| CHRIS LOWE In 1992
as documented in Literally eighth and ninth issues – the two Pet Shop Boys were each asked a series of questions about their lives, many of them broader and more reflective than those usually asked or answered in these circumstances. Beginning with this issue – Neil will be similarly questioned in the next issue – Literally decided to repeat the process, 15 years on, for the most part asking exactly the same questions as in 1992
|The interview took place in the early evening on February 20,2007, at a table in the near empty restaurant of London’s Groucho Club over beer and Twiglets. Chris couldn’t remember, and did not refer to, his earlier answers; for those who are curious to compare, and to speculate on the ways in which he may have changed and in the ways he may have not changed, the original interview is now posted on the Pet Shop Boys website.What sort of mood are you in?
I’m feeling quite euphoric at the moment. Looking forward to going to Latin America. I always like going there because the audiences are so great, so I feel quite excited about that. I also think it’s because spring has come somewhat early this year i.e. we didn’t have a winter. Neil was saying that blossom’s out in Chelsea. It’s obviously playing havoc with our moods, because I should be feeling miserable now and depressed, and as it is I’m feeling full of hope and joy in the rites of spring. And I’m looking forward to travelling and doing my bit for global warming.Do you really hate being famous?
I don’t like it. As I’ve probably said before, I don’t mind the good things that it brings like being able to get a table in a restaurant. I do like all the up side. For
instance, on Monday I was driving past the Astoria on Charing Cross road and saw Amy Wmehouse’s name, playing that night, and was able to get our office to phone up for a totally sold-out concert and get two tickets to go and see Amy Wmehouse. That’s a part of fame that anyone would appreciate. But I hate recognition and celebrity and the idea that you’re worthy of the paparazzi. I don’t like any of that.What kind of public reactions annoy you the most?
Public reactions? Well, I don’t really get many. An annoying one is when somebody knows who you are and says, “Yeah, I really used to like you in the Eighties:’ Or, “Yeah, I really like that ‘West End boysDo you think you’re better friends with Neil now than before the Pet Shop Boys became successful?
I’m trying to think. I haven’t really got hundreds of friends, so it’s not like the situation will have changed much since then. When I first moved to London I was on my own completely so Neil was probably my first friend in London. So, statistically, back then he would have been my only friend. Since then my circle of friends has grown wider, but we’re still very close friends so it hasn’t really changed much.Do you think you’d be friends if you weren’t in a group together?
Yeah. Well, we were friends before we were the Pet Shop Boys. We’re both interested in pop music, we’re interested in what’s happening, in what’s new, if there’s a new scene, what new clothes there are, so we have the same interests. We also have a similar sense of humour… like going clubbing.., thecinema.., food. You know, all those sort of things.Do you still go out raving all the time? No, not as much. I find it hard to go out for two or three nights on the trot now. And I don’t find clubbing as exciting as I did back in ’87, ’88, ’89, when it was all totally new really. A new thing came along and swept away what was there before it. So, no, I don’t enjoy it as much as I did. But I still do it – maybe you’re still trying to find the next thing that’s going to excite you. And also I don’t like to feel like I’m missing out on something – a scene that might have developed. But I’m not as excited as I was. I was very lucky, I think, because when I first started clubbing it was disco, and then there was new romantics, which I loved, and then New York disco and early hip hop and electro, and then acid house and house and all of that. It was a pretty good run, wasn’t it? It was pretty much one thing after the next, and it was all very exciting. Right the way through to trance which you’re not supposed to say you like but which I kind of liked as well. But when it got a bit progressive and a bit too serious I went off it slightly. And then r’n’b became the dominant dance music of youngsters, and so the sort of dance music I like, its world was inhabited by quite old people and so you didn’t have that level of youthful exuberance that I like in a scene because the kids are into indie rock or r’n’b, and house music is actually the music of their parents. It doesn’t feel young and fresh and exciting in the way that it did.Does it annoy you when Neil listens to lots of classical music?
When we’re up at Neil’s house in the country, and we’re writing, for breakfast Neil always has Radio 3 on. Sometimes it can be nice but sometimes it can be really irritating. Even Neil will sometimes switch it off and say, “That’s enough’ Whereas I’d be watching Matthew Wright and The Wright Stuff if I was at home on my own. So there is a difference there. I would never dream of switching Radio 3 on in the morning. But it sets a tone, and it sort of creates the Neil world. And it doesn’t really annoy me – in fact it’s quite interesting to move into someone else’s world.Do you wish the Pet Shop Boys just made demented dance records?
No, I like the fact that our music’s quite diverse. I like things like “Casanova in Hell” – I love songs like that by us, the sort of quirky ones with weird brass arrangements. But I also do like uplifting dance music, and I think we still do that as well. But I think the
diversity of what we do is what appeals to me about our music.Do you care what Neil’s lyrics say?
I like to relate to them in some way. On Fundamental we wrote a list of what it was going to be about before we even started, and that was quite good. But I think that music’s best when you can connect to it in some way and it means something, even if it’s not about you. I think that’s how we all relate to music. And I think Neil’s best lyrics are the ones that have universal appeal.Which do you like best?
What? Of all of them? One song that I really love the lyrics to is “Before”. Which I can relate to. Neil knows the sort of lyrics that I’m going to respond to, so sometimes he just puts them in deliberately and I go, “Oh, I like that’ In a song that we’ve just written recently there’s a lyric about dancing, and I said, “Oooh, I like that,” and Neil went, “I know.” He’d done it deliberately for me. The sort of lyrics that I tend to like if they’re not by us are things like “The Promised Land” – some of your classic house records. All those sort of songs. I don’t mind when Neil goes off and delves deep into his history books, but personally I like songs about love, really.Are you annoyed when Neil does things without you?
No. It keeps the brand alive. Because I’m lazy. I wouldn’t do anything, really. I wouldn’t really do anything myself. So I think it’s good.Do you ever think you’re too old to be a pop star?
When was this question first asked? [laughs] Absolutely yes. [reconsiders] Actually, I don’t, really. It’s great when pop music’s by youngsters, and when it’s kids coming up – that’s when it’s really exciting and great. But that’s not to say that there’s not a place for people making music until forever, really. I think it’s just as valid. Pop music is judged different from any other creative form, isn’t it? Art, you’re allowed to keep going. No one says Gilbert and George should have retired 50 years ago. No one says that classical composers should have stopped after their second album. But in pop music it’s “what are they still doing it for?” It’s like it’s not a valid form of the arts, and I think that it is. Though I can be a bit the same, being hypocritical as ever. It’s always exciting when the new thing comes along and you get rid of the old. I actually quite approve of that, really. It’s annoying when it’s applied to you but with someone else I can be, “Can’tthey just go? They’ve had their turn.” Though it’s ridiculous that pop music is the only thing like that.Do you want to make a solo album? Urn… I could. It might be crap, though, mightn’t it? I’d hate to be judged on it. I wouldn’t say no.1 don’t know really. If Neil was doing one. It probably wouldn’t be very song-based, because I’m a grammar school-educated boy and I always like messing around with time signatures and things like that.How would you feel if Neil made one? Well, if Neil did one, I’d do one, so it’d probably be quite a good thing really. But I wouldn’t think of doing one otherwise. And it’d be terrible if it became competitive. Actually, I think generally it would be a bad thing, because if one did better… if they both failed, it would great, and if they both did really well it’d be good, but if one did better than the other one then the power with the group would be disturbed. It’d be, like, “Well, your opinions are just worthless, aren’t they?” And it could go either way. So, thinking about it, actually it wouldn’t be such a good idea. I think we both bring something to the group and the combination of the two of us is greater than the two individuals.Does Neil ever really annoy you? Oooh, let me think. Now’s the time… [thinks a moment] No, not really. There’s only one mildly irritating thing Neil does sometimes – actually, officially, we refuse to do this in interviews.., anyway, it doesn’t really bother me.Is Neil too bossy?
Bossy? Towards me, or generally? Because he is quite… well, he’s not bossy, he’s very decisive. He knows what he wants, and there’s no time for people who are obviously wrong. You’re just wrong. But it’s good that people know what they are want and are determined.What do you think you do that annoys him most? Oh, I can be stroppy… sulky… pedantic… argumentative… contrary… a complete wind-up merchant… say that I don’t want to do things when I actually do really kind of want to do them. I can generally be very annoying, I think.Do you think of songs all the time?
It’s very annoying – I’ll be having a dream and in my dream I will hear a new George Michael single which is absolutely brilliant, and I’m so annoyed that he’s managed to write this absolutely brilliant song. And of
course it’s all in my head – it’s my song – and I wake up and I’m really annoyed. I know some people wake up and sing into a microphone. But sometimes melodies do come into your head. I try to stop that happening, because I think there’s only a certain amount that’s in there, and so I don’t like to waste any of it.So you try and cork it up until you want to get some out?
Yeah. I think Elton’s the same. He doesn’t like to do anything – he doesn’t even have a piano at home – because he waits for the lyrics to arrive, and then none of it’s spilt on the floor.Why do you have a Porsche?
Well, I had a Porsche. I would never have one now. Actually I love Porches and I loved that car so much; it was fantastic. It was an absolute joy to drive and I loved the shape; the curves and the body. I loved absolutely everything about it, despite the fact that it was a yuppie car. I still think the Porsche 911 was the nicest model. And it was practical – two seats in the front and you could just about fit a person in the back. We went raving in it once, four of us crammed into my Porsche, driving across and ditches to get to this disused airfield somewhere around the M25. But one of the disadvantages of having a sports car is that you get caught speeding all the time – it’s really hard not to go over the speed limit because 70 miles an hour just feels like nothing. It was a thing of great beauty, and I do miss it, but you can’t say that they’re good for the environment, can you? And I don’t think there were speed bumps and speed cameras everywhere then. I used to enjoy driving, and driving in England now is no longer about enjoyment, it’s about sitting in traffic and speed cameras. So I had a Porsche when you could enjoy it, and I just drive a battered old Jeep now. It’s great. I don’t have any points on my licence.Do you really go and watch Arsenal all the time? Not as often as I used to. I moved away from Highbury so I wasn’t as close, and we’ve been really busy so I’ve spent a lot of time out of London. I’ve been to the new stadium a few times and I really like it, actually. I was quite surprised – I didn’t think I would like it because you kind of get used to the old. But actually it’s got a really good atmosphere, and the fact that it’s not all compartmentalised like it was before – North, East, West and Clock End – is good. if someone started singing before it tended to stay in their own little bit but now, with it being circular, the whole ground now tends to sing as one so it’s actuallya lot louder. Though it’s more like going to a regular pop concert than a football match in the way – it’s the same audience that would go to see Robbie Williams going to see a football match. It doesn’t seem as unique to football, it just seems like “an event”. But I’ve still got a season ticket. The last big game I went to was going to Paris to watch Arsenal play Barcelona where we unfortunately lost in the Champions League final. I’ve always liked going to away games m Europe. Of the current team, I like Fibreglass, Luneburg, Henry obviously, and van Persie. We’ve got a team of lookers at the moment, whereas we used to… not have.Why did you get your haircut so short?
I grew my hair long for a while – I thought I’d have one more go at it long, really, whilst I still had some – but there’s something about having it shaved. You feel so crisp and clean when you come out of the barbers, or whoever’s doing it. So fresh. And I like the fact that it’s not an issue. I mean, long hair I think is just vanity. People with long hair are the sort of people who spend a long time looking in the mirror. They ruffle their fingers through their hair. Having a short haircut, it’s not an issue. You can have a shower, it gets wet, you don’t have to dry it. It’s just simple. And I like the feel of it.When did you last cry?
Cry? That’s a very Eighties question. I went to see the stage version of The Sound Of Music, and I don’t know what it is about that story… I didn’t cry, but I was really emotional in it, and probably suppressing tears more than anything. The moment that gets me in the film is where Christopher Plummer joins in singing with the children, but it was different in the stage version. But there’s something about it I find really moving. Another time I did cry was watching the film Requiem ForA Dream. I was out of control. I’ve never seen anything so sad in my life. I had to be pacified. I was in a terrible state. That is probably the last time I cried like a child. I was with a friend and I was so embarrassed. Often, I think, crying happens more when you’re trying to suppress the emotion. It was just so sad, and it just got worse – the fact that she wanted to be on the television show and she was waiting for this letter. I think that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever seen and I really wouldn’t recommend it to anybody.When do you feel happiest?
Actually, I feel happiest on a really nice day in
England, not really having anything particular to do.
When the weather’s really great – not too hot but just a
really nice gorgeous day, nice smells everywhere. A day of leisure where you’re going to do something nice like a walk in the park, eat alfresco. That’s when I feel happiest.How have you changed over the last 15 years? I don’t know if you really change much at all. I think you come out of the womb fully-formed. I really think that. I think that all my characteristics were there from day one. All my negative qualities. I mean, there’s a picture of me painted by the next door neighbour when I was four, and it’s just clearly me, in a mood, with a massive gob on. And you can just see that those qualities have just never really changed. And, apart from the obvious ageing, I don’t think you change. I don’t think you become more wise, even, really. You just get older. I think that things do stress you out less, and you learn how to deal with your responses to things better, and let things go easier, but the initial feeling – the pang of annoyance, or jealousy, or envy – I think they’re the same. The initial gut reaction to anything, and the mood, are the same as when you were born. I don’t think we’re on a curve. I don’t think it is a journey.Do you ever think about the Pet Shop Boys splitting up?
No. Actually, no, never think about that. That would involve a major rethink, wouldn’t it? Fingers crossed, but that would be too traumatic at this stage in events. I don’t know. I’d hate to have to think about that.So you think the Pet Shop Boys might goon more
or less forever?
Well, obviously it’s not totally up to us. There are economics involved, sadly. We’re not a charity and we’re not employed by some benefactor to produce goods for them, and the music industry has changed a lot since 1992. Are the days of the record shop, even, nearly over? In America I don’t see anyone in them. And the income that’s generated from downloads is still a fraction of what it is when people buy a physical product, and the record companies have not really been totally fair in the way that that’s happened, so it’s not a great time really for the music industry generally. Consequently live music and the live show has become much more important, because the live experience is something that’s non-downloadable, and fortunately we’ve become a live band, which is something we never set out to do. The timing’s been quite good for us in that respect. And it would be a shame for us to have to stop doing what we do, because I really enjoy doing it.