One Direction are really good popstars

As well as singing some songs at the London 2012 Team GB athletes’ parade today, the Pet Shop Boys have a busy week ahead.

Having previously trailed the release with the suitably Olympic ‘Winner’, Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant release their 11th album Elysium.

Digital Spy recently sat down with the duo, and we spoke to them about the Olympics, One Direction, and just why the record labels have always tried to kill the single.

What was it like to play the Olympics Closing Ceremony?

Neil: ‘I liked the collage of music that was going on.’

Chris: ‘I thought the whole thing was going to be like that, I was a bit disappointed when it broke into a more regular sort of concert. I like the whole seguing of different acts from different eras. Ours was all about London, wasn’t it?’

Neil: ‘We were the London section, yes… A lot of people didn’t realise that! People were saying, ‘They’re doing ‘West End Girls’ again’. We’re doing ‘West End Girls’ because it’s a London song!’

Chris: ‘Otherwise we would have been doing the new single.’

Like George Michael! Was that an option for you?

Chris: ‘Well, ours would have been appropriate!’

Neil: ‘It would have been possible for us to say, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to be able to do ‘West End Girls’ unless ‘Winner’ is prominently featured, because we’re going to bring it out the next day’. We could have done that and then they would have decided whether they needed us enough for that or not – or told us to get lost. But only one person on the evening did that…’

Chris: ‘It was fun, being whisked around the Olympic Stadium with a pointy hat on.’

Neil: ‘I think it was an honour. All that British music – you keep thinking of all the people who weren’t in it.’

One Direction were on just after you – what did you make of them?

Neil: ‘I quite like One Direction’s records. I think they’re really good popstars. They seem to be very big. Being a popstar you have no idea how much hard work it is. When we first started we used to do all the teeny stuff but One Direction worked.

‘I don’t know how they put up with it. We would have just thrown a wobbler. We met them actually, and had our picture taken with them. And they were really gracious and nice and funny and chatty. Not like, ‘Who are these old guys?”

Chris: ”Why are we having our picture taken with two old men in pointy hats? Who are they?!”

Neil: ‘I was quite impressed by them.’

Elysium is the first album you’ve made in the US – why is that?

Neil: ‘We were looking for a very luxurious sound and we thought we could get that in Los Angeles. We knew we wanted a lot of backing vocals – we’d get some great singers over there. We chose this producer Andrew Dawson who’d worked on Kanye West’s albums. We liked the electronic sound Kanye West has had on his last two albums. All of those things led us to LA.’

Andrew seems very different from your past producers…

Neil: ‘Well, we wanted to do something different. We wanted to work with someone who mixes those records to see how that affected the balance of our music.’

How different was he to work with?

Chris: ‘All producers do things their own way. Very different to how Xenomania work. Probably closest to Stephen Hague in many ways. Andrew Dawson’s also an engineer, and with it all being in a computer now we go with a lot of stuff programmed anyway, so that’s his starting point. Xenomania is a house with teams of people working on several projects at the same time – it’s quite frenetic.’

Are you fans of hip-hop generally?

Neil: ‘When we started in the early ’80s one of our main influences was the emerging – it wasn’t even called hip-hop then, it was called rap – ‘West End Girls’ was meant to be a rap like Grandmaster Flash’s ‘The Message’. It is that same rhythm – literally. We used to listen to quite a lot of that.

‘Then all this Arthur Baker stuff – that was a great period. Sonically at that period, rap music was really interesting. And then it got more drum machine-y sounding. More stripped down and aggressive, and I didn’t really like it then. I sort of lost interest in it. I don’t really go home and listen to hip-hop… well actually I listen to that Kanye West album.’

That’s a great record – and that’s very different.

Neil: ‘That’s why I like it. Also – daring to sing – he can’t really sing, putting it through the Melodyne, Auto-Tune or whatever. It sort of really works. You kind of have to accept that. People still criticise it, because it’s such an overpowering sound in modern pop music. There are still people who call it ‘The Cher Effect’.’

Because of ‘Believe’?

Neil: ‘But how long ago was Believe? It’s 15 years ago. It’s always interesting in pop music. Something comes along and it’s treated as a gimmick but if it’s any good it just becomes part of the repertoire, and then of course gets taken to the ultimate extreme. And now it’s on so many records.’

Is ‘Ego Music’ on the album about anyone in particular?

Neil: ‘It’s about these things modern popstars say. Particularly in tweets and social media. There’s a lot of very unselfconscious ego and that fake humility. I read an article in The Guardian which was part of the influence for it.. about, they even had a word for it. I don’t know what it is now…’


Neil: Yes! Humblebrag! Amazing. It’s amazing. You’ve hit the nail on the head there. It’s a song about humblebrag really… ‘It’s humbling’. It’s obviously so insincere. Insincerity is the point of it all.’

And ‘Your Early Stuff’ – is that about you?

Neil: ”Your Early Stuff’ is taxi drivers talking to me about Pet Shop Boys.’

Do you feel you have to live up to your early stuff?

Chris: ‘I don’t really listen to the old stuff! So it’s not really relevant going into a new project. No, never look back. Sometimes a movement comes along like Electroclash, and ‘Oh, we can do that!’ Have a go at that… otherwise it’s just onwards and upwards. ‘

Yes sold well and you won an ‘Outstanding Contribution’ Brit – did that bring any pressure from EMI?

Chris: ‘The great thing about EMI is that they’re never worried about sales or chart positions (!).’

Neil: ‘The pressure comes from us to EMI, that’s how it works.’

Chris: ‘We suggest to EMI that they might want to sell a few copies.’

You released Format earlier this year and have said the digital age lends itself to B-sides, but most artists don’t release as many

Neil: ‘Most people can’t be arsed! Actually, most people aren’t that prolific…What we really do now is CD singles that become digital bundles. When we said we were releasing the CD single of ‘Winner’, EMI sort of chuckled, thinking, ‘When was the last time we did one of those?’ Actually Blur’s was available… we think that’s a great format. You buy the CD, it’s got the track and then three other ones. How great. It should cost £2.99.

‘I was embarrassed – ours at first was only available through the store on our website and it was £4.99 plus £1.99 postage. I thought it was too expensive for what’s basically meant to be a £2.99 product. Chris and I were pointing out that if it had been Record Store Day, our single would have been sold through independent record stores. Because it wasn’t Record Store Day it wasn’t. Why isn’t it Record Store Day every day?’

I have mixed feelings about the whole idea – people fetishising records and queuing up for limited editions for one day…

Neil: ‘As a consumer I have gone back to buying CD… it’s very common for me to go on iTunes to buy something and it says you’ve already bought this – it goes into the giant ocean of music of my iTunes. I think the physical vs. digital is still 70% to 30% in favour of physical. The music industry has lost interest. The whole time we’ve been in the music industry, they’ve been trying to get rid of the single. Right from the mid-’80s.’

It doesn’t make money for them

Neil: ‘And now we live in the age when the public can just buy the track they want, they’ve never sold more.’

There’s been talk of EMI selling off Parlophone – is that stuff you get told about?

Neil: ‘Oh yes. Communication on the whole ongoing EMI crisis – the artists are told everything. You get an email from [chief executive] Roger Faxon. Another thing is though, EMI has always sort of been in crisis… it’s sort of gone on forever really.’

The biggest pop star right now is Lady GaGa…

Neil: ‘Not Rihanna?’

Chris: ‘Surely it’s Rihanna?’

When GaGa does anything it’s on the front page it seems – what do you think of her as an artist?

Neil: ‘GaGa’s going to produce a really good greatest hits album in about two years’ time, isn’t she? And it’s going to be absolutely fantastic. And in many ways, that’s the best achievement of all in pop music. To have an excellent greatest hits album.’

Taken from:
Interviewer: Mayer Nissim