Sinéad O'Connor at the Irish Village? It makes perfect sense. The fiery 48-year-old singer is set to make her Middle East debut at the popular venue on Thursday. O'Connor rolls into town on the back of what is perhaps her best release in a decade. The album, I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss, was out last year and finds the singer's impassioned vocals equally at home over torch songs and blues and funk beats. For all the talk of a career rejuvenation, however, O'Connor tells The National that she remains the same person who burst onto the scene in the mid-80s.
Congratulations on your new album. I'm Not Bossy, I'm the Boss has some of your most direct songs but with a blues flavour. With the critical acclaim, does it feel like a fresh start for you?
It does feel like a first album to me. That type of style you are talking about goes back to me listening to Chicago blues, and that kind of music is just happy and funky. When you immerse yourself in those kind of songs, your writing standards just lift. Also the thing about those songs is that they teach you to say things extremely direct and simple. It makes life easier as a songwriter and a writer, generally. It is helping me in my own prose writing, too.
Let’s talk about the lyrics. The new record has you moving away from the autobiographical to more character-driven territory. Was that a conscious decision?
I actually started doing that on the previous album. That came about because there were people at that time sending me movie scripts and wanted me to write songs for them. I really enjoyed that. It is liberating when you are writing about other people, because it gives you the room to expand on various subjects. From then on I just started to invent characters.
Does this come from what you once described as your Stanislavski method (named after the famed Russian method actor Constantin Stanislavski) approach to songwriting?
To be a Stanislavski method singer, you have to identify with the character. At the same-time, though, it is free – you can play with it. You feel like you are the puppet master – the puppet can say things that you yourself wouldn’t necessarily say.
Your new album is collaborative – you wrote it with your band and it has the Afro-beat musician Seun Kuti as a guest in one track. As someone renowned for her independent streak, do you enjoy working as part of a team?
I love working with people, especially when I am given music to sing to and write lyrics for. That’s because I don’t play well enough to write while playing an instrument. That’s why I had the most enjoyable experience making this album. I was working with a great band, we toured together and we were all creative enough to write these great songs.
Is it refreshing that the press is talking about your new music instead of past controversies?
I don’t read stuff whether it is good or bad. It doesn’t really affect me because I am not exposed to it. It did when I was younger and when I first started and it was depressing. I eventually decided not to bother reading such stuff anymore.
Do you see fierce-minded female singers, in your vein, coming out of the music industry today?
I actually don’t. There is nothing out there such as protest songs or something stirring enough to move you. What I see now is that all of these artists are only writing about sex – and singing with no clothes on. That is really weird to me and it’s something I don’t like because these artists’ audience consists of minors. I think there is something very sinister going on when you have an entire generation of people being groomed by such artists and their music. For a woman now entering the industry, there is a lot of pressure to take your clothes off and that’s dangerous.
You spoke about those things when you wrote an online letter to Miley Cyrus. Was that done on impulse?
It was not impulsive. I think everything through before I act. I think it comes with being Irish – we are opinionated people and not the kind to keep our mouths shut, so it would be against my nature to not speak out.
• Sinéad O’Connor is at the Irish Village in Dubai on Thursday. Tickets are Dh165 from www.timeouttickets.com