The Pet Shop Boys have been indelibly linked with their hometown of London since their mid-'80s synth-pop hit "West End Girls." Earlier this year, though, singer Neil Tennant and keyboardist Chris Lowe relocated to Los Angeles to record "Elysium," a sleekly seductive new studio album in stores this week. Pop & Hiss rang up Tennant in London to find out why.
The title of "Elysium" refers to the park near Dodger Stadium, and the album's closer is called "Requiem in Denim and Leopardskin," which suggests the wardrobe of a great many Angelenos. How did L.A. come to incubate these songs?
We always choose a producer based on the songs we've written. And the songs we were writing last year, we had this idea that it'd be good to work in L.A. with someone who'd worked on Kanye West's "808s & Heartbreak." So we looked through the credits of that record and saw this name Andrew Dawson. We Googled him, saw what he'd done and approached him. The next day we were doing it.
What attracted you to "808s & Heartbreak"?
It's got a great atmosphere. It's electronic pop, but it's hip-hop -- there's something really fresh about that. The link between European electro-pop and hip-hop is kind of fascinating, and that album was early on in that. It's also very beautiful. That sounds like kind of a banal thing to say, but we wanted this album of ours to be very beautiful; we had this idea that it was going to be like a mood album, not a high-energy dance record. We also knew we wanted to have a lot of backing vocals, which we don't normally do. And we thought we would get the right result in L.A.
A lot of the backing vocals are performed by the Waters, who've worked with pretty much everyone.
They're kind of legendary. We love the history of Los Angeles; I'm very interested in the Wrecking Crew and all that stuff. So to draw on that history was amazing. The Waters, you know, they told us how they'd sung with the Jackson Five, and they worked on "Thriller." But they also worked on Adele's "21" and they're touring with Neil Diamond. They work all the time.
How long were you and Chris here?
Two and a half months -- from the middle of January till the end of March.
That's a good chunk of time.
It was! I mean, we've been to L.A. so many times, but only for like a week. To me, L.A. used to be the Chateau Marmont, and that was it, really -- that was Neil Tennant's L.A. I hadn't really got how the rest of it worked. This time we were driving around in a Mini Cooper and had a house rented above Beverly Hills with a view of the city. We sort of got to understand the logic of it.
I love the photo in the booklet of you two in front of a swimming pool, with the pool guy visible behind you.
That was taken in the house we rented. He was very nice, the pool guy. Something fascinating about living there was the way people came and went in the back garden: "Oh, the pool guy's here." And then the gardener -- he looked slightly astonished that I was talking to him. The whole rhythm of life in Beverly Hills kind of fascinated me. Every morning I'd go for a walk and the only other people walking were the dog-walkers. Actually, there was an old guy obviously walking for exercise. But really it was the dog-walkers and me.
The song "Your Early Stuff" nails the world of faded English celebrities who end up here.
You've just guaranteed I will never live in Los Angeles.
No, you can't.
There's something quite glamorous about being a faded celebrity, at least in London. That song actually came from here. I don't drive a car in London, I always get taxis. And taxi drivers can be quite talkative; they often recognize me and ask about the Pet Shop Boys. So this was inspired by someone saying to me, "I quite like your early stuff." We like confronting things you're not meant to say -- you're not supposed to confront age in pop music. Really, a lot of the album is about what it's like carrying on in pop music when you get to our age.
One way you've negotiated that has been a really determined effort to try new things: Last year, you scored a ballet, and for the album "Yes," in 2010, you collaborated with the young production team Xenomania.
It's not so much a determined effort as much as an instinct not to repeat yourself endlessly. Also, there's a desire to do something a bit more difficult, maybe. Chris and I, sometimes people get frustrated that we're not doing '80s-style electro-pop. We could do that, but it would be less and less rewarding; it's not really what we're about. We're very split: Part of us is Eurodisco, but part of us is Steely Dan. And you can hear both of those things in this album.