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Everything But The Girl

Date of birth : -
Date of death : -
Birthplace : East Riding of Yorkshire, England
Nationality : English
Category : Arts and Entertainment
Last modified : 2012-05-02

Everything but the Girl (often shortened EBTG) was a two-person English band, formed in Hull during 1981, consisting of lead singer and occasional guitarist Tracey Thorn and guitarist, keyboardist, and singer Ben Watt. The duo's most successful single was a Todd Terry remix of "Missing" charting in several countries in 1994.

In the two decades that Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt have been writing and recording music together as Everything But The Girl (EBTG), their style has changed from jazz-influenced pop to beat-driven electronica, keeping the duo ahead of the times and relentlessly relevant. Although several music writers have credited EBTG with parenting the jazz-pop trend, the duo nevertheless remained at the periphery of success during the 1980s and early 1990s. Their names were known in their native England, where they enjoyed initial popularity with college crowds, but they mustered only a cult following in the United States, again mostly among college students. Popular success came after a remixed dance version of "Missing" became first a club favorite, and then a worldwide hit. EBTG's following albums moved further and further in an electronic- and dance-oriented direction.

After working with two other women in a band called the Marine Girls in the early 1980s, Thorn was signed as a solo artist by independent label Cherry Red. She cut one album, A Distant Shore, for the label in 1982 before leaving London to begin university studies in Hull. During the same period, guitarist Ben Watt was also initiating his music career; he landed a gig at a club run by Mike Alway, who also produced records for Cherry Red. By 1982, Watt had released an EP called Summer into Winter on Cherry Red. Soon after, he also left for college in Hull. Alway recommended that Thorn and Watt look one another up; the result was Everything But The Girl.

The two became friends immediately, beginning a relationship that would survive many obstacles and grow stronger after each one. Their union as musical partners began somewhat experimentally, each writing songs that they would then work on together and each seeing collaboration as secondary to their solo work. They did, however, share strong interests, including a penchant for jazz and an unwillingness to produce music for the market.

They concentrated on writing jazz-influenced pop songs that were subdued and literary--not the popular musical fare of the early 1980s. When they did win attention from listeners, the notice came not for any of their own compositions, but for a cover of Cole Porter's "Night and Day." Their rendition, recorded in January of 1983 and released the following June, dovetailed with a burgeoning interest in a musical style referred to as "new jazz." The single brought them to the notice of Paul Weller, an important figure in English rock from his work with the Jam and Style Council, who negotiated their first large-exposure performance in London, in early January of 1983. Melody Maker's Ian Pye described the stage style that would become characteristic of the duo: "Armed with acoustic guitars and their own quiet determination, they won the audience over through the simple yet endearing quality of a delicately sketched performance."

Despite the positive response prompted by their performance and single, both Watt and Thorn still viewed their solo careers as their main work. They did reveal, however, that as a duo they were receiving calls from major labels in London and Los Angeles. They responded tentatively at the time, ultimately passing over big-label sponsorship for the freedom to shape their own direction gradually. They switched labels only when they became frustrated with Cherry Red, and their original producer, Mike Alway, decided to start his own label, Blanco Y Negro. EBTG followed Alway in the spring of 1983 and became official clients in April of 1984; the deal offered EBTG the artistic freedom of an independent label and the distribution of a major label, since Blanco Y Negro operated as a subsidiary of Warner Bros.

Despite the security of their new professional home, some label confusion followed during and after the transition from Cherry Red to Blanco Y Negro. By the time Watt had produced his full-length solo album, North Marine Drive, for Cherry Red in 1983, the duo had recorded the material for their joint debut album. But the release of that record, Eden, was held up until the summer of 1984, by which time the band had moved to Blanco Y Negro. Despite its scrambled origin, reviewers and listeners greeted Eden with warmth, pushing it to the number 14 spot on the United Kingdom charts. Paul Strange, writing for Melody Maker in May of 1984, called it "a haunting, mellow, passionate and highly addictive debut album." The success of the album and its lead single, "Each and Every One," brought Thorn and Watt an offer to perform on BBC-TV; they had to turn it down, however, in order to take their university exams.

Although EBTG grew as a name in English popular music, Eden would be the last moment of an uncomplicated relationship with the English music press; reviewers and interviewers quickly became critical and sometimes harsh, often dismissing the duo's relaxed, jazzy sound and intellectually deliberate lyrics. In 1986 Thorn and Watt explained to Melody Maker interviewer Sorrell Downer their impression of the conflict they experienced with English reviewers. Thorn told Downer that the "records were being reviewed by people a lot older then us, ... but so many people who listened to it were our age, and to them it was just fab and meant an enormous amount."

In 1985 Jimmy Guterman gave the band's second album, Love Not Money,a favorable and optimistic review in Rolling Stone, demonstrating the general division between American and British reviewers. Similarly, when Sire (another Warner Bros. division) released Eden in the United States as Everything But The Girl in 1984, Roy Trakin greeted it with approval in Creem. He credited the pair with "carving out a brand-new musical category ...: post-post-punk cocktail jazz." Like most reviewers, he focused on Thorn's voice, claiming that her "husky, tobacco-filled vocals soothe on the outside, but reward more than casual listening, too."

Baby, the Stars Shine Bright, released in 1986, exchanged Watt's previously spare arrangement for the lush accompaniment of a full orchestra. A Melody Maker review noted what appeared to be the duo's popular position at the moment, balanced between "their status as marginal indie-pop cuties" and "a wider acceptance," noting in particular attention from the United States. The Language of Life, released in 1990 on Atlantic Records and recorded in Los Angeles, landed EBTG in the pages of many American magazines, including Seventeen, Rolling Stone, Stereo Review, and Spin. The album made it onto the American pop charts with a push from the single "Driving," which won regular radio airplay and video rotation on cable network VH1. It was generally acknowledged in the music industry that the duo was finally poised to break out of their cult vacuum with the American public. Thorn and Watt next produced an acoustic album, Acoustic, that recalled many previous recordings.

At that critical moment, Watt fell prey to Churg Strauss syndrome, an often fatal illness that kept him in the hospital for most of 1992. The illness left him almost 50 pounds lighter, with less than 20 percent of his small intestine remaining. His illness is painstakingly detailed in a memoir, Patient: The True Story of a Rare Illness, published in 1997. Watt will likely remain gaunt for the rest of his life, as he has to adhere to a strict dietary regime. When the illness finally gave way in 1993, Watt and Thorn found themselves starting practically from scratch with American listeners.

Miraculously, Amplified Heart easily repeated the success of Language, winning unusually broad notice, as well as praise. Stephen Holden hailed it in the New York Times as "possibly their best," and Karen Schoemer claimed in Newsweek that Amplified Heart found "the perfect balance of folky simplicity and understated technology." It was this balance, she felt, that made the disc "the most beautifully mature album of their career," as well as "one of the sleeper gems of 1994."

That year proved to be a major turning point in the group's history. The transition from their pop roots to their electronic future began when British trip-hop group Massive Attack contacted Thorn to contribute vocals to their upcoming album Protection. It took off, though, when "Missing," a song off Amplified Heart, was remixed by Todd "the God" Terry. The dance version of the track broke first in Miami and Italy, then took the rest of the world by storm. Thorn remarked on the grassroots success of "Missing" in Interview, "'Missing' is a success on very primitive terms. People heard it in clubs and asked to hear it again."

Their next album, the universally praised Walking Wounded, continued on the track they started down with "Missing." An Entertainment Weekly reviewer remarked, "Walking Wounded floats Thorn's wan vocals over a soundscape of sputtering, hissing, and clacking beats.... Watt's production lets all these sounds sparkle in air, creating a dizzying 3-D effect." Thorn tied their new musical output with their new outlook on life. "The illness gave us permission to do something different, because we emerged from it as totally different people," she told the Spanish-language magazine Vanidad.

Three years passed between Walking Wounded and the release of EBTG's next album, Tempermental. Watt spent the time honing his DJ and production skills, beginning Lazy Dog, a long-lasting bi-weekly residence at the Notting Hill Arts Club. Tempermental found them even deeper into clubland. Walking Woundedhad been balanced out with songs like "Mirrorball," which appealed to fans of their original sound, but Tempermental was full-fledged electronica. The album proved a critical favorite. Evelyn McDonnell remarked in Interview, "EBTG is now doing for club music what they did for sophisticated pop: piercing the heart of the matter. On ... Tempermental, they're taking the groove a step further, finding emotional dimensions in the after-hours sound."

Thorn and Watt have been a couple since the early days of EBTG and have three children that they raise together in London. Thorn remarked in Interview, "I wouldn't be surprised if we remain together forever. We're devoted to that idea and derive strength from it as a couple." However, even after 20 years and despite their deep devotion to one another, they have no plans to marry. Watt told People, "There's a teenage thing that binds us together ... the idea that we're still getting away with life. I still feel 19 in my head. I didn't want to get married then, and I feel the same way now."

EBTG took a break from writing new material after Tempermental was released. Thorn withdrew from the music scene to raise their children, occasionally contributing vocals to various projects. Watt opened a club/bar, Cherry Jam, in West London in 2002 and continues to spin at the Notting Hill Art Club. The club, a small, out-of-the-way venue under a store front on Notting Hill, provides Watt with a way to hone his skills and remain on the cutting edge of the musical front. He remarked to VH1.com, "With dance music, the DJ/production side of it isn't at all ageist. You don't have to be a pretty boy, you don't have to be in a boy band, you don't have to be on the cover of all the magazines to survive. You can age gracefully and still maintain an edge to what you're doing, and that appeals to me 'cause, well, I'm certainly not getting any younger." The hundreds of people that flock to the small club every other week are a testament to Watt's continuing popularity and cultural relevance. Like the Deserts Miss the Rain, a CD/DVD release of hits and B-sides chosen by Watt and Thorn was released in 2003. Still, he and Thorn are not through with EBTG. "We want to make sure that when we do come back that it's with something different," he told Burn it Blue online. "It doesn't matter how long the gap is, if you come back with a killer record, it will work."

In an April 2011 interview, Thorn was questioned about whether she would work together with Watt, and do more Everything But The Girl. Thorn responded, "Yes, we do keep saying we are nearly ready to maybe do some work together again. There are certain obstacles, some practical, some psychological, that we would need to overcome. But it may well happen."

Discography:
-Eden (1984)
-Everything but the Girl (US only) (1984)
-Love Not Money (1985)
-Baby the Stars Shine Bright (1986)
-Idlewild (1988)
-The Language of Life (1990)
-Worldwide (1991)
-Acoustic (1992)
-Amplified Heart (1994)
-Walking Wounded (1996)
-Temperamental (1999)


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