Neneh Cherry is back for another bite

It’s been 18 years since Neneh Cherry last released music under her own name, but new album ‘Blank Project’ sees her back out in front. She tells Jim Carroll about the art of collaboration and why she still feels ‘unfinished’

Fri, Feb 28, 2014, 00:00

Chances are you’re thinking ‘Neneh Cherry, where the hell have you been, girl?’ To many, she remains forever in a Buffalo Stance or cooing 7 Seconds with Youssou N’Dour, a snapshot from a cool, sassy pop other-world.

But just because it’s 18 years since Cherry last released a solo album doesn’t mean she hasn’t been making music during this time. She sang on songs with Gorillaz, Groove Armada, Pulp, Peter Gabriel, Timo Maas, Kleerup and others. She recorded the boisterous and rambunctious Cherry Thing album with Nordic free jazz buccaneers The Thing in 2012. She kept busy.

Blank Project joins up the dots and seeks to make sense of where Cherry finds herself now. A solo album produced with collaborators, it sounds melancholic, wise and graceful, the mark of a woman who has found her equilibrium.

The first songs were written around three years ago when Cherry was mourning the death of her mother. “It was a year after my mum died and I was in a pretty dark, numb, traumatised place. When it comes time to write, I’ve always gone to my bed or stood around in the kitchen doing other stuff. As a person with a family, a lot of things have had to come together in a multi-tasking process for me.

“This time around, the first things came about when I was on my bed unpeeling with my old Casio that I wrote Manchild on. I felt I had to go back to something really familiar.”

After that first solo writing period, Cherry brought in the collaborators. These included Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden, Rocketnumbernine, Robyn, Cameron McVey (“my long, long, long-time person of multi-tasking in work, life, babies, all of it”), the late Child of Lov, Sean Savage from PANES and Paul Simm.

“All of my solo records to me have been collaborations,” she explains. “But here, the people I was working with were harnessing me so I could catapult out to a place that I needed to get to. Over the years, I’d collaborated on a lot of stuff but I kept finding that I was getting stuck some times because I was over-thinking and it would get in the way. I tried to take a position where I was a vehicle for the words and feelings and not spending too much time purifying them.”

The new album was recorded in Hebden’s studio in Woodstock. “We recorded in Woodstock because Kieran lives there part of the year, not because we were after some Woodstock vibe or holy grail. He had a free week and wanted to be near his family so we went there and did the album in a week.

“It was cool, with the studio in the converted chapel of this old church in the woods. We’d sit on the porch in the early morning, totally jet-lagged, taking selfies and feeling like we were inside a Neil Young album cover and looking at bear prints in the snow. I was shitting myself over that. Our room was across the lawn from the church so I had to run across the lawn, across bear prints, to get to my room. I totally died every time I went across, picturing myself being ravaged by these grizzlies.”