How Tracey Thorn influenced everyone from The xx to Kurt Cobain

By Emily Mackay, 27 July 2018

The influence of certain acts is well documented (The Smiths, Bowie, The White Stripes, Nirvana are all guaranteed to crop up again and again in musician-wanted ads), but very few can boast three stages of cult heroism across a near 40-year career.

As a member of post-punk outfit Marine Girls, during her 18 years with indie heroes Everything but the Girl, and across her five solo records, Tracey Thorn has won over hearts and formed a secret language among the converted.

Thorn recently shared her own influences with 6 Music's Matt Everitt on The First Time, available to listen to now, but let's take a look at a selection of the many acts she’s inspired with her music.

The xx

The xx are among the most influential bands of recent years, sparking a new wave of spooky, melancholy, R&B-influenced acts. But the London trio owe some of their muted intimacy and spacious dance melancholy to Everything but the Girl. Both Romy Madley-Croft and Oliver Sim’s voices recall Thorn’s own yearning, smoky blue tones.

I feel maternal pride towards them
Thorn on The xx

Don't just take our word for it, though. Thorn sees herself in The xx's music too, telling 6 Music's Lauren Laverne this past March: "I remember when I first heard The xx, I could immediately see that little link there."

The respect is mutual as well, and it was fitting that in 2011, Thorn and bandmate Ben Watt broke their hiatus for the first time in 10 years to record a cover of The xx’s Night Time.

Seeing The xx live, Thorn has said that she "felt this weird, almost maternal pride towards them... They've turned into this amazing live band. I just felt that feeling of handing on the baton."

Savages

London quartet Savages don't instantly seem like the sort to find kinship with reflective emotional analysis and soft strumming, but the group's singer Jehnny Beth, in her former guise as one-half of Jehn and John with Nicholas Conge, took unlikely inspiration from Thorn and bandmate Ben Watt.

All the questions she was asking herself were the same questions I was asking myself
Savages' Jehnny Beth

"I'm a big fan of Everything but the Girl," Beth said in 2013. "And what struck me as interesting was when they started as a couple, because obviously I've done the same thing."

Jehnny also took inspiration from Thorn's memoir, Bedsit Disco Queen, which she read around the release of Savages' debut album. "That book was very moving for me. All the questions she was asking herself were the [same] questions I was asking myself. I had to close the book for a moment," Beth said, adding modestly: "It's very much about a pop career, about the charts, about how you get successful and massively rich, so it's very far from where I am."

Beth Orton

Few self-respecting CD collections can do without Beth Orton's debut album Trailer Park which, a year on from her guest vocals on The Chemical Brothers' album Exit Planet Dust, appealed to both indie and dance heads upon its release in 1996.

Orton’s graceful blend of bedsit acoustic melancholy and mystical chill-out sensibility owed more than a little to Everything but the Girl's post-Amplified Heart synergy between low-key beats and heartsore yearning. Her working relationship with producer Victor Van Vugt can be compared to that of Thorn and Watts' too.

In fact, Orton's broken-hearted cover of The Ronettes’ I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine would sit very nicely next to EBTG’s 1988 take on Crazy Horse’s I Don’t Want to Talk About It on an ultimate indie mixtape.

Jens Lekman

Gothenburg troubadour Jens Lekman is perhaps the clearest inheritor of early Everything but the Girl’s bossa-nova tinted low-key charm. That sense of exotic dreams and desires in a small city translates perfectly to Lekman’s wry, spry acoustic jaunts and ballads. A touch more ironic than Thorn, Lekman is still able to break your heart with the turn of a line.

I've always looked up to her... I got that romanticism from her
Jens Lekman

Lekman and Thorn have collaborated a few times, too: on an indie-dream cover of The Magnetic Fields’ Yeah! Oh Yeah on a 2009 Merge Records comp; on Lee Hazlewood’s Come on Home to Me for Thorn’s 2010 third album Love And Its Opposite; and most recently on Lekman’s album Life Will See You Now for the dreamy Hotwire the Ferris Wheel. On Oh! The Divorces from Love and Its Opposite, Thorn even sings about Lekman: "Oh Jens, oh Jens / Your songs seem to look through a different lens."

"I've always looked up to her, and taken her advice on things," Lekman later said in interview. "I love that she sang to me in her song as if I was a hopeless romantic, when in fact I got that romanticism from her. I got that from listening to her records since I was a teenager... I mean, that old video to On My Mind, that's one of the most romantic things I've ever seen."

Corinne Bailey Rae

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Back in 2006, the eponymous debut album from Leeds-born singer-songwriter Corinne Bailey Rae was the talk of the town, and frequently drew comparisons to Norah Jones. But the wistful, wry emotionality of Bailey Rae’s songs also shared more than a few musical genes with Everything but the Girl.

Finally, this year, the two connected on a track, with Bailey Rae popping up on Thorn’s fifth solo album Record, providing guest vocals on the song Sister. Their voices perfectly complement and entwine, with Thorn describing the song as "about female solidarity and defiance - a heartfelt anthem for the dancefloor".

Jessie Ware

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One of the most stylish inheritors of the early-80s emotional cool purveyed by Everything but the Girl has to be north London’s Jessie Ware. Ware is often compared to Thorn, and the two are mutual admirers.

Thorn actually appeared on Ware’s Table Manners, "a podcast about food, family, and the beautiful art of having a chat, direct from her very own dinner table", in June. Over the course of a genial 44 minutes, the pair, along with Ware’s mother Helena, spoke about the success of Missing, making motherhood and music work together, and the origin of EBTG’s name - taken from the slogan of a Hull furniture shop.

"We thought we were gonna put out one single," Thorn confessed to Ware of her initial hopes for EBTG. "We didn’t think we were gonna be explaining it for 35 years."

Shura

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Alexandra Denton, AKA Shura, is one of today's prime inheritors of Thorn and Everything but the Girl's understated, small-hours romanticism, following in the reverb-y wake of The xx.

The Manchester singer-songwriter's intimate, slow-burning songs have the same sense of human-scale drama and the delicacy in picking over the intricacies of relationships (check out Indecision) as Thorn is known for.

Longlisted for the BBC Sound of 2015, Shura released her debut album Nothing’s Real the following year, and joins Corinne Bailey Rae in providing guest vocals on Thorn’s Record – you can hear her on Air.

Kurt Cobain

K Records' Calvin Johnson was responsible for introducing some rather niche British records to the nascent grunge and riot grrl scenes, forging a local fanbase for the likes of The Raincoats, The Vaselines, and Thorn’s Marine Girls (formed in 1980 during her Hertfordshire school days) in Olympia, Washington.

Kurt and I were both huge fans of Marine Girls
Courtney Love

It was quite baffling, then, for Thorn to find out from one Courtney Love that her music was beloved by late Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Thorn told Lauren Laverne earlier this year that Love approached her on the set of The Word in 1994, saying how "Kurt and I were both huge fans of your band" and that "Kurt always wanted to do a cover of that song of yours, In Love."

Thorn also thought it was "incredible" that Marine Girls' album Beach Party was included in a list of Cobain’s 50 favourite records, as published in his journals in 2002. Now, that is a famous fan.

Indie artists on dance records

Getting a big-name indie or rock singer to front your banger is pretty commonplace now, but back in 1994 when Thorn lent her glorious pipes to the pulsing, gorgeous title track of Massive Attack’s Protection, most dance acts used either less well-known vocalists from their own world or samples.

Together with the world-conquering success of Todd Terry’s remix of Everything but the Girl’s Missing (from their 1994 album Amplified Heart) the following year, Protection (admittedly with some support from Björk and John Lydon’s turn on Leftfield’s Open Up in 1993) helped popularise big, strong, idiosyncratic vocals with a reputation of their own appearing over the top of hard beats.

In the following years, everyone from Tori Amos (on BT’s Blue Skies and with Armand van Helden’s Star Trunk Funkin’ remix of Professional Widow) to Tim Burgess and later Noel Gallagher with The Chemical Brothers, would follow suit.

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Amy Lamé

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