Spin : You’re one of the few celebrities who’s grown up in public in a positive way.
Madonna : Me and Michael Jackson [laughs]. Yeah, I guess I have. I look at pictures of myself 15 years ago or watch myself on television or read interviews and I think, « Who is that ? » It’s like looking at your high-school graduation picture and you sit there and go, « What a geek ! Why did I have my hair like that ?»
Spin : So many of your contemporaries have hit the skids, and even great talents like Prince, Michael Jackson, George Michael, U2, and R.E.M. are not so selling huge numbers, are not getting the same respect they once did. You’re still selling records, still moving ahead creatively. Why is that ?
Madonna : Everybody you mentioned is extremely talented, so I don’t think it has to do with talent. It’s a tricky life we lead. You really have to find that place of caring but not caring what people think. Where you are desirous of things and you want to be successful and you want to make music that reaches people but you also can detach yourself from it. That’s really hard to do.
Spin : How have you managed to do that ?
Madonna : Well, getting the shit kicked out of me on a regular basis is a very humbling experience. >From the very beginning of my career, people have been writing shit about me and saying, « She’s a one-hit wonder, she’ll disappear after a year. » Maybe that’s all been a good thing, because I’ve never felt like my shit didn’t stink.
Spin : You’ve created interesting work with all kinds of different people. -from Babyface to William Orbit, from Shep Pettibone to Davis Foster- and I was wondering what you think you bring to the table ?
Madonna : Angst ! [laughs] I don’t know, a certain vulnerability and a certain strength. I feel like everybody I work with, I push them to another level. When I work with people who seem uptight, I open them up. I try to get them to go off the beaten path, to improvise and throw the rules out the window. When I work with somebody who’s very chaotic and disorganized like William, then I have to opposite effect : I toe the line and become more focused. Crack the whip. William’s a genius, but he’s completely disorganized.
Spin : He told me that he wasn’t really used to being around people.
Madonna : Exactly. It was a kind of a culture shock. We had lots of problems. Things went haywire and everyone got frustrated because we were working with samples and synth sounds and Pro Tools and not with Live musicians, and shit would keep breaking down and nobody would know how to fix it. We’d be sitting there relying on one machine, and I’d be thinking, « This is f*cked .» So we had a lots of uphill battles. But we got through it.
Spin : It must have been a real challenge ; here you were, coming off your voice lesson and Evita, and here’s William, who’s not known for working with voices at all.
Madonna :But that’s the beauty of it. What I wanted was his sensibility, the textures, the really high-tech sounds. But William also works from a very melancholy place. I’ve been a big fan of his for years and I just knew our collaboration would be something beautiful.
Spin : How do you pick who you’re going to collaborate with ? I’m sure you could have anyone you want.
Madonna : Well I could, but I always go for the cook in the kitchen [laughs]. I like to work with people who take chances. Usually they’re undiscovered, because once people are successful they don’t like taking risks.
Spin : But you’ve worked with Patrick Leonard all along.
Madonna : Yes, on songwriting, but no production. We write great songs together, but from the production point of view, the music that I listen to comes mostly from England and France, and there’s a certain European sensibility that I couldn’t have gotten from an American producer.
Spin : Why is that ?
Madonna : There’s a greater acceptance of cutting-edge things there. That goes for fashion, film, music. There is a real competitive thing going on in England about who can sell the most records, who can have the biggest box-office receipts. I’m much more inspired by the stuff coming out in Europe than i am out of America.
Spin : Like who ?
Madonna : Bjork, Everything but the Girl, Trickly and Martine.
Spin : What about Bjork attracts you ?
Madonna : She’s incredibly brave and she’s got a real mischievous quality about her. I find her very compelling, really daring.