With more than twenty years at the forefront of electronic pop/dance music, The Pet Shop Boys recently released their tenth studio album, Yes. Though the CD is produced by British hitmakers Xenomania, the duo Chris Lowe and Neil Tennant maintain their signature sound regardless of who they are in the studio with. With their catalog of masterpieces, it's hard to believe that they’ve yet to win a Grammy (despite six nominations), yet The Brits wisely recognized them this year with a well-deserved award for Outstanding Contribution to Music.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: I've read that the new CD Yes was conceived as a two-part
album, like a vinyl album or the acts in an opera. Is this the first
time you've programmed an album this way?
Chris Lowe: No. Actually, we put all the poppy ones at the beginning and the more complicated, complex ones in the second half. So if it was vinyl, it would be an A side and a B side. So we really weighted it towards pop music at the beginning so that you could put it on and get in a mood, get into a party feeling. Then if you wanted to just listen and go into your own world and your own space, you could put it on halfway through. But it wasn't conceived as an opera or anything.
Working with Xenomania
RS: What did y’all hope to achieve musically by working with Xenomania?
Chris Lowe: We went in the studio to write some songs and we realized that we were writing lots of pop music, and so consequently we thought that Xenomania would be the best people to work with as they're making some of the best pop music in Britain at the moment. We particularly like the records that they'd made with Girls Aloud, “I Call The Shots” and “Biology,” and also with the Sugababes and various other people. We thought they would be the best producers for the music we’d written. We went to meet Brian Higgins at his studio and we really liked him. We liked his competitiveness and his enthusiasm and energy for pop music and he's written the best music out there, and we just hit it off with him really well. Something we did on this album which we don’t normally do is we did some co-writes with Xenomania. We wrote three songs with them on this album – ”Love Etc,” “The Way It Used To Be,” and “More Than A Dream.“ That was an interesting process for us, working with their backing tracks and putting toplines. The whole thing worked out really well. I think we’re going to, hopefully, work with them again in the future.
RS: How else was working with them different than when you work
with other producers?
Chris Lowe: Well, Xenomania is a team of people and they work in this big house in the country and each room has a little studio set up in it. There are a lot of people working at any one time on your record and the music is passed around the studio on little USB sticks. Brian Higgins sits down, monitoring the whole thing and pushing it in various directions and stuff like that. There are people from all around the world working there, some people from Australia, and one of the musicians used to be in the KLF. Another musician plays for Daft Punk. Then there were all these kids there who were new to music. Basically, it's a very enthusiastic workplace and I imagine it’s a bit like the Motown studio was in Detroit. At the end of the day, everything gets judged by Brian, and if it’s good enough it sort of gets marked. It’s a very creative place to be. All the previous producers we've worked with tended to be one person and you sort of sit in the studio working with them and only with them. But this is so much a team effort, which is the biggest difference.
Neil Tennant: What was unusual for them working with us was that they were producing our songs; they don't normally do that, they normally produce their own songs, and to them the songwriting and the production process is the same thing. I think it was probably as much a learning process for them as it was for us.
The Pet Shop Boys Sound
RS: You have worked with so many big-name producers, many of whom
have a very distinct sound and style, yet somehow the end result
always sounds distinctly "Pet Shop Boys" and not like PSB are guesting
on someone else's record. Is that an important issue to them? Are
there boundaries set at the onset of recording that measure how much
"sonic influence" a producer will have?
Chris Lowe: No. Well I have mixed feelings about this, because Neil has a very distinctive voice and so really you could get Neil to sing or almost anything and it would sound like a Pet Shop Boys record. He could sing on some heavy metal and you'd think it would sound like a Pet Shop Boys record. There are certain things that we do other than that musically, there's certain chords that we like, and while we’re with a different producer, all the songs are actually written by us so they inherently have the quality of the Pet Shop Boys about them. There are certain things that we like and that always comes through in our music. So we also do try and do different things, Bilingual was very influenced by Latin American music. For Release, we went out and bought a couple of guitars - Neil played guitar on a lot of tracks and Johnny Marr played, so it sounded a bit more rock maybe than before. It’s true that there is a strong element to the Pet Shop Boys that's always there and regardless of who we work with or their style of music.
Neil Tennant: We can do anything and people will say it’s typical Pet Shop Boys.