Interview by Mark Bayross
If you were wondering what happened to the Sneaker Pimps’ sultry diminutive singer, Kelli Dayton, you’ll be pleased to hear she’s back as Kelli Ali, armed with an album TIGERMOUTH, featuring collaborations with MOULIN ROUGE musical director Marius De Vries, Jagz Kooner from Sabres Of Paradise and John Densmore, the drummer from The Doors.
Having been personally requested by Garbage to support them on their current UK tour, I caught up with Kelli on the day of her first performance.
As your music has yet to be released, could you describe it for most of us who have yet to hear it?
The music I’m doing now is much more influenced by rock ‘n’ roll, which is something I have always been influenced by. Of course, in the Sneaker Pimps I was mainly just the singer, so when I decided to write my album I wanted to draw on things that have influenced me like the Pixies, Sonic Youth, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, people like that…and I think that comes across a lot more with my album TIGERMOUTH.
How have you adjusted to becoming a solo artist?
I have always written and Sneaker Pimps was the first band that I ever worked in where I wasn’t just the sole writer, so it hasn’t been that much of a jump really, other than it’s much nicer because I’ve got so much more freedom.
Will your live show be with a full band?
Five people – drums, keyboards, bass, guitar…
How does it feel to be supporting Garbage?
Great – I’m really, really pleased to be doing it! We had planned to support them earlier but it never came off, so I think it’s been in the making a long time.
If I can ask about the Sneaker Pimps experience, was it an acrimonious split or are you still mates with the guys?
It wasn’t acrimonious as such – I mean, we haven’t spoken since it happened – it was just that they asked me to leave, so I did. At the time I was quite hurt by it, but now of course I’ve moved on. I certainly think that one day in the future I’d like to work with them again.
Since you left, they have gone off in a different direction. Did you feel that was bubbling under the surface while you were there – that they wanted to rock out a bit?
I think we all wanted to rock out! [Laughs] I just don’t think I fitted in with their next move, really.
How do you think Sneaker Pimps fans are going to take to your solo stuff?
I think that whenever you make a connection with people, it’s such a special thing and I hope that that connection wasn’t solely because of the music I was singing instead of with me. I’m sure some people will prefer the old Sneaker Pimps stuff, but I’d like to think that people will be really excited by it and think, “yeah, this is even better than when she was in the Sneaker Pimps”.
You seem to have absorbed some oriental influences in your music…
Yes, I’ve always been very interested in oriental art. I did start to study Japanese after we split up, just to re-acquaint myself with the world really because we were stuck on a tour bus for about a year and a half. [Laughs]
TIGERMOUTH sounds like it’s going to be quite a personal album – is there an element of exorcising the past or are you just drawing a line and saying, “this is me, I’m now a solo artist”?
I always write about whatever I am thinking about at the time, whatever is inspiring me. I don’t really believe in drawing lines – it’s more of an ongoing, fluid line… And the way I write, the songs are more like pictures than “today I’m angry” or “today I’m loved up”. They’re of an amalgamation of everything that’s ever happened to me.
What’s inspiring you most at the moment?
Mainly music. I’m very interested in Japanese instrumental composers like Toru Takemitsu and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and I’m also really interested in some of the more electronic stuff like Boards of Canada and Ladytron. I’ve always liked a mixture of music, really.
I always thought your previous music had a cinematic feel to it. Is your new material similar in that respect?
Yeah, very much so.
And is that drawing from oriental roots or other things as well?
All over really. There’s a song on the album called PAPER MOON, which is very definitely inspired by Japanese literature (Murasaki Shikibu’s “The Tale Of Genji”), but I like to use different influences in a way that you wouldn’t even know it, but I would know it’s there and I’d know what it means.
I know you’ve been learning kung fu…
I was learning kung fu. I’ve been a very bad student…! [Laughs]
How far did you get with it?
With the kung fu I was learning and the teacher I was learning from, you don’t actually measure it in bouts, because you’re always a student. The person who was teaching me has been learning since he was four and he’s now about fifty years old and still considers himself a very basic student! [laughs] And in a way I understand that because you can learn things in life and never fully perfect them.
You also have an interest in magic…
I have got an interest in magic, yes, all different sorts of magic. And it is an interest, it’s not something I can perform like “I’ll cast a spell so this gig goes well”…[laughs] I think magic is essentially everywhere. I’m interested in different cultures and how they use magic – how magic can die in a culture and then reawaken in a different form.
You mentioned that there are very few magical people around now – who would you say is a magical person?
I think there are lots of magical people, but I think that in general, when you switch on the TV or the radio, I don’t think there are a lot of magical people being pushed in front of the younger generation. But I’d say that Björk is a very magical person…but I think a lot of the people I think are magical are not people anyone else would know…!
Who would you like to collaborate with or support next?
Spiritualized – Jason Pierce is a magical person. Primal Scream – they are good friends of mine, they are magical people. God, all these magical people coming out of the woodwork…! Who else…? Dr John I‘d like to work with definitely, and Lil’ Kim…there’s actually a lot of people I’d like to work with.
Would you like to work with Björk?
I would like to work with Björk, but on an instrumental project. I think that what she does musically is very fascinating and her voice is so unique that there would be no reason for me to be on any of her tracks, but musically I’d love to work with her.
Of course you were there for the ill-fated Marilyn Manson collaboration…I could hear you somewhere in the mix…but it didn’t go entirely according to plan did it?
No. [laughs] We had a great time but when we got the track back it was like “oh!” – I had written some parts and he’d just done them himself!
Was he a nice chap?
He was actually, surprisingly. The Anti-Christ is a nice guy! [laughs]
The first single off the album is INFERNO HIGH LOVE – can you tell me what that’s about?
It’s about the general unity that you feel when you’ve mashed out your face at a party…it’s about a lot of things – the whole ritual of being at parties and the spiritual aspect of it…you’re at a great, great party and everyone’s so loved up and there’s that magical vibe in the air. It’s about things really kicking off and how you keep dancing, keep loving it and having fun and loving everybody…it’s about telepathy. A lot of these cool things are snatched away from us a lot of the time…
Was it an obvious choice for the first single?
It wasn’t to me, but it was to everybody else. I’m happy with all the songs on the album, so when they suggested this one, I was like “yeah”.
How many tracks are there on the album?
At the moment it’s twelve.
I know you recorded a lot in LA. Did you write them first then go out there and record them?
Some of them, the others were written out there. I actually recorded the album out there though.
Did some of that LA vibe get into the music?
Definitely – I couldn’t have written this album in London. There’s a lot of sunshine on it…
What are you currently listening to?
I love this Japanese guy called Susumu Yokota, who makes fabulous contemporary instrumental music – it’s really special, it really stands out, and he’s been doing it for a long time. He’s come up with a really fresh way of doing instrumental music.
The album’s coming out in June and you’ve got a tour supporting Garbage – what ambitions do you have now?
The thing that I never got to do with the Sneaker Pimps was explore other places to play, places like India and China…the world is so vast, there’s so much beauty and people and places to see… That’s something I think about often – taking my music to other places and working with people from China, Japan or India. I love the idea of touring with a huge Indian or Japanese pop star… I’ll just take it as it comes really, but I love the idea of seeing the world!