As the world comes unglued — in Gaza, Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, and Missouri — and as we lose some of our most fearless, most peaceful leaders — Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou, among them — many people turn to music to make sense of the madness. For members of Generation X, Sinéad O’Connor, whether she accepts it or not, will forever be noted as one of the clearest, most poignant voices we have. For us, songs like “Black Boys on Mopeds” and “Mandinka” still reverberate and resonate with as much import as they did 25 years ago because the more things change, the more they stay the same.
Except for O’Connor. She has moved on from making overtly political statements with her music. The problem there is, in her hands, even the most airy themes take on a palpable gravitas. She could sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and it would stop people in their tracks long enough for them to not just wonder what they are but, also, the global ramifications of having diamonds in the sky. That’s just the power that she wields. So, even though her new I’m Not Bossy, I’m the Boss is a collection of love songs, there’s an inherent urgency and a potency to the set that few other artists can match.
It has always felt like the personal and political are one and the same for you, even in your love songs. Is that just the artistic burden that a strong, conscious artist is forced to bear and do you sometimes wish you could sing “oh, baby baby songs”?
Well, to be fair, I think on this album, there are quite a few “oh, baby baby” songs. I despise politics and I don’t really consider myself a political artist. Perhaps I might be a spiritual artist and there are times when I get involved with the Church business and all that, but I don’t see that as political as much as it is spiritual. So I’m very anti-politics, as it happens. But, no, I don’t think it’s the responsibility of an artist to be anything in particular. I suppose it’s the responsibility of all human beings to be themselves. No two people are alike. And each of us has a one in 400 million chance, therefore, we’re here to be ourselves. I’m happy to sing “oh, baby baby” songs as much as “fuck the Vatican” songs.
Speaking of the Vatican… Pope Francis seems to be reaching his arms out far and wide in unprecedented and fairly impressive ways. What do you think of him?
You know, I don’t really know anything about him, to be honest. So, to be fair, when I’m promoting my album, I think it’s probably safer to talk about that than other stuff. I’m more inclined, probably, on my site to talk about the stuff that’s not to do with the album. But, to be honest, I’m not that interested in them.
Let’s get into some matters of spirit. You said in a recent interview that, “The spoken word is the science [in] which the entire universe is built.”
That leans mightily into intention and self-determination, and away from ideas like destiny and pre-determination. Do you believe it has to be one or the other? Or can paradoxes exist within the framework of faith?
Well, I suppose, all I was talking about was the Gospels and what Jesus said about prayer, apart from other theologies. Under a lot of religious beliefs, people think God either spoke or sang the world into existence, so there’s a lot of discussion about the power of the spoken word. But, if you look at what Jesus said about prayer, he talks a lot about the science of prayer. He talks a lot about the obstacle which is religion. He specifically instructs people not to go to church, but to talk to God directly in their rooms. He discusses free will. He explains that you’re supposed to ask the Holy Spirit to bring into fore it’s best intentions for us. We’re not supposed to ask for what we want, but for what It wants, trusting that what It wants is best for us.
Religion is very cleverly designed to have everybody talking to the wall. They’re selling a God that doesn’t really exist. So, even if you think you really believe in it, you’re talking to the wall. Why that’s important to me, I suppose, is that there’s a very quick way of fixing everything, all the problems we have in this world. The fact is, God gave us free will, which was pretty stupid, in retrospect. It can’t intervene and help us. That’s the science that Jesus was talking about. That’s, in fact, why Jesus had to come, because of that mistake. The fact is, God trusted us too much and gave us free will. We don’t know how to look after ourselves and It can’t intervene unless we ask it and religion has us talking to the wall. So, we’re in trouble. So that matters to me, obviously, because there’s a way of fixing things very, very quickly which is asking in the right place. And that’s what I mean about the power of the spoken word. Intention is one way of putting it because, if you’re asking, hopefully you have some belief that what you’re asking for will happen. And that’s intention.
The idea of going to the wrong metaphorical church is broached in “Take Me to Church”…
The song is not actually about religion at all. On the album, there are, perhaps, four female characters and myself. There’s one central character who appears in quite a lot of the songs as she’s sort of trying to work something out for herself. And “Take Me to Church” is what I would refer to as her Eureka moment. She’s actually talking about relationships. She’s referring to the song from My Fair Lady which is called “Get Me to the Church on Time” which is about getting married. So the song is my central character discussing, in her own mind, relationships and the type or marriage or relationship that she’d like to be in.
But she thinks it’s union with a lover that she’s after, and discovers that it’s herself she’s seeking, right?
The character that she is is somebody who was earlier in the album. In earlier songs, she’s very romantic and projects all of these longings and desires that she has on to a particular guy. She finally gets what she wants, which is five minutes with the guy and it turns out he is frightening. She then has to ask herself, “How did I get here into this frightening situation? How did I not know I was with somebody frightening?” She realizes that, perhaps, she had longings and she wondered what were they for and she comes to the conclusion that it was actually herself she was longing for.
So, “Take Me to Church” is her Eureka moment where she realizes two very important things: One, that she should be very careful what kind of songs she writes and, two, that it’s herself she should be adoring.

Like you said, that character is one of several female archetypes on the record. How does it feel for you to inhabit these other women and amplify voices that aren’t your own?
It’s brilliant, actually, because it gives you a lot more freedom. It’s kind of like being a puppet master, you know? The puppet can do and say all kinds of stuff you would never do or say. So, it’s really great and it’s really easy. The song is only like three minutes, so it’s a lot easier than acting.
Sexuality is a topic that you’ve never shied away from in your songs. When you sing “Daddy I’m Fine” or “How About I Be Me,” it feels like personal empowerment rather than self-objectification.
Is the distinction made in the intention, execution, interpretation, or something else entirely?
I don’t think it’s conscious. I suppose, if that’s how it comes across, it’s just the way I must be. Although I’m quite potty-mouthed, in terms of how I write or talk about matters of sexuality, I suppose secretly, I’d be very similar to the character in “The Vishnu Room.” I think of sex as quite a sacred thing whether it’s a one-night thing or a relationship or whatever. Whether it’s neat or whether it’s filthy, that’s beside the point. To me, it’s a sacred thing and I actually think of it as lovemaking which everybody slags me off for as very corny. But that’s where I sit, I suppose, with those things. The way that I talk — especially when I write — is very much not what I actually really am like. My mouth is a lot more adolescent, perhaps, than my heart.
Assuming you think most boxes, labels, and qualifiers are bunk, what identities and descriptors do you apply to yourself, at this point in your life?
You mean what identities I would say about Sinéad O’Connor, the artist?
Yeah. And what labels or ideas do you wish people would let go of — in regard to you?
I don’t think I’m entitled to wish for people to let go of anything. I don’t spend too much time worrying about what other people think of me, to be honest. It’s very low on my list of priorities. So, there’s nothing I would particularly wish one way or the other.
But, I think the first word, which I like, when somebody asks me a question like that… what’s the very first word or image that comes into my mind? The first word that came when you asked was “mature.” Perhaps I’m at a phase in my life and in being a woman where a certain maturity comes over things.
Another recent quote of yours spoke of a thought you had that, if you didn’t fall more in love with music, you were not going to survive the music business. How’d you manage it? Did digging into the Blues get you there?
Yeah. I was really lucky, because I had a friend who was into Blues and I had never been into Blues. He introduced me to it and it was kind of perfect because I was so miserable. But what happened was YouTube — which I think is fantastic and I don’t know why they remove music from it because it makes people go and buy music. I watched all these guys, then I bought the records. But how I experienced Blues was visually, watching the live performances and those would make me buy the record.
I fell in love, particularly, with what they call Chicago Blues, the kind of funky Blues that you can dance to. It’s very life-giving. It’s not the sad stuff, necessarily. It’s very forceful in the same way that Rasta music is. It just had the sound in it that I needed in order to live. It’s a very exciting sound. It’s a sound that makes you want to get on stage and be a performer. It makes you want to sing. You watch these guys performing and you see everything music meant to them, and everything they were doing that makes you want to be like them. It reminds you why you wanted to be a musician. That was very handy.
What makes an album not just a great record, but a timeless classic, an enduring piece of art?
The first thing that comes to mind is Nirvana and the album with “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Every decade or so, somebody comes along who seems to accidentally represent the silence — the unheard, put it that way. And, in the case of Kurt Cobain, he represented a massive amount of people who were really kind of invisible and unheard, who had a lot of pain, a lot of stuff that needed to be heard. The same applies to NWA and the whole rap movement when it came along. They were expressing stuff from invisible people who weren’t previously allowed to have a voice. I think every generation or so, along comes someone who just embodies the spirit of the young people of that time.
Some would say you did that, too.
Well, I think Kurt Cobain did. I don’t know if I did. Perhaps in terms of being Irish, I did represent a particular generation which had grown up in Ireland. But I don’t know if, worldwide, that was the case. But, with Kurt Cobain, it was very much an American generation that he was voicing. And the same for NWA and Public Enemy — it was very much American people that were being voiced.
Lastly, what’s the point of a song?
To keep you from going crazy!
To express those things we can’t otherwise express?
Yeah. Look, it’s a weird thing because, if you could describe or discuss music, you wouldn’t need music. There are some things that are just intangible. There aren’t words for them. The point of a song, really, is to stop you losing your mind. Whether it’s because you’re in love with someone or because you can’t stand someone or because you want something or you don’t want something… that feeling — whatever it is — is driving you crazy. And it’s, perhaps, not okay to express it in the real world, but you have to express it somehow or you’ll lose your mind. As Muddy Waters says, “If you don’t go crazy, you’ll lose your mind.”
That’s why musicians are musicians — because music is very soothing, songs are very soothing. And musicians are people who need soothing. That’s why we do it. So, when I say they stop you from going crazy, it’s because they’re soothing.