Dexys Look to the Inherent Power of Femininity on the Title Track From New LP “The Feminine Divine”

We spoke with Kevin Rowland about the iconic new wave outfit’s first album of original material in over a decade, arriving July 28 via 100% Records.
First ListenIn Conversation

Dexys Look to the Inherent Power of Femininity on the Title Track From New LP The Feminine Divine

We spoke with Kevin Rowland about the iconic new wave outfit’s first album of original material in over a decade, arriving July 28 via 100% Records.

Words: A.D. Amorosi

Photo: Sandra Vijandi

May 17, 2023

Since the days of 1980’s Searching for the Young Soul Rebels and 1982’s Too-Rye-Ay, deeply impassioned vocalist and smartly emotive songwriter Kevin Rowland has made lyrical intensity and melodic contagion with dramatic flair (and a dress sense of sartorial splendor) his calling card when it comes to all things Dexys Midnight Runners. With several solo efforts under his belt, and additional albums by the pared-down Dexys (since 2012) to go with Rowland’s sonic and spiritual shifts, their commitment to eloquence and soul (and really catchy horn riffs) continues with their first fresh album in a decade—The Feminine Divine, arriving July 28 via 100% Records—and its sparkling first mantra-esque R&B single, “I’m Going to Get Free.” 

Today, the band is following that single up with the second taste of the album in the form of its title track, expanding the scope of the narrative thus far unveiled. “Overcome with regret and at last glimpsing how women might actually feel, the man gets honest and admits how afraid of women he has been, and how fear has driven so many of his actions,” Rowland shared of the single, which depicts another chapter in the life of the album’s protagonist. “He now sees and acknowledges women’s inherent power: If anything, women are superior; they are goddesses. He sincerely pledges to be different in the future.”

Along with the debut of the new track, we spoke with Rowland about the four decades-plus of Dexys and all of the goddesses, gods, and monsters they’ve encountered along the way.

Aside from “older,” what do you think Dexys is now that it couldn’t have been in 1980?

It’s far more accomplished. We’re far more accomplished when it comes to doing the things that we really wanted to do deep down. This is more about the live show. We often had dramatic ideas about how the live show should go, but didn’t have ideas as to how to make that all happen. We now do when it comes to putting on a show for The Feminine Divine. We’re going to do the entire album—back to front—on stage, and act it all out while we’re singing it. We’ve always wanted to do that with an album, make one that wasn’t just 10 songs stuck together, but rather a narrative. We did that with One Day I'm Going to Soar in 2012. Like Feminine Divine, put the songs in a particular order, and there’s a story.

Is there a model for such production, musical or theatrical?

If there is, it isn’t intentional beyond the influence of Deaf School. They were amazing. We’ve taken it a lot further in our new show.

What separates the solo you from the Dexys you?

The only real solo album that I did was The Wanderer. I made that after Dexys’ Don’t Stand Me Down. I was tired, I was bored, I was broke, and wrote and recorded those songs quick. I wanted it to sound a little bit country-ish. My Beauty, though it had my name alone on it, should have been Dexys, really, as Big Jim [Patterson, Dexy co-founder] co-produced and was very much involved with it. If Big Jim is there, then it’s Dexys.

Let’s discuss the feminine mystique and the concept of the woman as goddess figure that leads you to works such as My Beauty and the new album—metaphorically, visually, literally. How do you get to all that?

I think it was always there, but it was buried. I grew up in a very macho environment. Not just family life, but peers. You had to be macho to get by—otherwise, life could be very difficult. It happened to come out first around the time before My Beauty. And there was an immediate response to that in Britain, so I battened down the hatches, grew a beard, and got into a vanilla…very standard relationship. I tried playing the part of a typical man after that, but, had reached a place in 2015 where I just felt very unhappy. Empty. Burned out. 

Also, Dexys never really had a break. We went from album to album, did a lot of shows. Working with a major label on the Let the Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul album, I just felt drained. My energy and vitality had gone. Long story short, I went to Thailand and began taking courses, and the more I got in touch with my own body, the more I started to realize that women are goddesses. I resisted the idea until it hit home. And that was like a bolt from the blue; a big shift. It’s a much healthier outlook that’s resulted because of that. I feel better about myself. And I don’t know that all women know that they’re goddesses. It’s buried deep within them. They must actualize this.

Coming back from your literal and figurative journey, when does the vibe and concept of The Feminine Divine begin to manifest itself, aesthetically, into song, in a real way?

By 2021, we were remixing Too-Rye-Ay [for 2022’s 40th anniversary] when I began to want to do music again. And I knew that I had something to say. I don’t keep Dexys albums or demos, and asked Jim what we had around, as I remembered that some of our unused tracks were really good: “Coming Home,” “The One That Loves You,” and “I’m Going to Get Free.” We didn’t want to do an album where it was 16 of us recording together at the same time, so we got someone who could produce a program for us, Toby Chapman, and sent him the songs one at a time. Then, at a certain point after moving the songs around, a story took hold. We topped that off with that spoken word bit on “It’s Alright Kevin.” Not enough songs use spoken word elements.

Beyond the thought of a complete and linear story taking hold, the first single for all this, “I’m Going to Get Free,” sounds different from the rest of the album, like something of a mantra, a chant with its elements of “hate” and “guilt” having a hold on you. Why is that?

That was a track from the early 1990s that we had in storage. The arrangements changed and there are more background vocals so that it becomes a lead vocal. And we have a better groove for it now. The process of making this entire album has awoken my creative flow. And “pop” means what it has always meant to me: music, lyrics, and rhythms that people like, and that matter. I’m glad this is contagious, this song. That’s always been our aim.