10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

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10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#1 Post by Dog » Thu 07 Jul 2016, 9:45 pm

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Trevor Horn needs no introduction to us Pet Shop Boys fans. The 12” bookends of Left to my own devices and It’s alright, recorded by Trevor at the height of the boys’ imperial phase, defined Introspective and helped make the album their most successful to date.

Left to my own devices - their first track to employ an orchestra - remains a spectacular and unique moment in both their discography and in popular music. The b-side of the single release, The sound of the atom splitting saw Trevor accompany the boys at their most experimental.

May this year marked the 10th anniversary of the Fundamental album which saw Pet Shop Boys and Trevor reunite after 17 years. Here, over 12 epic tracks, the trio crafted an album which revisited classic elements of their respective repertoires and reacquainted Pet Shop Boys with their classic sound. It struck a chord with fans across the world and provided a reboot still evident in the momentum the duo maintain a decade later.

In the same month, Trevor took on musical directorship of Pet Shop Boys’ concert at London’s Mermaid Theatre, later documented on the Horn-produced Concrete, their first live album. With a full band and orchestra, the project showcased the fruits of their combined labour, as well as the breadth of Pet Shop Boys’ career to date.

To mark these milestones, Trevor kindly took time out from reworking vocals to answer questions from Community forum members.

Trevor on Fundamental

Do you remember hearing Neil and Chris’s Fundamental demos for the first time? What did you think? (Dog)

Is it really 10 years? Yes, I do remember - I remember thinking that the songs were good. I particularly liked Luna Park - I always like the ‘doomy’ ones - and Indefinite leave to remain.

What were your musical influences at the time of recording Fundamental? (Pod)

I don’t think my influences have changed that much in 40 years. Back then I would have been listening to whatever was around at the time.

I do listen to a fair bit of current stuff, because I’ve got kids… They always play me things. There are still good songs around - you just have to look for them. Something where people have really taken trouble over the lyrics - that’s what was always so great about Neil and Chris - the lyrics were always good.

Was there a particular theme the boys wanted to achieve with the album? (Pod)

They generally have a clear idea of the kind of record they want to make. When I came along they had more-or-less written the whole album - it was all there. They’d recorded it but they really needed somebody to finish it off.

Pet Shop Boys are really good with record producers - they understand record producers, they understand their function and that does help, when people understand what it is that you do.

In terms of a theme, I just got the sense that he’d written a bunch of really good songs and I liked what they were about. I’ve always liked his lyrics a lot, because most lyrics are an insult to a chimpanzee’s intelligence! I think Neil is one of the great lyric writers of our generation. Something like Rent is the equal of just about anything I’ve heard in my whole life, in terms of pathos and describing a situation so clearly and so beautifully, which song lyrics are great at - when they are good they’re the best thing ever.

Chris is one of those guys who’s a real dark horse - he’s obviously a really good musician, and he just hides it. I almost saw him play the keyboard once! He almost played during a session, but it was only almost… His hands were definitely above the keys! If I’d have gone over and pushed his hands down they would have gone on the keys and he’d have played something! I think that’s the closest we got.

It's easy to appreciate your production on Fundamental if one compares the final results with the demo versions. Some of them are very different from their prototypes. It seems like you almost completely changed their initial approach to Fundamental. (drunk14)

They’d used a lot of plug-in synths. I re-recorded nearly all of them using proper analogue synths - the real thing, rather than plug-ins. It’s only a small gain but it’s still worth having.

Would you say that the level of complexity of producing The Sodom and Gomorrah show is comparable to Left to my own devices? (artistinmass)

No, I don’t think it’s as complicated. Left to my own devices was a lot richer harmonically.

The Sodom and Gomorrah show was quite an interesting track. I remember spending a long time trying to get the rhythm track to gel. It was literally like an old rock session, which is sort of odd for the Pet Shop Boys - I kept trying to make it sound more robotic.

The thing about working with Neil and Chris is they are in the control room all the time, so it’s not like anything happens that they don’t hear. It’s not the same as them leaving it with you for two weeks, and they come back and you’ve changed all the chords and it’s all a bit different. Very little like that happened on this record. To be perfectly honest, if it was anybody else I’d be pretty glad to have them out of the control room but they were always good company and I just got used to them being there all the time. I’d be there beavering away doing something and they would approve or disapprove.

When it came to the music it was always Chris, and Chris would have very definite opinions. I always had to stay within the parameters of those opinions. He doesn’t like Fender Rhodes piano, he doesn’t like certain effects. And I’m quite used to that - I work with one lot of people and they love this, and hate that, and the next lot of people hate that and love this. It’s relative.

I'd love to know more about the superb New Order-style instrumental climax to Minimal. Was that guitar line something you came up with - and maybe even played? (Dead In Marseilles)

I think it’s the one where I play a bass line high up on the bass. I met Peter Hook at a do and we got talking and he said: “Now you see how difficult it is to play bass guitar on techno tracks” - because he’d always had that problem with New Order… And I said: “Yeah, and I’ve just ripped you off on a Pet Shop Boys track… I’ve kind of copied you, because that thing that you do is really good…” I really liked it. He would play more like a very simple guitar part… And I think that’s what I did at the end of Minimal.

When you have a sequencer running, it’s very hard to compete with it as a bass player. You get drowned out, so you have to find another way of getting through.

Were any tracks particularly difficult to get right? (jules)

I always remember Luna Park being tricky for some reason.

I worked a lot on the bass and drums of The Sodom and Gomorrah Show, that took a bit of time to get together. Virgil Howe [the son of Yes guitarist Steve Howe] I think played the drums on it - it was quite a complicated drum pattern in a few places.

I’ll tell you one track I always liked as well. One they didn’t write - Numb. Diane Warren wrote that. And I was really shocked when they said they wanted to do it, if you know what I mean. I was just surprised, and it’s also the only time I’ve heard Neil sing in American. He normally sings in English. “I wanna be numb…” I pointed this out to him but he didn’t seem concerned.

There’s a moment in that song where it goes from being totally electronic to being totally played. When he goes “I wanna be numb”… On the word “numb”, it shifts from being machines, sequencers and programmed drums to being everything real.

It’s quite interesting - more-or-less a total shift and I always thought it was kind of cool, that bit.

Were you asked to produce the track Fugitive and did you have any say over its exclusion from Fundamental? (Drico One)

No, I don’t remember it. I’ve never heard it.

Can you tell us anything about any unreleased songs from the same period? (daveid)

No, I don’t normally work on tracks that don’t make it onto the album. I really try and save the energy. I would have listened through the songs at the start and said the ones that I thought were worthy of going on the record, and then the other ones I’d have ignored for as long as I could, unless someone tried to make me finish them… Which has happened lots of times before.

Were they a very different duo to when you'd previously worked with them? (No Muscle Mary)

I noticed a huge difference when I saw them in 2004 when they performed at the show that I did at Wembley. They opened the second half with Left to my own devices… I was with the backing vocalists and I remember the first thing I had to sing was “say goodbye” - the harmony from the record - and I was so taken with Neil - the pair of them really - I was so fascinated watching them because in a way when I’d worked with them the first time they’d been kind of fresh to it. He was a journalist and Chris, you know, didn’t say anything! And I thought, my goodness, these two have changed - look at how confident Neil is, he looks so confident… He’s singing so effortlessly. And then of course I realised I’d forgotten to sing my bit! I had to overdub it on the recording afterwards. I had to stop looking at them and concentrate!

I did think that out of all the people that I had on that they were one of the best, definitely.

I always enjoyed doing that tune because I didn’t have to play on it… And Sally Bradshaw was great. The amazing thing about opera singers is they sound like opera singers and when she came in with that bit in the middle it gave me goosebumps down the back of my neck, I thought it was so good. I also used her on The Days Of Pearly Spencer with Marc Almond, and a bit on the Art Of Noise album [1999’s The Seduction Of Claude Debussy]. I like opera singers but they’re not to everybody’s taste.

Looking back on producing Fundamental, is there anything about it that stands out from the other wonderful albums that you have worked on? (artistinmass)

I’ve listened to a couple of tracks recently and thought it was a very good album. It just suffers from the same thing that a lot of records suffer from… We’re 20-odd years down the line… We’re all a bit older. But they’re still doing the same thing… And of course that’s the amazing thing about Pet Shop Boys - they’ve turned into a great live act. They’d have never dreamt it in a million years!

Trevor on the Mermaid Theatre concert

I was lucky enough to attend the 2006 Mermaid Theatre concert where you were musical director. It was a unique and fantastic night. What is your memory of the evening? (Dog)

I remember putting a lot of effort into that. There was one track that they did especially because I wanted to do it - Dreaming of the Queen. It was always one of my favourites from that album [Very]. But a very difficult song to reproduce. I had the vocal harmony singers going half the weekend learning stuff to get that one right.

I enjoyed that concert a lot. I never had to play so quietly in my life! It was just funny having a whole rhythm section with the Pet Shop Boys.

It wasn’t meant to be an album [Concrete], but it came out as an album. And I’ve actually got it in the car, because in some ways I prefer it [to Fundamental].

Trevor on Pet Shop Boys

What were your initial impressions of Neil and Chris before you met them and how did that change when you first worked with them? (TallThinMan)

I heard about them quite a few times before I met them, because they were managed by Tom Watkins… He was our interior designer. He kept trying to interest me in them… But I wasn’t interested, because he was the interior designer!

It was at a point where everybody wanted me to listen to their tape, so I was a bit resistant. And then I heard West End girls on the radio and I just fell in love with it, just like everybody else did. It was great. I had an idea of what he was singing about… Although it wasn’t my experience, I could tell he was an authority on something. I just loved the track - I loved the sound of it, I loved the lyric, the tune; everything.

When I first saw them, I will have seen them just in the same way that everybody else saw them. I remember thinking that the video for Rent was absolutely brilliant.

You’ve got to realise The Buggles were a duo. I was a singer and a keyboard player, and we got so much flack for that. Warner Brothers wouldn’t sign us because we weren’t a proper band, even though they liked the music.

I always thought that they were doing it properly, really. They had a really good way of being a duo and it seemed to work.

In what way is your approach to producing Pet Shop Boys’ music different to producing, for example, Seal? (artistinmass)

Well, it’s different in a certain way, because each artist has got their own frame of reference. With the Pet Shop Boys it’s very much no “feel” allowed - no sloppiness - it’s techno, pure techno - and you’ve got to keep it like that, because that’s what suits Neil best. His voice works best with that backdrop. Because really you don’t want anything getting in the way - you want to hear what he's saying. Within that context he works wonderfully.

Was there a time Pet Shop Boys approached you regarding some other project that didn't materialise? If so, what happened? (le petit corbusier)

We’ve talked about a couple of other things but we never got round to doing them.

What do you think of Release (Pet Shop Boys' self-produced album, released prior to Fundamental)? (le petit corbusier)

I liked the records that they made in the 80s. I loved Being boring. I loved the one with Dreaming of the Queen on [Very]. I used to have that album in the car and played it all the time. The kids used to call them the Ketchup Boys! “Daddy, can we hear the Ketchup Boys?”

What do you think of Electric and Super? (Pod)

I haven’t heard them. Are they good?

Trevor on Left to my own devices

What is your favourite Pet Shop Boys track you worked on and why? (stopthecar)

That’s a tough one. Probably Left to my own devices. Just because I thought it came out really well. It was one of those tracks that was just really good. It’s such an interesting riff. Although Steve Lipson came up with the bass riff. That one really did change quite a bit from the way it was originally. I think the string arrangement is one of the best on any record I’ve ever done. It’s so good.

When we were rehearsing for the Wembley show I had, like, 14 string players in that band, and I also had a guy playing samples off a keyboard, and I said to the string players: “This is a bit of a tricky arrangement, this one,” and they said: “Oh no, it’s a brilliant arrangement, it’s one of the reasons we wanted to do this show, to play this arrangement.” I was quite impressed by that! Really? I mean, I always liked it too! It was a guy called Richard Niles that did it.

It was a certain era… “In a secret life I was a Roundhead General…”… I love that bit!

Left to my own devices famously took six months to record. What exactly where you doing for six months? Were you not sick of the song after three weeks or so? (jamie1978)

That’s rubbish! It never took even remotely six months to record! It was much quicker than that. People talk about me spending a long time - it’s when you’re making a record like Two Tribes [Frankie Goes To Hollywood single] where the technology’s so new that to get the stuff to do what you want takes a long time.

No, Left to my own devices was pretty quick. Steve did one version of it, in the Synclavier, and I didn’t like it, so we changed it, and I programmed it on an Akai MPC. I thought the Synclavier was too sophisticated sounding and we needed something that sounded more garagey. Steve was initially a little bit cross but then he came up with that brilliant bass line and we were off and running really.

Do you have any input into the lyrics? (Undertaker)

I think the only input I’ve ever had into a Pet Shop Boys song was when Neil used something I said to him, in Left to my own devices. He said to me: “What are you doing next, after this?” and I said: “I’m going to put Debussy to a disco beat.” He gave me little bit of publishing on the b-side, which I’ve never listened to, so I’ve no idea what it was. It was a way of repaying me for using the thing that I’d said. I didn’t mind!

What is your favourite memory of working with Neil and Chris? (artistinmass)

There’s a few but they’re not repeatable! [Thinks…] I always remember the tensest moments. The best moment and the tensest moment was when we first heard the strings on Left to my own devices, in Abbey Road. And it was all going great, particularly the last verse… “Put on the TV… Watch a fight…”… That verse was great, and we were just loving it. And then when we hit the end of the song, the run-out, the big, long fade, it was awful. Chris really hated what the guy had written. And we had a 60-piece orchestra there. So I had to go out and get a red pen and go through it all with him - change it all on the spot. It took him nearly an hour to rewrite it. It was one of those moments where it was a bit of a horror show because, as good as it had been, it really wasn’t good at the end. The arrangement was too complicated, it was too messy, and so I got the arranger, since it was going round on the same set of chords, more-or-less the same sequence of chords, for two or three minutes, I just got him to write the chords in block form and take them up gradually, ascending; climbing up. I kept one or two of the things he did, just little flashes of it, and that seemed to get it to work but it was one of the biggest emergencies I ever had with a string section.

You don’t normally have that happen because these days I get to hear the arrangement beforehand and so something that would be too over-the-top or inappropriate I would get rid of before the session. But back then you didn’t have that. You could talk to the arranger but you’d have to give him a certain amount of free rein otherwise you wouldn’t get anything interesting. But there was always that danger that he’d write something you didn’t like.

Chris most definitely didn’t like it. He was very vocal. He always was, but that’s good. It’s much better if people are definite about what they do and don’t like. The worst thing is when they say: “Well, what do you think? Make up your mind…” Well, it’s your music! If it were up to me, I’d do this… But Chris was always very definite - “I don’t like that,” or “I like this.”

Trevor on The sound of the atom splitting

You are famous for taking a long time perfecting tracks, so just how improvised and contrary to your normal way of working was The sound of the atom splitting? (Old Soak)

I’ve never heard it. I don’t think I played on it. You know, it’s one of those things - I might remember it if I heard it.

Will the 40 minute or so ‘jam’ you did with Neil, Chris and Stephen Lipson that led to The sound of the atom splitting ever see the light of day? (One of the crowd)

I’ll have a listen to it and remind myself. I can’t really remember it. I remember Left to my own devices absolutely clearly.

Trevor on his career

Are there any Buggles recordings gathering dust somewhere? (tottenhammattspurs)

Yep, they’re coming out next year.

Of your whole career, what's the song you're most proud of? (leesmapman)

That’s a difficult one, but technically the record that I think was the most innovative that I ever did was Owner Of A Lonely Heart [1983 Yes single]. Just in terms of pure “tricks”.

Trevor on the future

Any chance of a new Art Of Noise album? (leesmapman)

I doubt it. It doesn’t mean to say I’m not going to do any more music, just that I’m not going to do any Art Of Noise music.

Would you work with Pet Shop Boys again on an album? (jrusher12)

I always had such a nice experience working with them I’d be happy to work with them again. Of course, the great thing is that if you’re going to work on a Pet Shop Boys track, you get to hang out with the Pet Shop Boys for a few weeks… And that in itself is worth doing it for! I think because they’ve got very definite opinions on the world and I can sit and listen for ages, they’re so interesting and entertaining.

I’d love to work with them on something. Any excuse.


Interview by Chris Payne, July 2016.
Woof.

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drunk14
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#2 Post by drunk14 » Thu 07 Jul 2016, 9:52 pm

I've been waiting for this as much as for the new album ;) Thank you!
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#3 Post by joepsb » Thu 07 Jul 2016, 9:59 pm

great read
well done Dog

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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#4 Post by No Muscle Mary » Thu 07 Jul 2016, 10:16 pm

How wonderful! And a lengthy answer to my question. Thank you so much for the opportunity Dog!
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#6 Post by Pod » Thu 07 Jul 2016, 10:35 pm

Dog, you've done it again sir. I tip my hat in your direction - fabulous! A really good insight into how Neil and Chris work there.
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#8 Post by Pete13 » Thu 07 Jul 2016, 11:44 pm

A great read. Many thanks!

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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#9 Post by alig » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 12:36 am

Love how Horn says that Chris barely touched a keyboard. So basically only Neil performs on the album?
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#10 Post by df118junkie » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 2:07 am

Excellent - Thanks for pulling this off.

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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#11 Post by Zog » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 2:51 am

Wow, what an interesting and info-packed Question and Answer session. And congratulations on getting this done and the members here who had their questions answered.

What's more we have a major bit of PSB lore dispelled:

** It took 6 months to
write/produce "Left to my own Devices".

Definative Answer: False!

Cheers,

-Zog
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#12 Post by DJAMIX » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 3:07 am

Just loved it!
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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#13 Post by MikeyC » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 3:23 am

Thank you so much for arranging this and to Trevor for participating! What a thrilling interview!! :)

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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#14 Post by glennjridge » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 4:33 am

maybe as a superfan of the PSB I'm imprinting on trevor but I find it a bit irritating how out of the loop he appears to be with their music. its almost as if he knows what he knows only if he's involved otherwise he cant be bothered. I mean, isnt he the least bit curious what they've been up to this band he spend months with on fundamental...not even a listen to the newer stuff? anyways I just found that a bit surprising.

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Re: 10 years of Fundamental - Trevor Horn answers questions from forum members

#15 Post by Zog » Fri 08 Jul 2016, 4:57 am

glennjridge wrote:maybe as a superfan of the PSB I'm imprinting on trevor but I find it a bit irritating how out of the loop he appears to be with their music. its almost as if he knows what he knows only if he's involved otherwise he cant be bothered. I mean, isnt he the least bit curious what they've been up to this band he spend months with on fundamental...not even a listen to the newer stuff? anyways I just found that a bit surprising.
That's an excellent point!

-Zog
New Stuff
*** “Back-Track” - Retro Funk Mix (MAS 2018)
https://soundcloud.com/martin-ashwoodsm ... k-mix-2018
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