Radiorippade mp3s av Pet Shop Boys nya »I’m With Stupid« är tillsammans med släppet av The Radio Dept.s singel guds gåva till människan denna vecka. Vilken jävla låt! Tillbakalutad åttiotalsgroove, orchestra hits och massiva pukfills. Såklart att det är the Pet Shop Boys som är tillbaka.
Och såklart att vi firar det med en liten repris.
Sommaren 2004 spelade de på Storsjöyran i Östersund. De var coolast i hela världen när de tog bil dit från Stockholm eftersom de »ville se Sverige«. Lika coola var de när de hängde i hotellbaren och när de åkte iväg till något värdshus ute på en ö för att äta tretimmarslunch. När de kom tillbaka fick jag en audiens på deras hotellrum. Vi pratade om eurodisco, om hipphet och krigsfilmer. Ingen ville köpa artikeln för publicering efteråt så jag la ut den på nätet istället. Den är värd en repris. Här är det vi pratade om. Transkriberat direkt från band. Oredigerat, oöversatt, okonstlat… Det är det enda sättet man kan gestalta Pet Shop Boys på.
I’m more scared for every year I get older that I’ll lose my relation to pop music. How can one grow up without falling out of context with pop music?
Neil: It’s very nice of you to ask us that… I think, the thing is to not think about it. You should not go through life worrying about »being cool«. All you do then is sheepishly follow fashion – which may be one way of staying relevant as well, to be honest. But I think in terms of music, the Pet Shop Boys have often tended to go against the trend. Sometimes we may have done that too much I think.
Chris: I mean, the dominant music form at the moment is R&B and…We’re just not going to be able to do that. No point even trying.
Neil: Hiphop we could do.
Chris: I don’t think we would be very believable.
Neil: Back in the eighties we used to be influenced by hiphop. The early New York hiphop. But that was electronic; it all came out of Kraftwerk so it all made perfect sense to us.
It’s strange that today’s commercial radio hits are very progressive in their production. Much of the hiphop and even ordinary pop like the Sugababes have futuristic sounds and production whereas the indierock bands that are supposed to be progressive are going backwards.
Neil: We never thought indierock was progressive. We’ve always seen indierock as being retrogressive, because its inspiration as a rule tends to lead back to some mythical »golden age« when rock was »pure« – which I don’t think it ever was, anyway. Therefore, indierock tends to want to be Velvet Underground, or The Beatles, or The Jam or Led Zeppelin. And that’s sort of retrogressive. Or they want to be The Smiths, all depressive and that. It’s very interesting with what you say. The hiphop-producers suddenly have all these futuristic visions. And you see… In hiphop there’s also a visual creativity which rock never had. On our way here we were talking about Eminem’s… Sorry, D12’s new video because it goes into different kinds of filming. It goes into homevideo and comes out glamorously. And there’s a lot of creative ambition in there. In most musical eras you sense a lack of just that ambition.
Do you think it’s this kind of retrogressive thinking that has made other bands that appeared at the same time as you, for example U2, esthetically and musically dull.
Neil: We’ve just gradually developed or changed slightly what we do. The Pet Shop Boys have basically always written popsongs. We try to reflect the contemporary world in our lyrics, which I think is a really important thing. We try to talk about the reality of life against the context of musical romantisicm. Maybe that’s why people can understand what we do. We’re quite often even bleak, really. Like in »You Only Say You Love Me When You’re Drunk«. But at the same time, we’ve always tried to have a sense of humour. I would want more of that, but actually it’s quite difficult to write funny songs. But I do like songs like »I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing« which have a sense of… humour.
Have your flirts with eurodisco been an expression of this humour, or were they irony or serious?
Chris: Very serious!
Neil: Very, very serious!
What state is eurodisco in now compared to ten years ago?
Chris: It’s incredibly trendy!
Neil: We’re very serious about eurodisco because it’s our basic fallback position. We could go into that bathroom right now and come out half an hour later with a complete eurodisco record. I mean we have to fight against it, I don’t know why… It just sticks with us.
Chris: Fact is, it is incredibly fashionable now. There’s a DJ… I don’t remember his name. He has done this retro sounding eurodisco record. And there’s also the whole DJ Hell thing. I think it’s exciting cause it’s spawned a really good club scene in london. It livened up the scene cause it’s gotten rather dull and repetetive with only techno and trance all the time.
Neil: Here’s another example of not worrying about being cool. Because if you worry about being cool you can miss out on things. You rule out large areas of music and say »We don’t like that, do we? Cause it’s shit« and then there are those good eurodisco records and there are great parties that come with the eurodisco records. And by worrying about being cool, you never make it to the party. For example, although it’s not »cool« we absolutely loved when Alcazar’s »Crying at The Discoteque« came out. Have you seen the video?
I may have, but I don’t remember it, I’m afraid.
Chris: I love that dance they do!
Neil: You know how to do the dance, show it to him.
Chris: No! No! I’ve forgotten it now.
Neil: The video is so mad, with the animal costumes and things. I don’t get it at all, but I love it. In fact, we loved it so much we wrote a song for them.
What contemporary music do you listen to?
Neil: I tend to listen to a lot glitchy electronic music. I actually like electronic music which ventures into classical music, like when people play the violin over glitchy electronic music. I really like that.
There was a festival in Sweden that combined laptop electronic artists with chamber music and stuff.
Neil: Ahh! That’s so up my street.
Chris: We’re at the wrong festival!
Neil: We’re at the wrong bloody festival!
Apart from electronic stuff, what else do you like?
Neil: I have to say my favourite among the popstars is still Eminem. I think he’s really good. In terms of white popmusic, he’s becoming the male Madonna really – whether he likes it or not, that’s what he is. It’s funny how he’s started singing now. He started on the last album I think, singing choruses? And I love about Eminem the way he is influenced by cartoon music. Everything sounds like cartoon.
He is a cartoon isn’t he?
Neil: I think he’s more than a cartoon, or a rather complex cartoon I think, not a cartoon any children would understand.
What’s your relationship to minimalism?
Chris: The music isn’t very minimal, is it?
Neil: I think the tradition we work in is what I would call »orchestral pop«. And I think, for better or worse, it’s the tradition of Phil Spector, Beatles, Beach Boys, ABC, Trevor Horn. That’s the tradition we work in.
Chris: We can’t help ourselves there. We try to be minimalists, but we can’t. We’ve never been purists when it comes to electronic music. We’ve never been a cold, icy synthduo.
Neil: Which I would’ve liked to be.
Chris: Yeah, we would’ve liked to be cold and icy, but we’ve never been.
Neil: We can’t do it because if we’re icy we have to put something funny in it. And suddenly it’s eurodisco. There was this one time we tried purity. For the album »Behaviour«, the idea was to do something very pure. We decided we would only use analogue synth sounds. And so we went to Harold Faltermeyer in Munich cause he had all these ancient synthesizers. Arps and all kinds of stuff. We programmed the songs there and took them back to London… And put samples on everything. The purity went.
Today’s electroclash sounds somewhat like a distant relative to what you’ve been up to the last ten or so years.
Neil: I listen to some electroclash quite a lot, but there’s certainly not much great songwriting, and that’s the issue here: Songwriting. To me, the huge influence on that kind of music is the Human League. Cause the Human Leagues »Dare« is still the best electroclash album ever made – if I may call it electroclash. It’s got a brilliant minimalist production – which is quite complicated thing to do, actually. The songs are as good as ABBA kind of thing and that’s what they wanted it to be. At the time, people stopped being self conscious about liking ABBA cause »cool people« didn’t use to like ABBA. But The Human League said they wanted to be ABBA and there you go… The songs turned out fantastic. »Seventeen« by Ladytron is also a great song. I don’t know why it wasn’t a number one across europe. The problem is that people in that area doesn’t think much about »pop music writing«. Those who think about pop music writing today are those who are writing for teen exploitation groups like Girls Aloud. A lot of production on those records is really, really good. It’s a good age to be a pop song writer if you’re good at it.
Chris: The great thing with only writing songs is you don’t have to perform them.
Beneath your personal sound it’s as if one can hear the history of clubmusic 85-04 by listening to your records. Is this something you deliberately did?
Chris: Definitely! The reason for it being there was basically us being excited about what was going on at the club scene. It’s very easy to forget the impact that house music had.
Chris: On everyone. You couldn’t possibly ignore it because it just engulfed all of your life, really. Pure music and lifestyle together, which is when music is at it’s best. So that was definitely influencing everyone. Just look at New Order with »Technique«. House affected everyone. Everywhere.
Neil: And getting over the house pianos has been very difficult.
Chris: Very, very difficult.
Neil: I mean, try to get Bernard Sumner away from house pianos. Good luck! He’s just not having it. We’re just hoping it will become fashionable again so »cool« people will take us back in.
Chris: »Cause it isn’t just a musical thing, it’s a whole lifestyle.«.
I’ve always felt as if your music has one foot on the dance floor and one foot on some broadway stage.
Neil: I believe it comes from our childhood and upbringing. If you come from England, you simply can’t help liking »Land of hope and glory« by Elgar or »Pomp & Circumstance«. You love it by default.
Chris: And there’s »Last night of the proms«. And »The Sound of Music« was on TV every christmas when we were kids. That was obviously huge influences.
Neil: And also when we were kids there were always films about World War II with stirring…
Neil: Actually, on all Pet Shop Boys records you can hear… french horns. The french horns so completely come from war films or Elgar. And the showbusiness part… Well, the biggest selling album of the sixties was »The Sound of Music« soundtrack. Not »Revolver«. Not »Pet Sounds«. Not »The White Album«. It was the »The Sound of Music« soundtrack. This was when we were kids and we used to hear this stuff all the time. British radio, when I was very young, used to play light orchestral music, showmusic, Frank Sinatra, and all that kind of stuff so you kind of. I’ve always liked it, and I still find that kind of music quite moving. What really unites music that Chris and I like are it has that kind of stirring, moving quality. Sort of quite passion about it. And whether you like it or not you will find that quality in »The Sun Will Come Up Tomorrow« from Annie as much as you can in »Trans-Europe Express«, possibly more, in fact. We’re not ashamed to like these kinds of things. We have attempted to write a musical with a contemporary idiom, We always had slightly epic ambitions which is another thing that stops us from being minimal.
And you’re the only band ever that’s managed to use orchestra hits in your songs and made it work.
Chris: Orchestra hits are funny, aren’t they?
Neil: When we worked with producer Stephen Hague we had an argument about every single orchestra hit. It could go on for hours, about every single orchestra hit. He wanted to remove them and we wanted them to be loud. He didn’t like orchestra hits.