Looking like a cross between a ’60s hippy and a ’90s waif, Madonna walks into the Beverly Hills Four Seasons Hotel unnoticed. Wearing loose black pants, black cashmere sweater, minimal makeup and -most remarkable of all – near waistlength, unkempt reddish-blonde pre-Raphaelite hair. Although this new image is probably the least glamorous to date. Madonna, who turns 40 in August, looks much younger than her years. Her new album, Ray of Light is a more mellow, sophisticated sound than her previous work. Its 13 tracks are mainly upbeat dance-oriented songs with an ethereal touch. After speaking with Madonna today, one gets the impression that when she’s not in a lotus position chanting, she’s changing baby Lourdes’ [16 months old] nappies. This new, calm, mystical Madonna [who occasionally speaks with a faux British accent] is a little unsettling. Walking into the hotel suite where we’ve arranged to meet, she announces…
Madonna: Okay, now the rules are no stupid questions.
Anderson: Okay, I’ll try…
Madonna: I prefer to talk about my work although when I talk about it, it’s hard to describe some things.
Anderson: Can you describe the themes of the album?
Madonna: I would say that there’s a theme of rebirth, redemption, exploring mysticism and different kinds of spirituality, celebrating life, things like that.
Anderson: What else inspired you besides your daughter?
Madonna: Well, for the past couple of years I’ve been listening to a lot of world music, lots of Indian, North African music, things like that. And I started practicing yoga about a year ago which lead me to studying Sanskrit and chanting Sanskrit and so obviously I listen to a lot of Indian music as a result of that. And that really influenced the record too.
Anderson: Out of all the tracks on the album, which do you have the strongest feelings for?
Madonna: “Drowned World,” the first track, is a really important song to me.
Madonna: Because I feel like I reallv address the whole aspect of fame and my relationship with fame and the world’s relationship with fame and what it means to me.
Anderson: Did you have your mind set on what you wanted in the studio?
Madonna: More or less, I knew what I was going fortexturally. I’ve always loved William Orbit’s (Seal, Peter Gabriel, Human League, Depeche Mode) sound. I toyed with the idea of working with lots of people but in the end I went with William. I knew I was going to get a sort of trancy, ambient quality but I didn’t realise that we were going to end up using so much guitar. That was a pleasant surprise because I haven’t used it much in my music in the past.
Anderson: You once said that you thought the press and the audience have punished you.
Madonna: Yeah but that’s the old me. [Smiles]
Anderson: So you are not being punished any more?
Madonna: No, I used to think of myself as a victim and whenever bad things happened I’d think, oh, people are doing these things to me! But everything that happened to me, I attracted to me and I brought it on myself and I am the master of my own fate.
Anderson: Your inspirations of late have come out of the UK. There’s a general consensus that the UK is where it’s at now.
Madonna: Yeah, well, it’s cyclical. I think where things are happening changes things in the world. It’s in New York and the next thing you know it’s in Paris and right now everything that’s happening that’s cutting edge is coming out of London. I don’t know why but a lot of it has to do with government and economics and what’s happening politically and a lot of it has to do with… I think in general, Britain has been responsible for a lot of musical revolutions and I think that there’s a really big emphasis put on creativity in England, much more so there than for instance America. Making money and being successful is paramount in America and I think in London, there’s a competitiveness in London about being creative. That frees people to take more chances and trv new things.