Pet Shop Boys dazzle with electro-pop extravaganza
No group has bridged the electronic disco and pop worlds as effectively – and for as long – as the Pet Shop Boys.The English duo of Neil Tennant, 55, and Chris Lowe, 49, formed in 1981 and hit the big time a few years later. This spring, they released their 10th studio album, Yes. Now the Boys have embarked on a U.S. tour, which stops at the House of Blues tonight. Its a stylized, four-act show with four costumed dancer-singers that includes more than 20 songs from the Boys catalog – including West End Girls, Its a Sin, Being Boring and Love, etc.We spoke with Lowe, who writes most of the music and does the duos programming (Tennant handles most of the lyrics and singing) by phone from London.HERALD: When you first broke through, there was a feeling that your sound might prove to be ephemeral. Now Pet Shop Boys seem timeless. Any idea why?CHRIS LOWE: (Laughs) Maybe people just love us. We like to think that its the songs. What weve always tried to do is write interesting songs that say things that dont normally appear in pop music, put them to contemporary dance beats and have an emotional content as well. And we set things to chord progressions that we like. Weve never lost our fascination with pop, in all its forms – the arts, clothes, music, fashion. We still go clubbing, even though were old. We never retired. We never went to a country and switched off. We always stayed in the center of things. We both live in London still. Were still fascinated by life.HERALD: Youve created your own musical universe over the past quarter-century.CHRIS LOWE: From the very beginning we wanted to create our own world. We didnt want to exist in anyone elses. Were obviously influenced heavily by electronic disco music of the 80s. I remember hearing Donna Summer in a club and I was completely knocked out. It was so new, so exciting. But thats only an element of Pet Shop Boys. With the songwriting, weve always stayed away from cliches and tried to present ourselves uniquely. One thing we love about pop is it changes. Its not about the past. Its about the next thing.HERALD: You use synthesizers and computers, while shunning traditional rock instrumentation. On your 1992 tour, your backing musicians were hidden offstage.CHRIS LOWE: Wed been told that to tour America you have to have a drummer. So our answer to that was, Right, if thats the case, were not going to have any musicians (onstage). If someone tells us to do something, well do the opposite. All the music was generated offstage and we put on a totally operatic performance. I dont think anyone had actually done that. A lot of rock musicians cant get their head around modern technology. Unless they can see someone playing guitar, they dont know how its being made. Theres the whole thing about authenticity as well, that its not authentic unless someones standing in front of an amp with a guitar and theres a drummer banging away. We didnt make records with a drummer. So, it wouldnt be authentic for the Pet Shop Boys to have a drummer. We were actually being authentic. Also, we wanted to put on a visually stunning show. We lost a fortune doing it. We got a review in New York saying the theater (we played) should be fumigated. I think they found the show quite offensive.HERALD: For this tour, any musicians?CHRIS LOWE: No. Well, Im playing. Its almost like a DJ stand, if you like. We realized no one can actually see what Im doing, so I might as well not be doing anything, but I am actually playing. Offstage, we have our musical director and the usual computers. I think people would be disappointed to come to the Pet Shop Boys and not hear synthesizers and electronics. You dont want an acoustic set from the Pet Shop Boys.HERALD: I dont know anyone who mixes desperation and hope, melancholy and uplift, so well. Yes is mostly a positive album, but you do close with Legacy, where there are melting glaciers, failing governments and bawling hurricanes.CHRIS LOWE: Well, you cant have it be happy all the way. I think we straddle optimism and pessimism. We always expect the worst, but we are optimistic as well. Although we like to say we do euphoric pop, its always tinged with sadness. And I think reality is the combination of those two. We like banging beats and rhythms, but we like to put minor chords on top of it and thats where the tension comes. Theres a realism in what we do.HERALD: You get called post-modern ironists a lot.CHRIS LOWE: Oh, thats one thing, actually, that does bug us – the irony tag. We have done ironic things, but you cant dismiss everything weve done as ironic. Theres a lot more to it than that. Going back to Legacy, theres no irony. Theres no irony in Love, etc. Sometimes people confuse winks with irony. The payoff line in Love, etc. is: You dont have to be beautiful – but it helps. And its also true.HERALD: You were one of the first bands to address gay life in songCHRIS LOWE: Well, weve never hidden anything. There was never any pretense in what we do. We covered Go West by the Village People. Weve never actually thought there was the need to be explicit about anything. We dont like to be political and we dont make political statements. Everything is in the music and you can get it if you want it. Were just awkward bastards, really.HERALD: PETA recently requested you change your name to the Rescue Shelter Boys, because of the cramped, filthy conditions that breeders keep animals in before selling them to pet stores.CHRIS LOWE: We dont know how serious that was. We still dont know. But I think it was good because it drew attention to pet shops. Thats why we highlighted it on our Web site. We thought it was a point worth making. Id never really given a thought to the welfare of the animals in pet shops. Itd be a good pseudonym to work with, for the more underground end of what we do.HERALD: The name came about because you had friends working in pet shops, right?CHRIS LOWE: They did exist. They were referred to as the pet shop boys and we needed a name. There were loads of boys groups – the Beach Boys, the Beastie Boys – and we thought Pet Shop Boys. Initially we thought, No, its a bit silly, isnt it? But then we couldnt think of anything better. Now, you just have to deal with the fact that youre old and youve still got Boys in the title.
Taken from: The Boston Herald
Interviewer: Jim Sullivan