Spin : What’s the songwriting process like between you and your collaborators ?
Madonna : Well, it happens differently every time. In William’s case, he would often given me tapes of snippets he was working on, eight-bar phrases, 16-bar phrases, stripped-down versions of what you hear on the record. And I’d listen to them over and over and it would just inspire lyrics. I’d start writing a little bit and then I’d go back to William say, « Okay, let’s expand on this musical idea. » And as we’d expand on this music, I’d expand on the lyrics. That was true for most everything except for the album’s last track, « Mer Girl ». I decided I would write a song to the music as given to me, and when William asked me if I wanted to do something with it, I said, « I want it just like it is, I want you to put the tape up right now and I’m gonna sing to it .» And did it in one take. For « Frozen », a song wrote with Pat Leonard, I was obsessed with the movie The Sheltering Sky and the whole Moroccan orchestral superromantic man carrying the woman he loves across the desert vibe. So I told Pat that I wanted something with a tribal feel, something really lush and romantic. When he started playing some music, I just turned the DAT on and started free associating and came up with the melody.
Spin : How has you approach to vocals changed with this album ? You seem to be going for a more European approach to singing, almost operatic, less colloquial.
Madonna : I studied with a vocal coach for Evita and I realized there was a whole piece of my voice I wasn’t using. Before, I just believe I had a really limited range and was going to make the most of it. Then I started studying with a coach. God bless her. My secret dream is to sing Italian at songs, so at the end of my lesson my teacher would let me sing Italian operetta. Maybe that affected me unconsciously.
Spin : Ray Of Light is a very soulful record, but it sounds nothing like contemporary soul, a la Mary J. Blige. Have your feelings about black culture and black music changed ?
Madonna : I don’t think that a lot of soul searching is going on in soul music these days, so in that respect it’s pretty disappointed and uninspiring. There are definitely artists whom I respect and admire, but for the most part R&B is not what it used to be.
Spin : Why do you think that is ?
Madonna : There seems to be a certain kind of formula that is getting over right now. No disrespect to Puff Daddy-he’s a real pioneer in a lot of ways- but constantly recycle other people’s music is not very inspiring. You’re just hearing things you’ve already heard before. It makes you want to sing along but you’re not really going to another place with it. As I was driving over here, I was listening to the radio and there was this Stevie Wonder song. Where is somebody who writes like that now ? It’s so sad. I guess Babyface comes closest, but I consider his stuff more pop. I can’t think of anybody who’s as deep and as layered as Stevie Wonder. Instead we get the cartoon version of life : being powerful, rich, and having beautiful woman. I don’t think they’re setting out to push the envelope or take music to another level. It’s about intention.
Spin : How have your intentions changed in making music ?
Madonna : I feel a lot more aware of the influence and the impact I have on people. In the beginning of my career I just did whatever I wanted to and if it made me feel good, If it was fun, that was cool. Now I feel like everybody we do -the movies we make, the music, the stuff that’s on television- affects society in a potent way. I feel a sense of responsibility because my consciousness has been raised and I would like it impart the wisdom I have to others without being corny or preachy.
Spin : Do you feel you have been irresponsible before ?
Madonna : To a certain extent, yes. But I guess I’ll chalk that up to youth.
Spin : Was there anything in particular that you feel was irresponsible ?
Madonna : I was guilty of buying into this culture that thrives on ripping other people up, and I regret that, I truly do. People always think that they have to humiliate and denigrate others in order to make themselves appear stronger or better or smarter or cooler, but in the end it has the opposite effect. I’m much more aware now, and when you’re aware you have a responsibility.
Spin : How have you come to this awareness ?
Madonna : It’s just a process, a process of asking questions, making mistakes, and being hurt. My daughter has had a lot to do with it. Having a child and questioning my own mortality and feeling incredibly responsible for someone else’s life and being aware of how my behavior affects her you have to step back and realize that we all affect each other.