Neil arrived at the date of August 11, 2001.
“Wow,” he exclaimed. “Something astonishing here. A day when I didn’t write in my diary.”
“Very lax,” chided Chris.
“Throughout the making of the new Pet Shop Boys album Neil, as usual, kept a diary.Neil and Chris recently went through the diary with Literally. Neil consulted the diary (without letting Chris or Literally see whatever else he has written there) and described the events relating to the album: Chris intermittently chipped in with a recollection of his own. Midway through this
“I just think I didn’t get round to doing it,” Neil said. “That is the one day of my life in the last 25 years I have no record of what happened. There’s a missing day. How fascinating.”
August 11, 2001, being a Saturday, was however not a day when any significant work was done on the album. Those days – with no such omissions – begin here:
Neil: On March 21 we went to Berlin. This album had a sort of false start because afier we finished the Nigh life tour in February 2000 it was planned that we would put out a Greatest Hits album in the autumn of 2000. There’s that rather annoying thing that you’re meant to suddenly produce a hit single, or preferably two, to go at the end of your Greatest Hits album, and so we set about that process. We’d actually started at the end of the Nightlife sessions. The last track recorded for Nightlife was “Happiness is an option” which was the first track recorded at my studio in the north-east, and we started to write another song the same day called “Somebody else’s business”. We also started, at some point around that period, to write a song called “Positive role model” at Pete Gleadall’s studio in London. We thought that, between “Positive role model” and “Somebody else’s business ,one of them had the potential to be a single. Maybe both of them did. But I can’t for the life of me remember why we decided to work in Berlin.
Chris: I don’t know.
Neil: Maybe we just wanted to go to Berlin. And we have a friend there who runs a dance/techno
record label, and we asked him if he knew anyone it’d be good to work with. Re recommended Chris Zippel who is a programmer/producer. We wanted someone who was a good programmer. We stayed in Mitte, the area in former East Berlin where all the clubs are.
Chris: There’s a record called “Berlin Mitte Boys” which is based on “New York city boy”. It was done by lots of the club bouncers, and it’s sung in German.
Neil: With new words. It’s about clubbing in Berlin and being a bouncer, I think. It’s very silly. Anyway, that evening we went to Chris Zippel’s flat and talked through the tracks.
Neil: We went back to Chris Zippel’s flat in West Berlin, where his studio is, and worked on “Positive role model”.
Chris: The demo we’d done in England started off with a Barry White sample from “You’re My First, My Last, My Everything” which I took off the Barry White Greatest Hits CD. The idea was that it was like punk electro disco. Typically, it worked best as an instrumental. Once we started having to make it into a song it lost something on the way.
Neil: I’d had the idea of the title lying around for ages.
Chris: The demo was just like a Tamperer record.
Neil: In fact the Tamperer was the inspiration for
Chris: It didn’t really have a verse and chorus.
Neil: Chris and I used to like eating bratwurst in Berlin.
Chris: We’ve always liked our German sausages.
March 23 and 24.
Neil: We carried on working on “Positive role model”.
Neil: Astonishingly we worked on a Saturday. We start work on “Somebody else’s business”, a song which was started off from a sample from the Isley Brothers’ “Behind A Painted Smile”, though we ended up taking the sample out.
hasn’t been released yet, “Searching for the face of Jesus”. After dinner we wrote “It’s just my little tribute to Caligula, darling!”. That’s a day of musical contrasts, it has to be said.
Neil: We carried on with “…Caligula…” and then we started the “K-hole” piece of music for the musical. Chris worked on that while I went for run.
Neil: We worked more on “Between two islands” and then we started a track in 7/4 time which has never been finished. It’s just called “7/4” at the moment. We went back to London that evening where, spookily enough, I had dinner with Courtney Love.
Neil: We went back up north – Chris, Pete
Gleadall and me – and carried on working on
“Between two islands”.
Neil: Chris put a rhythm track on “Searching for the face of Jesus” which had started off as an acoustic-y thing.
Neil: We worked on “E-mail” and on another new track, “Time on my hands”, which has never been finished though I think it’s rather good.
Neil: We finished “E-mail” and did a new track, “The samurai in autumn”. Then we watched Top Ten Boy Bands on television.
Neil: We finished “The samurai in autumn”, I did the vocals on “Between two islands” and we went back to London.
Neil: We went back to Berlin on October 15 and the next day we went to Chris Zippel’s studio and made some decisions about “London” and
“Somebody else’s business”, and worked more on “Positive role model”. We’d been playing “Positive role model” live over the summer, and we decided to add a second verse and take out a whole section of the song.
Neil: Worked more on “Positive role model”.
Neil: We left Chris Zippel working on “Positive role model” all day long and then we went in to his studio in the evening. Chris Zippel played us his new version of “London” and we said:
“Right, that’s it – don’t work on it any more”.
Chris: He ignored us, though.
Neil: He carried on working on it. He’s probably still working on it now.
Neil: We listened to a new riff sound on “Somebody else’s business”. The second version of “Positive role model” was finished by Kai and Florian. That’s as far as we ever got with “Positive role model” as a Pet Shop Boys record. It later became the final number in the musical.
Neil: Chris Zippel did a final mix of “London”.
Chris: The first of many final mixes.
Neil: We finished the mix and edit of “Somebody else’s business”, and then flew home the next day. That was the end of the Berlin phase. We used to like going there.
Chris: I’d still like to go back. I could go to that restaurant with the Weiner schnitzel.
October 25 to November 1.
Neil: We went to Cuba on holiday with some friends. The song “Between two islands” had a brass part Chris had put in which had sounded vaguely Cuban or sort of Miami Latin, and we had discussed the idea of recording in Cuba. Mitch, our manager, actually arranged for the musicians of the Buena Vista Social Club to record with us, but we decided just before we
Chris: I always like to keep the sample in.
Neil: We didn’t take it out for any sample-clearance reason – the song just seemed to move away from it.
March 27 and 28.
Neil: We carried on working on “Somebody else’s business
Neil: We reworked the structure of “Positive role model” and I did a vocal for “Somebody else’s business”. We were in Germany for a quite a while.
March 30.Neil: We finished “Somebody else’s business”. Chris Zippel had wanted to write a song with us and we’d discussed this beforehand, and as we were coming to the end of our time in Berlin he was very keen for us to do something. He played us this piece of music he’d written which was quite nice. Chris wasn’t very keen on doing it so [see page 26] he went to the cinema. I made Chris Zippel’s bit of music the verse, and combined it with a bridge and chorus I had already written for a song, “London”. I wasn’t really very keen on doing it either.
Neil: The next day we came into Chris Zippel’s studio and he’d done loads of work on “London” and it was actually quite good.
Chris: I didn’t mind it at all. I just didn’t want to be there in the studio any longer.
Neil: That day “Positive role model” was also mixed by two friends of Chris Zippel’s, Kai and Florian. They mix a lot of German pop records. We went over to their place. The next day we went back to London. We thought we’d finished “Positive role model” and “Somebody else’s business”, and I’d done the vocal for “London” which is more or less the one on the album.
April 10 to 12.
Neil: Chris went into the studio for three days
with Pete Gleadall.
Chris: What was I doing?
Neil: I seem to remember you announced you
wanted to go into the studio with Pete Gleadall without me being there. I think you did the music for “Nine out of ten” for the musical.
April 13 to 14.
Neil: We did the arrangement of
“Homosexuality” for the Washington concert.
Chris: We should record that as a b-side and get
Peter Rauhofer to remix it.
May 1 to 5.
Neil: We worked in New York with Peter Rauhofer and spent four-and-a-half days trying to do a version of this song “Kitsch” by Barry Ryan from the late Sixties.
Chris: But it wasn’t going anywhere. Neil: We finally gave up.
Chris: It was rubbish. It was very, very chord-y.
Neil: It’s not that complicated. It was just the wrong kind of chords. It just didn’t seem to go anywhere.
Chris: It was tim being in New York anyway. Neil: All the time Peter Rauhofer was trying to persuade us to do a version of “Break 4 love” and finally on the last day I gave in.
Chris: You did one of your best vocal performances for a long time on that. I think you should win a Grammy for that.
Neil: After that we had the musical workshop and then we started our summer tour in Tel Aviv. At some point over the summer we decided not to put out a Greatest Hits then. We didn’t feel we’d earned it and we didn’t feel enthusiastic about the whole idea.
Neil: Chris came up to my house in the northeast. The first song we wrote was “Out of my system” for the musical. We’d re-planned the musical and we knew that we had new songs to write.
Neil: We started a new track, which hasn’t been released, called “Between two islands”.
Neil: We started working on another song that
went to Cuba that it was too much like cultural tourism and that we didn’t want to do it. It would have been kind of fascinating if we had done it.
Neil: We went to Pete Gleadall’s studio and wrote the music for a new song called “Motoring” which we don’t like. We started another song, which is really good but we haven’t finished it, called “Only love”. It has a Cuban sample in it.
Neil: We carried working on “Only love” and
Chris did a quick dance track called
Neil: We wrote the basis of a new song called “Can I be the one?”. It’s rubbish, really. Well, not rubbish – it’s like a boy band song. The chorus goes “can I be the one to share your love life?” We were working on the idea: “what would it be like if we were S Club 7?”. Then we did a cover version in an Eighties style of the Billie Trix song “Run Girl Run”.
Neil: We worked more on “Can I be the one?” and “Motoring”.
Neil: The day before, Pete Gleadall, Chris and I drove up to the North. We started driving because there’d been that train crash so we stopped getting the train for quite a while. On this day we finished “Between two islands” and started a new song called “Transparent”. Very electro. There was a whole subplot we considered later that we would do an electro dance album to go with the song-based main album, rather like Relentless with Very, though we decided against it in the end.
Neil: We finished “Transparent” by tea-time then
wrote “Home and dry”
Chris: So the album started at this point.
Neil: I put vocals on “Motoring” and we went out to celebrate my sister’s birthday.
Neil: We spent the day writing and recording a
new song “Love is a catastrophe”. Chris: We were on a real roll, this week, weren’t we?
Neil: This was when the album started coming together. We did most of “Love is a catastrophe” that day. The next day we drove back to London.
Neil: We’d flown to Los Angeles to discuss Wotapalava and we met Camara Korman, who is Dr Dre’s programmer, because we had the idea that the album had a hip hop feel and we wanted to work with a hip hop producer. He’s a very interesting guy.
Chris: Classically trained. Very nice. He seemed a bit puzzled by our demos.
Neil: He said that “Home and dry” had “a very tight chord change”. We thought he wasn’t very enthusiastic but it turned out afterwards we’d read him completely wrongly and he was quite enthusiastic. In the New Year we thought about going to Los Angeles to record. We’d had this plan to record an album in Los Angeles, which I’d still quite like to do.
Neil: We drove to the North-East again the day before, and we wrote a new track called “Limbo”
which is a really good track but it’s only half-finished.
Neil: We wrote a new song called “Sexy
Northerner” and then after dinner we started
work on a new song called “Birthday boy”.
Neil: We continued working on “Birthday boy”.
Neil: I put the vocals on “Birthday boy” and after dinner we finished it.
Chris: Didn’t we get some guitars during this period?
Neil: Just hold your horses. The next day we drove back to London.
Chris: I can’t believe we hadn’t bought the guitars yet.
Neil: The following week we found out that the musical would open in April in the Arts Theatre and then we performed “It doesn’t often snow at Christmas” on TEI Friday. And then it was Christmas.
January 8 to 12,2001.
Neil: I spent the week in Metropolis working on remastering for the reissues, and I think this is when I bumped into Johnny Marr and he said he’d play on the album.
Neil: We went to my house, back on the train again. We played through old DATs of demos and started to work on an old song, “How lucky I am”, turning it into “The night I met Eminem”.
Neil: I put vocals on “The night I met Eminem”.
After dinner we wrote music for a new song, “I
Neil: Chris and I drove to Newcastle and I bought three guitars. We worked more on “I get along”. So my memory is a false memory – I thought we bought the three guitars and I came back and played the start chords of “I get along” but in fact we’d already started it the day before.
Neil: We finished working on “I get along”. So
I’d written all the words by then. Then we started
writing a new song for the musical, “My night”.
Neil: We did more work on “My night” then
Chris and Pete went back to London.
Neil: “The night I met Eminem” became “The
night I fell in love”. I put the vocals on “I get along”.
Neil: We finished working on “I get along”, then we started working on a new song for the musical called “Mid-life crisis”. It’s supposed to be sung by Vic and Flynn. Vic is talking about what a mess he is and about having a mid-life crisis. I wrote loads of words for it – it was like a flinny, sad song. At the time there was a feeling we needed to know who Flynn was and who the father was.
Neil: We finished the music to “Mid-life crisis”.
Nothing happened to it.
Neil: Chris wrote music for lyrics I’d already written: “You choose”.
Neil: We worked on finishing “My night”, fitting the dialogue over the music. We had Jonathan Harvey e-mail us all the dialogue and I said all of the character’s parts. The next day Chris and Pete went back to London, then I went back two days later.
Neil: We went back up to the studio on the train and I did the vocals for “You choose”. After dinner we did the slow version of “Closer to Heaven” for the Daily Telegraph CD.
Neil: We finished the slow version of”Closer to Heaven” then started a new song for the musical called “The night is the time to explore who you are” which we completely finished. It was meant to be sung by Billie Trix. After dinner we started working on a new song for the musical, “Home”.
Neil: I put the vocals on “Home” and then went for a run while Chris worked on the backing track. Later we worked on a reprise version of
Neil: Chris and Pete Gleadall came up to the North, where I already was, and we did extra work on “E-mail”. This is when we were very much aware that we were starting to finish off the songs on the album – we’d decided we had enough songs written.
Neil: We worked on “E-mail” and started new overdubs on “Birthday boy”.
Neil: We finished the overdubs on “Birthday boy” then started working on “I didn’t get where I am today”, adding a sample.from an old Sixties song called “Father’s Name Was Dad” off a psychedelic compilation I had. We discovered it was in the same key, so we started to rework the song with that in it. That day we also did some more work on “Home and dry”.
Neil: I spoke to Johnny Marr about coming up north the following week, and we carried on working on “Home and dry”.
Neil: We carried on working on “Home and dry” and Chris went back to London.
Neil: Johnny Marr arrived, then Chris and Pete
Gleadall arrived from London. Johnny played
guitar on “Home and dry”.
Neil: Johnny played on “Birthday boy” and then after dinner Johnny played on “You choose”.
Neil: Johnny played on “E-mail” and, later on, after dinner, “I get along”. My sister was lying in bed upstairs listening to Johnny Marr playing a guitar solo.
Neil: Johnny played on “Searching for the face
of Jesus”. After lunch he played on “Love is a
catastrophe”. After dinner he played on “I didn’t get where I am today”.
Neil: Johnny left after breakfast. We carried on working on “I didn’t get where I am today” then we all went back to London.
Neil: Chris, Pete and I met and came up north on the train, and worked on the track “Always”.
Neil: I sang the vocals on “Always” and we finished working on it. We then carried on working on “I didn’t get where I am today”, filtering guitars, and Chris added keyboard parts.
Neil: We finished working on “I didn’t get where I am today”. We took out a whole middle section. It made much more sense without it.
After lunch we edited the guitars on “Home and dry”. I doubled the backing vocals on “Birthday boy” and Chris added the string part to it.
Neil: I did a new vocal on “You choose” then scrapped most of it. We went back to London, then we went on holiday to Nice.
Neil: We’re now in finishing-the-album mode.
We went to Sony studios in London with Pete Gleadall. We did some more work on “E-mail” and decided to put strings on it, and phoned up Richard Niles to ask him to hear it. Johnny Marr had recommended a percussionist called Jodie Linscott who came in and she played on “Email”, “Birthday boy”, “I get along” and “Home and dry”.
Neil: Jodie played percussion on “The night I fell in love”. I went outside and spoke to Kevin Wallace on the mobile about Closer to Heaven and came back into the studio to discover
“Something special” – on our demo for the musical “Something special” goes into “Home”.
Neil: We did a seven-inch version of “My night” and a new version of “For all of us” with revised lyrics then went back to London on the train. The next day we went to Moscow to see Marilyn Manson.
Chris: That’s a weird one, isn’t it?
Neil: We get around. The following week, on February 28, I had dinner with a friend and Wolfgang Tulmans, which is when I first met Wolfgang Tillmans. The next day he came to my house to photograph me for a French magazine Purple.
Neil: Pete Gleadall and I went up to the studio and I did backing vocals on “Home”.
Neil: Chris arrived from London. I had to do another set of lyrics for “For all of us”, as requested by the director, and Chris worked flirther on the ballad version of “Closer to Heaven”. After dinner we worked on a new song, which unusually I can’t remember, called “Tomorrow”. I have no recollection of that whatsoever. Oh! I know what it is! It’s “Always”.
Neil: I did backing vocals on the ballad version of “Closer to Heaven” and after lunch did the lead vocals. Then I went for a run while Chris worked on the cut-up version.
Chris: There was that track on Daft Punk’s album that sounded like they’d cut up “I’m Not In Love” by lOcc – I don’t know if they had or not
– and I thought, “Oh, that’s what I’ll do to ‘Closer to Heaven”‘, so I just randomly cut it up and reassembled it into something else. So that’s how that came about. It’s quite good, cutting up chords.
Neil: It’s an interesting idea.
Chris: You get some really good chord changes. It’s a bit like David Bowie and William Burrough’s cut-ups.
Neil: Chris worked on a new version of “Shameless” for the musical.
Neil: We carried on working on the new version of “Shameless” and worked on “Tomorrow”, then we started a new track called “Diddly squat”. “Diddly squat” turns into a new song called “All or nothing” which has now been recorded by a young Japanese singer called Miu. We were on a whole new thing here – we’d lost interest in the guitar thing and had started doing very electronic stuff. After dinner Chris played this outrageous keyboard solo on the demo of “Diddly squat” because he was showing off in front of Janet Street-Porter. The next day we went back to London.
April 4 and 5.
Neil: We went into Sarm and Goetz mixed “Friendly fire” and the long slow version of “Closer to Heaven” for the Telegraph CD.
Neil: We started recording the musical album -on the first day Paul Keating put vocals on “Positive role model”. We were now concentrating on the musical. The first preview was on May 15; it opened on May31. For all of June the musical album was being recorded and mixed at RAK studios with Stephen Hague and Bob Kraushaar.
July 3 and 4.
Neil: We went to Pete Gleadall’s studio to work
on the 1971 version of Biflie Trix’s “Run Girl
July 23 to 24.
Neil: We went to RAK studios and worked with a different programmer, Chuck, on a new song “I didn’t get where I am today”, a sort of Sixties-ish sounding song that was sort of inspired by seeing The Strokes at Heaven. I thought of some of it actually while I was watching them. On the second day we gave up because we didn’t think it was working very well.
Gleadal] – he’d played with George Michael before.
Neil: We worked on “Home and dry”, taking stuff off the master to make it simpler, interestingly. Steve Walters came back in and played on “I get along”, “I didn’t get where I am today” and “The night I fell in love”.
Neil: We worked on “The night I fell in love”. I changed the words right at the end of the song
Neil: I re-sang the middle section of “London”, changing one word of the lyrics. I changed the word “died” to “fought”.
Neil: This is the final week at Sony studios. We made small changes to “I get along”, “Love is a catastrophe” and “Birthday boy”
Neil: Johnny Marr came in all day, corrected the guitar arpeggio part on “Love is a catastrophe” and played on “Between two islands”.
Neil: We worked on “Between two islands” and edited in a new instrumental section.
Neil: Chris’s birthday. We did a quick mix of “The samurai in autumn” and “You choose”. I changed one line in the vocal of “I didn’t get where I am today”. Recording of the album finished. The studio bought in a birthday cake.
October 15 to November 3.
Neil: We started mixing the album at Olympic studios with Michael Brauer. We’d go in every day while he gradually mixed them. He was going to do it in New York but because of September 11 and then the anthrax thing, we persuaded him to come here.
Neil: We did a recall of “Home and dry” because we were never pleased with the mix of “Home and dry” so we listened to the demo and worked out what was wrong with it. We did the running order of the album – originally 11 tracks – then Miles from Parlophone came in and we played him the completed album, which was very exciting. At that point we considered the album to be finished. Four songs we’d finished were left off: “Between two islands”, “Searching for the face of Jesus”, “Always” and a piano version of “London”. “Home” was now called “Here” because at this stage we were thinking of calling the album Home. And then we decided we preferred the title “Here” for the song anyway.
Neil: At Sony studios we had a playback of the
album with various people, including Wolfgang
Neil: Chris and I went to Parlophone to discuss the album with Miles Leonard, and he, Keith Wozencroft, who runs the label, and Tony Wadsworth who’s the chairman of EMI, all thought that “I didn’t get where I am today” didn’t fit on the album. We’d been listening to it over the weekend and sort of thought it belonged to a different album as well. And also we liked the idea of having ten tracks, so we took it off. And that, quite frankly, was that. We felt a real sense of achievement with this album.
Chris: We had a feeling of accomplishment. Satisfaction.
everyone watching CNN: two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York and another one into the Pentagon. We stopped recording and watched TV as the events unfolded. I walked home. There was a breast cancer benefit show of Closer to Heaven at the Arts Theatre which we didn’t go to, and the party afterwards was cancelled. I went over to Chris’s flat for dinner and to watch TV with friends.
Neil: We decided to carry on. Jodie came in and played percussion on “I didn’t get where I am today”, “Love is a catastrophe”, “You choose”, “Searching for the face of Jesus”, “Always” and “Home”.
Neil: Richard Niles came in to discuss the string arrangement of “E-mail”, we finished “I get along”, I sang some harmonies on it and that was the last overdub on that.
Neil: Kevin Wallace told us that Closer to Heaven would close on October 13.1 sang the vocals on “I didn’t get where I am today”. I was always changing the lyrics on that. It took ages to write.
Neil: Back at Sony studios I did more vocals on “I didn’t get where I am today”.
Neil: Finished work on “I didn’t get where I am today”.
Neil: We worked on “The night I fell in love”. Mitch came down with Miles Leonard who was the A&R at Parlophone and who during the course of all of this had been listening to the songs and had actually advised us to produce it ourselves, which we’d decided to do. He had also recommended Michael Brauer to mix it because he’d done Coldplay’s album and some stuff with Neil Finn.
Neil: I put harmonies on “Searching for the face of Jesus”, and we finished work on it. We also worked on “Home” and took off some of the backing vocals then we worked on “The samurai in autumn” and made it shorter. We edited it right down.
Neil: Johnny Marr came to Sony studios and corrected the guitar part on “Love is a catastrophe” and replayed the guitar on “You choose” because I think the tuning was slightly out. In the evening Richard Niles conducted the string session for “E-mail” which, interestingly, was attended by Uri Geller who is a friend of Richard Niles. On my mantelpiece at home I have a teaspoon bent by Un Geller and signed by him. He was very pleasant.
Chris: He claimed he could only bend one spoon
– it’s too draining.
Neil: It was interesting watching him bend the spoon. He goes like that [mimes stroking] and the spoon bends.
Chris: It keeps on bending once he’s let go of it.
Neil: Weirdly, when you see it happening, you can sort of weirdly understand why it happens. And when he says if you put it down on metal it bends much more, there’s some weird thing that you can vaguely understand. It’s very interesting. I didn’t think he was a con man in the slightest.
Neil: We worked on “E-mail” and “Between two islands”.
Neil: Jodie came in and played congas on “Between two islands”. A bass player called Steve Walters came in and played bass on “Birthday boy” and “Home and dry”. I think we didn’t keep him on “Home and dry” in the end.
We’d never used a bass player before but we thought it’d be quite interesting to see what he did on the more guitar-based tracks. Sometimes we just used bits of what he played, like on “I didn’t get where I am today” we used those bass swoops. He was recommended to us by Pete
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Taken From Literally 2001 Issue 25