Although the casual music fan may know him for "Tainted Love" with Soft Cell or his duet with Gene Pitney "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart", Marc Almond has had a career spanning over 20 years and covering everything from obscure electroclash singles recorded under an alias through to the epic masterpiece of "Heart On Snow". Recorded in Moscow and St Petersburg we caught up with Marc as the album was being relaunched to coincide with a residence at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.
Q: The album must have been quite a daunting process
cos it was 10 years in the making from the initial idea to actually recording
A: Well it was a very very frustrating album to do. When i first toured Russia in the early 90s the germ of the idea started then. I mean things didn't really started to 2000 I suppose and even then I was bombarded for a year before that by the director of the album and the executive producer of the album to do the project. Knowing what I knew about Russia, as much as I loved the music and was fascinated by the songs and the whole idea of it, I knew it would be a very lengthy and frustrating process. I thought how am I going to do this: how am going to choose the songs, the musicians, the translations, how am i going to sing in Russian....just a million questions. Eventually when I kind of gave into it and was warn down really it became a really exciting project. I just let myself go into it and i'm really glad that I did.
Q: As you said there is a totally different culture
in Russia. In that sense it must have been your hardest album to do?
A: It's hard to do because it involved lots of travelling backwards and forwards from London. The way the business things work in Russia is you have to meet people, you have to go through a certain amount of etiquette and business things are done just simply by a shake of the hand and whether they like you or not. I was lucky enough to get a brilliant producer for the album, Andrej Samsonov who is based in St Petersburg, who was the musical arranger and really brought it all together. So while I was here in England the album was still being worked on in St Petersburg and Moscow.
Q: Had you always been intrigued by Russian culture
and it's folklore?
A: I think it's a very fascinating place. I think everyone's quite fascinated by it. You can barely open a magazine without reading something about Russia. People have always been very fascinated about it from the days of the Iron Curtain cos no-one ever knew what went on there. We just kind saw the images and knew the clichés, so to have the opportunity to go there and learn something about Russian music and about Russian people and to see things apart from being a tourist. And to get a chance to live there really wasn't something I really wanted to turn the chance down. It wasn't how this project turned out that was most important, it was was the adventure of doing it and the process of doing it which was the most interesting and fascinating and felt it was something I would never get the chance to do again...and as Russia is changing so much now I don't think anyone will be able to make an album like this again.
Q: You were in the middle of the Soft Cell revival
when you were recording this. How did you feel about giving so much of
your time up for a project like this?
A: The weird thing was that Soft Cell was supposed to have come and gone before I started the album. It was planned quite a few years back and suddenly the whole Soft Cell thing burst into fruition right in the middle a break I was taking from the Russian album. I was kind of having to put 2 different heads on for a while, which was very strange but good cos they're both so very different. But I think my heart really lay in doing the Russian project, I was really eager to get back to it and finish it. All the time it kept getting bigger and bigger and more singers got involved, more artists got involved and it became more entangled and complicated till the point I got an apartment out there and spent more and more time over there.
Q: Was there a point you simply had to say "No More,
we really can't keep working on more and more songs"?
A: Yes, because the executive producer of the album, it was his dream album really and it's as much his album as mine, maybe even more so. Russians have this way of never ever wanting anything to end, but they want something of permanence, which is why they probably voted in their masses for President Putin to stay in office. They want something that is permanent that just goes on forever. The same with this record. Misha just wanted to keep adding more songs, more artists, become a double record, a triple box-set album. I just said "Mikhail, this is your money. If you want to throw it into the river you can do that because we don't know who will buy this album, we haven't yet got a deal for it". I just really had to say enough is enough really. As it was it was really a long and lengthy thing, he was really my guide throughout the whole thing. He really made the whole record happen.
Q: It's so different from London. How was it actually
living out there?
A: Difficult. And frustrating. I love it cos it's exciting and creative and unpredictable. You never know what's going to happen. People always make thinks happen. You can do anything you want. It's probably the most decadent place i've ever lived in or visited in my whole life. It's like anything goes, up to a point....it's like you can do what you want but you can't make a platform out of it. Russians have a new freedom, but as long as they don't express that freedom on a public platform.
It's a strange place of very contrasting things. It's
hard to get around in the daytime in Moscow, it's total traffic and pollution
and it becomes a drudgery so you really have to live at night a lot. You
can do your shopping at night cos it's 24hrs and people are very much into
club life over there. But apart from that it can be quite expensive, frustrating
and destroys your health.
Q: Obviously it's a life changing experience. Did you
meet friends for life while you were there?
A: I met many friends for life. Many many friends that even though i've finished the project i've kept the apartment and I go over there at least once a month. I just like to people cos there's always something that's come from the record. I'm always doing performances. I do a lot of singing in these Russian Spectacular shows that are backed by 70 piece orchestras at the Rosia Concert Hall. It's still an exciting work place for me.
Q: You've done many eclectic projects / albums over
the years. What drives you artistically?
A: I think i just have the energy, i'm a bit of an addict in a way. Well, i'm a lot of an addict in a way. If I wasn't doing this i'd just be taking loads and loads of drugs and drinking myself to death. I've been through that, so now I guess i'm a workaholic. As soon as one project is finished i like to go straight on to something else. Sometimes i'm working on two or three things at the same time. I'm a bit of a gypsy like that - I like to travel around, I don't feel routed in one place for long and I'm always interested in doing something new whether that's planning my new record or planning my next project. That's the way I work and one day I won't have the energy to do it, so I think it's always good to make the most of your life and living as much as possible.
Q: The way you work - is it a case of you do one record
and then completely turn round in the opposite direction for the next?
A: I've often done that in the past. These days i tend to use one project I do as a kind of offshoot to the next. More a continual morphing journey. I think in the past I think I probably was a little too diverse, probably went from one spectrum to the complete opposite and confusing people. I mean whatever I do it's important that I put my stamp on it and keep it in my world, whether i'm doing a dance track or something like the Russian album for example. For me it always comes down to what is a good song and i'm very old fashioned in the way that i like to make songs that have something classic about them whether you can play them with an orchestra or an electro synthesizer or an acoustic guitar. That's what I like to do, I like to make songs.
Q: What do you see yourself as - popstar, artist, musician
or a songwriter?
A: I think i left off being a popstar somewhere at the end of the 80s, or maybe at the beginning of the 90s with "Something's Gotten Hold Of My Heart" and "Adored And Explored" from the mid nineties. Now I just look at myself as an artist, a songwriter, a performer and i DJ every week now in two or three places. I do all kind of things, but it all remains very much in my world.
Q: Did you find it strange going back to TOTP with
Soft Cell last year?
A: It was very weird. It felt like we shouldn't be there at all. We were like these usurpers sort of coming in and there were all these young kids. We felt like these creepy old guys, nobody knew who we were really. But it was nice to come back and be able to do that. It's always nice when you have something that is successful or you're able do something that has that exposure. I don't enjoy being a celebrity, I don't want any part of that or any part of that fame for fame...i'd actually rather die than be a celebrity slime!!!
Sometimes I find myself into playing that role. If i've
got a more pop style record to promote you find yourself pushed towards
chat shows and things like that. But i'm terrible on chat shows, i'm like
a really bad celebrity. I sit there like a rabbit in the headlights acting
weird like i'm on acid or something
Q: Do you look in charts and thing 70s and 80s we had
yourself, Boy George, Adam Ant and Marc Bolan - now we have a choice between
Will and Gareth or Michelle and Sam & Mark?
A: I don't really have anything against Will Young or Gareth Gates. I think there's always been singers like that and i've done my fair share of cheese as well. They're for a market, they do a particular thing, it's well produced and decently sung. I'm not one of these people who say the charts is full of rubbish now. I love Britney Spears, but i'm afraid I don't like Michelle (laughs). I thought Pop Idol was really disappointing and full of freaks and geeks and fatties. It was just kind of ugly town. As long as ugly people are not on TV, you should only ever have interesting people on TV.
I'm not a big fan of R&B, but I do like that kind
of Britney Spears twisted up with arabic samples in and things like that.
I thinks it really interesting how they throw the world music samples in
there. I often wonder what it would be like to do something like that,
but use my lyrics and my kind of style. The perverse side of me finds that
Q: Do you think if you were an 18 year old kid today,
that you'd have been given the same artistic freedoms you've had throughout
A: I don't at all. It's a shame in a way that people come and go with one album. How many girl singer songwriters do you get every year? The Norah Jones sort of people that always win and Emmy and then you think who the f**k are they? Then the next year there's someone exactly the same as them and you think who the f**k are these people. There's one every single year, but they just seem to make this one album and go.
I think the people that got in the 80s and very early
90s got there just in time cos they're the people that have lasted and
been able to experimental and do interesting things. Like Blur and Jarvis
Cocker...and Brett Anderson will hopefully do something really interesting
when he does something solo.
Q: What's the one record you wish you'd made and what's
the one record you wish you hadn't made?
A: The one record I wish i'd made is "This Is Hardcore",but I did kind of make that several times...the one record I wish I hadn't made, a song from the "Stories Of Johnny" album called "Love Letter" which was meant to be ironic but just ended up looking sick.
Q: What's next for you after these gigs is Israel and
A: We had such a great reaction from the album in different places that were relaunching it coincide with 10 day stint of concerts i'm doing at the Almeida Theatre in Islington at the end of July.
My next record i really just want it to be a collection of great songs, classic songs in a way. I've started lyrics but I don't know how i'm producing it yet. I think the older I get the more creative I get, I don't have the distractions that I had when I was younger. In the past i've put myself in situations just to inspire me, I do kind of like life. Russia can be quite a dangerous place sometimes, but i never think about it. Sometimes you do take your life in your hands going in certain places and it's very unpredictable, but that's thrill of it, the excitement of it all. I do like a little danger in life!!!
"Heart On Snow" is out now on XIII Bis Records
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