|Interview Los Angeles|
| On January 8, 2012,|
after flying to Sydney to perform on New Year’s Eve and then taking a few days
‘holiday in Australia, the Pet Shop Boys continued eastward around the world to Los Angeles where they had decided to make their next album. They rented a house in the hills above Beverly Hills with a sweeping view across the city and recorded each weekday with the producer Andrew Dawson. Full details of the songs on this new album, and a comprehensive diary of its genesis and recording, will appear in the next issue of this magazine. But, fortuitously, literally happened to be in town during the Pet Shop Boys’ final week in Los Angeles and so is able to offer this preview.
From dinner one evening, and a full day’s activities two days later, literally offers the following report:
March 18, 2012.
Literally meets Neil and Chris at one of the Los Angeles restaurants that has become one of their favourites since they have been in town, Salt’s Curr on Santa Monica Boulevard. They explain where they have been living. “We’re in between Sandra Bullock,” says Neil, “and Rupert Murdoch.” The house they are renting is also, they have realised, not far from the site of the notorious houst on Cielo Drive where followers of Charles Manson murdered Roman Polanski’s pregnant wife Sharon Tate, and four others, in 1969; an event generally presented as one of the key grim bookends to the sixties counterculture. (Neil was a little freaked out when he read this on Wikipedia during their first week in town.) That actual house was demolished a few years back, and these days the neighbourhood’s problems appear more prosaic.
For instance many of the smaller and most windy roads are in terrible condition: “There’s a thing called the Beverly Hills Pothole patrol.,, The fourth diner at the table this evening is the American writer and broadcaster David Keeps who has lived in Los Angeles for many years.
Neil and Chris have known him since the eighties – when Neil went to America in 1983 to launch the American version of Smash Hits, called, Star Hits, David Keeps became its editor. They explain to him a little about the record they have been making.
“It sounds slightly different from our records, says Neil. “Slightly. People’ IL say, typical pet Shop Boys’. But that’s why we came over. (So that it might be “slightly different”, he clearly means. Not so that it might be “typical pet Shop Boys, ) “Sunshine-y?” provokes David Keeps mischievously. “And more optimistic?,, ‘No,” says Neil. “I wouldn’t say that.
They explain that Andrew Dawson has been quite an influence, not least in influencing which songs they have recorded. This happened partly by accident. They had asked for their recent demos to be sent to him beforehand, intending that he would receive only the songs they had earmarked as contenders for the album. But a mistake was made. “He got sent everything we’d written,,, says Neil.
“That wasn’t meant to happen,’ says Chris. Consequently Andrew Dawson encouraged them to work on some songs they would have overlooked, and they now seem glad that this happened. “Actually,” Chris points out to Neil, he didn’t get everything. I’ve got much more. I’ve got a whole dance album he didn’t get.” Neil nods. “And he didn’t get… what’s it called? He didn’t get Bruce Springsteen.,, oh ‘No,” says Chris.
“But he did get ‘…we’re not going to the opera’,” says Neil. “He wasn’t meant to get that. It’s a folk song about being gay in the eighties Food – it’s a fairly meaty selection – is ordered. “You’ve got some colour, Neil,” David observes.
“I’ve been outdoors a lot,” Neil replies. This was supposed to be the rainy season, but for most of their visit – apart from occasional days when it being photographed by the pool of the Pet Shop Boys, rented Los Angeles home.
has poured and they have been able to observe the traditional site of Los Angeles drivers skidding and crashing all over the place as though they had never driven in rain before – the weather has mostly been glorious. (Right now is one of the colder and wetter moments.) oh ‘We’ve been lying by the pool nearly every day,” says Chris. This has not been their only routine. “We watch Chelsea Lately every evening.” “I can’t help feeling we should be friends with her,” says Neil. Neil and Chris have to leave town on Friday and they discuss with David whether they should go out on Thursday evening.
“We could go and celebrate not finishing the album,” Neil suggests. “You have to leave on Friday?” asks David. “The ballet previews on Sunday,” Neil explains, “and I’m doing Weekend Wogan.” “It’ll be nice to get back, actually,” says Chris. “It’s spring in London.” They talk about the photo-shoot they have planned for Wednesday. “We’re not doing landmarks,” says Chris.
“We changed the brief,” says Neil. “We had a big idea. And then we decided not to do it. It’s really about getting a photo of us in LA.” “It’s about light,” declares Chris. “It’s about getting the magic hour.” “Are you getting wardrobe?” David asks. “It’s self-styled,” answers Neil.
“We bought some things.” The conversation wanders until Neil is reminiscing about his time working for Marvel Comics in London. “People used to write in,” he remembers, “and say ‘I’ve got Spiderman #1 – much is it worth I used to write back and say, not about how much it’s worth, it’s about enjoy it.”‘ Our food arrives. “We could become the restaurant critic for t
LA Times,” says Neil. “We’ve put the hours in. When they’ve had time off, they’ve been exploring the town. “We’ve been to places that one else has ever been,” says Neil. “We were if Frog town.” “‘We went on the Dearly Departed tour,” say Chris. (In this case the “we” doesn’t include Ne Chris went on the tour with his sister when she visited.) “I didn’t like the look of the van,” says Neil As they eat, they talk about life in the hills. “One night we saw a coyote,” says Neil.
“The coyote looked up to no good,” says Chris
“It looked very furtive. Like it had been caught in the act.” They wonder how Beth Ditto’s album with Xenomania might be going. “We had an email, or text message, from Brian,” says Neil. “He was looking at the Gerhard Richter exhibition with Miranda and he said it brought back fond memories of working with us.” They’ve also been to an EMI party while they were here. “Under much duress,” says Neil. Outside the VIP section they recognized the unexpected sight of a figure from their past. At first, the figure from their past did not recognize them. “We got this cold stare,” says Neil. “Like,
‘off!, who are you?”‘ Then Matt Goss whose teen group Bros used to share management with the Pet Shop Boys in Bros’s brief but intense eighties heyday – realised who it was. “And then he was really nice,” says Neil.
The Pet Shop Boys also went to see a band at the Troubadour – the semi-obscure indie rockers The Archers Of Loaf. “‘We went to see the place, really,” Chris explains. “To see where Elton broke America.” Right now, Neil and Chris explain, they are mixing. It’s painstaking work. “In the old days, when you only had 48 tracks, they were all there,” says Neil. In front of you, he means, each represented by a line of controls on the mixing desk. ‘Now,” he says, “you have to remember them.” After briefly considering the pros and cons of heading on to some other night spot, they sensibly decide on an early night.
Neil is in the kitchen of the house where the Pet Shop Boys are living, making coffee. It is just after 11 o’clock in the morning. Today is the photo- session, and once coffee is made he sits on a chair in the kitchen while a make-up artist called Chantal applies a little make-up. “You have good skin,” she tells him, and asks what he does to protect it. “I used Kiel’s SP15,” he says. “I never really go in the sun. I don’t really like going in the sun. It makes me feel sick.” Life in Los Angeles, he points out, certainly offers reminders of the downside: “There are some real tragedies here.” Chris appears from his bedroom at the other end of the house.
(Neil’s is by the kitchen.) Yesterday they heard the sad news of Eric Watson’s death.
They discuss whether or not there is going to be a funeral, and this eventually leads to a wider discussion about the manner of one’s passing and what should happen afterwards. “We’re doing a family tree,” says Chris, “and some of them in Oldham are buried in an unmarked grave.” As for himself, he says, “I’ve got my eye on Hollywood Forever.” The previous week they visited the famous Hollywood cemetery of that name, where amongst many things they saw Johmy Ramone’s gravestone, from which abronze statue bursts upwards of Ramone playing the guitar.
“Just hat and glasses,” Chris instructs. “In bronze, obviously.” “You could have ‘…I don’t like much, do I? Suggests Neil (referring, of course, to the famous reply Chris gave in their early days answering a question on American TV which was subsequently memorialised on “Paninaro”).
Chris has a better idea. “I’d probably just have ‘violence, religion, injustice. Death’ .” As the make-up ritual continues, they discuss how much they enjoyed seeing Lars von Trier’s recent movie Melancholia.
Ann Summa photographing the Pet Shop Boys on Stadium Way. cool love how the same piece of music keeps coming back,” says Neil. “It’s Sven’s favourite piece of music – I think it’s the Prelude from Tristan and Insole.” Armful after armful of equipment is carried into the house by assistants. “It’s never simple, taking a picture, is it?” Neil remarks, and describes one of the last times Eric Watson took their photo. The idea was to take a straight forward portrait in Neil’s house. “A lorry drove up,” he remembers. “We had to get planning permission…” They talk about the area where they have been recording for the last few weeks. “God, it’s a dump, Burbank, downtown,” says Neil.
And they remain unimpressed by the roads. “The freeway, it’s like driving in Brazll. You bounce off holes.” “They never get repaired, do they?” says Chris. “If this was London, most of it would be closed most of the time. If Murphy’s got a foothold here they could make a killing, and then you could get Camden Council Roads Department to make all the roads one way, and then there’d be traffic calming, and narrowing. You could reduce Sunset to two lanes. Speed bumps the length of Sunset. They would do that.” “Do you need some lip balm?” Chantal asks him.
“Can you apply it with a brush?” he requests. As it is applied he describes his favourite scene in the movie Once Upon A Time In America, where the boy wants to give this girl he likes some cake, but as he waits he can’t resist having a taste, and then another and another… until it is all eaten. “And the swelling Ennio Morricone music,” he says. “One of my favourite scenes of all time.” Neil discusses with their manager, Angela, the hand-back of the house after they leave on Friday. “One cup has been broken,” he says. “There are cups that were pre-cracked.” The first shots are taken out on the far edge of the property past the swimming pool, next to a pine tree. “‘We’re not doing individual shots, are we?”
asks Chris after a while. “Or will they be of any use.” They discuss it. “Let’s do some,” Chris concludes, and a moment later Neil steps out of the shot. Chris seems surprised. “I didn’t know it was going to be me so soon,” he says. Between set-ups, Chris surveys the city below. “I’m going to miss this view,” he says. “We saw the most amazing moon – a huge orange ball. I’ve never seen a moon that big. It looked apocalyptic, because you had downtown as well – it was fantastic.”
We’re done here,” announces Ann Summa, the photographer. “Good,” says Neil. ‘Rock’n’roll is on the road. First shot is down.” “We’re going to be finished before the magic hour,” Chris worries. “What are we going to do?” How, he means, are they going to stretch out the day so that they are still shooting in the period before sunset when the light is at its best? He answers his own question. ool-unch!” he declares. As they wait for the lighting to be re-set for a new shot in the living room, Chris searches for songs on his iPhone. “The problem with these,” he frets, “is that you can never find anything, can you?” He plays Sack Noel’s “Loca People”. “This is all you hear on the Mexican radio here. We thought it was an obscure song but it was number one in England for weeks.
We missed it, somehow.” He puts on another: Juan Magan’s “Bailando PorAhi”. These and others they have been hearing on their new favourite radio station 96.3. “Los Angeles’ only Spanglish radio station,” says Chris. They sit next to each other on a white bench, directly facing the camera, with the pool and the sky behind them, then Chris stands while Neil sits. “Do you want to switch positions?” asks Ann Summa after a while.
They ponder this suggestion carefully. “Isn’t it a bit pointless?” Neil wonders, though this is only a proposition at the beginning of a debate, not the final decision it might seem.
“It might work better,” Chris suggests. “It might work better,” Neil repeats, as though this viewpoint is surprising but worthy of consideration. They swap places. “I’ve got one more idea,” says Ann after some more time has passed. “Perfect – we’ll do A Bigger Splash,” bhtffs Chris.
Chris will be naked in the pool,” pretends Neil. In fact they pose with Neil just inside the room and Chris just outside. The session is briefly interrupted when the pool man arrives. Then they sit around the dining table, waiting for lunch, and laugh about an invitation that has gone out to their friends who are attending the ballet opening which requests that they “attend a drunk’s reception”. (It should, of course, say “a drinks reception”.) “Everyone’ll love it,” says Neil. “And it’s more or less true. What’s the problem?” Chantal says that she’d heard something about a film they’d written. “That’s not by us,” corrects Neil. “Starring its.
You’re referring to our movie career. That was in a surreal way. Our first big disaster. It open in more cinemas in America than Madonna’s r film. It opened in about forty cinemas.” (He is talking, of course, about It Couldn’t Happen I “That’s really impressive,” says Angela. “It wasn’t there the next week…” says Net both Pet Shop Boys laugh. Chris reads on his phone the breaking new about an earthquake in Mexico while Neil check his email. Chantal begins to speak of earthquake in Los Angeles, a perpetual concem of most residents. Oh ‘Let’s not talk about it,” says Neil. We haven’t been told what to do,” says thought that seems to have come to him rather late in light of their imminent departure.” “Go under a table,” says Angela. “Or star doorway.” “We shouldn’t hug a tree?” asks Chris. “M instinct would be to run and hug that tree.”
“Why would you do that?” says Neil. “I think it’d be quite stable,” says Chris. H an alternate idea. “Or maybe go for a swim.” Neil plays a song by Bon Iver from his lap “I don’t really like pop music at the moment he says – and Chris reads about the forth comer of former PWL artists in Hyde Park. “You know what?” he says. “That’d be quite a fun concert.” Ann joins them at the table and asks how their time in town has been. They both say that it’s been good.
“I was a bit nervous about coming over, really,” says Nei1. “We’ve been to Los Angeles many times, but never for more than a week. I’ve never seen it as a city before, I’ve just seen it as a sort of thing. To me, it was always from the Chateau Marmont to Book Soup.” Lunch – which has been a takeaway of chicken kebabs, salad and rice which one of the photo assistants has picked up from a restaurant some way down the hill – is eaten at a leisurely pace. Afterwards Neil takes out the trash and loads the dishwasher, and everyone piles into vehicles. The second part of the shoot is to take place several miles east of here in the neighbourhood of Echo Park.
The Pet Shop Boys’ rental car is a pale blue Mini Cooper with a white roof. “It’s the talk of Los Angeles,” asserts Chris as we head off. ‘Are we not taking a detour past Simon
Cowell’s house?” Neil asks. “There isn’t time,” Chris judges. “There’s always time for Simon Cowell,” says Neil.
On the way, they point out the hedge of David Geffen’s property and, nearby, some graffiti done by the son of someone they know. After we slide by Simon Cowell’s rather odd and formal modern home (badly-reviewed, Chris says, by the tourists on the Dearly Departed bus tour) we head down Fountain. Chris is particularly taken by the old general store on the comer of Las Palmas: “Why can’t they have more of those dotted around?” he wonders. Neil considers unrealistic album titles. “I keep saying, olf we were George Michael we would call it Deep…” He looks out of the window for inspiration. “Plaza. We could call it Plaza. Fountain.” From the way he says this it seems pretty unlikely that the new Pet Shop Boys album will be called either Plaza or Fountain. Or, indeed, Deep. “We found out that there’s a lake in Silver lake,”
And, Literally contributes, there’s also a park in Echo Park, where we are heading.
o’And a beach in Echo Beach,” offers Chris. “Isn’t that in Canada?” says Neil. “I know it’s far away in time,” says Chris. They discuss u, hat they have learned about the foci of Los Angeles.
“I don’t really like Mexican food,” says Neil. I’ve tried. God, I’r.e tried.” “It’s not haute cuisine.” says Chns. “We had a great one in Palm Springs,” says Neil. “But I don’t really like it.” “I love the guacamole though,” says Chris. We arrive at our destination – the intersection of Scott and Stadium Way – but Ann and her crew need more time to set up, so we retrace our way and stop at a Vietnamese bakery called Kien Giang Bakery. We order drinks and also some of their
chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies, and take a seat outside at one of the rickety tables in their parking lot.
As we have a few minutes, they explain a little more of the chain of events which led them to
being here in Los Angeles. “‘We’ve been talking about doing an album in Los Angeles for years,” says Neil. “The first person that ever suggested it to us that I remember was Trevor Hom: ‘Oh, you should do an album in LA and use lots of great musicians.’ But when we were
thinking about this album and writing the songs for most of last year we were thinking really of getting a new angle on electronic music and take were those two albums that Kanye West made one I particularly like is B0Bs and Heartbreak. particularly like the first track on it, actually.” “‘In fact I only like the first track… “‘teas Chris.
“Anyway,” says Neil, “we approached a great work on this album and we never really got my of a response. And then we were going to work with a film soundtrack guy and that fell throu6 and then we went back to the Kanye West albert We’d also had the idea that we wanted a special kind of backing vocal sound in some of the so we’d written that we thought we’d get better ir America, particularly Los Angeles, than we were in Britain. Not gospel, but a sort of very full sounding…”
“Something that you didn’t get in England says Chris.
“Anyway, we’ve ended up with that,” says “We’ve got people that sang on Michael Jacks Thriller singing on the record. Then we came across Andrew Dawson’s name and looked here up on the internet and saw that he had original a classical background and has worked on a Kanye West’s albums, mainly as an engineer mixed as well. And also has produced albums people – he’s produced rock albums, actually.”
“He produced the group Fun.,” says Chris. “That’s what he did before us.” “So there we were,” says Neil. “That was decided. After being in Australia for New Year we came here, having written over the course of last year – and a little bit before that even – 20 songs or 22 songs. We went through them all with Andrew and we’ve been. working on 16 songs.” “We took a little recording set up with us on the Take That tour,” says Chris,
“so there was a bit of a ‘mid-tempo thing that might work well in a stadium thing. Just seeing women waving their arms from side to side.” He laughs. “This album was heavily influenced by Gary Barlow,” he claims, though I’m not sure that this should be taken as entirely sincere.
“Anyway, I think it all worked out very well,” says Neil. “I think you’ve got to do an LA album at some point in your career,” says Chris. “Some songs we wouldn’t have worked on he wanted to work on,” says Neil. “We discussed with him what we were looking to do was to base them on the demos but improve it. And there were a few songs where we were more committed to the original management than others. He would put in ideas.
When we’d gone he’d work on the tracks.” “He does additional programming, engineering
and producing,” says Chris. “And he has Netflix on his TV monitor above the desk. Sometimes we were also watching movies. We watched Cleopatra.” “I’d never seen Cleopatra before,” says Neil.
“It’s good because on Netflix you can have the subtitles so you can watch it while listening to music.” The recording was mostly done in his small studio in Hollywood though they also worked for a week in a studio in Sherman Oaks. “With lots of old synths,” says Neil. “Where Dre had worked and all these people,” says Chris.
“Eminem’s second album was made there,” says Neil. “We wanted a bigger room to record backing vocals.” o’Percussion and choirs,” says Chris. “We had two teams of backing vocalists,” says Neil. “One lot were very veteran Hollywood backing singers who sang on not only Michael Jackson’s Thriller but on ‘Got To Be There’.” “They sang ‘mama se mama se mamakusa…”‘ says Chris. “We also did an orchestral session at Capitol records. It’s fun being in there. These are
“We were in the studio that’s just been refurbished and was just reopened,” says Neil. “We were only the second people to work in it, the first being Paul McCarran.”
They were there for one day. “Tivo sessions,” says Neil.
“We whizzed through them,” says Chris.
“We worked on, I think, six songs,” says Neil.
“We had our own space in the parking lot,” says
Chris. “Great, actually.” “The other vocal group we used, Songs, are a vocal harmony group,” says Neil, because on one song we wanted sort of a jazz harmony sound.”
“They’re really good,” says Chris.
‘They’re amazing singers,” says Neil. “Most of them studied opera at the University of Southey
Califomia. They do sort of Swingers Singers kind of stuff.” “But they do all their parts separately,” says Chris.
“Really fun y, and really, really good,” says
Neil. “They’d be fun to tour with,” says Chris.
“The song’s called ‘Ego music’,” says Neil. “I don’t know if it’s going to be on the album or not at the moment. It might be simply too nasty to be the album.” They both laugh. “We think American engineers mix things I different way,” says Neil. “I think they play mc emphasis on the rhythm track. And have it ma1 dryer than they do in England.”
“Generally the vocal’s a bit louder,” says Chris “Also of course we’re working with some much younger than us,” says Neil. “He’s only’ 32 Back at the new photo location David Keep who lives nearby, has now also turned up. “‘We haven’t spent this much time together,” he says Neil, “since…”
‘since autumn 1983,” says Neil.
The Pet Shop Boys stand in Stadium Way, the road itself, with traffic coming worryingly to them, and prepare to pose for photos. Chris
on his hat and glasses.
“There you go,” says Ann. “There you go – it’s Chris Lowe,” says Neil “You going to wear your glasses the entire time?” she asks.
“Yip,” says Chris.
“There’s a rock version of Paula Abdul’s ‘Straight Up on the radio,” he explains. “It’s kind of made me like the record again.” The shot is finished. “Ann’s fast,” says David.
“Oh, we like fast,” says Chris.
“We love fast,” says Neil. They pose on the lawn. “There’s lots of little insects,” Chris complains. “I see them,” says Neil. “I don’t know why they’re on you, though.”
“I do. “More photos. “prefix good here, isn’t it?” says Chris.
*We’ve got the long shadows,” says Neil. “We’ve got the famous long shadows.”
David Keeps brushes the flies away with a big swatch of twigs, and acts up in various other ways.
“Everyone’s going to wonder why we’re laughing in these photos,” Chris worries. “It’s a sunny, optimistic record,” says Neil.
We drive to another location in a nearby park. We walk down to a strange piece of public sculpture. Ahead of us is downtown Los Angeles and to our left is a stadium. ‘oh That’s Dodgers stadium,” says Chris. “We’ve
played there. Scene of our triumph.” He takes a photo. It is where they played with Electronic, supporting Depeche Mode. they sit down in the middle of the sculpture, waiting.
“Broken glass everywhere,” Chris observes.
“People pissing on the streets, you know they just don’t care,” continues Neil, quoting Grandmaster Flash. They debate the differences between teeth in England and America with David Keeps. “English Teeth,” says Neil. “We know that’s what you call them,” says
‘oh They’re also called Summer Teeth,” says David.
“Why?” asks Neil.
“Because some are here, some are there,” explains David. cool know nothing about teeth,” says Neil. “know nothing about the human body, really, not having done biology.” Ho Why not?” asks David.
“I did Latin for flve years,” Neil explains. Soon, after some photos with downtown behind them, they are finished.
“Of course!” says Chris. “Wet Wipes.” Oh What a nice photo session,” says Chris in the car.
“It was almost enjoyable,” Neil agrees. “I thought it was enjoyable,” says Chris. oh meant even the photos,” says Neil.
“Well, if we don’t look good in this light we
never will, will we?” says Chris.
The studio location is programmed into the sat nav, but even so Neil suggests that we head left when it suggests we should go right. “God, why do I always think right is left and left is right,” he wonders. “It’ s amazing.” At the studio we are greeted by the producer, Andrew Dawson, and the assistant Max. Andrew is just working on something so they decide to go into the lobby.
“We could probably have tea,” says Chris. “It’s
not too late for tea, is it?” “It’s never too late for tea,” says Andrew.
“How’s your day been?” asks Neil.
“I got ‘Hold on’in a happy place,” says Andrew. As the kettle brews Neil explains that most of this studio was recently rebuilt after it bun down while the Black Eyed Peas were record here. “Oooh!” says Chris, sharing the thrill of discovery. “Kit Kat.” He opens it. “We did he Flakes,” he says. “But they’re all gone.” He 6 the three of us one stick each, and then careful. divides the final stick into three and passes or an extra third.
“To be fair and balanced,” he Then he goes to the bin with the Kit Kat wral and his f,nal third in his hand, and absent- mindedly throws the chocolate into the bin in of the wrapper. Neil talks about his left and right confusion in the car. “It’s an instinctive thing,” he says. “Instinctively I think ‘left’ and ‘right’ are the oh way round. I think it’s to do with the sound of
the words. I’ve always been like this, all throw my life. And every now and then I think I’ve conquered it. But it’s what I did during my drive test. She said, ‘Can you park on the left by the stop?’ and I looked over and I thought, ‘there’s a bus stop . . . where is the bus stop?’ And she si ‘On the left’ , and I said, ‘Yeah, of course’. It tc three goes, though.” Andrew comes out to make some tea for himself, and they tease him a little.
“Oh look, he’s even using a tea strainer,” says
“He’s been anglicised,” says Chris. “He’s going to sound like Madonna soon,” says
“Pip pip cheerio,” Andrew retorts. In the studio, they listen to “Hold on”. “Good,” says Neil when it finishes. “Excellent,” says Chris. “Do you think the drums are loud enough?” “I think they’ve got to be heavier,” Neil agrees. “Also, I think the voices sound a little bit on top of the track.” “Tuck ’em in a little more?” asks Andrew. “Also,” says Neil, “I think you get the live strings, I think you need a little bit more pad.” One more thing. “The clap is coming across loud and clear, whereas I think the snare isn’t really coming across.” Andrew explains something complicated about mixing and compressors, and then adjusts the mix at the end of the song’s long middle eight. “I’m thinking of shifting more to the synthetic one in that spot,” he says. “Just shift away from the real strings and more towards the pads.” “Are the string basses not moving through?” asks Neil.
Andrew spends a few more minutes making adjustments, muttering to himself things like
“yeah, I’11 cut out some of those 808s, that’ll help”, and then plays it again. “Sounds nice,” he suggests. “It sounds great,” says Neil. “Yeah,” Chris agrees. “There shouldn’t be a bass note on the flnal
drumbeat?” Neil wonders. “There’s no synth bass on this song,” says
Andrew. “That’s why I can’t hear it,” says Neil. But then Andrew searches through al1the tracks. Oh There was one,” he says. “There was one…” says Chris.
‘Many moons ago in a land far away…” says Neil. “That’s why I think it should be louder – it’s
not there.” Various parts are found and played, and then Andrew says, “It’s what the 808’s doing now same thing.” “Oh,” says Neil. “So in effect it is a synth bass line.” “We’ve never used an 808 bass drum to play bass notes before,” Chris notes. “I didn’t know it could play bass notes,” says Neil.
Andrew delves some more into what is happening and what is being heard. There is, it tums out, a bass note already at the end of the song. “It’s just the lowest note in the whole song. It’s inaudible. It should go up an octave.” He works on it some more, keying various alterative. Meanwhile, Chris discovers that David Keeps is on Twitter. “I’m going to check out just to see if he’s saying snide things about us.” Andrew uses a technical term -‘side-chain” – that is unfamiliar to the Pet Shop Boys.
“Side-chain,” repeats Neil. “Is that an album title?” asks Chris. “Pet Shop Boys Side Chain,” says Neil. “It sounds very indie. ‘What does it mean?’ ‘I don’t know’. It’s very R.E.M.: Side Chain – The Best Of R.E.M.” Andrew plays the song again. “The drums are sounding very good now,” says Chris.
“You guys are going the brave route,” says Andrew. “I had it a little safe.” “It takes away the point of the record – you need the contrast,” says Neil.
They work some more. “Dinner reservations this evening?” asks Andrew.
‘No,” says Chris.
“Don’t have one,” says Neil.
Neil makes a joke about the computer crashing now they’ve got it sounding so that they al1 like it “Don’t say that,” says Andrew, sounding alarmed. “I’m just about to save it.” Neil likes the latest adjustment he has made.
“Oh, that should be in every chorus,” says Nei “You’ve just made the record flve per cent better.’ They start working on details of the vocal, particularly parts of the double-tracking. Chris tums to Neil and reminds him, “We were going to invite Joey Barton, weren’t we?” (Presumably to the ballet.) Then they work on the way different parts of the track fade out at the very end.
They talk about what is left to be mixed – four more songs – and discuss which order they should do them in. “Is that your water?” Neil asks Chris.”Es ist mein,” says Chris.
Neil goes out to get a bottle of his own. The song plays again. There got to be after, or the world will end today, sings Neil from the speakers. “But would there still be a future if the world ended?” Chris asks Neil. “Not for us,” says Neil. “I’m looking at it from a human perspective.”
“Not the futures market?” says Chris.
‘No,” says Neil, “though that would go down the pan too, with the human race. That would be one of the bright spots.” They talk about what it will be like to go back and see the ballet. “We might not like what we see,” says Neil.
“We might storm out,” says Chris, making this sound like rather an exciting possibility. “High potential of storming out,” Neil agrees. “‘This is not what we agreed!”‘ acts out
“‘Javier!” ‘adds Neil. Andrew hands them a CD of the new mix. “It’s the20th,” he notes.
“The last day of winter,” says Neil. “In England it is already spring.” (Because in England, eight hours ahead, it is already March 21.) “Here in Burbank it is still winter.” They discuss which song Andrew should work on when he comes in tomorrow, and then leave. In the car they discuss whether tonight’s dinner should be taken. Neil suggests that they go to Salt’s Cure again, but they settle on another of their favourites, a place on Beverley Boulevard called Cooks County. Neil successfully makes a reservation over the phone. “People have started to recognise who we are after two-and-a-half months of being here,” he says.
Chris, as usual, drives.
“That song isn’t typical, by the way,” Neil tells Literally. “The Pet Shop Boys aren’t afraid to go to places other people don’t go to,” says Chris.
“The whole album,” Neil lies, “is a tribute to the Fifth Dimension.” He explains how it was actually inspired by a piece of music by Handel that he heard on the radio and “became mildly obsessed by”, and then Chris set a new melody to it. “It’s so complicated – you really need to get a proof singer in.” ‘There’s no one else doing that,” says Chris.
“Allier” sighs Chris with satisfaction as he takes his seat at Cooks County. “Excellent. A hard day’s work.” But within seconds we realise that if we remain at this table we have been given, which seems to be directly in the flow of a ceiling air conditioning unit, we will freeze. We ask to move. Once re-seated, Neil and Literally have a glass of wine; Chris, who will be driving, only has water. Neil raises his glass but Chris does not.
“Not allowed to cheer with water,” he explains. “I come from a very superstitious family. It’s like: you can’t give someone a purse without money in it. You heard of that?”
“No,” replies Neil.
You can’t give a purse without money in it,”
Chris repeats. They talk about how much they enjoy doing late night grocery shopping here, usually at a large store called Pavilions. “They have so many types of milk,” says Chris. you can get everything vegan,” says Neil. There are some things you can’t get,” says Chris. “We couldn’t get helium.” (He means any kind of helium, not just vegan helium.) “The bread!” he continues. “When you’ve come from Berlin where the bread selection is amazing…” Then they discuss more general matters. “I was very aware what a competitive town this is,” says Neil, “because it was the middle of awards season.”
oh, it’s tough, isn’t it, showbiz?” says Chris. In the car, Neil says, ‘we’ll be back in time for Chelsea Lately.” fantastic,” says Chris. “I like a routine.”
They listen to 96.3. “I’m going to miss this station,” says Chris as Flo Rida’s “Sometimes” booms out. When Adele’s “Set Fire To The Rain” comes on, Literally mentions how Robert Smith from The Cure has chanced into a great pension through Adele covering his “Love Song” on her album 21. “Why has this never happened to us?” asks Neil.
“That’s annoying, isn’t it?” says Chris.
We drive up into the dark hills and pull into the drive. “Well, it’s been a long day, hasn’t it?” says
Chris. “It has,” says Neil. “It’s been exactly twelve hours.” The day is not yet completely over. As promised, they settle onto the sofa to watch Chelsea Lately. Neil makes chamomile tea for himself and Chris, and they keep up a steady stream of commentary as Chelsea Lately talks with her sidekicks and her guests. They even seem to know all the commercials. A ritual to enjoy while they can: in two days’ time, this particular Los Angeles adventure will be over