“This album has more of an analogue sound. It’s got a real Berlin quality to it” - Pet Shop Boys talk their new album Hotspot
Every Pet Shop Boys album is an event. It might be almost 40 years after they first formed, but singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe’s quirky, icy cool take on pop and electronica still commands everyone’s attention.
Their latest album is Hotspot, which arrives in hmv stores today (January 24th). Recorded in Berlin with New Order/Everything Everything producer Stuart Price, the album features a guest appearance from Years & Years frontman Olly Alexander and former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler.
A 10-track album, the LP is billed as the final act of a trilogy that began with 2013's Electric, all produced and mixed by Price.
As well as Hotspot, the pair have also spearheaded hmv’s My Inspiration campaign in-store, curating a selection of albums, DVDs and books, which feature their favourite selections and a look at pieces of culture that have inspired them.
With the album now on shelves, we spoke to Tennant and Lowe about how they made it, working and living in Berlin and their plans for a huge arena tour...
Hotspot is billed as the end of a trilogy of albums, did you know at the start of album one that you were making a trilogy?
Neil: “No. We decided to make an album with Stuart Price in 2012, which ended up being Electric. We’d decided to go back to a purely electronic sound and make an electronic dance album, we had a lot of songs in that vein left over from previous albums and some newer ones. And I said, in an interview, that it was going to be a trilogy. It was off the top of my head, I just needed something to say.”
Chris: “It was a novel way of locking Stuart Price in…”
What is it about Stuart Price that has made him such a key collaborator? At this stage in a lot of artists’ careers, they’re dispensing with producers altogether…
Neil: “We always like to work with a producer. We’ve only gone without a producer on one album. It’s always good to have someone else’s imagination, it pushes you further than you’d be able to go on your own. That’s what we’ve found with people like Stephen Hague and Trevor Horn. Stuart is a brilliant programmer, he loves electronic music and he works very fast, you never get bored.”
Is it a sonic continuation of Electric and Super?
Neil: “Both those albums sound very digital. Chris and I wrote most of this album in Berlin and we wanted to record there too. Stuart came over from Los Angeles to work and we worked in Hansa Studios, which is where David Bowie recorded Heroes and where Depeche Mode and U2 and lots of German electronic groups have worked. Hansa has a lot of old gear, stuff that went right back to the mid-70s, so it’s given the album a bit more of an analogue sound. It’s got a real Berlin quality to it.”
You spend a lot of time in Berlin now, you live there some of the time, is it an easy place to write and work in?
Chris: “It’s a great place to write. You don’t get bothered as much and it seems more remote, even if emails turn up at the same speed as they do in London. London is so hectic. It’s more relaxed and we get more done, even if we do spend a lot of time having Kaffee und kuchen as well.”
“There’s also a lot of music coming out of the city. Every bar, no matter what time you go in, seems to have a DJ playing and even in taxis, you hear a lot of obscure music. We’ve got a few friends there and there are the great clubs like Berghain, which don’t allow cameras. People can properly let themselves go. That’s Berlin all over, people are less concerned with what they look like.”
You’ve got Olly Alexander from Years & Years on the album, how did that come about?
Neil: “It came from our manager. He’d had a meeting with Polydor and they were talking about Years & Years. It was meant to be a track for their album originally and Olly came round to our studio to write it. But their style is so different from ours that we suggested it went on our album instead. He’d been to Dreamland in Margate the day before, which I’d never heard of, I just thought it sounded like a song title. Chris had a backing track that we were able to use. He’s got a lovely voice and it sits nicely alongside myself.”
Finally, you’ve got a big tour booked in the Spring, how is the set coming together?
Neil: “The tour is called ‘Dreamworld: The Greatest Hits live’, so it picks itself to a certain extent, but there will be a couple in there that we think should be hits. It’s the first time we’ve done a set like that.”