, not the production. The production could turn into anything when we got back to London, which is what happened with “Dancing.” The demo is not the record that you hear — the song is there, but definitely not the production.
What were the other two songs that you wrote while you were there?
The two that made the album are “Sincerely Yours” and “Golden.” There are a bunch of others that did not make the cut.
I go to Nashville three or four times a year to visit my best friend and I love it. Did you feel seduced by the city? Will you end up back there at some point?
Definitely. It was July, it was balmy, I was there with one of my managers — a woman — and I had no distractions. I was only there for one reason ― to work. I mean, I wanted to explore, too, but I didn’t have much time for extracurricular activities. But on my first day, I felt like, “I think this trip is going to work out.” And when I left there, I did a few more months of work in London. But everything that I had learned and absorbed in Nashville just stayed with me. That’s where we got the DNA for the record and brought it back to London.
And, importantly, the two main co-writers I had — I had one for each of the two weeks that I was there — are both English and about my age, so they know my whole history. I didn’t have explain anything or school them in anything. They know me. They get it. I’m part of their youth and their lives, but they both have apartments in Nashville and are in and out of the city all of the time. They were really good bridges or conduits to access what would work for me, but obviously, I haven’t made a country record. It would make no sense for me to make a country record! That would be disingenuous and not authentic, but to tap into [that genre] and find what flavors I could take from that was important.
Which brings me to my next question: Did Taylor Swift’s music or career have any influence on the album? She went from country to pop, and now you’re heading in the other direction and I know you worked with Nathan Chapman, who produced several of her albums, so it seems like she might have been on your radar.
In as much as she’s such a famous country export and does have that pop hybrid career, her name was bound to come up in my writing sessions ― and it did. But there really wasn’t a song or a sound that I could say, “That’s what I want.” We just had to find it for ourselves. But I was aware that what I’m doing was kind of the inverse of what she did except for me, it’s just a country influence, it’s not a country album. I was inspired mostly by the storytelling of country music and I think of a song that was written back here [in London] — “A Lifetime To Repair” — I just wouldn’t have had the words or that delivery if it wasn’t through that country portal. It was just a different kind of writing. And then the challenge was to bring it into my world so that it remains authentic.
I know you’ve been to Thailand several times in the last year. Did anything from your time there influence or change your approach to the songwriting for “Golden”?
I want to say no but in effect, it did because I went to Thailand at the start of 2017. I needed to get away — I needed to get out of London and I went with a couple of friends. So, I guess it did because it was a really amazing week I spent with them. You know when you have friends that you can talk all day with or you can say nothing at all ― you’re comfortable with each other. I just felt a weight lift off my shoulders. So, it did affect the album because it affected my headspace, it affected my physical health — I just felt better — even though I didn’t end up writing any songs about balmy beaches or palm trees.
Tell me about the song “Shelby ’68.” How did your dad and his love of cars end up on the album?
I thought I’d really like to do a song for my family, and to say my dad is a car enthusiast is the understatement of the century. He could tell the story of his life through cars: how he paid for each one, where he got them from — it’s his thing. As a teenager, he lived in Orange Country — and that was the mid-50s —and it was all about cars and the turn ups and the ducktail haircut and all of that. I think that’s where his love of American cars came from. To cut a long story short, Mustangs became his thing. He’s had this Shelby for a number of years. It’s candy-apple red and it’s been souped up to be a racing car — even though he’s getting on a bit [in age] to be racing [Laughs] but he’d still take a slow burn around the lap if he could. So by writing about his car, [the song] was still in that countrified, Americana world but, again, still has an authenticity to it — which is through my dad. The Mustang is at his house — it’s there.
We did the song and I called my dad and told him about it and as soon as the demo was knocked into shape, I told him, “I’ll send it to you. It might not make the album, but I’d like you to hear it.” And then I asked my brother if he could record the car. My brother was actually unwell at the time but he still went over to my parents’ place and voice-noted the car. He sent me all these notes [that were labeled things like] “starting up,” “ambling,” “driving away,” “driving back,” “power down” — recordings of all of the different stages of the car in action. So then I forwarded all of them to my producer who wrote back in a heartbeat saying, “Oh my God. This is why I make records. This is such a beautiful thing.”
When the car is driving away at the end of the recording, at the end of the song there’s a tiny, tiny, little bird tweet — I don’t know if you’ll hear it but we both heard it and it was breaking our hearts. So, when I performed that song on this little mini-tour that I just did and you hear all these recorded car elements in it — it’s just so touching! I was like, “That’s my dad’s car. Wait a second ― that’s my dad driving his car! He’s on my album! It’s amazing!” The story in the song is a fantasy, of course, but it comes from a genuine place.
Did you get bit by the same bug as your dad?
I do like a muscle car, and I guess that’s because I’m my father’s daughter. I drove across America in the mid-’90s with my boyfriend at the time in a ’78 Trans Am T-Top with no air conditioning in August. We drove all the way across the country and it was hot as it could be — actually it was hot in every sense of the word [Laughs].
“Golden” is available for purchase and streaming on Friday, April 6. For more from Kylie Minogue, visit her official website, follow her on Twitter and check out her Instagram. For upcoming tour dates and other appearances, head here.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.