|Interviews With Chris Low|
|Interview With Chris Low|
In this and the next issue of Literally the Pet Shop Boys are interviewed separately at length by Chris Heath. The following conversation took place at the Groucho club in central London on the evening of March 18th.
What sort of mood are you in? Quite a good mood. We just had a meeting with Polydor about Spaghetti and the bloke who’s in charge, Jimmy Devlin, used to be in a group Bilbo Bagginess and was kind of involved in that whole early Bay City Rollers thing. He’s very amusing. Before then in the day I’ve been doing jury service but I don’t suppose I can mention that. I had a glass of wine at Polydor which cheered me up no end. Then I took a taxi ride across London to Soho; I always like traveling in a taxi. Particularly at dusk. It’s a very exciting time: everyone ‘5 going home from work or coming into the West End. I got dropped off at Piccadilly Circus, which is one of my favorite spots in the world. It’s so vibrant. I find that very uplifting, and now I’m having a glass of champagne which tops it up a bit, and I’m raring to go.
Do you really hate being famous? Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don’t.
You can’t deny that it has certain advantages, like being able to get into clubs easier. It’s quite good in many ways. Sometimes it’s a bit restricting in that you think all eyes are on you. Sometimes you have a certain paranoia if you’re walking down a busy street or you’re just going into McDonnell’s, you have a paranoia that everyone’s thinking “oh, it’s him! I bet he thinks he’s really good . ..” But on the whole I can’t really complain. There’s a bah of money that goes with it. I wouldn’t really wing. I’m not half as bad as I used to be about fame. I used to really really hate it, and scowl a lot because I was very unhappy and ill at ease about the whole thing. Now I just accept it and look on the bright side.
Why did you hate it so much before?
It felt very unnatural. For someone who has always wanted to be part of the crowd – “one of
the crowd”, right? – it was very strange to suddenly not be that. I’ve always liked to just mingle and be ordinary and not stand out. I’m not an exhibitionist at all and so to suddenly be that made me very uneasy. But it’s not a very big problem for me because really not very many people notice me. I don’t think I could stand it if I was George Michael.
What kind of public reactions annoy you the most?
Well, today, for instance I was walking past a group of school girls in uniforms and of them recognized me and shouted out “Pet Shop Boys?’ as if this was something dead clever, the fact that one of them has recognized me. That’s what annoys me most: if someone shouts out, thinking that it’s really clever to have spotted someone.
Do you think you’re better friends with Neil now than when “West End Girls” came out, or not?
Probably not, in many ways. During the initial success, and before it, we spent a lot of time together and we used to go out a lot more: go to clubs a lot more and restaurants a lot more. And right through to the end of Actually we spent nearly all out time together because we were on a lot of promotional trips. From when “West End Girls” was a hit until the end of Actually we were together all the time. Out of necessity really. Because of that, I think then you have to force yourself to spend time apart. It’s like being married to someone, and you find that neither of you has your own life. You’re just leading a complete Pet Shop Boys life, and you forget you’re Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant.
And we do have different interests. Neil’s gone off the club scene a bit over the years. He’s not really into raving at all. He’s not into staying up all night and then finding out where the next party Is’. Neil’s become a lot more interested in classical music, going to art galleries and reading. I’ve never been a great book reader, I always find an galleries a bit boring… I mean, I’d rather buy the postcards of the works of art in a bookshop rather than actually see them, because often I think they look better as postcards.
Do you think you’d be friends if you weren’t in a group together?
Yeah, well we were friends before we had a group together. We’ve always had a great passion for pop music which is how we became friends. The first time we met we instantly started talking about pop music and what kind of music we liked, and right through until now we’ve been interested in what’s going on, what chart positions Annie Lennox has entered the charts with. That is the sort of thing that keeps us together. If we weren’t in a group we’d still be friends, definitely.
Do you really go out raving all the time?
Well, it’s very difficult to go out raving as much as you’d like to, because it becomes very tiring. If I go out Friday and Saturday then that’s me
finished for the week. Because of all the energy expended. I look at Time Out’s clubbing guide every week and I can see all these clubs going on every night and I think I’d like to go to every single one of those clubs every night, because I feel I’m missing out on something, but it’s very difficult. One thing I’d like to do which I’ve never done is go on a weekend to somewhere like Camber Sands, and experience 48 hours of hard-core. With a chalet
Does it annoy you when Neil listens to lots of classical music?
No, because I’m not normally in the room when he’s listening to it. But everything I’m interested in is of now, and so even though classical music has got a lot to offer – I think of classical music as “what great bits to sample” -I find a lot of it really tweed.
A lot of the orchestration is very clever, but I think the tunes are often not very good. When I did go to classical concerts I was always interested in Schoenberg and that kind of stuff. I think music has advanced considerably since the days of a lot of classical music. But Neil is totally into history as well, so when Neil listens to classical music he doesn’t just listen to the music, but he reads about what was happening in that particular era of history. It’s pot just the music. And so our taste fits totally with how we see things. I’m not really interested in history. I’m just interested with what’s happening at the moment.
Do you think Neil’s interest in classical music ever has a detrimental effect on the Pet Shop Boys records?
No, I think it’s good to bring lots of different elements into a piece of music. If people see the changes in Behavior as a classical thing going on, I don’t think they’re right. As your song-writing develops, you start experimenting with more complicated chords. One of the great things about pop music is that when you get a new artist is that simple chord changes are very exciting for them, so you get this great enthusiasm and energy and great song-writing over chords that we might think “oh, we’ve already done those chords” and have moved onto different types of chords. It’s a natural song-writing progression. It’s actually something we want to fight against, because I think a lot of the best songs are written over simple chord changes.
I come back to Bobby O on this one. He wrote so many fantastic songs over the same chord changes, and that’s something that’s very easily overlooked or been underrated: the ability to write a great song over chords that have been around for donkey’s years. But then again, you can’t sit down and decide what type of record you are going to write, because even when you do that -like on Behavior when we were going to make a real techno album – if what’s coming out of you isn’t techno there’s nothing you can do about it.
Do you wish the Pet Shop Boys just made demented dance records?
I really like demented dance records, but demented dance records don’t normally have a song, they don’t have a lyric apart from “oh yeah” so they’re not really what the Pet Shop Boys are all about. The Pet Shop Boys have always been about writing songs. That’s what we’ve always tried to do: write a song and put it into a current contemporary dance context. Demented dance music doesn’t really have any of that, it’s just demented dance music, so it doesn’t really fit into the Pet Shop Boys manifesto. It can exist, but on our B-sides and twelve-inch dance records.
Do you care what Neil’s lyrics say?
Well, yeah. I very rarely comment on Neil’s lyrics because I’m not a lyricist or anything and he’s got his own thing to say. Sometimes I’ll say “what’s that all about?”, but… I think Neil probably thinks this sometimes about something like “My October Symphony”, he’s going on about the Russian Revolution or
whatever and it becomes so personalized to him that it doesn’t necessarily communicate anything to the listener at all. I think I probably prefer Neil’s lyrics when they’re more direct and concerned with love or more everyday issues, rather than some historic perspective on things. On Please a lot of the lyrics you can relate to them on a much simpler level. Like “I want a lover Tonight”.
You can see where he’s coming from there. I prefer that. And I always like sexier lyrics. But while I might make a general comment about things like that, it’s up to Neil. If I want to express something then I should write some lyrics. But I’m not going because they’d be crap (laughs).
With of his lyrics do you like best?
I like the lyrics to “Violence”. I think the lyrics to “Being Boring” are really good. What’s the word? “Elegiac”. I think the lyrics to “West End Girls” are really good. Actually, generally I think Neil’s lyrics are fantastic. The great thing about them is they’re not just cliché after cliché. Everyone of Neil’s lyrics has a meaning:
they’re saying something new or saying something old in a new way. And I think he’s unique in that respect.
Are you annoyed when Neil does things with Electronic without you?
Not really. I’ve enjoyed the whole Electronic thing, not so much for the music but because I really like being friends with Bernard and Johnny and that whole Manchester posse. The actual records are secondary to the friendship.
Do you ever feel he shouldn’t do things without you?
No, I don’t think that at all. I mean, I might want to do things without him, though I probably wouldn’t because I’m too lazy. But I don’t find working with more than one person easy. I’m not a team person. If there’s a team thing going on I’ll not be involved or be very much at the back. I’ve always liked solo sports. At school I never liked it when we had projects to do as pan of a team. I don’t work well in that kind of situation.
Will you ever make a solo LP?
I wouldn’t mind doing a solo LP. I quite like the idea, but the trouble is, firstly when people do solo LPs they’re normally crap, so I would have this thing in the back of my mind that it was probably crap. And I wouldn’t want
people to think there was a rift in the group and all that business. And it can kind of upset the chemistry, all these things going. I might do one for myself actually, and not release it. Sometimes I play stuff to Neil on the Fairlight that he doesn’t like, and the stuff he doesn’t like’ I might develop. It would be stuff that was rejected for the Pet Shop Boys but which I still felt was quite good.
How would you feel if Neil did a solo LP?
Well, Neil’s always talking about doing his Noel Coward LP. It wouldn’t bother me at all, really. Of course, both of us would find it very annoying if the other person’s solo LP did well (laughs). There’s no doubt about that.
Do you think of songs all the time?
No. I don’t think in terms of songs anyway. I never have done. I don’t think in terms of song structure or even themes, I just think in terms of interlocking music ideas. Neil tends to think very conventionally in terms of song. I’ve a much looser form to everything.
Do you think of musical ideas when you have to write something?
I don’t like to think musically unless I’ve got some writing of recording or programming it, because to their wise it’s lost for-good. I lose things all the time. I don’t like to sit down at a piano unless I’ve got my Fairlight ready to go, because III have an idea I’ll play it and think that’s really good”;, then the phone will ring and that’s it, it’s all over. And I also like to have big gaps between doing anything. I’m not one of these people who likes to slog away. Neil’s great at that, but I’m not. With me it just comes out, or it doesn’t come out. ‘That’s why I like big-gaps where I don’t do anything, because it’s the music is swelling up inside me and just waiting to ooze out.
Is Neil too bossy?
He’s not so much bossy as decisive. Initially.
There’s a decisiveness to begin with – “we’ll do this” – and because he’s so decisive there’s not the time to communicate to anybody the thought process in his head, and that can come across as being bossy. Actually having said that, he is quite bossy, but not in a bad way. That’s Neil when he’s just on autopilot.
Does it annoy you?
Sometimes it can be mildly irritating but I’ve really chilled out recently. You don’t get tantrums from Chris Lowe anymore. I’m a tantrum-free zone. Nothing really bothers me. And when Neil’s bossy I don’t think he’s aware of it. If you told him I think he’d look at you as if to say “what are you talking about?”
What do you think you do that annoys him most?
Presumably you’ll ask Neil this in the next issue. I can be argumentative just for the sake of being argumentative. There must be loads of things, but I think he’d agree that I’m a lot less difficult than I used to be.
Why have you got a Porsche?
I was going to get a new car and I spent ages looking through the car magazines for which car – sorry, what car – I wanted. And there was only one I wanted: a black Porsche. And I really had serious doubts about getting it, not because of the car which I really love -everything about it – but what it symbolized. We were at the height of the yuppie era and it was a real statement of success and yuppie dom, and it was the kind of car that attracted attention. And the last thing I like is being spotted. And also, you’re driving round in a car that, at the time, was the price of quite a nice house in Blackpool, and it gave me the feeling I shouldn’t have one. But I’ve always loved the styling and the detailing of the Porsche. I just thought, this is the best car. And I absolutely love my car. It’s fantastic.
Do you really go and watch Arsenal play football?
I did last season. This season I’ve not been very often, despite being a season ticket holder. I like going because I like the people I go with. They’re all really funny. There’s a lot of humor at football matches. I like being out in the open, I love the atmosphere and I like hearing which records they play over the tannoy – that’s such a good indication of which records are actually happening. And I like the aggression. I remember once being outside Arsenal’s ground and these Cockney reds -London Manchester United fans – hit me and Denton, and the police charged in on horseback. I even kind of enjoy that underlying violence. No-one admits they like that, but there’s something about it I find electric. What I really don’t like is going to goalie’s draws. It’s a waste of time. I like that moment when you jump up. I like goals.
Why did you get your hair cut so short?
On the tour? It’s actually a bit longer now. First reason: the fans and my mum don’t like it. It’s nice to annoy people who’ve got your best interests at heart. I have got a difficult side to my nature and it just rears its ugly head (laughs)… quite often. Also, I think the best haircut in the history of the world is the US Marine haircut. You can’t argue with that haircut: it’s a no-nonsense fantastic haircut. I’ve always had a soft spot for it and at any time I might decide I want it. I love the sharpness and I love the feeling when you rub your hand down the back of you head of just bristle. But to have that haircut you’ve got be really healthy and in the sun. That haircut relies on a lot of spoil, a lot of swimming, a lot of being in the changing rooms. I don’t like long hair on me because when I wash my hair it goes up and out and becomes very full; not long and flowing, just springy. I thought about extensions but someone told me about sitting next to Mick Hucknall on a transatlantic flight and as they were talking one of his extensions dropped off and fell onto his lap.
When did you last cry?
Oh, I’m quite a crier, me. I know it’s pathetic and hardly the macho images that I like to portray to the public. The last time was when we watched a rough cut of this film The Soldier’s Were and there was this bit where I was in floods of tears. The last time I remember crying profusely – it was really embarrassing – was we went to see Gypsy with Liza Minnelli on Broadway. Tyne Daly was in it. It’s this fantastic story about this widow and her children who you know aren’t ever going to have success or happiness, but she’s determined they’re going to get there. We went backstage afterwards to meet the cast and I couldn’t speak, my eyes were completely welled up. Then I completely lost control and there were these tears coming down. Liza came over and just hugged me, which made it worse. I thought “pull yourself together, for God’s sake! what a wimp!”. But everyone should go and see musicals like that. It would turn the heart of the most hardened street mugger into a big softy.
When do you feel happiest?
I feel happiest, for some reason, when I wake up and the sun is shining through the windows and I step outside and the air’s fresh and it’s… to me, that is great. And driving somewhere on a Sunday afternoon with the sun shining. I just feel happy. The weather really affects me. If it’s raining and all overcast I feel depressed. If the sun shines I’m unbelievably happy.
Do you ever think about the Pet Shop Boys splitting up?
Not really, because although I think I’m dead progressive and I apparently like change, really I’m not into change. The idea of splitting up is “oh, what a palaver”. I couldn’t go through the headache of all that. I like things to carry on quite happily as they are. It doesn’t really cross my mind at all. I suppose I’ve considered it at some point only because everybody questions the situation they’re in. Probably during a promotional trip years ago. But all you ever need is a break, and really I’m quite happy, and get happier as the years go on and it gets less stressful.
So you think the Pet Shop Boys ‘night go on more or less forever? I certainly see no reason for it to end.
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Taken From Literally Issue 8