In this and the next issue of Literally
the Pet Shop Boys are interviewed separately at length by
Chris Heath. The following conversation took place at the
Groucho club in central London on the evening of March
What sort of mood are you in? Quite a good
mood. We just had a meeting with Polydor about Spaghetti
and the bloke who's in charge, Jimmy Devlin, used to be in
a group Bilbo Bagginess and was kind of involved in that
whole early Bay City Rollers thing. He's very amusing.
Before then in the day I've been doing jury service but I
don't suppose I can mention that. I had a glass of wine at
Polydor which cheered me up no end. Then I took a taxi
ride across London to Soho; I always like traveling in a
taxi. Particularly at dusk. It's a very exciting time:
everyone '5 going home from work or coming into the West
End. I got dropped off at Piccadilly Circus, which is one
of my favorite spots in the world. It's so vibrant. I find
that very uplifting, and now I'm having a glass of
champagne which tops it up a bit, and I'm raring to go.
Do you really hate being famous? Sometimes I do, and
sometimes I don't.
You can't deny that it has
certain advantages, like being able to get into clubs
easier. It's quite good in many ways. Sometimes it's a bit
restricting in that you think all eyes are on you.
Sometimes you have a certain paranoia if you're walking
down a busy street or you're just going into McDonnell's,
you have a paranoia that everyone's thinking "oh, it's
him! I bet he thinks he's really good . .." But on the
whole I can't really complain. There's a bah of money that
goes with it. I wouldn't really wing. I'm not half as bad
as I used to be about fame. I used to really really hate
it, and scowl a lot because I was very unhappy and ill at
ease about the whole thing. Now I just accept it and look
on the bright side.
Why did you hate it so much
It felt very unnatural. For someone who
has always wanted to be part of the crowd - "one of
the crowd", right? - it was very strange to suddenly not
be that. I've always liked to just mingle and be ordinary
and not stand out. I'm not an exhibitionist at all and so
to suddenly be that made me very uneasy. But it's not a
very big problem for me because really not very many
people notice me. I don't think I could stand it if I was
What kind of public reactions
annoy you the most?
Well, today, for instance I was
walking past a group of school girls in uniforms and of
them recognized me and shouted out "Pet Shop Boys?' as if
this was something dead clever, the fact that one of them
has recognized me. That's what annoys me most: if someone
shouts out, thinking that it's really clever to have
Do you think you're better
friends with Neil now than when "West End Girls" came out,
Probably not, in many ways. During the initial
success, and before it, we spent a lot of time together
and we used to go out a lot more: go to clubs a lot more
and restaurants a lot more. And right through to the end
of Actually we spent nearly all out time together because
we were on a lot of promotional trips. From when "West End
Girls" was a hit until the end of Actually we were
together all the time. Out of necessity really. Because of
that, I think then you have to force yourself to spend
time apart. It's like being married to someone, and you
find that neither of you has your own life. You're just
leading a complete Pet Shop Boys life, and you forget
you're Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant.
And we do have
different interests. Neil's gone off the club scene a bit
over the years. He's not really into raving at all. He's
not into staying up all night and then finding out where
the next party Is'. Neil's become a lot more interested in
classical music, going to art galleries and reading. I've
never been a great book reader, I always find an galleries
a bit boring... I mean, I'd rather buy the postcards of
the works of art in a bookshop rather than actually see
them, because often I think they look better as postcards.
Do you think you'd be friends if you weren't in a
Yeah, well we were friends before
we had a group together. We've always had a great passion
for pop music which is how we became friends. The first
time we met we instantly started talking about pop music
and what kind of music we liked, and right through until
now we've been interested in what's going on, what chart
positions Annie Lennox has entered the charts with. That
is the sort of thing that keeps us together. If we weren't
in a group we'd still be friends, definitely.
really go out raving all the time?
Well, it's very
difficult to go out raving as much as you'd like to,
because it becomes very tiring. If I go out Friday and
Saturday then that's me
finished for the week. Because
of all the energy expended. I look at Time Out's clubbing
guide every week and I can see all these clubs going on
every night and I think I'd like to go to every single one
of those clubs every night, because I feel I'm missing out
on something, but it's very difficult. One thing I'd like
to do which I've never done is go on a weekend to
somewhere like Camber Sands, and experience 48 hours of
hard-core. With a chalet
Does it annoy you when
Neil listens to lots of classical music?
I'm not normally in the room when he's listening to it.
But everything I'm interested in is of now, and so even
though classical music has got a lot to offer - I think of
classical music as "what great bits to sample" -I find a
lot of it really tweed.
A lot of the orchestration
is very clever, but I think the tunes are often not very
good. When I did go to classical concerts I was always
interested in Schoenberg and that kind of stuff. I think
music has advanced considerably since the days of a lot of
classical music. But Neil is totally into history as well,
so when Neil listens to classical music he doesn't just
listen to the music, but he reads about what was happening
in that particular era of history. It's pot just the
music. And so our taste fits totally with how we see
things. I'm not really interested in history. I'm just
interested with what's happening at the moment.
think Neil's interest in classical music ever has a
detrimental effect on the Pet Shop Boys records?
No, I think it's good to bring lots of different elements
into a piece of music. If people see the changes in
Behavior as a classical thing going on, I don't think
they're right. As your song-writing develops, you start
experimenting with more complicated chords. One of the
great things about pop music is that when you get a new
artist is that simple chord changes are very exciting for
them, so you get this great enthusiasm and energy and
great song-writing over chords that we might think "oh,
we've already done those chords" and have moved onto
different types of chords. It's a natural song-writing
progression. It's actually something we want to fight
against, because I think a lot of the best songs are
written over simple chord changes.
I come back to
Bobby O on this one. He wrote so many fantastic songs over
the same chord changes, and that's something that's very
easily overlooked or been underrated: the ability to write
a great song over chords that have been around for
donkey's years. But then again, you can't sit down and
decide what type of record you are going to write, because
even when you do that -like on Behavior when we were going
to make a real techno album - if what's coming out of you
isn't techno there's nothing you can do about it.
Do you wish the Pet Shop Boys just made demented dance
I really like demented dance records, but
demented dance records don't normally have a song, they
don't have a lyric apart from "oh yeah" so they're not
really what the Pet Shop Boys are all about. The Pet Shop
Boys have always been about writing songs. That's what
we've always tried to do: write a song and put it into a
current contemporary dance context. Demented dance music
doesn't really have any of that, it's just demented dance
music, so it doesn't really fit into the Pet Shop Boys
manifesto. It can exist, but on our B-sides and
twelve-inch dance records.
Do you care what Neil's
Well, yeah. I very rarely comment on
Neil's lyrics because I'm not a lyricist or anything and
he's got his own thing to say. Sometimes I'll say "what's
that all about?", but... I think Neil probably thinks this
sometimes about something like "My October Symphony", he's
going on about the Russian Revolution or
it becomes so personalized to him that it doesn't
necessarily communicate anything to the listener at all. I
think I probably prefer Neil's lyrics when they're more
direct and concerned with love or more everyday issues,
rather than some historic perspective on things. On Please
a lot of the lyrics you can relate to them on a much
simpler level. Like "I want a lover Tonight".
can see where he's coming from there. I prefer that. And I
always like sexier lyrics. But while I might make a
general comment about things like that, it's up to Neil.
If I want to express something then I should write some
lyrics. But I'm not going because they'd be crap (laughs).
With of his lyrics do you like best?
I like the
lyrics to "Violence". I think the lyrics to "Being Boring"
are really good. What's the word? "Elegiac". I think the
lyrics to "West End Girls" are really good. Actually,
generally I think Neil's lyrics are fantastic. The great
thing about them is they're not just cliché after cliché.
Everyone of Neil's lyrics has a meaning:
saying something new or saying something old in a new way.
And I think he's unique in that respect.
annoyed when Neil does things with Electronic without you?
Not really. I've enjoyed the whole Electronic thing,
not so much for the music but because I really like being
friends with Bernard and Johnny and that whole Manchester
posse. The actual records are secondary to the friendship.
Do you ever feel he shouldn't do things without
No, I don't think that at all. I mean, I might
want to do things without him, though I probably wouldn't
because I'm too lazy. But I don't find working with more
than one person easy. I'm not a team person. If there's a
team thing going on I'll not be involved or be very much
at the back. I've always liked solo sports. At school I
never liked it when we had projects to do as pan of a
team. I don't work well in that kind of situation.
Will you ever make a solo LP?
I wouldn't mind
doing a solo LP. I quite like the idea, but the trouble
is, firstly when people do solo LPs they're normally crap,
so I would have this thing in the back of my mind that it
was probably crap. And I wouldn't want
people to think
there was a rift in the group and all that business. And
it can kind of upset the chemistry, all these things
going. I might do one for myself actually, and not release
it. Sometimes I play stuff to Neil on the Fairlight that
he doesn't like, and the stuff he doesn't like' I might
develop. It would be stuff that was rejected for the Pet
Shop Boys but which I still felt was quite good.
would you feel if Neil did a solo LP?
always talking about doing his Noel Coward LP. It wouldn't
bother me at all, really. Of course, both of us would find
it very annoying if the other person's solo LP did well
(laughs). There's no doubt about that.
Do you think of
songs all the time?
No. I don't think in terms of
songs anyway. I never have done. I don't think in terms of
song structure or even themes, I just think in terms of
interlocking music ideas. Neil tends to think very
conventionally in terms of song. I've a much looser form
Do you think of musical ideas when
you have to write something?
I don't like to think
musically unless I've got some writing of recording or
programming it, because to their wise it's lost for-good.
I lose things all the time. I don't like to sit down at a
piano unless I've got my Fairlight ready to go, because
III have an idea I'll play it and think that's really
good";, then the phone will ring and that's it, it's all
over. And I also like to have big gaps between doing
anything. I'm not one of these people who likes to slog
away. Neil's great at that, but I'm not. With me it just
comes out, or it doesn't come out. 'That's why I like
big-gaps where I don't do anything, because it's the music
is swelling up inside me and just waiting to ooze out.
Is Neil too bossy?
He's not so much bossy as
There's a decisiveness to begin
with - "we'll do this" - and because he's so decisive
there's not the time to communicate to anybody the thought
process in his head, and that can come across as being
bossy. Actually having said that, he is quite bossy, but
not in a bad way. That's Neil when he's just on autopilot.
Does it annoy you?
Sometimes it can be mildly
irritating but I've really chilled out recently. You don't
get tantrums from Chris Lowe anymore. I'm a tantrum-free
zone. Nothing really bothers me. And when Neil's bossy I
don't think he's aware of it. If you told him I think he'd
look at you as if to say "what are you talking about?"
What do you think you do that annoys him most?
Presumably you'll ask Neil this in the next issue. I can
be argumentative just for the sake of being argumentative.
There must be loads of things, but I think he'd agree that
I'm a lot less difficult than I used to be.
have you got a Porsche?
I was going to get a new car
and I spent ages looking through the car magazines for
which car - sorry, what car - I wanted. And there was only
one I wanted: a black Porsche. And I really had serious
doubts about getting it, not because of the car which I
really love -everything about it - but what it symbolized.
We were at the height of the yuppie era and it was a real
statement of success and yuppie dom, and it was the kind
of car that attracted attention. And the last thing I like
is being spotted. And also, you're driving round in a car
that, at the time, was the price of quite a nice house in
Blackpool, and it gave me the feeling I shouldn't have
one. But I've always loved the styling and the detailing
of the Porsche. I just thought, this is the best car. And
I absolutely love my car. It's fantastic.
really go and watch Arsenal play football?
last season. This season I've not been very often, despite
being a season ticket holder. I like going because I like
the people I go with. They're all really funny. There's a
lot of humor at football matches. I like being out in the
open, I love the atmosphere and I like hearing which
records they play over the tannoy - that's such a good
indication of which records are actually happening. And I
like the aggression. I remember once being outside
Arsenal's ground and these Cockney reds -London Manchester
United fans - hit me and Denton, and the police charged in
on horseback. I even kind of enjoy that underlying
violence. No-one admits they like that, but there's
something about it I find electric. What I really don't
like is going to goalie's draws. It's a waste of time. I
like that moment when you jump up. I like goals.
Why did you get your hair cut so short?
On the tour?
It's actually a bit longer now. First reason: the fans and
my mum don't like it. It's nice to annoy people who've got
your best interests at heart. I have got a difficult side
to my nature and it just rears its ugly head (laughs)...
quite often. Also, I think the best haircut in the history
of the world is the US Marine haircut. You can't argue
with that haircut: it's a no-nonsense fantastic haircut.
I've always had a soft spot for it and at any time I might
decide I want it. I love the sharpness and I love the
feeling when you rub your hand down the back of you head
of just bristle. But to have that haircut you've got be
really healthy and in the sun. That haircut relies on a
lot of spoil, a lot of swimming, a lot of being in the
changing rooms. I don't like long hair on me because when
I wash my hair it goes up and out and becomes very full;
not long and flowing, just springy. I thought about
extensions but someone told me about sitting next to Mick
Hucknall on a transatlantic flight and as they were
talking one of his extensions dropped off and fell onto
When did you last cry?
Oh, I'm quite
a crier, me. I know it's pathetic and hardly the macho
images that I like to portray to the public. The last time
was when we watched a rough cut of this film The Soldier's
Were and there was this bit where I was in floods of
tears. The last time I remember crying profusely - it was
really embarrassing - was we went to see Gypsy with Liza
Minnelli on Broadway. Tyne Daly was in it. It's this
fantastic story about this widow and her children who you
know aren't ever going to have success or happiness, but
she's determined they're going to get there. We went
backstage afterwards to meet the cast and I couldn't
speak, my eyes were completely welled up. Then I
completely lost control and there were these tears coming
down. Liza came over and just hugged me, which made it
worse. I thought "pull yourself together, for God's sake!
what a wimp!". But everyone should go and see musicals
like that. It would turn the heart of the most hardened
street mugger into a big softy.
When do you feel
I feel happiest, for some reason, when I
wake up and the sun is shining through the windows and I
step outside and the air's fresh and it's... to me, that
is great. And driving somewhere on a Sunday afternoon with
the sun shining. I just feel happy. The weather really
affects me. If it's raining and all overcast I feel
depressed. If the sun shines I'm unbelievably happy.
Do you ever think about the Pet Shop Boys splitting
Not really, because although I think I'm dead
progressive and I apparently like change, really I'm not
into change. The idea of splitting up is "oh, what a
palaver". I couldn't go through the headache of all that.
I like things to carry on quite happily as they are. It
doesn't really cross my mind at all. I suppose I've
considered it at some point only because everybody
questions the situation they're in. Probably during a
promotional trip years ago. But all you ever need is a
break, and really I'm quite happy, and get happier as the
years go on and it gets less stressful.
think the Pet Shop Boys 'night go on more or less forever?
I certainly see no reason for it to end.
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