ABOVE & BEYOND IN CONVERSATION WITH THE PET SHOP BOYS
Jono – Do you remember in Time Out magazine in 2003 there was an interview with you guys and you talked about music you liked. You picked one of ours called ‘The Devil’s Music is Life’, do you remember that record?
Chris – I might do if you play it.
Jono – Can read you what it said if you want. It’s a bit creepy… [laughs]
Neil – It was nine years ago. [laughs]
Jono – It says ‘I got this in HMV last Tuesday. I normally go and buy things that I want whereas Neil tends to buy things that he’s heard are interesting to try them out’.
Chris – Totally true.
Jono – ‘It sounded Germanic but actually I think it’s by a bloke from Holland, actually it was by us two [laughs]. ‘[quoting] Isn’t this called electro-tech? I’ve always liked Wagnerian dance music it’s very ‘Ride of the Valkyries’, absolutely glorious’.
Neil – Oh, wow I’ll have to dig it out again. ‘Ride of the Valkyries, a dance record. I like the sound of that!
Jono – And then you go on about Danny Rampling…
Chris – Danny Rampling? That’s a long time ago.
Jono – Racing on the A10.
Chris – Yeah, that was gonna be my excuse when I got caught speeding. It was Danny Rampling’s fault.
Jono – Is he now a chef or something? He was doing that for a while at least wasn’t he?
Chris – He retired…
Jono – …and then he came back with a vengeance.
Neil – Well we’ve never retired, you see, so we don’t have to come back with our tail between our legs.
Jono – We both checked out your new single yesterday (called ‘Invisible’)
Neil – It’s not actually a single.
Jono – It’s just a ‘teaser’?
Neil – A taster.
Jono – I thought it was great, I really did. To be honest it reminds me of the early Pet Shop Boys records, kind of produced in a modern style.
Neil – It is a bit like that actually, yeah. It reminds me of our early demos, actually. When we only had two keyboards and a piano. That’s basically what ‘Invisible’ is.
Chris – And a drum machine. One. It was easier back then when you didn’t have to choose drum sounds. I hate choosing drum sounds.
Paavo – Just have a box that does the noises, you know?
Neil – Do you remember (Boss) Doctor Rhythms?
Jono – I do actually.
Chris – I loved Doctor Rhythms.
Jono – I remember I bought my first Yamaha RX-17 in a second-hand shop. I secretly wanted a (Boss) DR Rhythm but it was slightly too expensive so I ended up with the Yamaha thing. It wasn’t bad. How did you choose ‘cause you used… Brian Bress did the video, right?
Chris – We didn’t choose him.
Jono – He came to you?
Chris – No – we just came across him in an art gallery in LA when we were there and just thought ‘wow – these are amazing.
Neil – His films were silent. And this video was hanging on the wall of his gallery. Then we had a meeting with him and he played it on his computer and on one of our iPhones we played the track and it was amazing. And Brian Best… we were a bit worried about what percentage of his work we could use for a pop video. When it finished he said ‘my work is only 50% as good without the music’- it was even the same length and of course his work looks quite humorous. When you put that track with it – humour often has a pathos – it really brings out the pathos of the track. And of course he’s literally becoming invisible which is a bit of a coincidence because we hadn’t seen that video and now it was a video for ‘Invisible’. I think it’s a great way for doing videos – finding one that already exists because I think it’s a perfect collaboration.
Jono – It’s always a bit of a gamble doing a video isn’t it, you never quite know… obviously you work with the best directors and you choose the people carefully, but you never quite know how it’s gonna turn out from the treatment to the finished product.
Neil – You’re taking on someone else’s aesthetic whereas this is an aesthetic that we thought walking into the gallery that it was a bit kind of Pet Shop Boys anyway some people think it’s us- I would think it’s us.
Paavo – I thought it was you guys’!
Neil – Yeah, it’s just all him, actually.
Paavo – Also I think especially what’s happening in the world of pop music and dance music it’s a world of who shouts the loudest. What we’re trying to do is go against the grain and try to grab people with something that’s holding back and a bit more emotional. When I was listening to it I thought that it had all the things that I’ve always liked about your stuff , that it’s real world, real life sort of thing.
Neil – That was always our idea from the beginning – to put normal life against beautiful music.
Jono – Like Paavo was saying, at the moment in America the dance music scene is very much…
Paavo – [Sarcastically] EDM!
Jono – [Laughs] Yeah, gotta call it the right thing.
Chris – The records are very harsh, aren’t they? Painful to be in the room whilst it’s playing.
Neil – It’s so compressed. They’re compressed almost to the point of distortion. Not necessarily to detract from it because I actually quite like distortion…
Paavo – Would you say that ‘Invisible’ is like an indication of where the new album is going stylistically as well?
Neil – Sort of is, yeah. It’s not all down-beat. Chris wants it to be down-beat.
Chris – I always want it to be down-beat. He always wants a pop record.
Neil – I will say ‘it’s got to be like the Beatles, got to have something happy, something sad…’
Chris – I would rather it was all like Pink Floyd.
Jono – Is there a key theme to the album?
Chris – It’s all about being old, really [laughs]
Neil – It’s about death – it begins and ends with death.
Chris – Death, old, ageing…
Paavo – So uplifting?
Neil – But it is! It is uplifting. We considered calling the album ‘Happy Sad’. In the ‘80s, right at the beginning of our career someone said ‘how would you describe your music?’ And we said ‘happy-sad’
Paavo – It’s so funny that you say that – that’s been like – for me as a Finn, the beauty is at that point between birth and death and the dark and the light.
Jono – It’s the optimism in the sadness, almost.
Neil – That’s the area in which we operate. This album is undoubtedly the strongest statement of that we’ve ever made. It is happy. The single is called ‘Winner’ and superficially it’s a sort of ‘We Are The Champions’ song but actually it’s not. It’s really about that moment-
Chris – And how it won’t last [laughs]
Neil – … and really what’s important is the camaraderie of everything that got you there. Enjoy the moment, enjoy the memory cause it’s just a little moment.
Chris – If you’re lucky
Neil – If you’re lucky. And in a way that sums up what the album’s about.
Jono – I’ve always thought that you guys sort of juxtapose thoughtful lyrics against quite uplifting chords.
Neil – Right from the beginning we wanted to put real feelings, real emotions in the kind of words that people use to express them against beautiful music; beautiful, mysterious music.
Jono – ‘Cause it doesn’t need to be obviously uplifting and happy does it? It can be mournfully uplifting.
Neil – Not to be all sort of ‘flowery’ or too cliché-ridden. To actually put the truth of what you think or what people say to each other in songs.
Jono – I think that’s a really nice theme at the moment because personally in music at the moment there’s so much manufactured pop music around, you’ve got the whole X-Factor thing still going.
Neil – We don’t mind manufactured pop music if it’s good. I mean, I like One Direction
Jono – In dance music, I always think why can’t dance music be art as well? Why can’t it do both? I think it’s possible for it to do both
Neil – We think so too. Why can’t it be? And also the subject nowadays, there’s a song on the album that’s a kind of satire on contemporary pop music and it’s called ‘Ego Music’ “Ego music – it’s all about me” is the chorus.
Jono – Sounds very ‘now’ – we’ve just come back from America!
Neil – It’s actually quite rare now for anyone to write songs that aren’t just a diary. I think that’s what young generations think songwriting actually is. Also people think it’s all about emotions and crying and ‘my husband’s run off with someone else’ and I think funnily enough there’s something insincere about that. The process of making art or something is actually to take that and create something around it or create something that expresses it without just being it. People nowadays I think are frequently unbelievable patronizing to their fans. Anyway, so we satirized that.
Jono – In terms of your influences, I mean for me you were big influences musically, and a track that like say one of my favourite tracks of yours is ‘Love Comes Quickly’. The chords in that particularly are very distinctively PSB I would say and I just wondered what your influences were to get to that ‘cause I thought there’s almost quite a lot of soulful stuff in the PSB music.
Neil – The new album – we don’t use the word ‘soulful’ – sounds like we’re trying to sound like Terence Trent D’arby or something… but it is really very soulful this song, and that’s one of the reasons we went to LA to write the songs. We knew we wanted a lot of sub-bass, we had an idea of having lots of backing vocals but not in a gospel choir way. If you listen to some of the stuff Andrew Dawson had worked on with Kanye West they have a sort of… the two recent Kanye albums are quite soulful records, they’re not like blagging rap or something. So we knew he would understand this sort of sound.
Jono – So you chose to work with him?
Neil – Yeah…
Chris – No, we didn’t just sort of come across him in the galleries. [laughs]
Jono – He didn’t approach you…
Paavo – He had these backing tracks and said ‘hey!’
Neil – We actually approached someone else originally. It didn’t work out. We approached someone else and they didn’t respond for 5 months which point we thought it’d be good if we collaborated but then by that point we’d finished the album. We were looking at Kanye West’s last couple of albums and on the credits this name popped out – ‘Andrew Dawson’, we looked him up and there was quite a range of stuff he’d worked on. Right at the beginning he was classically trained and he just seemed to have the right skills. Also our manager emailed him and he emailed back an hour later.
Chris – There are people that do that
Neil – We knew he wasn’t a bullshitter.
Jono – Yeah, ‘cause there’s this sort of game to be played sometimes in the music industry in waiting and it’s just-
Neil – We once flew to America to work with a well-known DJ and when we got there, he wasn’t available! You think – but, we’re here! We’ve come to New York! Sorry, it’s not working out. You wouldn’t get that with Andrew, he’s bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.
Paavo – So the album’s now done and dusted are you guys gonna take it on the road, what’s your plans?
Chris – Yeah, we plan to do it next year, hopefully starting in South America so we can avoid the winter.
Jono – That’s the best way.
Chris – We try and arrange our lives now around permanent summer.
Jono – That’s not a bad strategy.
Paavo – We’ll talk to our agent too, I think. We went to see your show at the o2 in 2009 and found it really interesting. Having seen so many other shows it combines really well the minimalistic style you guys are known for like design wise with a more traditional show thing with dancing. How involved do you guys get with the concepts of your shows, like your new tour. How does it work?
Neil – We’re better at saying what we don’t like. We always for all of our tours work with someone from the theatre. Director or a designer. With the Pandemonium tour that you saw and previous tours we worked with a designer called Es Devlan. She came up with a design and amazingly we rejected it because we wanted something that could change with the size of the venue.
Jono – Yeah, it’s got to be scaleable, hasn’t it?
Neil – You saw us at the o2 arena. On that tour we played Glastonbury but we also played in a tiny theatre in Milwaukee so we need something that’s flexible that can scale up and down. That’s how she came up with the thing with the boxes as a projection surface. And also our main thing has always been, it goes right back to when we first met and started writing songs together, I was at Smash Hits, that rock gigs are good when they start and good at the end but a bit boring at the middle. So we tried to do something where things are always evolving and happening.
Paavo – It felt like it was building like a story line sort of thing.
Neil – It sort of has and Es worked on that very well with a choreographer called Lynn page and they really worked on that together. Around us the four dancers there’s a thing with a boy and a girl and there’s a thing with the two girls with the boxes on their heads who aren’t revealed until three quarters of the way through the show and it all worked out really well. And it’s also very theatrical the way it’s done because in a way it’s worked on at the rehearsals. The rehearsals are a bit of a workshop which is a very un-rock ‘n’ roll way of doing it. We told the crew when we started doing it about the cardboard boxes and the crew are thinking ‘oh my God, what are they doing? ‘ And they’re all giving each other funny looks and we’ve got all the dancers and the theatricals and the boxes and then suddenly it all came together. And it was amazing. And of course the crew are in the show.
Chris– You’re not sure how it’s gonna work with a load of bike boxes because it might look like some sort of school production. You’re thinking ‘hmm, is that actually gonna be any good if there’s just a load of cardboard boxes on the stage?’
Paavo – It looked like the album art
Neil – It is our aesthetic as well and Es knew that. And it’s been the most popular show we’ve done. I mean we’re still doing it – the final show is in 3 weeks time in Moscow at very short notice we’re headli ing this festival because the headliner pulled out. But I think that will be the last time that we do it. Because it’s difficult to get rid of it ‘cause it’s such a fun show.
Paavo – We’re trying to move on with ours also-
Neil – Stuart Price worked on it with us. It was Stuart’s idea to make it into – I don’t know if you saw but we got a Brit award for outstanding contribution. We had 9 songs all linked into each other, Stuart worked on that with us. So we started to have this idea of singing ‘Go West’ over the rhythm track of ‘Panama Road’ and we did that all the way through the show and the music is inter-linked.
Jono – It’s kind of a DJ mix almost but done in a different way.
Neil – Yeah, it’s a bit left to my devices but then it goes into New York City Boy so it was sort of layered like that, a bit like a mix, yeah.
Paavo – So how do you see that touring’s changed ‘cause you’ve been touring for a really long time is it still basically the same or is it changing? So many big bands have gone back on the road because of record sales…
Neil – No, what I think about that is big bands were always on the road. In recent years there’s been presented this either-or: you don’t sell records anymore but you can tour. But Madonna sold 22m copies of ‘Like A Virgin’ or the next one and I saw her play 5 nights at Wembley stadium. It wasn’t either-or, it was both. I think people are using that rationale as an excuse. We tour now because we’re more experienced.
Jono – It must have been hard doing it in the ‘80s, trying to do it-
Neil – We used to lose money ‘cause…
Jono – It’s complicated doing the shows.
Chris – It’s a gamble because you can just lose a fortune. And then you can get lucky. It’s definitely a gamble. Hasn’t Madonna just signed to Live Aid…[stumbles] I mean Live Nation? [Jokes] Live Aid… it’s a big charity write-off, it’s all going through Jersey! Well that is significant though – the record company is the promoter of your shows. They were always very separate things.
Neil – But then Lady Gaga has got the record company and the touring totally separate and she sells records.
Jono – Do you guys still absorb yourselves in any of the dance music scene or listen to that or see what’s going on these days?
Chris – There’s a lot of it, isn’t there? Trying to plough your way through Beatport in an afternoon will drive you mad.
Jono – And the progressive house chart is no longer progressive house as we know it.
Chris – And also there’s so many categories- I always say to people if I’m in a club: so, what is this? And they always say it’s tech-house if no one knows.
Jono – Because that sounds cool.
Paavo – This whole genre thing – somebody at some point in time invented them. Let’s have these lockers and put it in…
Jono – It’s the journalists who invented it
Chris – It used to be just house
Jono – You either like it or you don’t – it’s house, it’s dance music.
Paavo – For me it was all techno so it was different in Finland.
Jono – They used to call it techno in America and now it’s EDM.
Neil – Something that happened to us in the past few years is we started getting nominated for Grammy awards.
Jono – You’ve had a kind of latent respect from the music press, haven’t you?
Neil – It’s also because in the ‘80s ‘West End Girls’ didn’t get any Grammy nominations. It was a platinum album in America. I suddenly discovered why we eventually got nominated for a Grammy was because they introduced an electronic music category. They introduced best electronic album, best electronic single. At that exact moment someone said ‘Best Electronic Album – Yes! Pet Shop Boys’. ‘Actually’ never got a Grammy nomination so I think they’re definitely more aware of Electronic music but they have a very wide definition of it.
Paavo – How do you see the internet in terms of spreading your music cause when you guys got started and I first heard of you I bought a cassette and it was very sort of local but nowadays your new video has already gone all around the world.
Jono – You’ve got to make a video that’s good for Youtube.
Neill– Quite interesting that Youtube has brought back the video. There was a time a few years ago, even on the last album, where we could’ve said to the record company ‘right, we’re not doing videos’. And they would have said ‘oh fine’, it saves them money, you know. But Youtube has now brought back the video, but now it’s all about getting millions of hits.
Chris – What about the videos with just the lyrics on like we’re doing one of? I can’t believe that people watch those but they’re really popular, apparently.
Jono – Some fan videos of our stuff have got more hits than the official video.
Neil – Some of these fan videos are really clever. There’s a mash-up involving us that we’re so obsessed with that we’re considering performing it.
Chris – It’s so good!
Neil – It’s based on the second single of the last album called ‘Did you see me coming?’
Chris – It has Huey Lewis and the News in it, the basis is Adele, you get Rhianna and Britney; Huey Lewis, which is a surprisingly good moment. And you get a bit of that ‘Discovery Channel’ group
Paavo – There’s a little bit of clearing to do if you’re ever gonna release it.
Neil – When we were in LA, in my room you could hear classical music, in Chris’ room you can always hear banging music. One time I was walking through the kitchen thinking ‘what’s that track he’s playing? It’s a big hit, wasn’t it? What is it again?’ And then I realized it was that mash-up! It just sounds like a global number 1 hit.
Chris – Well it would do because it’s got all the best bits of loads of hit records.
Jono – You work with [graphic designer] Mark Farrow, is that right?
Neil– We have done since 1986.
Jono – It’s so consistent and it’s so clean and lovely and minimal.
Paavo – But it’s still meaningful. I’ve seen loads of abstract art that’s trying to be really cool but it doesn’t say anything but your stuff has always had something like a story or a human theme or meaning.
Neil– Right from the first album ‘Please’ which at the first time was outrageously minimal ‘cause they were 12” records in those days. There was just a 1”square picture of us in the middle. To see it you’d need a magnifying glass.
Jono – A bit like the Youtube video phenomenon but for visuals. You had to make it work in that tiny space.
Neil – It was very exciting. That album was released in 1986 and I think that sleeve looks really modern.
Jono – Most of them do, really.
Neil– When you look at what else was going on, there was all of this very elaborate artworks that other people were using.
Jono – You touched on 12 inches there I feel like you guys were around then the 12” mix was invented in a sense. The album ‘Disco’ –
Neil – There were 2 precursors – Human League‘s ‘Love and Dancing’ and Soft Cell did ‘Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing’
Jono – You were definitely part of that movement. Dance music today is derived I think a lot from that.
Neil – When we meet a lot of dance artists today… Stuart Price got it for Christmas when he was a kid, I think. And it’s interesting because that was a lot more important than the real album, ‘Please’. But in those days what we really liked as well was long versions of songs.
Chris – The extended mix.
Neil – So we’d have like Shep Pettibone reconstructed but maybe we would do a long version of the song.
Chris – You used to hear pop-dance mixes in clubs then.
Neil – Although you actually still do in LA. We were complaining about that. That’s all you heard.
Jono – It was really zingy probably, wasn’t it?
Neil – One place it was painful to listen to.
Chris – Yeah, we left.
Neil – There’s something beautiful that I think people don’t explore these days is getting the multi-track.
Jono – Not just using the vocal, you mean?
Neil – These beautiful things you discover in multi-tracks. The big influence for us on that was Trevor Haughton – ‘Slave to the Rhythm’. Trevor made a track with Grace Jones, he got so into the track he made it into a whole album. It all the same song, he’s just investigating bits of the multi-track. Beautiful chords here, a couple of beats he’s got going on, her beautiful voice, her talking. Whereas nowadays people just want the vocal, or don’t want the vocal.
Jono – It’s interesting that you mentioned the length of songs because even in our world, like Paavo said, we go against the grain sometimes because at the moment ‘EDM’ has gone pop in America people are getting very concise. It’s almost become a pop record with 32 bars of drums at the start. You’re getting a lot of DJs playing 2 mins of a record – bang, bang, bang. Records don’t get a chance to breathe with the audience.
Neil – It was like that at this place we went to in LA. It was like a school disco as a kid they play Britney, then something else. It’s one pop song after another.
Jono – A lot of DJs from the underground now are just chaining hits together.
Chris – And getting thrown out of the DJ booth for not playing enough pop?
Jono – You heard about this then?
Paavo – We have a residency at the Marquee Club, actually.
Jono – We feel like we’re getting away with murder there though because we just do our thing
Chris – It’s Las Vegas though where DJs are getting thrown out
Jono – There’s a table crowd of high-rollers and they are paying tens of thousands of dollars for those tables. If they don’t like the music they complain to the manager who taps the DJ on the shoulder and says, ‘hey, you know-‘. We’ve been really lucky over there as we’ve somehow got away with it.
Neil – Do you think Las Vegas is having an influence? Because Vegas is the home of the pool party. Last time we went on tour there, we checked into our room and I thought – what is this noise? I looked out the window and there’s a pool party in full swing. I notice that pool party culture… actually in the ‘80s it was a very similar thing, MTV used to do a show called Spring Break at Daytona Beach or something like that.
Jono – Are you saying that it’s having an influence on the records that are being made?
Neil – That’s what I’m wondering, yeah.
Jono – The bubble in America is gonna burst because of it. It’s got to the stage where it’s- we call it The Playlist. There’s about 12 records that these DJs are playing. They may play their own music in their sets around the world but when they come to Vegas, it’s The Playlist. They lose all their identity in it. As an artist, you hope that people come to see you.
Chris – Isn’t it about money?
Jono – Yeah, it is, I guess.
Chris – The money’s outweighing the principles.
Jono – I’ve heard about one particularly big DJ playing those LMFAO records and stuff like that but he’s a credible, respected artist.
Paavo – I think it’s a fine balance, because as a ‘disc jockey’ I’m there to play music that people will enjoy and entertain so probably the people that you talk about play music to get a crowd reaction.
Jono – But DJ/producers are a slightly different thing (as hopefully people come to see the artist, not hear a string of top 40 hits)
Chris – I quite like it. I’ve been in clubs where the dancefloor’s been full and then the next DJs come on, someone I know, and they’ve cleared it within two songs. How admirable is that?
Neil – What’s gonna happen in America is what happened to disco. Suddenly everyone is gonna says ‘oh God, I fucking hate this’.
Chris – But America always has to rebrand dance music because they can’t let it be known as disco, so every few years they have to come up with a new word to describe disco.
Neil – When we did that remix album, we called it ‘Disco’ because we were told in America you can not call your music ‘Disco’. So we called it ‘Disco’.
Chris – It was the end of our career, but-
Neil – It wasn’t – that was a little bit later. I remember once someone said ‘when you do America, even though you’re an electronic duo, you have to have a real drummer.
Jono – That’s a shame because now would be your time because it’s probably not true anymore.
Neil – It’s totally not true anymore. In fact the theatrical thing we do is now commonplace. I’d quite like to do a show in Vegas.
Paavo – I’m sure they’d love to have you. And kick you off the DJ booth like all the other DJs.
Neil – They’d just want ‘West End’ Girls for 2 hours.
Chris – A Pet Shop Boys Cirque du Soleil show would be good
Jono – That would really work
Neil – The problem with the music at CDS is the music – it’s all a bit pan pipey.
Jono – I like the Beatles one though. It’s all remixed bits of the Beatles. Has speakers in the seats. It isn’t tacky like it sounds, it really sits well.
Paavo – So your career has spanned so many things. What’s left to conquer?
Neil – I guess we don’t really think of it as ‘conquering’. Conquering can happen by accident with us. We’re interested in beautiful music, in dance music. We’ve always been interested in visualizing music on stage and those are the things that – they’re very difficult things to do, really. And that’s what keeps us going.
Jono – That’s what I was saying about dance music too. You were saying about real life and electronic music of some form. I feel the same sort of way about dance music. The records I really love have something machine-like with something quite human in it. That’s the sweet spot sometimes.
Neil – Kraftwerk’s whole career is that, really. It’s very machine like but it has a real human emotion to it.
Jono – It tickles something, doesn’t it?
Neil – It has precision and an incredible pathos. Even ‘I am the parader of my pocket calculator’ – it sort of expresses how shit the world is that people are so excited about this pocket calculator. People feel that it’s given them status and that’s a bit sad. It’s amazing what’s expressed by that very simple line.
Jono – Do you guys tend to rite on guitar or keyboards or that sort of thing how do you…
Neil – Keyboards mainly. Every now and again I might write a bit of a song.
Jono – And do you concentrate on the melodies of the lyrics – do you write the chords and Neil writes the lyrics and melodies or…
Chris – It’s a lot less clearly-defined than that. Sometimes I’ll write a vocal melody.
Neil – There’s a song on the album that’s got a bit of an un-Pet Shop Boys title. It’s called ‘Hold On’. It’s based on this piece of music by Handel that I heard on the radio, I was like ‘this would make a really good pop song’ so I downloaded the sheet music and sent it to Chris. And I came back and said ‘you were only supposed to do the first 8 bars!
Jono – He’d ripped off the full thing?
Neil – He’d done the full 64 bars!
Chris – I didn’t realize you only wanted the first 16 bars.
Neil – I had this vague idea of going ‘hold on…’
Chris – I did the whole thing.
Neil – Anyway, so I then wrote the lyrics and I gave him that and so he’s copied Handel’s 64 bars of chords. By the way Handel’s chords are fantastic, amazing.
Chris – They’re really, really great.
Neil – It’s an educational process writing it. And anyway that’s why I wrote a load of new lyrics and then he put a totally new melody to Handel’s chord change, so it’s a collaboration with Handel. This melody – until you hear the record you’ll probably think that it sounds like a really simple tune but it’s not. We painstakingly recorded it.
Chris – Part of it is trying to say what note relates to what syllable of the word. So I’m going ‘duh-der-der’ like there’s no cameras in the room. It’s really embarrassing.
Paavo – I suppose a lot of what you guys do which is also what we like to do is a sort of minimalised, simplified version of classical music. Like Handel, and I’ve just been re-teaching myself how to play Beethoven on the piano and it’s really inspiring, Chordally, specifically how they move basslines and stuff.
Neil – The Moonlight Sonata is a classic trance chord change.
Chris – Actually trance is quite classical, isn’t it?
Jono – Did you guys ever have any resistance from the record company about your style? I was remembering the first time you were on TOTP Chris was there very sort of playing the keyboards dead-pan and you’re there dressed in a suit or whatever as a front man.
Chris – With a string quartet.
Jono – Did the record company ever say ‘hang on a minute, you can’t do that’. Did you have to fight your way or did you have their blessing?
Neil – If you look back to us in those days, Chris is actually quite openly grooving. You may think he’s looking dead-pan, look now and he’s grooving.
Chris – But TOTP in those days was very much a big party. The balloons and stuff… we didn’t want to present ourselves in that context. It’s always really embarrassing when a keyboard player has the camera on him and he pulls a face. I find it so embarrassing to watch. And the guitarists always get their tongue out as well, you know.
Jono – Sometimes it’s focusing on not doing something that everyone else is doing that gives you your identity, doesn’t it?
Neil – Also someone told us very early in our career that if you stand up they have to do a close-up of your face. If you look at TOTP in the ‘60s they do this [straight-faced] and so you see Dusty Springfield singing ‘I just don’t know what…’ and you see her blink. And then they get cranes and all this stuff and so you don’t get that intensity of the face speaking or singing at you through the screen.
Paavo – So are you still using the Fairlight [classic digital sampling synthesizer]?
Chris – We gave it away, actually.
Neil – It’s just turned up on eBay.
Chris – I think you’ve got all of ‘Opportunities’ in it. You could just hit ‘start’ and it plays.
Jono – We were in the Google offices in California a few weeks ago and a contact who was working on a new product there wanted us to come and have a look at it. And he was telling me that he’s got 3 Fairlights. He was telling me that he got some tape or disc from Blue Weaver and it’s got ‘It’s a Sin’ on it.
Neil – Is it not ‘Opportunities’?
Jono – It could be Opportunities. He said ‘It’s a Sin’.
Neil – I still like the sounds used in that.
Jono – So you still miss some of the old gear then? It’s harder work-
Chris – You wouldn’t want to go back to that
Neil – We would spend a week doing a snare sound. Then at the end you’d think ‘I don’t like that snare sound’.
Paavo – At least you got to get it right in one go. Going backwards was such a nightmare.
Jono – For me one of the peaks for the end of that era of analogue sound and early samplers was the ‘Behaviour’ album. That was amazing in terms of the sound of that album, it was so warm.
Neil – Because the music was already at that stage, so digital, we had the idea of using late ‘70s analogue synths.
Jono – The pads in there are gorgeous.
Neill – Harold Faltermeyer is an amazing programmer. He could program drum sounds and tracks.
Jono – What’s he doing nowadays then?
Chris – Schlager. I don’t know if he’s totally doing that.
Neil – I think he’s still doing film music. We’ve lost track actually.
Chris – We should do a schlager album, actually. Do you know what schlager is? Schlager is German for ‘pop’, it’s that sort of beer hall music. ‘Ooom-pah’
Jono – Actually I’ve seen it on TV.
Neil – It’s not just ‘ooom-pah’ though. It’s always amazing what the Germans have liked. In the ‘70s in Britain you think David Bowie and T-Rex. But in Germany it was Smokey. Huge career in the 80s. A sort of sentimental pop. Abba in a way is schlager.
Jono – I can never figure out musically what the Germans want.
Neil – They love trance.
Jono – We don’t have a big career in Germany. I don’t think we’re hard enough perhaps.
Chris – I heard this story, in Berghain this DJ ended a 2-day set with Crazy In Love by Beyonce and got booed because he dared to play an RnB record in Berghain. They’re quite specific about what they do and don’t want.
Paavo – Maybe the internet is slowly changing every country. It’s happened in other countries.
Jono – We had a great show in Frankfurt, didn’t we?
Chris – Did you ever go to Dorian Gray?
Neil – Jam & Spoon used to do it.
Chris – That was such a good club. It was actually at the airport. In the airport.
Paavo – We played at Cocoon which is Sven Vath’s club.
Chris – Yeah, we’ve been there. Good restaurant. You can have food now. It’s all about food and table service.
Neil – Food is the new deep house. There’s one thing about old gear that I miss. It’s actually recording onto tape. It really worries me that we’ve got all of our multi-tracks right up to Nightlife probably. But now everything’s just all over the place.
Chris – Not only that but the technology changes so quickly that it’s gonna be impossible to access this stuff.
Jono – That’s what I think about plug-ins. You get a new piece of hardware and it is there forever and can be switched on again in 10 years or so-
Neil – You have so many tracks – ironically, you’ve got to rely on your memory. I’m actually quite good at remembering things that I liked in the original demo. I’ll suddenly say to Andrew Dawson… isn’t there some sort of voice/flute sound that comes in at the second bridge? And he goes ‘oh, is there?’ And suddenly he’s going through millions of flaming tracks. And he goes ‘oh, do you mean…?’ ‘YES, that’s it!’ You’ve got to remember it because there’s so much- I just sort of look at it and it’s sort of a mystery to me now. Whereas if it’s on 48 tracks you’ve made that decision, you’ve got to play it. It’s labeled ‘flute sound, second bridge’.
Jono – Then you’ve got the decision of bouncing stems. And obviously you don’t want 98 stems or whatever you’ve got so you end up compromising and thinking ‘we’ll bounce all these effects as one stem’. Making those decisions becomes harder than if you’ve got a 24 or 48-track tape.
Paavo – I think a bit of limitation is quite often good for creativity.
Neil – However it’s so much more flexible now, you can change things at the last minute. We were in Berlin and Andrew Dawson was mastering a record at Sterling Sound in New York and we were on the phone. We recorded a new thing in Berlin and emailed it to him and he put it in at the mastering so that’s very flexible. But Trevor Horn was always like that.
Chris – He used to have rooms of slaves. I think that’s why it’s called ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, isn’t it?
Neil – Stephen Hague was brought in by Malcolm McLaren and shown the room for all the multi-tracks for Trevor’s Malcolm McLaren album where Buffalo Gals comes from. That’s such a huge influential record. People still sample it now.
Jono – The character that tape gives stuff, especially on the drums, the way it rounds off the transients
Neil – Now we might bounce the mix of half-inch tape. It’s a sort of compression that’s really warm.
Jono – Do you do that in your most recent album then?
Neill – I don’t think we do actually.
Chris – Can you buy tape now? There’ll be a plug-in that makes it sound like tape.
Jono – There is! The UAD one. You know Universal Audio? They’ve actually done one and the reels of the tapes rotate! And you can choose the tape formulation as well and the inches per second and obviously if you slow it down you get more of a rounding on the top end.
Paavo – There’s nothing quite like the smell of the tape and the dust it gives off.
Taken from: MixMag
Interviewer: Above & Beyond