|Interview With ELECTRONIC|
|July 27th, 1990.011|
stage at the Manchester Apollo the Pet Shop Boys rehearse their pieces for Electronics’ forthcoming concerts, Neil singing to an empty auditorium over the sparse backing tracks. Johnny Marr and Bernard Summer are skipping this run through. Instead they’re backstage, down below, in the hospitality room where various friends and helpers are eating, playing pool and reading newspapers.
They grab today’s copy of the Daily Mail and laugh at an article about ‘The Manchester scene” which has some ludicrously out-of-date advice about how people dress here. ‘Flares!” sneers Johnny Marr derisively. He goes to make some tea and then he and Bernard settle down at the end of one of the tables for what, they mention midway through, is the first interview they have given as Electronic…
when did you first hear of the idea of Neil and Chris getting involved?
Johnny: About a year ago.
Bernard: Neil got in touch with us through Mark Farrow (Pet Shop Boys designer). I rung him up and he just said “I fancy being on your LP” and I just thought “yeah. Great”. Mark had just said “can you ring Neil up?” and I thought it might be that. Johnny:! particularly wanted to work with Pet Shop Boys because I was a big fan of their music and also it was a bit strange for. Say, Smiths fans, guitar muso types. Which I thought was really brilliant. They thought it was weird.
What would they say?
Johnny: A couple of the guitar dudes have been really nonplused.
Bernard: “Hey Johnny, that’s a bit strange… (laughs) But we got that in New Order when we changed from using guitars to synthesizers, which we really did because I couldn’t play guitar anymore, because! was singing. We didn’t want to get any session musicians, so we started using sequences – a session player without any ego problems, you know. And it was so attractive we ended up… going electric. We had enough problems with the band itself (laughs) without getting any more egos involved.
How long have the two of you known each other?
Johnny: (to Bernard) When was the first time we met?
Bernard: Can’t remember.
Johnny: Was it when you were producing Mike Picking’s group. Quango Quango? Bernard: That’s it.
Johnny: I went to play guitar on the record. It was about 1983. Then Bernard wanted to do a record on his own and asked me to get involved.
Bernard: In fact (to Johnny) we got together through a mutual friend as well, didn’t we? Andrew Berry. (Laughs) The singing hairdresser. (Andrew Bersy is an ex-hairdresser friend of theirs who has just ,released his first single, “Kiss Me, I’m Cold”, with some help from Johnny Marr.
Johnny: Mr Manchester
What did he do to get you together?
Johnny: He just told me that he (pointing at Bernard) was airtight. Really.
Bernard: He just said I should do something with Johnny.! Started off doing it on my own in New Order’s rehearsal room, which is in one of the worst areas in Manchester. It’s got a graveyard at the back of it. I used to work all day Sunday and sleep on the floor Sunday night because I live miles away and then rehearse with New Order on Monday. I just got sick of it because it got really claustrophobic and I felt I needed someone else to write with so I asked Johnny when he came to a concert in San Francisco. Johnny: That’s right. Then we started working at weekends, really really long song writing sessions. We’d finish at about five on Monday morning then Bernard would go off and rehearse with New Order Then Bernard went off to do Technique then I went to do Mind bomb so we’ve been working in hurts.
Have you both always liked the Pet Shop Boys?
Bernard: When we were doing the brotherhoods album in Ireland we used to put on Pet Shop Boys Please every morning for breakfast, so we used to go to work on it really.
People are more surprised with you, Johnny, aren’t they?
Johnny: Yeah, because people think the idea with me is: this can of beer in one hand, guitar toting’ dude hanging out with the Rolling Stones. Which I do sometimes (laughs). But the reason I liked working with Bernard isn’t because of New Order’s acoustic stuff, the stuff they do as a band, but the elector stuff. I’m a really big fan of ‘7Os disco music, always have been: I really love Technique because of it. That’s what me and Bernard met up over- that kind of Italian-melody Europe-disco.
Bernard: Dance music with good melodies, really. Johnny: The only reason people are surprised is because of the dogmatic approach the press had towards The Smiths, that whole antisynthesiser thing, which really got to be a trap in the end. And it was the Eurodisco thing that Bernard and I had in common that led us to both liking the Pet Shop Boys as well.
Which songs particularly?
Johnny: For a long time I thought “Paninaro” was the best. “West End Girls” is my least favorites actually. “Suburbia” is a really good pop tune. Bernard: I like “Love Comes Quickly”. Johnny: “Wake Up” is brilliant. That’s actually my favorite.
Bernard: What’s the slow one off Please? “Later Tonight”. I like that. (To Johnny) What was that one that guy played us on holiday? We were on holiday in the Virgin Islands on a yacht.
Johnny: This guy rowed over to the boat and he was a little mad.
Bernard: He said “I’ve got a tape for you – it’s Augusts Palo”. And I put it on and someone had taped over it with the Pet Shop Boys.
Johnny: Was it “Heart”?
Johnny: It was the twelve inch. Augusts Palo gone Euro. It’s wild. They’re everywhere.
Before you’d met them what did you imagine they’d be like?
Johnny: Exactly like they are. Some people are surprised that Chris is so down to earth and friendly because of his… mysterious persona. But they’re both really easygoing.
Bernard: (laughs) Just like you and me. Johnny: (in daft American accent). Yeah! That’s why we’re such a big happy family! (returning to normal) Actually the first meeting where we got together was, I think, an official Great Moment In Rock. We invited them up to Manchester and got them down to the Hacienda within about five minutes of them getting there, and they experienced the delights of the Manchester scene. A great moment…
How did you start actually working together?
Bernard: We put on the tape at Johnny’s house and just said, basically, “right, who’s going to go first?” We had already decided that what would be good was if we did one song and they did one – the music. We’d done “Getting Away With It” and Neil went (imitates Neil’s voice, not too well) “Ooh, I like that, very nice…” Then Chris started “Patience Of A Saint”.
Johnny: Bernard got a drumbeat going, Chris had a couple of chords, I put a baseline on and in about half an hour we had it. It was easy. We were all just son of singing bits and putting ideas in.
Did you find you worked in sillier ways to them?
Bernard: No. Neil’s very… he’s a tactician. A strategist. And he knows what he’s doing. Whereas I haven’t got a clue and it’s kind of inspired luck, what I do
Johnny: The way Chris works is amazing. He’s really good at making records, throwing in hooks and ideas. He’s got really good ears for sonic little things that happen, on disco records especially. Bernard: I think he dreams the ideas up when he goes to sleep in the studio (laughs).
Does he go to sleep much?
Bernard: All the time.
Johnny: Chris has got a real instinct… Neil is more methodical. Re knows a lot about pop music doesn’t he? Me and him are really into… Bernard: I don’t know anything about pop music… the past. Me and Chris have got a pretty similar record collection, disco records no one’s heard of. For example? “Burn It Up, Mr DJ”, “Take A Chance, Mr Flagglo”. Just Italian disco records.
Are you surprised by how obsessed they are by chart pop music?
Bernard: Not Neil, because he used to be a writer for Smash Hits, didn’t he?
Johnny: I really like it, because I’m well into it, talking about Dusty Springfield records and Sandy Shaw records and all that. Moo (Morrisey is like that. Just the same.
But they’re also always keen to have heard the new George Michael or Kyle Minogue single, aren’t they?
Bernard: Yeah. I find that a bit strange. I can’t get a handle on that.
Johnny: They really love pop music, don’t they? The whole pop music culture. I don’t bother watching Top Of The Pops unless the Happy Mondays are on it or something like that, but Thursdays is the Sabbath for Neil and Chris.
Bernard: For me when I get a break I want it to be a break. I want to dump music.
What do you think they’re like as people?
Bernard: It’s very difficult to answer without sounding like a psychiatrist’s report
How do they differ?
Bernard: Chris’s hair’s shorten Neil eats more.
Johnny: Neil knows a lot about history too, doesn’t he? They’re not like Mutt and Jeff, or Laurel and Hardy – they’re not complete opposites. (Thinks) Neil obviously finds Chris really funny. They’re obviously really good friends. It’s difficult to describe them…
Bernard: Neil’s really your lofty intellectual, isn’t he? That’s what you’re trying to say,
Johnny. (They both laugh.) And Chris is your Blackpool lad about town. That’s what is difficult to say.
Is that true?
Johnny: Neil’s a really good pop star, in the nicest way. He’s one of the few. People I’ve seen pull it off. Bernard: Yeah, but what I think they are is pop fans who’ve got into it to meet their idols (roars with laughter).
How did this concert in Los Angeles come about?
Johnny: Depeche Mode had asked Electronic to do it. I thought, “oh, that’s nice”, not taking it seriously, and then about a week later it was mentioned again. The next thing I know Bernard and Chris and Neil were talking about it like it’s a seines proposition.
You thought it was just a joke?
Johnny: I thought it was completely impossible. It still might be (laughs). Then we released we might do it if we work hard and really kill ourselves, which is what we’ve done.
Bernard: Three months ago we only had two finished songs. We had about 18 ideas…
Johnny: We want the show to be a representation of the way we live, not musicians who want to conquer the world but the son of people who can dance. I’ve got to say – though it sounds pretentious – we are in a unique position if we keep our integrity because there are no rules.
Bernard: Electronic doesn’t even have to always be me and Johnny. We want to get away from the constrictions of being in a group. If Johnny wanted to put out a record with anyone… Gary Numan (laughs) … he could.
Johnny: We’re both of us bored with egos. Bernard: And upsetting other people.. –
Do you mind it when people refer to Electronic -usually rather snidely – as “a supergroup”?
Bernard: It’s quite fair.
Johnny: It’s just the late ‘7Os albatross thing, but it’s actually really creative that good musicians work together It’s not like a ‘6Os supergroup at all.
Bernard: I like it anyway. (Laughs) I think it’s quite valid.
Bernard leaves-he must go to pickup his son James and Johnny Marr chats on some more. He talks about his appearance on two songs on the new Pet Shop Boys LP-“great for me.
I’ll be the anonymous session player as much as I can” – and laughs about Neil’s guitar playing. “I’ve sussed he’s a closet Ritchie Blackmore.. . actually the lines I’ve heard are really good, really melodic:’ He chats for quite a while about his aim: “to rewrite the rules, to make guitar playing cool again. I know why corny guitar playing is corny.” He says he’ll be staying in The, which he uses a his place “to concentrate on being a really whizzo guitar player’s
He reflects on how constrained he felt in The Smiths. By the end he’d turn on the Janice Long show on Radio One “and hear some whinny Scotch girl with four guys in Brian Jones haircuts and leather pants singing about skipping through the flowers. I thought ‘what have we done?”‘ When he used a sequencer-hammering out a Morse code bleep-in one Smiths song, “The Draize Train’; Morrissey refused to write any words. Nevertheless he’s quite defensive of his former partner. Now, that the Morrissey backlash is in full swing fans tell him it was him they always liked. “I think they’re pathetic. They owe Moz a lot more than that.”
At first when he left, he says, he wanted to form “a Manchurian Parliament” but thought people wouldn’t accept it so “kept my head down and did sessions for a while”. He was impressed when he first chatted to Bernard about music that “he likes great rock music. It really surprised me. Things like ‘The Green Manalishi’ and ‘Dragonfly’ by Fleetwood Mac when Peter Green was with them. Good Stooges. Good Velvet Underground. All the dark Stones stuff like ’19th Nervous Breakdown’. Then of course there was the Italian and New York stuff… Freeze… Stank I… Defunct, though they were a bit jazzy… Sharon ……. Princess records. ‘Shame’ by Evilly ‘Champagne’ King-that was the first twelve-inch I ever bought, The Brothers Johnson’s ‘Stomp
It’s quite obvious that he’ll mutter on about old records he loves for years. He says the idea of “Getting Away With It” was to write “Sister Sledge stuff with the Pet Shop Boys as the backing band. I wanted it to be like ‘The Look Of Love’ by ABC, so that DJs would play it in five years time in their jingles. It’s a perfect pop song…
It’s time for the final rehearsal. Even now the Electronic songs – “Big Rouse”, “Try All You Want”. “Sun”, “Get The Message”, “Gangster” and “Donald” – aren’t all completely finished. Some don’t have words at all and those that do, Bernard has yet to memories ,so he sings clutching pieces of paper. Also on stage are an extra keyboard player, Andy Robinson and, at the back, two
percussionists. Kesta Martinez and Donald Johnson (the latter, a member of A Certain Ratio, is the person who does the “Liza with a Z. . :’ rap on “Twist In My Sobriety”).
After four songs, Chris and Neil wander on. Chris stands behind a keyboard and Neil comes alongside Bernard. “Patience Of A Saint” is a rather strange duet-Neil sings the first verse, Bernard the second. During the middle of “Getting Away With It”. Neil and Bernard sit down at the back of the stage and share a joke. The last two songs are without the Pet Shop Boys so as “Getting Away With It” fades away Bernard snaps – smirking just a little – “right! Get off!” And they do.
“A right laugh ~ is how Chris describes the two concerts the following week. “All of Manchester was there’s The Happy Mondays lark about and Chris keeps meeting Simply Red’s Mick Ruckn all in the hotel lift.
On the first night Chris wean a Chevignon raincoat “or flasher’s Mac” (Chris and Johnny Marr “share a passion” for Chevignon). Chevignon baggy white trousers, Timberland boots, a Yohji Yamamoto hat and a pair of Montana sunglasses. Neil shows off his Star Trek outfit”-A Theory Mugler outfit which he also wears in the video for “So Hard” On the second night Chris sports a Nike Air baseball cap, a Gianfranco Fern rubberized Mac, blue Chevignon jeans; Neil a long black coat.
“During the second night Bernard came up to me says Neil, “in the middle of the concert, because he was feeling sick and said ‘This is the worst experience of my life; but everyone said it was better than the first night:’. Beforehand he chatted with Bernard about the lyrics to one of Electronics songs because it worried Neil that it talked about an angel being like a brick wall. “I said ‘how can an angel be like a brick wail?’ He said ‘these things come out of your subconscious and I don’t think you can change them. That’s what! really like about Bernard: he doesn’t get defensive or shiny. He just says. Like it’s fact, like saying ‘it’s raining outside’. That it couldn’t possibly be changed..?’
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From Literally Issue 4