With her newly released video for Heaven as an excuse, we speak to Daphne Guinness about her latest album, Revelations, a self-described “cornucopia of styles and influences” both sonic and visual. The project sees the multidisciplinary artist pushing the visual bar and experimenting with production in ways that surpass even her own desire to always be constructing something new. At the same time, she’s managed to create a record that doesn’t compromise on enjoyment and that appeals to the average listener anyway. After all, she just wants us to get up, dance, and let ourselves go.
The perception many people might have of you is, it goes without saying, both eccentric and enigmatic. How much of that perception is influenced by a persona, and how much of that persona is actually Daphne Guinness? Is there anything our readers might be surprised to learn of you?
It is a difficult question to answer. How can one be objective about oneself? I think people would be surprised by my sense of humour. My producer Tony Visconti and I have a lot of fun in the studio – we’re always laughing.
You’re an artist with many strings to your bow – designing, modelling, acting, and among other feats, now a disco diva in your own right! In which capacity do you find your creativity is nurtured the most? Is it the case that you’re fulfilled differently depending on what you’re doing and where you’re at in life?
I’m always making new things. I find it extremely fulfilling to create things that have never existed before in any medium – art, music, film, poetry… I think our cultural achievements as humans define our legacy for the future.
“I think our cultural achievements as humans define our legacy for the future.”
We know you started out singing at Guildhall as a teenager. Releasing albums now, do you feel like you’ve come full circle? To what extent are you still that same teenager?
I feel like I am simultaneously all the ages I have ever been, so my teenage self is still travelling with me. Singing is the purest and most natural form of human musical expression, the voice is a built-in instrument that we all have.
You’ve mostly delved into music in the last five years. Despite the acclaim, does it still feel like something you’re getting used to? Is there added pressure in creating music compared with other ventures you’ve been involved with a lot longer?
As Malcolm Gladwell said, it takes ten thousand hours of doing something to become an expert, so I’m working my way towards that. There are a lot of technical aspects of recording to master, but working with Tony, I am constantly learning. He is the Maestro.
How did you decide on Revelations as an album title? Did you have any personal revelations of your own when writing it, or were they more socio-political as you observed the world in quarantine?
The song itself was a revelation – it came through to me fully formed: I channelled it from elsewhere, from the ether! Like most artists, I am influenced by what is going on in the world around me, the current state of our world and the consequences of humanity’s greed.
Sonically, the album has a distinctively ‘70s disco sound. Is that your favourite era of music? What other influences included within the album do you hope listeners will be receptive to?
It is a cornucopia of styles and influences from the formative soundtrack of my life. I recorded the album in Paris, so it is imbued with a spirit of Gainsbourg, but there are many flavours in there from disco to reggae, glam and post-punk.
Visual art is clearly central to how you express yourself, whether through music videos or your own style and fashion choices. How important do you think visuals are when consuming music? With that in mind, how can music complement fashion?
For me, everything has always been about sound and vision – they are symbiotic to me. My creative partnership with David LaChappelle is an ongoing dream, we complement each other perfectly.
Deviant Disco hooks the listener as a fun and upbeat album opener, but the song itself is almost secondary to the David LaChapelle-directed visual you released along with it. Can you tell us a little bit more about the intention behind playing the track in the background and what you hoped to achieve with the video? 
It is all about storytelling, and I hope these films are a catalyst to open up people’s imaginations and to allow them to exercise their own creative thought. The Deviant Disco segment of the Revelations video trilogy is enigmatic and mysterious – it provides a jumping-off point for an imagined narrative. Am I coming home from a night at The Deviant Disco? Why am I always crashing in the same car?
You’ve spoken before about Bowie being a major influence on you. We can recognise elements of that in some of the music on this album – the Bright White Stranger might be the Thin White Duke – as well as in the visual for Looking Glass. MTV might be dead, but are there any contemporary artists you admire in their attempts to keep music videos or visual albums alive?
Bowie has always been a presence in my life and continues to be so. He encouraged Tony Visconti to work with me in the first place, and I am forever grateful for that.
In terms of contemporary artists, I think Gareth Pugh and Nick Knight’s new Visual Album collaboration for London Fashion Week is really interesting, but I fear a lot of contemporary music and visuals are lacking in new concepts and imagination. What I wish for is more diversity of ideas. We need a forum which is more curated like MTV used to be. There is a wealth of incredible music films and videos out there, but they get lost in the noise. I wish they had a proper platform.
Tune into Neptune could be your own Space Oddity, and with other album references to space cadets and the like, is it fair to say you’re fascinated by life beyond Earth? How would Daphne Guinness adapt to life on Mars?
I am a nomadic being – I could live anywhere. I inhabit the landscape of my imagination. Mars may be a barren landscape but it is also a state of mind!
It feels like we all need Permission to Dance right now. The introductory lyrics for this track – “the world is falling to pieces, so let’s be space cadets” – feels like you’re giving us that permission, especially as the tempo increases. Does music have the potential to make space cadets of all of us, in that it allows us to explore experiences and worlds beyond our own? Do we all just need a dance right now?
It’s all about letting yourself go. No matter what their background or circumstances, all humans can dance to the same beat – music has no gender or agenda. We need to stop looking down at our phones and get up on the dance floor. What I’m really saying is dancing and music can be an instant path to happiness, an escape from the troubles in the world and a way to embrace and enjoy the moment.
We’ve discussed past influences and of futures beyond Earth, but what are you motivated by in the present? Has it ever been more difficult for an artist to create, or should be all be thriving in troubled times?
All we have is now. Artists create their own worlds. Their thoughts and landscapes have always provided hope and inspiration to others.
Revelations sees you working with Tony Visconti once more. You clearly complement each other creatively, but what do you think it is that works so well? Can you give us some more insight into what’s involved in a studio session between you both, from concept to creation?
Music and words come magically to me. My co-writer, Malcolm Doherty, helps me catch them like thought butterflies; Tony creates the palette and structure, and then creates his beautiful string arrangements. I have a great band who are like family and we are all very much on the same page. I let them to do their thing – it’s a true collaboration.
We’re aware you’ve got concerns surrounding social media and people becoming slaves to their machines. Do you also think this could be a natural positive progression for humanity? Could technology be our defining legacy?
I suspect that technology will be key in pulling us back from the brink of environmental disaster. We have to concentrate our science, technology and knowledge on this rather than consumerism.
Finally, and in the spirit of Revelations, what does Heaven look like for you? Do you feel hopeful for the future?
Heaven can exist here on earth. I am always hopeful for the future. Music is the key! The beauty of nature must be respected and protected at all costs.