Jam! Magazine (Chris Q&A)
Pet Shop Boys Q&A:
By RICHARD JOHN — JAM! Showbiz
During rehearsals for the new North American Pet Shop Boys tour, Chris Lowe took time out to talk to JAM! about the tour, the new album and the musical that he and musical partner Neil Tennant have been working on for the last few years. He also manages to name drop a modern British architect.
Here is the conversation, in its entirety.
JAM!: So where are you currently?
CHRIS: We’re in Florida at the moment. In a storm, actually. It’s horrible. I just spoke to a friend in London and it’s gorgeous.
J: How are things apart from the weather?
C: Great. The tour rehearsals are going really well.
J: This is the first tour you’ve done in eight years…
C: First WORLD tour we’ve done in eight years.
We’ve actually done quite a bit of live stuff. We did a tour of Australia and South America, we also played some festivals in Europe and we also did a run of shows at this theatre in London called the Savoy. So we’ve been quite busy, but we just haven’t been travelling the world.
J: What can we expect on the upcoming tour then? You’ve had almost eight years to perfect a new live show.
C: And we’ve had two weeks to plan it (laughs).
This time we’re not doing a theatrical show like we did in 1991. We’ve been working with an architect called Zaha Hadid and she’s a modern British architect and she does this dynamic, futuristic kind of architecture with no right angles and things like that. So she’s done the set and then we’ve got some films and stuff for projection.
The idea is its a very abstract concept. We’re not realizing the songs in a theatrical manner, but we’re just presenting more of an abstract experience really.
We’ve also reprogrammed all the music. We’ve still kept the original flavour of the songs, but it’s all a bit more updated. We hadn’t really changed our programming since the songs were done a long time ago. Anyway, they sound really fresh now.
J: Are you going to have the same musicians on tour that you had in 1991 like J.J. Belle on guitar?
C: No, but we have brought the same percussionist Danny Cummings who was on our first tour that we did in Japan. He’s a fantastic percussionist. And we’ve got a musical director called Peter Schwartz from New York. We came across him when we worked with David Morales in New York. He’s been reprogramming stuff for us.
We’ve also got four backup singers from New York who sing the backing on ‘New York City boy’ so they can sound a bit like the Village People if we want them to. We’ve also got Sylvia Mason-James who’s toured with us before… a big diva.
J: Is the set list going to be just hits?
C: It’s not a hits show at all, it’s just our favourite tracks by us (Laughs). That’ll include obscure album tracks and various things. It’s all songs that we really like. You do get hits amongst that. If you’re a Pet Shop Boys fan, you’ll love it.
J: Are you going to make ammends on this tour and play ‘Being Boring’?
C: Yep. ‘Being Boring’s played. It’s all our favourites really. We play ‘Only The Wind’ which we’ve never played before and ‘Discoteca’… we’ve redone ‘It’s Alright’. It’s a really good mix of music really, actually. I can’t tell you too much because it won’t be a surprise.
J: Any b-sides?
C: (Hesitantly) Yes (laughs)
J: You’re playing more one off dates than you used to. Are you becoming more comfortable now with playing live?
C: Yeah. We never really were uncomfortable about it. It’s just that we never really could work out how we could do it, so that’s why we didn’t tour for such a long time. We didn’t want to comprimise the music or the musical style.
The way we made the records in the studio – using computers and samplers and all this kind of thing – we didn’t want to just get a load of musicians in for the tour and play it all and change the musical style.
We couldn’t really work out how to do it. Computers at the time weren’t as stable as they are now. And so, eventually, when we found there was a way to do it, then we did it and we felt happy doing it.
We enjoy playing live. It’s great getting the audience reaction.
J: I have a bootleg of the ‘Heaven’ show in 1991 where the computers crashed half way through.
C: Actually, I quite like it when the computers crash (laughs). It makes it a lot more fun.
J: Neil’s improvisation while the computers rebooted was rather interesting.
C: I know. The equipment can still be a bit temperamental. (laughs) What’s really funny is when you think it’s stopped and it starts again (laughs).
Last time we toured, ‘Go West’ was triggered using step time code from the film which was on a rickety old projector and so sometime you hear this big crash and you’d hear all the instruments just go “boomf”, like that and you’d be ‘Oh, here we go’ and we’d have to rewind it to the start again.
It gave the show a bit of tension (laughs) not knowing whether it would work or not.
J: Are you bringing Chris Heath along again to document the tour?
C: Well, not on the whole tour. He is coming to Miami.. he’s really busy at the moment. He’s managed to work it that he’ll be in Los Angeles whilst we’re there as well.
Actually, going on tour isn’t the same without having Chris Heath there.
J: So no tour documentation this time? No Pet Shop Boys vs America II?
C: We did actually do a book of the South America tour, but we’ve not released it.
There is one book that’s written that isn’t out. Hopefully it won’t go out. We might be just a bit too horrible in it (laughs).
J: Can you tell me anything about your new musical that you’re doing with Jonathan Harvey?
C: Yeah. We’ve finished writing it and we’re going to be workshopping it early next year – kind of working through it with actors and stuff to see how it all works and whether changes need to be made.
So anyway, hopefully, it’ll be on the stage sometime next year. It’s actually quite hard getting a musical together. It’s not like releasing an album.
J: You’ve been working on this project for a couple of years now.
C: I know. It takes a long time. Anyway, it’s been getting better with every new draft we’ve been doing.
J: Does it have a title yet?
C: Well, it has a working title, but it might change so I won’t tell ya.
It’s very exciting doing something in the theatre, though. It’s been really great and it’s something that we’ve always wanted to do.
J: Are you doing more than just the music for it?
C: Yeah, we’ve been involved in the storyline and everything. It’s sort of based on our own experiences and what we know about. It’s sort of set in London’s clubland (laughs). So we had to do lots of research for it. Tonnes! (laughs)
J: Have you written all new music for the musical, or will it showcase earlier material?
C: No, it’s all new material. Although, ‘In Denial’ on our current new album is in the musical which kind of explains why its a duet and everything. It’s between two of the characters in the play.
J: How did the duet with Kylie Minogue come about?
C: Well it came about because the song was written as duet, between a father and his daughter. So we needed someone to that part and Kylie was the obvious choice, really. We love Kylie’s work. Her vocal style really suits the song.
J: On the new album, you’ve once again juxtaposed having a one-word title for the album – ‘Nightlife’ – with one of the longest single titles yet – ‘I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Anymore’.
C: I know. Why is that? (Laughs)
J: Every album is like that – one word title and really long song titles.
C: Well, as you build up more albums, it would be kind of a bit odd to break that. When you see all the titles sitting down, I think it would be weird now to break with that.
J: Early rumours had ‘Nightlife’ spelt as two words – ‘Night Life’.
C: Well, really, the correct spelling is with a hyphen, ‘Night-life’. I think that’s the correct spelling of it, but we’ve done it as one word.
J: Are you going to retitle it for the American release as ‘Nitelife’.
J: With ‘Behaviour’ you had an alternate American spelling where you had to drop the ‘U’.
C: Yeah. Well, actually, we didn’t have to, we wanted to. We liked the idea that it was different in America. I think ‘Nightlife’ would look strange. Would you spell ‘Nightlife’ like that?
J: Not personally, but I know in the States a lot of abbreviations are used like ‘Drive Thru’ or ‘Lite Beer’.
C: I think the album’s going to be spelt like it is in England. I think ‘Behaviour’ looked really good with the American spelling. Then you knew you had the American album which I kind of like.
If I lived over here (in the US), I’d be trying to get the English one. It’s all a case of what you can’t get, isn’t it, that makes it more desirable.
J: Especially with singles because North America’s singles market is nowhere near as vibrant as Europe’s.
C: It’s a shame, because you get a lot of extra stuff on our CD singles. You get whole albums worth of music which you’re kind of missing out on by not having a singles market.
J: As was showcased on ‘Alternative’. You had two CDs of b-sides.
C: I think we will be putting out another B-sides album. Just simply because most people don’t really … as you said, the singles market doesn’t really exist, over here anyway. It’s a shame that people don’t get to hear them.
J: With the two recent singles, there were a lot of remixes that weren’t released commercially.
C: Yeah, they wouldn’t be on there.
J: Sire (in the US) is releasing a ‘New York City boy’ single with nine remixes and 70 minutes of music.
C: Yeah they are. I don’t know if that’s too much or not (laughs).
There are some great dance mixes we’ve had done. Then again, you end up putting out far too many records.
J: How do you see the singles market now compared to when you began in 1985?
C: It’s a bit out of control.
Dance music itself has sort of fractured. Now when you release a single you say, ‘Oh we’ll have a trance mix, we’ll have a New York tribal mix, an old school mix, garage mix, house mix’. It’s just ridiculous.
In the old days, no one really did remixes really. There was one remix per single.
It’s a great way for people learning how to make music, becoming remixers.
J: Is that why you enlisted David Morales and Rollo as producers on ‘Nightlife’?
C: Yeah. The reason we worked with David Morales and Rollo was primarily because we liked their records. But, moreso, we always work with people whose records we like. We came across David Morales years ago when we got him to remix ‘So Hard’. His Red Zone mix of that is one of our best remixes, I think.
Rollo did ‘Can You Forgive Her?’ and we’ve always liked Rollo’s work. It’s all sonic, and euphoric and big. He did a good job on ‘Can You Forgive Her?’
J: ‘Nightlife’ sounds like a more back to basics album. ‘New York City boy’ sounds like ‘Go West’ as written by Pet Shop Boys. Was that intentional?
C: The idea for that was David Morales. Before we even flew out to New York to work with him, he suggested we write a disco song. He though the public wanted it (laughs). And so, we just set about writing one. So it wasn’t our idea, really.
We were actually in New York, so that’s where the idea of ‘New York City boy’ came from. It was Pet Shop Boys in New York and just trying to capture that excitement you get when you come to New York.
J: Rumours around the Internet were saying that due to the band being kick started by Neil’s meeting with Bobby O. in New York, it was a sort of ‘thank you’ to the city.
C: I hadn’t thought of it like that! That’ll be coming out in interviews next! (laughs)