Downtown magazine (Neil interview, 2002)
In a frozen – by the air condition- basement at Technopolis in Gazi, where soon after they played live, Pet Shop Boys singer, Neil Tennant, welcomed me with a cheer for the t-shirt I wore, which read ‘Never being boring’. “It’s too cold down here”, I say, forgetting his British routes that lead him to define heat wave at 28 C degrees. “It surely is much better than outside”, he answers, and lies in the couch. In the meantime, other half Chris Lowe, skips the interview to sunbathe in the grass by the large crew that follows the band around in their world tour.
Q: You have worked with music legends such as Dusty, Liza and David Bowie. In the long run, what do you think you have gained out of all those collaborations
Neil: I believe we have taken things from all of them as artists, but as people as well. I’ll never forget Dusty’s haunting voice while we were recording ‘What have I done to deserve this?’. It was a very important lesson for me, watching her unveil her voice in a song. She almost changed the way I used to sing.
Q: I imagine her passing away must have cost you a lot…
Neil: Very much so. Especially when, during her funeral, they played her song ‘Going back’, I was in tears. Generally, when someone I know dies, especially if he’s young, I cry. I sometimes cry when someone is hurt emotionally. But I think, these days, crying is a very hypocritical act.
Q: Were you disappointed by the bad reviews for ‘Closer To Heaven’?
Neil: I think most people have a very specific idea of how a musical should be. They are expecting a huge spectacle, a glamourous rock opera or something very deep. We tried to make a musical with contemporary music, set in today’s world, and it was very awkward for some people. At the opening night, everyone was very enthusiastic , both the audience and show-biz people, the papers were very hard on their reviews. As a result, a very negative vibe evolved. But we had a small, very fanatic following who would come to see the show again and again. But, we won’t give up and we’re planning to write at least one more.
Q:In ‘The night I fell in love’ are you trying to picture Eminem as a homosexual?
Neil: The song came by because of how Eminem has been labeled as a homophobe. His lyrics are very derogatory about being gay, but I realize he’s playing the role of an American homophobe. I don’t mind that. On top of that, we thought that ‘Stan’ could have been a gay fan writing to him. So we wrote a song about a gay boy meeting his idol ,backstage at a rap concert and he discovers that the star is a closet homosexual. And they spend the night together. Eminem may have been the inspiration, but we were not necessarily referring to him.
Q: Are you worried about the success of acts that were created by Pop Idol and such shows?
Neil: I think it’s only temporary. In a few years, we’ll be trying to remember something about those acts and we won’t be able to. However, what’s important is the quality of the songs and not who it’s by. So there’s always a possibility that a Pop Idol star releases a great record. But it hasn’t happened yet. What bothers me most is, those kids, they chose the wasy way to fame, covering old songs while they are promoted by a lot of music industry professionals. That is wrong. Good pop is never comes from people with perfect knowledge, it comes from people with inspiration.
Q: Would you accept to live with cameras following you all day, they way Ozzy Osbourne did for that MTV show?
Neil: (laughs) I don’t think I would. I couldn’t cope with cameras all day long. Although, I’m sure Ozzy’s show was based on a script, but even if that was the case, I’d still refuse.
Q: How do you feel about manufactured acts surpassing in sales some of the legends of music history?
Neil: There are some boy bands, such as N’Sync that perform good music but most of them are created on the basis of how sexy they look. Let’s not forget the Monkees were a 60’s boy band, but they made some good records.
Q: You always evolve your sound but pop is what you always create in the end. Would you make a harder sounding album, like Moby did?
Neil: I don’t know if we’d ever do it, but this live tour is rock ‘n’ roll anyway. While we were touring in America once, our manager was also responsible for some of the biggest rock stars. We, as usual, had make-up artists, dancers, huge wardrobes, wigs and costumes. He was so impressed by all that he later revealed that we were the most rock act he had ever managed. He used to say, even in heavy metal bands, there was never the amount of fuss we created both during the show and backstage.
Q: How have you managed to keep your private life private?
Neil: Many times, especially when we have a new album coming out, our Press Office calls us and asks for a story or some gossip he can send to the tabloids, trying to promote the album. Although we have been tempted to make up a story, we never have. It’s not us. We don’t care about temporary publicity, a scandal, or anything that can promote our album for a while and afterwards, when it’s all forgotten, our music’s forgotten too.
Q: You are 48 and 43 years old and you’re already 18 years in the music business. How much longer do you think you can go on as the Pet Shop Boys?
Neil: I don’t think in those terms. I only think of our next album and I want to concentrate on that. It is very impressive we have survived for so long, but there are other people who write music and tour for 60 years. If we ever feel we are bored, we will stop. We are such good friends and I think we will be able to agree in a friendly manner about when we should stop.
Q: What makes you bored?
Neil: Having nothing to do. I am also very bored waiting when people are late, which is very common in Greece. Pet Shop Boys must be the most on-time group in the world. When we have to met someone at the hotel lobby at 17.00, it’s impossible that someone won’t be there on time.
Q: If the Pet Shop Boys were a printed message on a t-shirt, what would that be?
Neil: I’m not good in those type of questions…I think the messages of the PSB are too difficult and too complicated to explain in a t-shirt.
Q: Who are your most famous friends?
Neil: Elton John is one of our best friends and is always there when we need him. Also Johnny Marr, who is also playing on our new album.
Q: This is your second time in Athens in a very short while. What do you like most about it?
Neil: I love walking around in the streets. Athens is polluted, noisy but it’s an incredibly vibrant city and I absolutely love that. I love the area around the Acropolis and I also love having coffee in an open air café and watching the people and the cars around. Today, for example, I was at Exarhia Square and it was fantastic.
Q: Did anyone recognize you?
Neil: Some people did, but I was walking around with a cap and glasses on so I went by unnoticed.
Q: If you were given a house in Greece, who would you like to invite over?
Neil: Possibly Napoleon. He was an incredibly interesting figure because he managed to accomplish so much and eventually lose it all.