There was an opening film with a snarling wolf, and fire, and you on a bed, kind of spasming. It was…
…performance art. Strange. Disturbing (chuckles). Yes. I suppose it served to get the audience’s attention, to get them to focus, to get them out of their worlds, their everyday worlds that they’re living in and say, OK, now this is theatre, and it’s my show and you’re going to be my captive audience for the next two hours. Let the games begin!
How much are you thinking about the tour when you’re making a record?
Not so much. I mean, occasionally it will drift through my mind: How would I perform this? But honestly, mostly I do things one step at a time. A lot of songs I’ve created in the studio, I find them almost impossible to recreate live. So I don’t think about how I’m going to do it live – maybe I should a bit more! Like, for instance, Maluma is not going on tour with me. So let’s face it, that wasn’t really thinking things through, was it? He’s got his own career.
How much effort do you put into reinventing old songs on-stage? Over the years, you’ve played True Blue with a ukulele, Hung Up with heavy metal guitar. Are there songs that resist reinvention?
I could say that about Holiday right now. I mean there are some songs I’m just so sick of performing. And then a couple of years go by, and I can do it again. So it depends. They kind of come and goes in waves – which songs makes me ill. (Mock hysterical) “I don’t want to hear that song again! Don’t ask me to sing that song!”
Do you worry at your music? Or do you know quite quickly if a track will work or not?
I have my moments. But there are also songs when I’m never satisfied. Sometimes there is that, you know, ‘Aha!’ moment and you can say, “OK, we’re done,” Also, you can’t just keep indulging yourself or there’s no end to it. Especially when you work with Mirwais – he will keep working on a track ’til it’s… 2050, so I have to say, “We’re done!” He’s got more stamina than me when it comes to working on music. I want to end the song and move on to the next song, but he’s perfectly happy to keep working on that other song. Yeah, that same song.
Yet some producers you’ve kind of worn out, haven’t you?
I beg your pardon?
Well, William Orbit once told me…
Oh gosh! Well, he’d say that about anyone! Everyone wears William out!
You told him he could sleep when he was dead.
Because he always wanted to take naps! He was always sleeping on the couch! It upset me. And, yes, I did give him a hard time about it. I did tell him that.
And you gave Justin Timberlake vitamin B12 shots…
Well, yes, because he had really bad flu and I didn’t want to miss any days of work. So I said, “You’re coming to work and I’m going to give you a B12 shot. So pull your pants down.” I’m very good at giving injections. (Smiles) I think I was a nurse in another life.
It’s a cliché to talk about ‘End Times’, but a lot of things about the world right now seem to encourage it. Madame X sways between pessimism and hope. Is that how you are too?
Yes, yes. Because I’m a human being, a thinking human being, and sometimes it does look pretty dark and then sometimes I think, You know what, there’s light at the end of the tunnel. There is hope for the human race. Civilisation as we know it will not collapse after all… But then there are other days when crazy stuff happens and you’re like, Nowhere is safe. Nothing is safe. Nothing will surprise me. You can’t rely on anybody or anything and no one has a moral compass. So yes – End Of Days…