Former Slits guitarist Viv Albertine returns with new record

Viv Albertine
Ben Allen Media

British guitarist Viv Albertine is proof that anybody can reinvent themselves and start over late in life. In the mid-'70s, she was once a member of The Slits, one of the first predominantly female punk rock bands whose music was a precursor to American riot grrrl sound. But when The Slits broke up in the early '80s, Albertine maintained a low profile and stayed away from music for the next 25 years.

That all changed in recent years when Albertine played her guitar again and made a return to performing in the U.K. and the U.S. And now the guitarist has just released her first full-length solo album, "The Vermilion Border."

"It was a very slow process making it," Albertine tells about finally having her new album completed, "very much like the Slits where we were determined to get it right. And I sort of did the same thing again. I built up the tracks -- I didn't know what I was doing. I had to relearn to play. I felt like I was in the Slits again -- it was very familiar to me, but I didn't quite have as much panic before."

Cover of Viv Albertine's album "The Vermilion Border"
Ben Allen Media

The music on "The Vermilion Border" doesn't resemble that much of her past works with The Slits, who were known for their post punk-reggae sound. "I've become an individual voice," Albertine says. "I'm very true to the old punk ethics of honesty and truthfulness and integrity...and still be authentic."

With Albertine's frank lyrics, some of the new songs take aim at the complicated and stifling aspects of relationships and home life, like on "I Want More." "The role that is set out for you in life, which even now in 2012, [is] crippling," she explains, "and how everyone around you seems to buy into it eventually. You're a bit of an outsider. I've once again chosen to be an outsider and it's painful, but someone's got to do it."

On whether recording this album was in some way autobiographical and cathartic, the guitarist responds: "I don't feel as upset and angry as I did. It was cathartic because I had no one to talk to about all this -- going through a divorce and breaking up is a lonely thing. And then on top of that, instead of having a proper job or a network of people that I see every day, I'm very alone -- I'm writing songs on my own, I had no work, I was embarking on this crazy thing to do at my age in this climate. I felt insane a lot of the time, so my only friends were the songs and the guitar. It's very autobiographical. Because of the songwriting, I've been able to turn my sights onto other things in the world and notice other things rather than my own pain."

One of the songs from the record features a guest appearance by former Clash guitarist Mick Jones, who was once Albertine's boyfriend. It marks a rare moment of the two of them together on a recorded work. "That was one of the happiest days of my life," says Albertine, "because I really felt at that moment I've changed from someone who had the most ridiculous foolish dreams to someone who could make this happen."

The new album is also unique in that each track features a different bass player --among them are Talking Heads' Tina Weymouth, the Sex Pistols' Glen Matlock, and Cream's Jack Bruce. "Nowadays you can't keep a band together -- there isn't the money to keep a band together," says Albertine. "Well, I can't use the same musicians each time because they're busy, so I'll use a different one each time."

Albertine says she may do a tour next spring. But right now she is concentrating on writing her upcoming memoir titled, "Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys," due out in 2014. In addition to the book, she is also making her acting debut along with Liam Gillick, an artist, in an untitled movie by British director Joanna Hogg.

"'I knew the director and her way of working was right for me," Albertine says. "I had no hesitation whatsoever in taking it. I mean, I'm not playing myself -- I'm playing a very different character, quite a straight woman. It was something I knew."

Albertine acknowledges that she couldn't have imagined "in a million years" of getting to this point in her life with these projects after what she went through in the past. "I said to my husband at the time, 'I'm just going to start putting one foot in front of the other.' I had no idea where I was going to go. I could have completely fallen down a well, I could have disappeared, or I could have gradually built something, I certainly couldn't have ever imagined a book, a feature film and an album," she says. "So I'm just going to keep doing that -- just putting one foot in front of the other, falling sometimes, failing sometimes, and stumbling on."