Unlike most A-list stars, Lily Allen is not afraid of a “personal question.” In fact, she’d rather talk about how incredibly lonely she was after her divorce, than how much you loved her early albums as a teenager. Flattery won’t get you far with Allen, whose latest album No Shame is a brutally honest reflection on her life.
Having shot to fame singing about getting her shoes searched for drugs by a nightclub bouncer on her debut album Alright, Still in 2006, Allen’s latest single ‘Trigger Bang’ is all about owning the choices she’s made. In it, she sings, “When I was young I was blameless, I would wake up next to strangers, everyone knows what cocaine does.”
Still, Allen insists she doesn’t have any regrets. Instead, she chooses to view the dark moments in her life as valuable learning experiences – and good fodder for her new album (which is bloody brilliant, btw).
MC: Your new album No Shame was four years in the making – very long awaited. Where did you start?
LA: I just got into the studio. We hired a house in Los Angeles and we got to work. The first song to come out on this record was one called ‘Family Man’. It was telling because I was at the end of an American tour and the normal thing to do would have been to go home and be with my husband and kids. But for some reason, I delayed that and started on this next album. I started creating work away from my family and it kind of unravelled from there.
MC: Obviously being away from your family is a really difficult thing, but apart from that, what is the hardest part of making an album?
LA: The hardest part of making an album is knowing when it’s finished. I am quite meticulous over my lyrics, so I keep coming back to things and making changes to things that people probably wouldn’t notice. It’s important for me that everything feels completely 100% honest and authentic otherwise it just urks me and I get irritated playing the song live because it doesn’t feel right.
MC: How did you know that No Shame was 100% finished?
LA: When I wrote the song ‘Cake,’ which is the last song on the record. It made the album feel whole, because it was something optimistic – I wasn’t feeling in that frame of mind for a long time. When that song came out of me, I called my manager and I was like “I’ve written a song and I don’t want to kill myself, I think we’re there.”
MC: It is a very emotional album, I started crying at my desk today when I listened to ‘Three’ for the first time. Is that the reaction you were hoping for?
LA: I don’t think I really hoped for any reaction in particular. For me, I just wanted to make a really tight album that I could get up on stage and sing convincingly. With Sheezus, my last album, I really wasn’t happy with how it turned out from start to finish, to be honest. I was thinking [too much] about people’s reactions. I was trying to second-guess how people were going to receive it and I was people pleasing through music, but I got it wrong. With this album I just reeled all of that in and made something that feels authentic and good to me. Hopefully people will be able to see that it’s real and connect to that rather than being a grand pop offering.
MC: The song ‘Trigger Bang’ is really a look back at your younger days [Lyrics: When I was young I was blameless, I would wake up next to strangers, everyone knows what cocaine does]. How did it feel reflecting on those memories?
LA: It felt good. I had an amazing time [in my twenties]. I was incredibly successful and I had loads of money. Everybody wanted to be my friend and my doorbell was ringing every 10 minutes. I had handbags and designer clothes. It was amazing, but it was also hard. My life would fall apart and it would be put under a microscope; from my appearance, to my opinions and my music. When you’re in your early twenties, that’s when you’re trying to figure yourself out and I found it really difficult being under constant scrutiny. So, it was interesting looking back with music and trying to process it. I think it’s helpful to look at those things. I do have a tendency to put things in the box and shove it under the bed and try to forget about them, which is not particularly helpful.
MC: Music is such a cheap form of therapy, isn’t it? How have your Friday nights changed since you released ‘Friday Night’ in 2006 [Lyrics: In the club make our way to the bar, good dancing love but you should have worn a bra]?
LA: It depends on if I have my kids or not [Marnie Rose, five, and Ethel, six] because I share custody with my [ex] husband [Sam Cooper]. I mean, it’s pretty boring. It’s sort of Netflix and chill and take-away. Which is my idea of heaven.
MC: In the song ‘C’mon Then’ you sing about “Being lonely because no one f**king calls you anymore.” Can you tell me about a time in your life when you felt most lonely?
LA: I guess when I broke up with my husband, we were still very close but it felt like a lot of our friends/social group took his side and I did feel quite isolated and cut off from everything that I’ve loved and known for the past eight years. Then I had a really horrible incident with a stalker in 2015 where he ended up breaking into my house. There were complications with that because the police weren’t really helpful and it wasn’t being covered in the press. I’d been through something really traumatic and I tried to articulate that to my friends and I could see in their faces that they weren’t taking it that seriously because it hadn’t been on the Daily Mail. It was a very odd dynamic and I ended up disconnecting from everybody and cutting off. I felt incredibly lonely. I was going through possibly the hardest thing in my life and I didn’t have a support system anymore. My husband was gone, my last album was a flop and I was sad and lonely – my phone stopped ringing. That was a really difficult set of circumstances to get through.
MC: I think a lot of people are going to relate to that feeling. The whole album is about owning your shame, which is such a powerful sentiment. When you look back on your life do you have any regrets?
LA: I don’t have any regrets because when I look back on things that I didn’t enjoy, those are the things that I’ve learnt the most from. Figuring out coping mechanisms for things that are difficult, but it’s really valuable – especially being able to pass that onto my kids. I’m not going to say that I’ve really enjoyed a divorce and having a stalker and being on my own, but they are definitely things that I’ve learnt. They’re a positive take away for sure.
MC: Do your girls sing along to your songs at home? Do they love the album?
LA: Yes, they do. They love the song ‘Three’, that’s only one that they play in the car on the way to school every day. Their favourite song of mine is ‘Airballoon’ off the Sheezus album which is 100% the worst song that I’ve ever done and it’s all they want to hear.
MC: Great taste. I need to talk to you about your first two albums Alright, Still and It’s Not Me, It’s You. You must get this all the time, but they really were the soundtrack to my teenage years. How does it feel to be a part of people’s lives in that way?
LA: Overwhelming, I guess? It’s really flattering but I don’t have much confidence so I find it difficult to take that stuff on board. Sometimes when I am on my own and I’m reflecting, I do get consumed by this overwhelming feeling. I’m not going to say that it’s a nice feeling. It is weird when people send you messages saying that you had a real impact shaping their teenage years. It’s mad. I feel like if I did take that stuff on board then my writing would suffer. I think that I have to be boundaries. You can’t believe your own hype.
MC: How do you think this album compares to your first two?
LA: I think that the first two records were from a young person’s perspective. I didn’t have any responsibilities then and I was sleeping with different people all time (although, I was doing that on this album, too). I was experimenting and figuring out what the world is all about. Those things were reflected on the first two records whereas with this record, I was in isolation while I was making it. I wasn’t going out and I wasn’t socialising. It’s more about looking inward than outward which is new to me.
MC: When you wrote ‘Alfie’ about your brother [Alfie Allen on Game Of Thrones], did you ever think he would grow up to become an acclaimed actor on the biggest show on TV? [Lyrics: My little brother’s in his bedroom smoking weed, I tell him he should get up cos it’s nearly half past three].
LA: God no [laughs]. Otherwise I wouldn’t have written it. I had no idea how big I was going to be or how many people would hear that song. It didn’t occur to me that there would be a music video or people on the radio would be asking, “who’s Alfie?”It has been the subject of many family arguments.
MC: The big question is when are you coming down under to tour Australia?
LA: Well, I haven’t got my touring schedule yet but it’s definitely going to happen soon. Hold tight. I’ll be there soon.
MC: Last one, what are you listening to at the moment?
LA: I’ve been listening to a lot of Scissor at the moment and I always listen to Rihanna whenever I am at the gym. I listen to Troye Sivan and a lot of Kendrick. I will be listening to the Kanye album all next week. There’s so much good music around at the moment, it’s great.
No Shame is out now.