Whether singing “Smile” or “F— You,” Lily Allen has always gotten straight to the point — and her fourth studio album, No Shame, is her most honest set yet.
The British singer-songwriter, 33, hasn’t released an LP in four years, and she’s experienced a slew of life changes in that time, all of which informed No Shame.
After separating in 2016, Allen finalized her divorce from 40-year-old Sam Cooper, a builder and decorator, last week. The couple married in 2011 and share custody of their two daughters, Ethel, 6, and Marnie, 5.
Allen recently sat down with PEOPLE for a candid discussion about music, motherhood, sobriety and her split.
This is your most honest album yet. How did it come together?
I had a sort of midlife crisis on my last record . Reentering the workplace as a mum, I found it really difficult — I kind of lost myself. This record is about trying to reconnect.
Of the songs that made it on the album, which did you write first?
The first song I wrote was a song called “Family Man.” I was just coming back of an American tour, and I should’ve been going home, but because I’d been away from my kids for so long and I felt so disconnected from them, I was actually terrified of going back to England, actually. Even though I missed my husband and my kids so much, I decided to stay in L.A. and start writing this next record.
It’s so obvious to me now that I was delaying going back home — because I was terrified of the rejection, really, from my kids. Because, you know: When you spend time away from your children, they’re not trying to appease you and your feelings; they’re very blunt. If they don’t know their mommy, then they’re not gonna know their mommy; they’re not gonna be watching out for your feelings. I was too afraid. So that’s kind of where “Family Man” came from. That was the first song that came tumbling out.
Both “Family Man” and “Apple” touch on your crumbling marriage. Was it difficult communicating that?
I get a real sense of achievement when I do songs like that because I got divorced in the past couple of years; it’s really complicated and laborious process having to explain to people what that entails. It’s not just about the last couple of years — it goes right back to my childhood and my parents’ relationship and what I learned from them, or didn’t learn from them. And to be able to compress that into a 3½ minute song — and do it successfully, I think — makes, it’s like a relief for me. It’s like: This is how I feel!
You really go there talking about your divorce. Was that devastating, or more of a relief?
Yeah, it was really sad. If I didn’t think I was going to be married forever, I wouldn’t have married. It’s a disappointment, but I think it was the right decision and it was necessary, and ultimately, I just want to make a safe and secure environment for my kids, and that was ironically the best way of doing that.
One of the standouts on the album is “Trigger Bang.” It sounds like a party song, but it’s really about facing addictions. Where did that come from?
I definitely don’t rely on substances and alcohol in the way that I used to. So it’s a bit about having made a conscious decision to leave that stuff behind. I would wake up in a haze in the middle of the Sheezus tour and be like, “I’m 3,000 miles away from my kids.” Why? What is all of this about?
Were your kids the reason you got sober?
I think it was age. Waking up in a tour bus, really hungover with makeup running — it’s not a good look when you’re 30. It’s okay when you’re 19!
Are you completely sober — done drinking and with drugs? Or is it something that you manage?
I don’t take drugs anymore. I wouldn’t say I gave up drinking, because I might like, once in a blue moon, have a glass of wine at dinner. But I don’t party anymore. That’s more because I had a stalker, in the U.K….about 2½ years ago. The fallout from that meant I just stopped socializing, actually. I just became very isolated. So I just don’t really go out.
I think my sobriety probably has really been — was sort of forced by that. I wasn’t gonna sit at home and drink on my own, so I stopped; I stopped partying and stopped going out publicly and to places where people would maybe think that I would be. It kind of just happened naturally, but with the kind of unintentional detox and respite from it, and I realized I was thinking a lot more clearly.
It definitely got to a really bad stage, and I was definitely using alcohol as a crutch — not so much drugs but definitely alcohol — and I’m just very glad that I’m not there anymore.
Would you say you’re sober?
No, I wouldn’t actually. I would just say that I don’t party anymore. In the middle of Sheezus, I did do AA — I did my 90 meetings and 90 days, so I did do that, and I went through that process, and I found it really helpful.
To be honest with you, I don’t think I’ve ever been an addict, so to speak. I think that I’ve used drugs and alcohol as medicine, almost, when things have been really bad. And if I’m in a bad place, psychologically, I shouldn’t be anywhere near drugs and alcohol. But if I’m okay, then…But I just don’t, I’m just not really in a space where I want to drink.
With the Me Too movement and Time’s Up, there’s a big conversation happening with women right now. How are you teaching your daughters about respect and how they should be treated?
We haven’t really got there yet, to be honest. They are girls, but I try not to drill gender stuff into them. There’s a right way of dressing or colors they should wear or ways that they should behave — I’m not really into any of that kind of stuff. The most important thing for my kids is to be as nice to people and as caring to people as you possibly can be, and to have quite strict boundaries about what you’re comfortable with and what you’re not comfortable with, and to be able to articulate why without being rude.
You’ve had a lot of life changes recently. How has your life changed since you became a mom?
Your life is not yours anymore, simple as that. So your freedom is gone — in a beautiful way. And it makes you think about being a human in a different way. You’ve got these little brains that need to be nurtured! I’ve never really been good socially; in fact, that’s probably why I drank and did drugs back in the day because I found relationships with people quite difficult. And actually, having kids has really helped me with that. It’s forced me to learn about how humans interact with each other in its most basic form.
If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357).