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Podcast

Daphne Guinness: “Everything is About Taste”

Through art, film, fashion, and now music, Guinness has been a creative force and industry muse second to none. On this season finale, Dan and Guinness speak about her new album, working with producer Tony Visconti, her memories of Alexander McQueen, her thoughts on AI, and more.

July 10, 2024 By THE GRAND TOURIST
Photo: Mark Mullins

SHOW NOTES

Through art, film, fashion, collecting, and now music, Daphne Guinness has been a creative force and industry muse second to none. On this season finale of The Grand Tourist, Dan speaks with Guinness about her new album “Sleep,” what it was like collaborating with legendary producer Tony Visconti, the unconventional summers of her youth with Salvador Dalí, her memories of Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow, her thoughts on AI and the future of creativity, and more.

Listen to this episode

TRANSCRIPT

Daphne Guinness: Music is different. We can generate sounds, we can do that. I liked the idea of going back to music because you’re not causing any waste. You’re creating a few LPs. You’re not adding to the confusion of today’s world. When I do something, it will be considered.

Dan Rubinstein: Hi, I’m Dan Rubinstein and this is The Grand Tourist. I’ve been a design journalist for more than 20 years, and this is my personalized guided tour through the worlds of fashion, art, architecture, food, and travel, all the elements of a well-lived life. Before we get started with today’s episode, a little programming note. This is our 10th season finale, and we’ll be back in September for another dozen or so episodes. We have been recording all summer long. We have a lot planned for this fall, so make sure you stay in touch and read our weekly newsletter in the meantime, The Grand Tourist Curator, by signing up with your email at thegrandtourist.net.

Her life story seems ripped from a dramatic novel. Sometimes utterly enchanted, other times a tad melancholic. A few family basics, especially for us Americans. Her father’s line is that of the Guinness beer fame and her father’s mother, Diana Mitford, one of the famed Mitford Sisters, divorced her grandfather and married the infamous fascist Oswald Mosley in the 1930s.

All of this unfortunate history of course was something that the young Daphne didn’t realize until she was an early teen. More on that later. Daphne spent youthful summers hanging out with a family friend Salvador Dali. That made quite the impact. She married young, had three kids, and later became a couture of fashion icon. She was a muse of Alexander McQueen, who was a dear friend, and was also incredibly close with editor Isabella Blow, and modeled for both of them considerably.

When Blow died in 2007, she acquired her considerable wardrobe and worked to have it exhibited. Her latest pursuit in life has been in music after being encouraged by none other than David Bowie. Her new fourth album “Sleep,” produced in part by famed Bowie collaborator Tony Visconti, is what brings us to Daphne today.

Beyond the silky pop, it’s also a visual affair with music videos by the likes of Nick Knight and David LaChapelle. All of the glamour, connections, and high levels of fabulosity aside, Daphne Guinness is one of those artists who throws her entire being into anything she works on, and it shows. She knows she’s talented and connected, but there’s a sweet humility to all of it.

And I’m not going to lie. Since recording this interview in the late spring, her album has been on constant repeat in The Grand Tourist household. I caught up with Daphne from her recording studio in London to talk about her extraordinary early life, her memories of Alexander McQueen, working with Tony Visconti, and what she finds the most absurd about life in 2024.

And before we dive into the album, I wanted to rewind a bit and start a little bit at the beginning, as I do with all of my guests. And your earlier life was spent between different places. One thing that I read a lot is your time in Spain as a child and on the Catalan Coast.

Absolutely. That is my home. If I think of, where is my home? It’s an island and it’s in coast on a rock set… I know exactly where it is, and that’s where I used to go and breathe and just sit and look down at the village or the coastline with the wind in my hair. And I was very lucky because I had my mother’s very good friend, Dali, giving me his advice from a very young age. So yeah, art should be very, very… you’ve got to be having a laugh or you have to do something, but also the whole idea of life is a joke.

And did you see that? What was he like as someone to know as a young person? You didn’t know how famous he was at the same?

No, of course not.

No?

Absolutely not. It’s village with 1,000 people in it. Everybody kind of… and also, at that stage there was an awful man called Captain Moore who moved into the village and who was my mother’s absolute sworn rival. I remember there was a time when Captain Moore bought an ocelot, because Dali had an ocelot, and threw the ocelot at my mother Meliton, which is the cafe. For heaven’s sake. He just came in here. He was the architect of the whole, what’s it called? Lithographs that were signed. And his market went sort of… Dali wasn’t taken seriously. When I knew him, he was going through a bit bad. It was going down. He was trying to get money for Gala. Gala was always trying to… Gala offered my brother a Ferrari if he’d go down to sleep with her in Púbol.

And he still regrets it. He says, “I would’ve had a Ferrari. It would’ve been really nice.” And I said, “Well, yeah, it would’ve been nice, obviously.” So Dali was kind of Gala’s slave, actually.

Oh, gosh. But he was good to kids? Was he kind of

Yeah, he was. Absolutely.

Because in any old film, he seems so eccentric and

You know what the thing is? I’m now embracing my eccentricity, but of course I was called eccentric for years. And I kept going, “I’m not eccentric at all.” And then I realized, of course I’m eccentric because I’ve grown up in a world of people like Edward James and Dali and my grandfather. And my grandmother wasn’t an eccentric but she was definitely a presence. And people like Dali and Andy Warhol and all of those people. The problem was, for me, is going to a rather, I would say, unimaginative and pretty brutal boarding school. When they said—

St. Mary’s, correct?

Oh, God. When they said, “What did you do on your summer holidays?” It was just like you’d write it and they’d just say you were lying and give you detention for weeks. So that’s why my handwriting’s good. And then of course, when people are horrible to you your whole school career, you just give up, and you just become subversive and a rebel. And it was like, “Actually, fuck you.”

Were you a good student?

I’d already read [inaudible 00:06:42] and Sun Tzu and most of Gibbon. It was fairly… I would imagine it was being in trouble with teachers. You don’t want your pupil to say, “Actually a French word is pronounced like that,” because I was bilingual and whatever. So of course you’re sent out because you say, “Well, actually the francais is slightly different.” And I was just trying to be helpful. And then the history teacher, because of my family, I suppose, I was bullied because of my grandmother, as if I knew anything. You just don’t know. And it shapes you, that feeling of alienation.

Did that moment when you had that epiphany and you discovered all of that, the skeletons in the closet, that you just didn’t realize, do you look back on it differently now in the year 2024?

Well, no, not really. It was funny because where I slept, I was the only person with my grandmother when she died. I was there for three days.

Oh, gosh.

And she was the person that actually kind of was the only stabilizing influence in my life. I did use to say to her, “Please give an interview about how you have revised your view.” And she revised her view a lot. And she said, “Oh darling, I’m not a public person. No one will believe me. They’ll just think I’m trying to get out of it.” I said, “I’m on record. And who cares? Really, people will say what they want to believe.” And I went, “But for the sake of all of…” but she was like, “I’m not important.” To her, whole thing, we were very similar. I never really feel that I’m important, to say anything. She did have a point because, to suddenly reverse your… there was an interesting thing with my grandmother in about 1980… I can’t remember the actual year.

She was taken to hospital and she had a huge brain tumor which was the size of a tangerine, which, she had to be kept in a cold room. And there was operators. It was taken out. It was benign. But I think that was all the stress and also all the, everything was in that. After that, she was a lighter person. Well, she was always light but I think the years following she was an enlightened person. But she was very pragmatic. She didn’t think that anybody really cared. And she said, “And listen, I did my time. And people will believe what they want to believe. That’s the nature of the world.”

And I read that, at some point in your childhood, you were very sensitive, especially when it came to music. That music really moved you. Is that true? What do you remember listening to, maybe as a teenager,, that made an impression on you? Were you a fan of anything in particular?

Glenn Gould. Glenn Gould Variations. Well, the preludes that he did. The famous recordings that he did in the ‘50s. And what I love most about that is he kind of sings along with them, and that moved me. It moved me to start playing the piano. And I have something which can be annoying. I think it’s now, thank God, relative perfect, so I learn by ear. My theory’s pretty good, but if I learn a piece by hearing it and then I try and play it… I’ve had various accidents with my hands, so I stopped that.

But also Maria Callas. When I did have some money to buy things, I would get a Callas recording of something, and her voiced moved me. And also The Marriage of Figaro. I know that whole opera off by heart, and the overture. I can whistle it. And The Magic Flute, [foreign language 00:11:30]. So many things. Verdi really is fantastic. Bellini, obviously. I think late Italian opera becomes a little sentimental. The chord shifts, I’m much more of a… my range is the range of a castrati, so I can go very low and very high, and I can sing all of those castrati songs, which are very funny. For a girl it’s really funny.

By some standards you married young at 19. And you’ve described that period in your life of about 15 years or so as more of a traditional life where you used fashion as a way of communicating behind a glass wall. As a way of communicating beyond a barrier, in a sense.

Those years I was being a mother, I didn’t really try to communicate anything at all. And I didn’t go out, I didn’t have friends, I didn’t see people. Actually, the person that I was married to is actually now the person who I’m closest to. And we’re really, really good friends. It’s fantastic. And he is the most incredible person. Yes, it was like being in an ancient court, movable. But what was beautiful was I was very close to my father-in-law. And the consideration for art and color and design, and also… he was very funny, and he had a unfailing sense of what was beautiful and what was not beautiful. So it was beautiful. It was a lovely experience in many ways, apart from it was very, very… it was like a closed vacuum.

Do you remember a point, perhaps, where fashion became more of a major force in your life? From a Fashion with a capital F, if you will, in terms of-

I didn’t feel that. It was funny. I used to get sent all the tapes, obviously, from all the, at the time, VHSs from all the major houses, because I couldn’t go to the shows. I was on a very, very different schedule. I would watch them, and if I could muster up a few. Contrary to lots of people’s ideas, I didn’t have a huge budget to throw away, so I was very considered in my buying. Of course, when I got divorced, I was only 31. I didn’t want to be the divorcee. There’s no way. As most things I do, I decided to go back to music and acting and whatever.

I went back to RADA where they offered me a place, but with three children, I had to refuse it. I got to the very top and I was Hamlet, and I did an a cappella piece from The Marriage of Figaro which I can do in my sleep. They said, “As you know, how old,” and I had a really good think about it and I thought, well, I’d be taking a place away from someone who is 21, not 31. Also I have three children, and the first year obviously is going to be all right, but the second year, it’s going to be very difficult, and also I won’t see my children. I refused on that basis, but I did masses of courses at RADA and lots of Lambda, I really didn’t know how to interact with the world without art.

Also, what I’m very, very interested in is punctuation … I know that sounds really strange … and meter of lines, sort of de-dump-de, the I Ams and the Troches of the world. That’s what I live for, is looking at ancient manuscripts and pacing them out and breathing. I suppose that goes into how I look at the world. Languages to me, having studied Chomsky and the blend between music.

You said before that you spoke French a lot when you were a kid. How many languages do you speak now?

Well, I heard French as a child, but my mother was French. Well, yes, her first language was French, but if I dared to say something in French, she would correct me. I was absorbing it, so I knew. Having a musical ear, you can just wing it. I mean, my father speaks 11 languages. My mother spoke four. I speak French and English very well. Obviously it depends on where I am. When I was living in Ireland, I became completely Irish. I pick up things, accents and mannerisms. It was Bowie that said, “Listen, not so fast. Just get rid of the Irish accent. Just go back to your English accent,” so I did. On the first album, you can really hear the Irish lilt, you know.

How long did you live in Ireland?

Well, off and on many years. I really moved to Ireland in 2011. I wanted to be in the middle of nowhere with no communications to anyone. I’d been through the worst experience in New York and I decided to start again.

Tell me about that New York experience, because I was reading a wonderful profile in The New Yorker, of all things, that came out around 2011 and described how you were stopped on the street. You have fans, so obviously the people wanted to come up.

What’s lovely about the fans was they were all either under 10 or in their teens. That’s who I relate to. A lot of people that went to the FIT show. Really there was one child that was two and a half. I remember that, that Valerie was telling me about. He went back about 15 times. I don’t know where that child is now. There were two children in the building who I used to have for tea, and I used to draw and stuff. They’ve got in contact. One of them is I think at Harvard and the other one is now a singer. We used to correspond. Then when I left the building, obviously I think they were very sad.

Aw.

I know.

Well, well done. They went to Harvard and they seem to have done quite well.

I know. They’re doing well and it’s terrific, but it’s wonderful that they remember. My friend, my best friend, Robin, who I was walking around with in New York, as one does, I don’t know, over on Fifth Avenue, and just lots and lots of children coming up. That’s who I appeal to, because I suppose it’s the joke. It’s the story. You can weave a story from a beginning, and there are so many aspects to what I do. I’m not sure if I do it very well, but I do try. I maybe suffer from a little bit of a perfectionism.

I guess New York is a place where a perfectionist can go a little bit nuts, right?

Well, a little bit. Also I had this enormous lawsuit that was going on against me. It was unfair and I won it, but I had to leave after that because I thought, “They’ll just bring another lawsuit against me, just for existing.” People love to sue each other in New York, Jesus.

Especially if they feel like have a target.

I just wanted a conversation. I guess the idea of me is very different from what people imagine. I’m very much someone who lives quite a solitary life.

(SPONSOR BREAK)

Obviously it’s hard to not ask you about two major figures in your fashion life, which are Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen, and one introduced the other to you, I believe, in a sense.

That’s an interesting idea. Izzy always wanted me to meet him. I said, “Actually, no. I’m already buying his things.” Meeting your heroes is not … I just said I’m happy to be. Then he saw me walking in the street in one of his things and he’s like, “Oy, you don’t want to meet me.” We went to the pub, and I don’t know where I was going, but I didn’t go to that thing. We just bonded from that moment on. We lived in and out of each other’s pockets for years. Him and I with a piece of cloth and a bit of an idea, it was magic actually.

What was he like as a person? Now he looms large as this legend.

He was very funny, and he was very like me, very solitary. I mean, we were very shy. I think artists don’t really want to see anybody. It was really he’d called me up and say, “I have to go to such-and-such a thing. Would you come with me?” I go, “All right.” Or, “I can’t go to this, please could you go in my place?” That sort of thing. We’d have such a laugh. We’d just go to the thing and then sit outside smoking or go off to something else, or just go home and have a chat. That was wonderful.

I spoke to him seven hours before he allegedly hung himself and he seemed to be actually all right, which was really … it was very, very strange, the whole thing. He told me he was going to Goldsmith’s. He was going to have a conversation about it. I mean, you never know those dark hours. Those dark hours. I said, “I’ll fly back, I’ll be with you.” He said, “No, no, don’t worry. I’ll see you next week.” That was it, yeah. I think about that conversation all the time.

Looking back, what do you think, if I asked you what made him a genius designer?

Well, he learnt from a really young age. I know he was at Anderson & Sheppard from the age of 14, so he was an apprentice cutter. I think it’s the Mozart thing. It’s the 10,000 hours of doing something, which I’ve done with music and I’ve done with fashion and I’ve done with many, many, many things. I mean, he was right in there with looking at all of these things from a really young age. I think that’s important. What made him a genius was he had the structure, he had his ideas, and he could build on top of the human form.

Because I mean, if you go to … another thing I did, I did a year at the Slade. I wanted to do architectural drawings, but they convinced me to do life drawing. Then after about two classes, I realized what it is. It’s the human form in a space. It’s Pythagorean. It’s all down to mathematics and a form in space. He had that and he lived that with cutters, and he was up close with the fabric. He didn’t need to have a pattern. When we would take out a roll of fabric, he could just take a pair of scissors and he would just cut.

It was a beautiful thing to see. I do that with songs when I’m finding a note. He knew where that note was in the fabrics or in what he was going to do. He didn’t make a mistake. That was an incredible thing. He may adjust it afterwards, but he knew where to try to plunge in. That’s an artistic decision, but it’s also you have to consider those things in terms of what is possible and actually what’s happening to the fabric, or a song or whatever you’re doing. It’s that first cut. That could be a song, but it is. It’s kind of a bravery to make that, even if it’s a dot on a canvas. You’ve just got to begin.

You acquired Blow’s entire wardrobe after her tragic passing.

Yes.

What is the state of it now? What happened?

Well, I’ve got it. I mean, it’s here. I mean, it’s very well preserved. I made it into a foundation, but a foundation has to have an end date. The problem with it was I don’t have the money to keep a foundation going. It lasted 10 years. It was great. I realized that actually having a foundation, you’re paying more in bureaucracy. I actually managed to do more scholarships without the foundation than with it, so now I’m really involved with Central Saint Martins, and I’ve been doing it now for 14 years, I think it is, 13, 14. It’s two scholarships. It’s a MA, a BA, a slush fund. I think some of the brands have started to do it, but I do.

It so funny, because they make videos of themselves, how brilliant it is to do the right thing. I mean, if you’ve got that much money, you should be supporting artists. I mean, he didn’t really like … well, he already knew. He was very sure of himself when he got to Central Saint Martins. He told me he thought it was a bit of a waste of time, because he’d already had those whatever it is, the apocryphal 10,000 hours. He’d already done it. He already had it. I think he played a lot of pool. Louise Wilson, who he didn’t get on with it, I don’t think, actually she was very key when I did the first exhibition of Isabella’s clothes at Somerset House. Which was I felt that people really needed to see these things up close, but it was major because of the whole… David LaChapelle said to me, he said, “Your almost too loyal. You’re loyal to people years after their death, and you sort of keep everything going, but what’s in it for you?”

But I feel like these friendships were forged in such a way that I feel very, very… I feel that.it’s kind of my calling, although the thing is I’m me, not Izzy, or I’ve tried to avoid the tragedy of that. I mean, obviously I thought about it. I’ve had some pretty mean people come up to me say, “Oh God, I thought you were dead,” sort of thing. Or, “Shouldn’t you be dead?” Yeah, whatever. I mean, just horrid fashion people.

But I carry on. I mean, yes, there is always, as Oscar Wilde said, “If people don’t think about killing themselves…” Sort of it’s nice to keep it close, but not too close.

(SPONSOR BREAK)

And how would you describe your life today, what is this moment where you are now? I mean, you’ve done so much in the years after that period, in terms of film, and this is now your fourth album, and you’ve quite accomplished much. How do you see yourself?

I don’t think you ever accomplished anything, I feel like it’s all to do. If I couldn’t learn anything, that’s when I would just give up completely.

But I do think that now is probably a new period of my time. I have many, well, a few, unresolved issues, because I think I’ve been a little bit too old-fashioned in my ways. Just doing things on a handshake and just being very, very kind of old-fashioned about things. And every time it goes wrong.

There are two paths that people can go down, they can go down the right road and they can go down the wrong road. And inevitably, most people go down the wrong road. And it’s so awful to see it. So I’m having to really, really reassess the way that I approach the world. Which is sad, because I’ve been trying my best to do things in a civilized way, in a friendship way, but actually people have got other agendas.

It’s fine. But I do think with this new thing, I mean, I’ve made a decision that I will… I think maybe in that article you wrote I said somewhere that the last thing anybody needs is a fashion designer. But I’m reversing my view, I think actually I’ve been making prototypes for years and years and years and years. I’ve got all these dormant things that I could just put into production now.

But I feel very strongly that the colors, fabrics, everything is kind of wrong, we’re living in a kind of faded world where there’s no direction. Or there’s a little direction, but it’s as if collections are designed by the first violinist, or an album is written by a session musician. You’ve got to have someone with a vision.

But I’ve got to start small. I don’t have enormous funds at my thing, but I’m happy to get my hands, put myself… Go back to my dyeing and experimentation with fabrics and just get it right, because that’s what we need. It’s a bold vision, and also I believe that the customer deserves better.

And some of those themes brings us to Sleep, now your fourth album. And how did this album get started? What was the…?

Okay, so it was the pandemic. We had sort of lots of different sketches of songs. I mean, I’m a good tune person, it’s very easy for me to summon a tune, so we had bits and pieces.

And it was really I wanted the band to be back together, people hadn’t been able to be in a room together. So I made a decision to go back to British Grove and sort of bring everybody together, so at least people had time to be with each other.

So that’s really how it began, because I wasn’t really thinking about doing a fourth album. I’m glad I did, because I think this one is a real step forward. I think sonically it’s revealed many, many things that I could do, and also maybe what… Yeah, I mean, there’s a future in this.

So as I said, there was a month of recording, which was with the full band and everything. And for example, the song Time, That is the first take with the band. We had to clean up the drums on my vocal, but that was 95% the first take.

Oh, wow. Okay.

The high bits, because I go into this whole high thing, we decided to lay that back, and then I talk over that middle eight section. Because of course with the drums and everything, I suddenly go into a different mood, and it takes a while for people to catch up, especially if you’ve got… I’m in an isolation booth.

But it kind of worked. And it was when we realized that that was kind of the take, the take. With me it’s sort of the first or third take. Hip Neck Spine, that was two takes actually. I couldn’t improve on it. I did one with… I wrote it in 15 minutes in the back room with Malcolm. Under pressure, obviously, by Tony. And sort of thought, “Are these words too cheesy?” And I thought, “They really are.” I mean, trying to write a simple song, for me, I always end up getting into my head. As Bowie he said, “Oh, you’re sort of two Shakespeare or two Tennyson.” And I just tried to simplify everything.

So I did that first take and then they all went up for lunch. And then I did a second take with Andy Cook, the engineer. And I was doing all the oohs and ahs, and I don’t know what… He was looking at his feet sort of… But I changed one line, I thought it would amuse Tony. I’m not even sure if he realized, adding the Sound and Vision line. So I got that done in about five minutes.

A line from Bowie’s Sound and Vision?

Well, exactly.

Ah, okay.

Just a nod to Tony.

Oh, nice.

I’m not sure if he even noticed.

Which line is that?

“The sound of vision’s going to take you higher.” That one.

Okay, all right. And why is it called “Sleep?

Because I love to sleep. And in sleep you can dream up all sorts of different worlds, it’s a sort of Dali-esque nod. I mean, it’s Surrealism really.

And there’s a lot of depth and reflection in the album, and a sense of surrealism, but a lot of reflection, a lot of nostalgia. Is that something that you thought about from the very beginning? Because you said that some of this kind of came out instinctively.

No, it just comes up. I mean, Love & Destruction was sort of my potted version of a Nietzschean postmodernist world. I would say Bedazzled, it’s just stating the bleeding obvious and making it rhyme. But also having a middle eight after the first verse, that is not ever done. I’m not sure if it’s ever done, I’ve got to look it up. But that just appeared to me, it just having that sort of suddenly a bird’s eye view. Suddenly you’re in it and then you’re suddenly kind of you… It’s like having the overall drone view of the world, and then you’re back in it, and then you…

Again, dynamics, which are in short supply. I mean, really it’s not that difficult to add dynamics to something. I’m just not even sure… I think everybody, well, from what I’ve heard with modern music, dynamics is, because of the programs people use, FruityLoops and et cetera, et cetera, it just isn’t really…

I try to… Getting back to my classical thing, each song, well, maybe not all of them, but quite a few of them are a first act, second act, third act. Then maybe you’ve got the kind of bird’s eye view at the beginning but then… It’s a condensed opera form, so you get the first act, second act, third act, fourth act, resolve. I mean, you just want it to kind of wrap it up. And you don’t have to do it…

I mean, yes, they’re quite long, but they don’t go on too, too much, because I edit them very, very carefully. So each word, if that’s superfluous it has to go. I’m ruthless with my editing.

You’ve mentioned things like technology in music and also the state of fashion today. Do you think that creative people in the arts, in whatever, that technology is actually possibly causing more problems than it creates in a sense? We have so much technology now and so many gadgets and programs and things that do things for you. Are you someone that thinks, “Oh gosh, it’s better just to be,” I don’t know, “A paint painter rather than someone…”

I’m in two minds. I think it’s all right. I kind of actually might do some paintings because I’m quite good at it.

I think it’s great to have it as a tool. Everybody’s got a pencil, but it depends on what they draw. So I mean, there’s always been this conversation about technology probably since Gutenberg invented the printing press. So it’s a tool like anything else, it depends on how you want to employ it.

I mean, yes, I think that we will all be replaced by AI people. But I mean, my big question is you’ve got to get computers to have desire, because capitalism doesn’t work if you only have to plug yourself into a thing. That you don’t need clothes, you don’t need food, you need a bit of electricity to run. But actually you need…

I have conversations with programmers about this. It’s about sometimes a song or an idea will come to me fully formed in one piece, but sometimes I have to walk. And it’s the reflection, it’s the bits in between where you’re up against the kind of flame, and then you have to step away. You go for a walk, you shake yourself out, and then another idea occurs to them.

So if you’re in a zero-sum, in a deeply atomic world, which I think Heraclitus was pretty… The Greeks talked about this, it was the idea of things just being just facts. I mean, information is really interesting, but it’s the way that you use information. Otherwise, it’s just information. And too much information in AI could… I don’t know. It could eat itself. The first images out of AI were good, but the more and more images that are pumped into it make it more and more bland. So it’s difficult to get a handle on where it’s going. And I don’t know. It’s taste. Everything’s about taste, music, fashion, art, whatever. I can only do what I do. I don’t know. And also, you know what? I’m sure some fashion makes people really, really happy. I guess I’m glad I lived because maybe I can suggest a more narrowed down, a better, more and also less… We’re living in a world where there are fewer and fewer… There’s not many supplies left of all of these things. And so you have to really take it back right to the beginning.

Music is different. I mean, we can generate sounds. We can do that, but no… I liked the idea of going back to music because you’re not causing any waste. You’re creating a few LPs. You’re not adding to the confusion of today’s world. If I do… Well, when I do. It’s a decision. When I do something, it will be considered and it will be a piece. And there’s a whole philosophy behind the piece. It’s not just there just to be… I mean, hopefully I’ll sell a few things, but I’m not exactly the best business mind in the world. But I can create lots and lots of things.

And what was it like working with Tony Visconti? Obviously we mentioned Bowie

It was wonderful. I mean, we’ve had a long… He’s become a very good friend. I mean, obviously, it was Bowie that intervened and said, “Listen, you’ve got to just produce it.” So Bowie was really very much… He gave me Tony and Gail Ann Dorsey. And he was very, very, very much… He said, “For heaven’s sake, you look like a pop star. You’ve got to be a pop star.” I said, “All right. ”

Not bad. Not bad.

No. Not bad.

No.

And he said, “And I didn’t know that you could sing.” So I was like, “Well, yeah, opera.” He said, “No. Rain on the parade.”

Well, the track No Joke has some very kind lyrics. It sounds like you’re speaking about maybe someone or a group of people that you may not adore or want to take them down a peg. If you don’t mind, I’ll read a bit of lyrics for those listening.

“Oblivious [inaudible 00:45:01] life and flux. I’ve had enough.”

Oh, yes. “You’re flesh and blood. You won’t be here for long.”

That’s true.

“It’s all absurd. I’ve had enough.” Tell me about this.

That was so funny to write. It’s just all the kind of most things that… It’s very… My great hero is Peter Cook. He’s an English comedian from the ‘60s. So Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. So I’m very much steeped in the Pythonesque or early raw ‘60s comedy. It’s finding a word… You have strong words and you have weak words. My friend, Harold Bloom, who was professor at Harvard, who was my son’s teacher, we have so many brilliant discussions about strong words and weak words. And I always try to find the strong words. So yes. So the attitude of it is all absurd. I mean, the present time is nothing but absurdity, but people can’t laugh at themselves anymore. I realize that I’m a ridiculous creature and everything that I’ve been through is very, very different from maybe other people’s, whatever, lived experiences. But I suppose if you can laugh at life and you can laugh at yourself and know that it’s all a joke.

What do you find the most absurd about modern life?

The lack of middle ground and also the… I know deeply because I’ve seen it. I mean, that’s another whole thing. But this has all happened before many, many, many, many, many times. I mean, civilizations have rise and fall. And people just don’t understand the thousands and thousands and thousands of years of human civilizations from the Assyrians and the Egyptians and the Romans and the Greeks and the Chinese and the Indian. I mean… Did they all think that they’re the first people that have ever discovered this? But it’s human passions.

You only have to look at who I relate to in a deep way is Shakespeare. “All the world’s a staged and many people…” That whole speech. Or what’s wonderful about Shakespeare is that you can’t… Why people think he was so many different people is because he was part of a band essentially. I mean, a role… It’s called a role in a film or on stage because you got a roll of paper. And I did this when I was at Philippe Gaulier. You get your off line. You get your line. And then you pass it to someone else. It wasn’t written down as a whole play until they published the first folio. So essentially it was trust. So you have to know what someone else is giving you. You do your line. You have no idea where it comes.

So it’s very much like being in a musical band because someone’s giving you a cue musically or whatever. You have to listen. That’s the thing. And I don’t think anybody’s listening. They’re taking positions which are extreme and I don’t think probably that great. And I’m not a political person. The only thing that I would… If I ran for any form of government, it would be for the Minister for Aesthetics. But I mean, you have passionate young people who believe in all sorts of causes, but in the great arc of history, I’m not entirely sure if they understand how many thousands of years that people have been arguing about exactly the same things. And it’s going to end up the same. And it’s depressing actually.

Speaking of history, one of the songs is Laika, which is a throwback to the Soviet Cold War, you could say, aesthetic.

Oh, God. [inaudible 00:49:25] absolute-

Very nostalgic. Where did that idea come from?

Yeah. Well, okay, so I had the tune. I had the atmosphere. I had everything. And then as many times when I’m coming up with a song, I was figuring out what the first line was going to be. I went for a swim. I got out of the sea. And I said to Malcolm, “I know what this is. It’s a Russian love song.” This was two weeks before Russia went into Ukraine. So I’ve written this whole song and then that happened.

Oh, gosh.

Oh, God. I know. God. Indeed. I mean, seriously. I didn’t… But it happens to me a lot. But I think it happens to lots of artists. They pick up on something. But the chord suggested an Eastern… It’s an Eastern progressive chords, Eastern European, probably Russian bit of… I live in those Arabic, Eastern chords. So that’s why my things, Greek, Russian, whatever. They’re not widely used in Western music, but they exist. And that’s a fun… I live in that melancholy, but not that melancholy because I find that happy actually.

And Time is one of my favorite tracks. And you worked with David LaChapelle in the video and… How does video and-

And I wrote it for him actually.

Oh, really? Okay. Well, tell me about that.

Well, he called me up and he said, “I’d love for you to write a song…” He… I can’t… I think he was listening to… I can’t remember which artist he was listening to. I think it was Joni Mitchell. And he was wanting to have a song that could pass through many eras. So I sat down and I thought that it’s a song about time actually, but also the things… I mean, all those lines, “If people only knew the things that we’ve been through. All the cliches are true.” That’s true. “All the cliches are true,” came to me in a moment of deep meditation actually. When you realize that all the cliches are true and that’s because people don’t want to use cliches in songs or some people that I’ve been recording with. “You can’t use that because it’s a cliche.” But when you realize that all the cliches are true and they’re there for a reason, then you can embrace the cliche.

But anyway. But the last utterance of that for me that makes the whole album is that, “Love the unexpected. Love the great oblique. Love…” That one. And that actual take was the one. I mean, I did it twice and that was the one. It has to live in that heartbreaking void of unresolve.

Unresolved stories?

Yeah. Exactly. And that’s it. If that’s the last thing I ever say on a record, I think that says it all really. I think I live for those last four bars.

One of my dear friends, who’s a former guest of the podcast and runs this amazing brand called Apparatus, says, “Tell her I love her.” His name is Gabriel Hendifar. And he wanted me to ask you something slightly philosophical. And he wanted me to ask you, what does it feel like when you walk into a room?

Oh, my goodness. Which room? I mean-

Any room.

Any room. It feels… I have to observe the space, and then I realize where I… Then it’s a understanding of the space in which I belong.

What about a party?

Oh, God. I’m not very good at parties. I’m really not. I don’t really know what to do. And Alex Elder was the same. We shared that. And David, funny, too. I mean, we’re hermetic people. I’m not really someone that can own a room, I don’t think.

Oh, I doubt that. But what’s next for you?

What’s next? Well, I’m doing my drawings for whatever I’m going to make next and also I’ve come up with another song, but not sure what the words are yet. I think I understand what the words are. Yeah. I thought it was going to be simple, but it’s suddenly become quite complex.

And if I had to ask you to describe your future, the future life of Daphne Guinness in three words, [inaudible 00:54:12] three words be?

Oh, goodness. I hope there is a future. I think there might be. I mean, The Dark Night of the Soul, obviously, which is the next single coming out. Yes. Once you decide to commit to life, then you have to fight.

(MUSICAL BREAK)

Thank you to my guest, Daphne Guinness, as well as to Ben Barna for making this episode happen. The editor of The Grand Tourist is Stan Hall. To keep this going, don’t forget to visit our website and sign up for our newsletter, The Grand Tourist Curator at thegrandtourist.net. And follow me on Instagram at @danrubinstein. And don’t forget to follow The Grand Tourist on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you like to listen and leave us a rating or comment. Every little bit helps. Til next season!

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