Andrew H. Walker, Getty Images Nine days after the deadly tornado that touched…
- Posted on Mar 30th 2011 11:05AM by Julian Marszalek
The trio have spent the day involving themselves in the promotional duties required for their new album, 'Credo,' -- their first since 2001's 'Secrets.' Not only have they been putting their name to a variety of posters, CDs and the promotional goods, the trio have been discussing their recorded return with numerous members of the Fourth Estate.
Spinner wonders whether the process is little more than an exercise in extended tedium? "No," replies Susan Ann with a smile. "It could be a lot worse. We could be working for a living!"
One of Britain's most pioneering and inventive pop groups with a career spanning over 30 years, the Human League have returned with an album that's aimed squarely at the dancefloor and with producers I, Monster at the helm have reconnected with the sounds and aesthetic that made their name in the first place.
Why the 10-year gap between albums?
Joanne Catherall: The last record label we were on went bust just as 'Secrets' came out so that album didn't make an impact anywhere. We took a decision to concentrate on doing live work because we found out that we could make money out of that. The music business turned around and it wasn't record labels that were giving out money any more; it was live work. Eventually we came to the conclusion that we needed new songs again.
The Human League were one of the great British pioneering pop acts of their time. Do you get annoyed that the pioneering aspect has been overshadowed by a perception that you're an 80s act?
Philip Oakey: It's not about getting annoyed, is it? It's just what happens. But I think we're a great band but you have let people think what they want.
JC: Sometimes it's just lazy journalism in that it's easy to pigeonhole us. "Oh, they had that hit in the 80s..." and so you don't have to go past that first page. What we like to show in our live shows is that we're not just an 80s band.
How did come to work with I, Monster?
PO: I know one of them. I know Dean Honer and I sang on the 'First Man in Space' [with All Seeing I which involved Honer] and I ran into him in the park. I'd written about 14 or 15 tracks and was wondering what to do with them. I really like I, Monster but it never really occurred to me that they would be good for us because they have an incredibly different take on pop music. Dean said, "I'll do three mixes" and he listened to the tracks and said they needed simplifying and came back with stuff which was where we'd put it if we were good enough producers. I don't know how he's made it quite so banging.
Given your history, do you feel as if you're in competition with yourselves?
PO: We are in competition with ourselves and our biggest problem is our back catalogue.
Susan Ann Sulley: [Radio 2 DJ] Chris Evans did it the other day. He said, "The Human League have got a new album coming out – here's 'Don't You Want Me?" That kind of thing used to piss me off but it makes their life easy. We're the ones that have to sell it. But 'Don't You Want Me?' holds its place in people's hearts and I fought it for a long time but what comes with getting older is that people can do what they want.
Has pop become sanitised? I remember watching you on 'Top of the Pops' and I had that same feeling as when watching Bowie performing 'Starman': a guy that could be a woman and it's so wrong that it's right...
PO: There have always been two strands to pop music. There's the comfort side and the innovation side and what we always loved was the innovation side and to give people an alternative to what their parents liked. In my day, we needed an alternative to my parents because if I played a Frank Zappa record my dad virtually melted! But you look at some of the stuff now where people go, "Wow! Look at Lady Gaga who's this amazing breakthrough artist." And yeah, the image is great but the music is quite middle of the road.
SAS: But don't forget that when David Bowie was bringing out records in the 70s the Dooleys were also bringing out records! There has always been these two sides to music.
PO: It's down to the margins. You either go for it in a really big way like Katy Perry, Pink and Gaga and those people go mad and kill every territory and use every trick and appear on every award show or you can do it in the single territory way like 'X Factor' where you have an autobiography out. But what's squeezed out are the people who want to work out something new and develop it into something that's really good. But there really isn't the money left for all that.
Time was that bands could be defined by where they were from. Bands from Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool all had distinct sounds but has a lack of regionalism affected pop?
PO: I don't really know an artist that does a style of music any more. They all do whatever they think is selling at the moment. The amount of artists doing autotuned tracks has shocked me.
How do you view your legacy? Artists like La Roux made a nod to you so do you feel like proud parents?
SAS: Music's just communication, isn't it? It's nice when those sort of people acknowledge us but I read an interview with La Roux where she said she liked this kind of music because her mother used to play it.
PO: I'm not sure that I've ever felt like a proud parent. I think we're in a reaction where the guitar bands were so strong for so long that people thought, "We've had enough of guitar music." And of course, if you get an analogue synth out then you're going to sound a bit like we did.
Do you still stand by analogue synths?
PO: Oh yeah! Oh yeah! Because the mistakes they make are good. They're full of mistakes and they go out of tune and we like that. It's the sound of an orchestra and the strings sound like they do because it's 15 guys and half of them are out of tune and half of them are drunk and a bit behind and that's beautiful to us. The worst thing you can have unless you're doing trance or hard house is being absolutely computerised. That's not music, I don't think.
To what degree has Sheffield informed your music?
SAS: I think Sheffield's quite boring but that's good because it makes people more creative. You go over to the Pennines to Manchester and it's more cosmopolitan.
Where do you view the Human League in the pop firmament of 2011?
JC: We're starting out on a new phase and it's a long-term phase. We're not planning on giving up and going away and hiding. This album is a first step for us and we're saying, "We're still here, we're a synth band, this is us, we've been here for 30 years but we're still going forward and we've still got things that we want to achieve." We're not giving up.
PO: The landscape has changed. There was a big explosion and we still don't know how things will settle. No one that sells music knows what they're doing anymore.