First Issue Revisited: Black Box Recorder on “The Facts of Life” | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Wednesday, October 5th, 2022  

First Issue Revisited: Black Box Recorder on “The Facts of Life”

When Will I, Will I Be Famous

Aug 15, 2022 Issue #69 - 20th Anniversary Issue
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As part of our 20th anniversary coverage we thought it would be interesting to conduct brand new interviews with some of the artists interviewed in our very first issue way back in December 2001. We weren’t able to talk to everyone for a variety of reasons but luckily many of the first issue artists were game for a catch up to discuss their albums from the early 2000s and what they’ve been up to since. With each new interview we’ve included a small image of the layout of the first page of each artist’s original article from our first issue. These articles originally ran in our 20th Anniversary Issue, but are now being posted online. Here’s a First Issue Revisited interview with Black Box Recorder.

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Singer Sarah Nixey has never regretted taking up the invitation from Luke Haines (The Auteurs) and John Moore (The Jesus and Mary Chain) to form Black Box Recorder—even if the band never achieved the level of success of some of their other turn of the millennium peers. And it’s questionable if they ever made good on the promise that “they would make her famous.”

“I laughed when they wrote that fax to me,” Nixey says via email from her London home, as she slowly recovers from contracting COVID-19 more than a year ago. The trio had met playing in another band where she had sung back-up vocals. “Luke and John were in their 30s then and both quite jaded,” she adds. “Neither of them had broken into the UK charts and I didn’t see them as my route to success.”

Nixey, then a recent drama school graduate, did believe in their talent as songwriters. “I’d never met anyone so cynical, twisted, and charming before,” she explains. “At the outset, I think they saw themselves at Svengali-types but soon realized that I was not a pushover.”

It didn’t take Black Box Recorder too long to get some attention. Their first single, “Child Psychology,” from their 1998 debut album, England Made Me, drew on a typically English sense of drama and black humor, with Nixey sing-speaking the internal dialogue of a withdrawn child, who grows up to be an angst-ridden teen, and then winds up expelled from school. The blunt, sardonic lyrics also hint at the repressed parents as the root cause of her misgivings, but with a line like “Life is unfair/Kill yourself or get over it,” they promptly got the song banned from BBC Radio 1 and MTV.

Their single “Facts of Life,” the title track from their 2000-released second album, fared better. In the music video, Nixey is sat behind a school desk and breathily delivered: “When boys are just 11, they begin to grow in height at a faster rate than they ever did before…they develop curiosities and start to fantasize about things they never did before.”

“It was probably quite fun,” Nixey says of playing the role of sexy school teacher, “but mostly I enjoyed not having to act like a sweet little pop star, smiling for the cameras all the time. I did things my way. I styled myself, and I had a big part in everything we did as a band.”

According to Nixey, The Facts of Life was a conscious effort from Haines and Moore to have a hit record and retire comfortably by the seaside. But while they were ambitious for that level of stardom and were excited when the radio stations started to play their songs, Nixey was more conflicted, she wanted their music to have an audience but she also liked her anonymity.

Black Box Recorder feature from Issue #1.
Black Box Recorder feature from Issue #1.

Their third and final album, 2003’s Passionoia, mocked celebrity and the trappings of chart success with such songs as “Being Number One” and “The New Diana.” Knowing fully well that Nixey had a poster of George Michael on her wall as a teenager, on “Andrew Ridgeley,” named after Michael’s Wham! bandmate, Haines and Moore wrote these lyrics for her to deadpan: “I never liked George Michael much/Although they said he was the talented one.”

“I think being as famous as Wham! were in the 1980s would have been great,” Nixey muses, “but now, in the era of social media, with people filming your every move, I would come to despise it.”

By Passionoia Nixey and Moore were married and had a daughter, Ava. Even after the couple went their separate ways, she remained their priority. “We had different ideas of family life,” she says of Moore, who she still remains close to.

Nixey, who has since remarried and had two other children, continues to work as a solo artist. Her debut album, Sing, Memory, was released in 2007 and her most recent one was 2018’s Night Walks.

Today, even while Nixey struggles with the prolonged effects of lung damage that she sustained from COVID and the pneumonia, she is still working—composing short melodies on the piano or scribbling lyrics for later. She also co-owns a business running recording studios around London with her husband, producer/songwriter Jimmy Hogarth.

And as for coming good on the promise of making her famous, Nixey is unfazed. “I think if we had really wanted that level of success for Black Box Recorder, we would have committed ourselves to the band…we would have benefited from touring much more and further afield.” By the time, they had released Passionoia they had lost momentum. “It seemed as though we came to a crossroads and all took different paths,” she says.

Fame is a fickle thing anyway but good music is tenacious, taking its time to eek out new fans in surprising places. Recently, “Child Psychology” went viral on TikTok. On YouTube an enterprising fellow has answered a fan’s request to slow the song down and play it looped for more than an hour, for maximum chill. The song’s re-emergence led the label Chrysalis to release an edited version of the song via Spotify. Nixey concludes with a hint of irony: “A new generation has decided they love that song.”

[Note: This article originally appeared in Issue 69 of Under the Radar’s print magazine, our 20th Anniversary Issue, which is out now. This is its debut online.]

www.sarahnixey.com

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