Literally 9 Page 1

Interviews With Neil Tennant
Interview With Neil Tennant

In the last issue of literally Chris Lowe was interviewed at length. ‘Last issue it is Neil Tennant’s turn. The following conversation with Chris Heath took place at Swarm West studios on the morning of October 15th.

What sort of mood are you in?
Oh, a pretty good mood. We’re just listening to the seven-inch mix of “Go West”, which we’ve recorded for some reason, and I think it sounds really good. And outside it’s actually quite a nice morning the sun is shining, the sky’s blue. Before I came here I had breakfast and listened to Madonna’s new album. I think it sounds quite good. There’s one track, with Spanish guitar on, where I think she sounds like Kylie Minogue. To be honest, although I would regard myself as a fan of Madonna,  I have never liked a Madonna album. Apart from the first one, before she was famous.

Do you like being famous?

Urn… yeah. When you go on holiday you get away from everything and When I was in Spain on holiday I sort of forgot that I was me, do you know what I mean? And we went to this town called Ronda, a famous old town, very nice, and we were sitting in a cafe and these kids recognized me and then more of them came, and I had my Polaroid camera and I got one of them to take a Polaroid of me and them, together and all the rest of it.

They were really nice. And by the end there was quite a large crowd and When we left everyone applauded and I thought then “it’s sort of quite nice being famous sometimes”. When people sort of like you or what ever. I like it When people like you. And, actually, we don’t seem to get a huge downside of that. There was a period When it started to get on my nerves. That was, as I’ve mentioned before, When people started stealing my rubbish. It really upset me, that, for some reason. I found it spooky. But we seemed to have passed that. And as everybody always says, you can get into restaurants. Another weird thing about us and fame is that we seemed to get more famous after we were at our
most successful. That’s something I can never quite understand, but it doesn’t bother me.

Do you think you’re better friends with Chris now than before the Pet Shop Boys became successful?
I think before we were famous we were only friends, so therefore we were probably better friends, because our relationship was: we were friends. Now we’re these sort of battle-scarred veterans who have been through a lot together and so our relationship is different. And also we don’t socialize as much as we used to. Which is not to say we don’t socialize together  – we do – but we have different friends. We always have had. I don’t see Chris at the weekends as a rule. And I don’t go clubbing as much – I used to go clubbing with Chris quite a lot. Although if we’re on a promotional tour or something like that I will still go clubbing with Chris. But you can’t live in each other’s pockets all the time. I feel very comfortable with our relationship at the moment. It just seems totally unforced and quite relaxed really. Particularly because we’re not on tour or anything like that. We’re writing songs, and we really have film doing that. I’ve always liked being with Chris, When he’s in a good mood, because he’s really good fun. And also there’s something about Chris that just completely fascinates me. I think it’s probably true to say that I’m more fascinated by Chris than Chris is fascinated by me, but that’s always been the case.

Why is that?

I think I’m more predictable than Chris is, whereas Chris is completely unpredictable, and I think that’s what’s fascinating about him. That’s how it’s also been: Chris is the unpredictable one, which I found invigorating, and l think Chris relies on me to a certain extent, in a way which I can’t rely on him, because to a certain extent he’s unreliable. Those are the sort of parameters of our relationship.

Do you think you’d be friends if you weren’t in a group together?

Well, we were friends When we weren’t in a group together. If we got dropped by EMI or something, we’d still be friends.

Do you really sit round reading history books, sipping fine wine and listening to classical music?

Yes, I do. That’s not all I do, of course. But I like reading books. I like classical music. I don’t just listen to classical music although I don’t sit at home generally and listen to techno. It doesn’t really excite me, whereas at one time I used to listen to dance records at home all the time. I went to a club last weekend – chemistry at Heaven – and I was just thinking how crap the music sounded to me. With rave culture there’s a big thing happened around drugs really – a form of music has been created, the vast majority of which can only be enjoyed if you are on ecstasy or have taken a lot of ecstasy in the past and therefore can imagine what it’s like to listen to the record on ecstasy. If you haven’t taken ecstasy a lot you can’t really appreciate it. When I used to go to clubs, it was the music – a Shannon record or something -that made you really excited; now a days there seems to have to be a combination of that and the drug. The music sounds great through the prism of the drug experience – it otherwise doesn’t make very much sense, and that’s a shame.

Do you ever think you’re too old to be a pop star?

No, actually, I don’t. Mainly because, as I’ve said before there’s always going to be people older than us. I mean Right Said Fred are all older than Chris Lowe, for instance. I don’t think age really comes into it. I think you just have to be comfortable with what you do. There is a thing with Chris and I: we don’t want to make “mature” music. When Behavior was approvingly commented on as being “mature” we weren’t very happy about that, because “mature” implies a having given in sort of thing. The next album will be much less “mature”, and more sort of “fun”. Even though, actually, I really like Behavior I’ve always written songs from my own age point of view and I’m still doing that. I think that’s one of our appeals. There’s a song I’ve written for this new album called “Young Offender” in which I’m comparing myself to someone younger.

Do you want to make a solo album?

No. We do always have this joke that I’m going to make an album called Neil Sings Noel but I think it’s most unlikely. I don’t think I should put my energy into a solo album. It would be very self-indulgent, and I think it would be rather confusing. And also I don’t know who I’d make it with. If I made a solo album I’d probably try and rope Chris into it, and then it wouldn’t be a solo album.

How would you feel if Chris made one?

Well, I think it would be quite good if Chris did a solo album in a way. I’ve always thought there is a disproportionate focus on me because When you’re the singer you always get more attention, so I think it would be good. I would quite like to see Chris at number one in the charts by Himself. It would be good for the Pet Shop Boys, I think.

Do you think it annoys Chris When you sing songs for Electronic?

I think Chris has remixed feelings about it, but I don’t know, because of course he would never Say anything about it. I mean, I did the records with Electronic because I like doing them with Johnny and Bernard, and so does Chris When he’s worked with them, but Chris can’t be bothered to spend a lot of time in the studio When he doesn’t have to. I’m quite happy to do that.

Does it worry you that you singing “Disappointed” with a different group might be confusing for the public?

Yes, in retrospect it does, but actually I really like the record. I don’t know how confusing it is. Someone told me they thought the Pet Shop Boys had broken up because I’d made that record. Maybe there’s something in it. But it’s totally rectifiable When our next record comes out. And I always think one of the strengths with the Pet Shop Boys is the cast of characters. It isn’t just the two of us: you buy into Derek Jarman, you buy into Electronic… that’s one of the things I, personally, like about us.

Does Chris really annoy you?

No.1 mean, the occasions When he does annoy me are When (laughs) he’s being annoying. When we used to have to do thousands of interviews and stuff, sometimes I used to think Chris made it more hard work than it was, but that was quite a long time ago. And sometimes I have thought – I don’t think this now – that I just get taken for granted. It’s assumed I’ll turn up, it’s assumed I’ll check that all the artwork is fine, and sometimes if Chris cares to get involved he’ll suddenly come up with a whole list of complaints, whereas When it was happening he had no interest in it. I find that Irritating but that doesn’t really seem to happen so much at the moment. Our organization has a mechanism now so that everyone knows everything.

What do you think you do that annoys him most?

I don’t know, actually. I don’t want to give the impression that Chris and I have a relationship which is totally based upon each other being annoyed by the other one. Maybe it’s that I sort of bulldoze through things. I don’t know, because of course he would never tell me.

Do you think you are too bossy?

No, I don’t think I am. I think I’m assertive, rather than bossy, and I think it’s a good thing. And as Chris Is himself would admit, he relies on it. But Chris is always the secret weapon in the Pet Shop Boys, because people always talk to me about things, but if Chris phones you up about something, you know there’s a problem. And I shamelessly use Chris – I will say, “I’m annoyed about this, but Chris Lowe is absolutely furious”. And people are sort of frightened of Chris. They think he’ll go off his trolley or something. So actually it’s the classic hard-and-soft police approach.

Do you think of songs all the time?

Yes, I do, really. There’s part of my Iran that is always thinking of ideas for songs. And I do sometimes make up songs in my head. We’ve just been doing a song called “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind Of Thing” and it was because I just started singing it in my head in a taxi to an airport to go to Edinburgh. I forgot about it, but it just didn’t go away, this stupid song in my head. I don’t even know if I like it, but I wanted to demo it to get out of my head.

Do you keep a pad beside the bed?

I write them down in my Filofax. Actually I write songs in my sleep all the time, but they’re normally crap. It’s routine for me to wake up in the morning with some funny song in my head but it’s normally absolutely glassily. They all sound like Michael Bolton songs.

Do you ever wish that you were still a journalist?

No, I don’t I occasionally get asked to write pieces, but I find it very hard work to sit down at a typewrite So, for instance, When I wrote a piece for Details recently – the one reprinted in Select – it was done as an interview with you, and then we worked on the transcript together. I’ve always said that I enjoy music because it’s a collaboration – I’ve never liked having to sit alone in a room to work

Why don’t you drive?

Well, for years I’ve lived reasonably near the center of London and there doesn’t seem any need to drive, because you’ve got to have a car parked outside your house, you’ve got to get MOT and they always break down. Chris’s car seems to spend tons of time in the garage. Even yesterday the left indicator light wasn’t working so he had to take it to the garage. And I just couldn’t be bothered with all of that, so I take taxis, and occasionally I get on the tube.

You still get the tube now?

Yes. Usually I get a taxi, and I walk a lot, but I got the tube last week. It’s often quicker, getting the tube.
You have your well-known moral objections to cars, but if you lived somewhere less convenient would

you drive? If I lived in the countryside?

Well, that’s probably why I wouldn’t live in the countryside. I sort of think I would crash a car, but I would probably get one. My moral objection is only that I think there’s too many cars, and I think people think there’s no alternative to cars and it’s one of the great problems with our society is that under Mrs Thatcher it stopped being a shared experience. All the great institutions of society built up from the Victorian era onwards, like public transport, are being needed now, because people just want to have everything at home, and they want to drive until capsules to someone else’s home, and they don’t want to share things anymore, and I think that’s a big mistake.

Did you ever start learning to drive at all?

Yeah. My father once gave me a driving lesson in this park near us. And I did a three-point turn.

Why did you get your hair cut so short?

People get most annoyed that I don’t have lustrous curly hair anymore, but the reason I got my hair cut short is that my hair is getting quite thin and you can’t really have lustrous curly hair at the front and not at the back, which is the way it is. So it’s better to keep it short, and I quite like the way it looks. In photographs it always looked great When it was curly and all the rest of it, but I’m afraid nature had other plans.

When did you last Cry?

The last time I cried really was at a funeral. It was rather embarrassing, actually. I had to read this bit of The Bible, and I couldn’t stop crying When I started to read it. It was just upsetting, and also the bit of The Bible was very beautiful, and I just started to cry, and carried on until I regained my composure. I cried quite a lot that day. That was the fireman described in “Your Funny Uncle”.

You don’t cry very often?

No, I don’t. There you are. I’m obviously hard as nails. Actually, I think that crying is an important experience that shouldn’t really be devalued by doing it too frequently, because actually it’s the ultimate emotional release. If you cried every day at the drop of a hat, then in the situation I was talking about you’d have nowhere to go, at it were. I sometimes feel slightly tearful watching a film or whatever, but I won’t be in floods of tears.

When do you feel happiest?

I have various kinds of happiness. When I’m with people I like. When I’m with friends, having a good time. Sometimes When I’m in the countryside, being somewhere beautiful on a nice day – I think as you get older you enjoy beauty more, if that doesn’t sound too Nick Rhodes to be true. When we’re writing a song and it’s going really well. After sex. Sometimes I feel happy When I’m by myself, sitting at home, reading a book or something, in the morning, and it’s a nice day outside, and it’s just peaceful and I’m not being bothered by anyone. Of course, half-an-hour later I’ll be bored to death.

Can you imagine the Pet Shop Boys ever splitting up?

No, not really. It’s not the sort of thing we would do really. I can imagine us having a row and saying “right! that’s it then!” but we’d change our minds. I can’t really see an alternative, and I don’t want to rind one.

So you think the Pet Shop Boys might go on more or less forever?
Yeah. I’m afraid so.

Copyright Areagraphy Ltd 1992: All Articles have been
Taken From Literally 1992 Issue 9