View Comments
Patti Smith s latest album
Picture: AP Patti Smith

The godmother of punk, Patti Smith, turned to those she could trust to make her 11th studio album, Banga.

Long-term collaborator Lenny Kaye and Television frontman Tom Verlaine help her explore religion and death on her most complex work to date.

Smith, 65, doesn't see any reason to slow down. She's an avid reader — always has been — a keen traveller and loves to write poetry, short stories and songs.

She is the quintessential storyteller and the music she creates allows her prose to occupy a captivating space. Smith also takes photographs, exhibits her work in the US and Europe and in 2010 won the National Book Prize for Just Kids, a memoir of her youth spent with the late artist Robert Mapplethorpe in New York.

She is committed to rock'n'roll and is a busy mother of two — Jackson, 30, and Jesse Smith, 25. She has raised her kids on her own, ever since her husband, Fred Sonic Smith, of the MC5, died in 1994.

In between 2007's covers album Twelve and Banga, Smith was in Russia on tour with her band and it was here that the seeds were sown for the new material.

"I really wanted to make this album sooner but I had so much happening and the timing just wasn't right," Smith says from her record label’s office in Manhattan.

She named her latest album after a dog that appears in Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita. Banga belonged to Pontius Pilate and was a loyal dog that remained by his master's side through thick and thin. The story goes Banga stood by Pilate while he waited on the edge of heaven to talk to Jesus for almost 2000 years.

"If there ever was a dog deserving of a song it has to be Banga," Smith says. "My son even does the dog barking on the song."

Banga was recorded at Electric Lady studio, where she recorded her classic, Horses, in 1975.

"A lot of the songs reflect what I have been interested in for a long time," Smith says. "There are also some contemporary themes, too."

The album's first single, April Fool, was inspired by Russian dramatist Nikolai Gogol and is a song about dead souls and featuring Verlaine on guitar.

Smith was also interested in the films of Andrei Tarkovsky and wrote a response to Ivan's Childhood, which he made in 1962.

Her song, Tarkovsky (The Second Stop Is Jupiter), is full of lusting jazz licks and features Smith at her spoken-word best. Then there's Maria, written in honour of the late French actress Maria Schneider, whom she met in 1976 while touring Horses.

"I write a song about Amy Winehouse's death and a celebratory birthday song for my friend Johnny Depp," she says. "He was born on the ninth and I thought writing a song would be a great gift."

Nine was penned in Puerto Rico, where Depp was filming The Rum Diary at the time.

Sadness tugs at This is the Girl, the song dedicated to Winehouse.

Smith says she never met the British soul singer but was always intrigued by her voice.

"Her death was so sad — such a loss for the music community," Smith says.

Born in Chicago and raised in New Jersey, Smith has always been fascinated by religion. She was raised as a Jehovah's Witness but dissociated as a teenager.

"I have always been interested in art, history, religion. It's always been part of my journey, my bigger picture," Smith says.

Songs like Constantine's Dream is dark and apocalyptic and features a reading of a St Francis of Assisi prayer in Italian.

"I am most productive when I am engaged in study," Smith says. “"hat is when I am happiest with how life moves. I like to work. I don't work because I am forced to. I work because it's part of who I am. I am always trying to do better. I guess you could say I try to one-up myself constantly and I am always interested in something new."

Patti Smith's Banga is out now.