Interview – Clare Grogan of Altered Images

Among the many talented UK bands to emerge onto the Post-Punk/ New Wave scene in the early ’80s, there was a little band out of Scotland called Altered Images. Led by Vocalist Clare Grogan, they were unique, young, and ambitious, who would hit big with songs like “Happy Birthday,” “I Could Be Happy, ” as well as “Don’t Talk to Me About Love.” However, by late 1983, the run of Altered Images had all but ceased. Rather unfortunate, it was still by no means the end of Grogan who would go onto more acting, authoring of books, and some other music here and there. Then, to the surprise of many, Altered Images re-emerged in the early 2000s for some live shows, but then again in 2021.

Satisfying fans, the biggest excitement came when it was announced Grogan would in fact release a new Altered Images album in 2022. Entitled Mascara Streakz, the album marked the first studio material under the name Altered Images in nearly forty years. An album full of interesting moments, Grogan graciously took some time to chat about the new music, her journey in music, her love for acting, plus a whole lot more. 

Cryptic Rock – You have built a very interesting, lengthy career in entertainment. From the success of Altered Images, you would also go on to act as well. Working as a singer, writer, and actress, how would you describe this wild journey you have been on for the past four plus decades?

Clare Grogan – That’s a really good question. As a really young girl growing up in Glasgow, I had this naïve ambition to be an actor or a singer. I just loved the idea of being a part of something that I loved, but I had no real clue of how I was going to go about it. I was just, on a couple of occasions, in the right place at the right time. So, the summer I left school, I made Gregory’s Girl (1981), and I also signed with Epic Records.

As time has gone by, one thing has just led to another and another. I kind of like the fact that I never know what’s coming next. All I know is for the past forty-one years it has worked out well for me. There has never been any sort of game plan though.

Cryptic Rock – It is interesting that it has gone in so many different directions over time. It has not been a linear line, but there have been a plethora of things happening.

Clare Grogan – I think when I first started out there was a slight snobbery of wanting to be an actor and also wanting to be in a band. There was also kind of a weird suspicion of wanting to be in a band and wanting to act as well. I think it was quite unique in that to a certain extent.

In the UK there was Toyah, who happened to be a working actor as well as a singer. I think it was almost as if, sometimes I felt – was one watering down the other? I just got over that notion and thought – why shouldn’t I do lots of things I love? I never expected to do the amount of presenting that I’ve done on TV over the years. I’m so glad about all the opportunities. I think that comes with maturity and experience. I also think I’m probably unemployable in the real world… so I have to keep making this work. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – (Laughs) You have done a great job of keeping busy. Altered Images did have mainstream success in the ‘80s. A lot of bands were unique at the time, and Altered Images absolutely were among them. What was that time like for you?

Clare Grogan – Thank you. I quite often describe it this way – it was an absolute blast until it wasn’t. I had great fun for a very long time, and then suddenly it wasn’t fun anymore. I think the thing about being young is you’re a bit black & white about situations and all or nothing. As soon as I felt this was not working out the way I expected it to, it wasn’t fun anymore.

The great part about it all was, and I have talked about this a lot in recent years, the extent of our ambition in Altered Images was to attract the attention of John Peel (who is a legendary DJ in our country). Also, we were huge Siouxsie and the Banshees fans. So, when we heard Siouxsie was coming to Scotland on tour, we got in touch with the fan club and asked – could we come and support Siouxsie on tour… and they said yes! I think that is just one really great example of our naivety putting us in a place where people probably felt – they’re a bit bonkers, but maybe we’ll give them the chance. That just kept on happening. It was really based on the fact that we didn’t know how to go about this business because we were at school.

I think there was a kind of naivety and arrogance of youth that really just made us hold our ground and go – why can’t we do that? I think you lose that after a while. That’s definitely what happened to me. Maybe I just got exhausted with the diplomacy of being in the band and trying to keep everyone happy.

Obviously, I’m not just saying this, but one of my highlights was playing America and playing The Roxy and New York. Just going to all those clubs across The States, rolling up in that tour bus, and getting to be part of… it was massive, it really was.

Altered Images – Happy Birthday / Epic (1981)
Altered Images – Pinky Blue / Epic (1982)

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like there are some fond memories there. You have done shows here and there through the years as Altered Images. You also put out the first new Altered Images album in many decades last year. Calling this collection Mascara Streakz, what inspired the new music?

Clare Grogan – Well, for eighteen years, I didn’t touch an Altered Images song. I will be honest with you, I really just wanted to move on from the experience, but the experience did not want to move on from me. People talk to me about it all the time. For eighteen years I said, “no.” Then I got asked to do an arena tour in the UK with Kim Wilde and The Human League. My family basically didn’t want me to rob them of the opportunity of hanging out with Kim Wilde and The Human League backstage, so I said, “yes.”

That was the start of it all again. I suppose in some ways I thought that was just going to be a one-off thing. I thought it would be great fun; because we were playing mega venues, it was a really nice thing to be asked to do… but it just went on from there.

Because I’m a mom as well, and quite busy in life with other things, although I did write some music for other artists, I couldn’t wrap my head around what a new Altered Images album would be. I’m married to Steven Lironi (who was the producer and, in the band, originally), and in lockdown, after we watched all the Netflix series and drank all the wine we thought – well, what are we going to do now?

Writing songs is what we did when we first met. So, the album came together, and in many ways was a long time in the waiting. However, once I started, it was all there, and that was really brilliant. It was like it had just been waiting for the writing space in my head to come together. For me it could be anything but an Altered Images album, because in many ways I’ve been playing shows again since 2002 when I did that arena tour. I felt like the best way to thank all these people who turned out to see me was to throw something new in there.

Cryptic Rock – It is very exciting to hear new Altered Images material. The album is very diverse too. On one hand some of the songs are very modern and upbeat, while others have more of a throwback sound. What was the artistic inspiration behind the songs here?

Clare Grogan – I often talk about how I grew up in a household with three generations of music tastes; my grandparents, my parents, my sisters and I. I’ve always had an eclectic taste in music. I think music no matter what is a bittersweet thing. I know it’s stating the obvious, but if it’s not making you really feel something, then you’re not doing your job. I don’t think that is a straight-ahead road. I have also talked a lot about ‘a big night out’ as a metaphor for life. Your anticipation what that big night is going to be, getting ready for it, the going out, and the falling in love for two hours with someone you see across a dance floor, the fallout with someone in the crowd, the point where you have drank too much and it’s all hazy and a bit sad. I just love exploiting that idea.

That is on top of the fact during lockdown I realized I was the same age, seventeen, as my daughter was. I thought when I was seventeen, I was in the back of a van going around the UK playing gigs, and how different my daughter’s life was. I felt really upset for her that all these beautiful teenagers had that taken away from them. I loved putting those two ideas together for myself and going back to being seventeen. I’m not going to pretend, I was going through menopause, and those kinds of crazy hormones that you feel really reminded me of being a teenager. It reminded me of something slightly being out of control. I really love that! I felt I got something positive out of this! (Laughs) It is just an amalgamation of my daughter’s hormones and the way she kicked off quite a bit of being stuck home with her mom and dad.

To a certain extent that is why we got her involved in singing on the record; because she got so pissed off with us. We have a home studio at the top of the house, but it turned out to be next door to her bedroom. She would say, “Would you two keep it down?” (Laughs) It was so funny. Steven and I pretty much have not changed; we are still those two people who want to cause a little bit of chaos in life in the nicest kind of fun way. So, we had to get her onboard with it, and she has a really glowing voice, so it really added something to it. The songs are about the endless judgement that all of us go through in life.

Cryptic Rock – It sounds like it was a really fun process. You definitely feel something with these songs, and like you said, if you do not feel something, it is not worth doing. You have done shows throughout the summer too.

Clare Grogan – Yes, we did a bunch of festivals and the response has been really brilliant. I’m sure you are aware that a lot of artists work on a different level from the Lizzos and Beyonces; who I greatly admire. The rest of us are just kind of slightly scrambling about trying to be heard and feel relatable to the audience. Mascara Streakz has really given me that feeling that it’s working.

I’ve been quite brave at the festivals and we’ve played quite a few of the new songs. A lot of these festivals are about feeling really great and hearing those songs that everybody goes – I remember being at the school disco and hearing this. All the new stuff is doing really well. A lot of times I’m really terrified, but I really need to challenge myself. If I’m not challenging myself, what’s the point? It’s fun, we’ve had a great response, and the record did really well in the UK.

Altered Images – Bite / Epic (1983)
Altered Images – Mascara Streaks / Cooking Vinyl (2022)

Cryptic Rock – That is wonderful to hear. Are there any plans of a return to North America?

Clare Grogan – I would really love it. I think it would be fantastic. We are certainly always looking for the opportunity to do so. I think the right opportunity will come. If I’m being honest, I think it has become very expensive for British bands to do anything; unless they are from that higher level of stuff. I’m not ruling it out on any level though. In fact, I think next year we’ll definitely make it out there. I can’t wait to get back out on one of those crazy tour buses and do all those crazy shows. (Laughs)

Cryptic Rock – That would be great to see, let us hope it happens. There certainly is a yearning from fans in America for it to happen. 

Clare Grogan – I’m so up for it. You never know what’s going to happen next, and I never know what’s going to happen next. I can see it happening… we are just not quite there yet. The right situation is going to present itself and we are going to go for it, I think.

I have talked quite a lot about how the ‘80s revival has been going on a lot longer than the decade itself. I’m hoping we can keep that going a bit longer. I get super excited when TV shows in The States ask me if they can use one of the tracks from back in the day. I think it’s more than an ‘80s thing, I think it’s about a generation of songs that people still relate to. At my shows I used to think, “look at these poor young people that are being dragged along by their parents.” Then I realize nobody dragged them along, which is a good thing. I would like to think there is still an audience for it still in America.

Cryptic Rock – There certainly is. It is interesting how you think the revival has lasted longer than the decade itself. The ‘80s Alternative scene was unique. There were so many different artists who could all fit under the same umbrella doing different things. Thus, a lot of great music came from the era.

Clare Grogan – Absolutely. The ‘90s just don’t quite match up with it, do they? I don’t want to knock anyone, but there was not that same feeling. It was so experimental, it really was. You just kind of found your tribe. That’s what I love about it the most. I love how you really identified with somebody, but you were allowed to be an individual amongst all of that. Although you were part of a tribe, you were just allowed to be yourself. I think in many ways the world has gone backwards a little bit with that identity thing. I think we were really brave, accepting, and we loved people expressing themselves and being who they were. We were more modern I think in some ways… and that is a bit depressing.

Gregory’s Girl / ITC Entertainment (1981)
Comfort and Joy / Thorn EMI Screen Entertainment (1984)

Cryptic Rock – It is so true. Here are more depressing aspects of the modern world. Artificial intelligence technology is being used to create music using elements from an artist, making a song out of it, but without actually featuring that artist. Is that not Science Fiction?

Clare Grogan – Yes. It is quite the mind fuck though, isn’t it? I recently had an experience where someone approached me to do something, and in the end, they went to the A.I. route. I just think… what’s happened to the human touch in life? I love progress and I love the idea of it as an interesting, creative force, but at the moment, it is just really exploitative.

Cryptic Rock – Very good point. Unfortunately, people are not looking at the technology in the broader lens and the ramifications of our own apathy. Last question for you. As an actress, what are some of your favorite films?

Clare Grogan – I have so many favorite films. A lot of them are classics. I’m delighted that I can show these films to my daughter and she gets them and loves them. The films I always go back to are The Apartment (1960) and I’m always going to say Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961). During lockdown we watched The Godfather I-III and introduced them to my daughter; my goodness, they are off the charts and incredible.

Recently, I really liked She Said (2022) and thought it was powerful. Also, I was a part of the animation of a film called My Old School (2022) with Alan Cummings. It is based on a true story and a really gorgeous documentary/drama directed by Jono McLeod. It’s funny, touching, and a hard film to describe, but has done pretty well over in the UK.

Altered Images 2023 Tour Dates:
10/26/2023 229 London, United Kingdom

For more on Altered Images: | Facebook | Twitter 

For more on Clare Grogan: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram 

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