Q: Let’s talk about the record. Do you feel critics have been guilty of reviewing your image at times rather than your music or acting?
Madonna: Absolutely. I think that for many years now people have been consumed with me — choices I’ve made personally versus my artistic contributions. It’s like people act as if I’m the first one who tried to use image in rock ‘n’ roll. When is it new for people to create a strong image? What about Mick Jagger? Prince? And you can go on and on. Besides, I [feel that] 50% of that image is what I put into it and the rest is what others put into it.
Q: Your voice sounds truer on the new album than I remember from the earlier records. Do you think there’s a difference?
Madonna: Yes. For one thing, there was the training that I did for “Evita.” I started working with a vocal coach and I suddenly discovered that I was only using half of my voice. Until then, I had pretty much accepted that I had a very limited range, which is fine. Anita O’Day and Edith Piaf had very limited ranges, too, and I am a big fan. So, I figured I’d make do with the best I had. But then I realized I had to make some adjustments to sing those Andrew Lloyd Webber songs. I needed to increase my range. I did a lot of work with an incredible coach and on top of that I’ve been practicing yoga very seriously for a little over a year and I believe that helped my voice and affected my singing.
Q: What about the album’s themes? They seem more personal than before. Are they or are you just expressing yourself better as a singer?
Madonna: I feel it’s probably a combination of the two. I’ve written lyrics that were quite personal before, certainly in the “Like a Prayer” album, and even stuff on “Bedtime Stories” felt very personal. But perhaps I was in a much more vulnerable place when I was recording this album and because I feel I’ve done a lot of growing and evolving spiritually and emotionally.
Q: Is there a reason you were more vulnerable?
Madonna: First of all, it was after doing “Evita,” which was really a challenging, emotionally exhausting, soul-searching couple of years for me. It also kind of gave me time off from being me.
Q: You mean you were thinking about the role and the woman herself?
Madonna: Exactly, and I got to view myself in a more objective way, and also I got pregnant, and the whole idea of giving birth and being responsible for another life put me in a different place, a place I’d never been before. I think I’m slowly shedding my layers, and where other people have been obsessed with the idea that I am always reinventing myself, I’d rather think that I’m slowly revealing myself, my true nature. It feels to me like I’m just getting closer to the core of who I really am.
Q: What did you like and what did you want to change when you looked at yourself?
Madonna: I realized that for years and years I’ve been having a really great time and fulfilling my dreams. I’ve been traveling the world and meeting really great people, making art, being creative. But I also was being incredibly rebellious, working through my own sexual repression, growing up with a really strict father and a Catholic background and everything. I was basically hurling myself headfirst into anything and everything, . . . being very consumed by my ego and by my own selfish desires. I got to a point where I went, “OK, I’ve been incredibly petulant, incredibly self-indulgent, incredibly naive.” But I needed to do all of those things to get where I am now, and where I am now I’m very happy with. I don’t have any regrets, even though there are moments when I go, ‘Oh, God, I can’t believe I said that or did that’ or whatever. But you know what? I have to love that person too. She brought me here.
Q: The final element of the album is the overall sound, the slight techno touches. Why did you have British dance producer William Orbit produce your album?
Madonna: I’ve always been interested in electronica, techno, trip-hop, that kind of music. The thing that bothered me about a lot of that music, though, was it seemed devoid of emotion. There wasn’t a lot that felt personal. So I wanted to take my feelings and marry them to something that is traditionally not considered very emotional or personal.
Q: Didn’t you approach some other techno or dance producers and get turned down?
Madonna: I went through Tricky and Goldie and Prodigy, who is even on Maverick, and they all basically turned their elitist noses at me and said, ‘Oh, we can’t work with you. You’re a big pop star.’ [Maverick executive Guy Oseary] suggested William, who had done some remixes of my records, and he sent over some stuff he had been working on and it was absolutely the direction I wanted to go.