Marc Almond interviewed about his solo career and time with Soft Cell
By Bob Gourley | Originally published in 1999
The following interview with Soft Cell vocalist Marc Almond was conducted in 1999, around the time of his “Open All Night” solo album.
Since this interview is for an on-line magazine, can you tell me your feelings about the Internet?
Marc Almond: I think it’s fascinating and brilliant, though I have this website and I still haven’t figured out how to access it! It takes me a long time to catch up with technology, and I’m very dyslexic. I find it very hard to really work the ‘Net. I’m still kind of finding my way around it in a lot of ways.
But I think it’s brilliant. I’ve been able to get information out to so many people and hear responses from so many people as well. It’s a wonderful way for people to know what I’m doing. It’s great the way you can bypass the record company, getting it right out to people, letting them see what’s happening. So I love it.
What do you think about actually selling/distributing music on-line?
Marc Almond: I don’t like it. Because I think it’s fine, the whole thing of maybe doing something special, downloading some music. But I think the joy of music is… people actually, like, going out to record shops, to CD shops, and looking for music. That to me is the joy, looking through the racks, finding something new. Having your money and parting with it for something you can tangibly hold. People like that. We’re a consumerists society. People like going and spending money and buying things.
The web is fantastic, but it’s not great if we become a society where we can’t communicate and interact with each other. I don’t think it will ever take over going out and the joy of actually saying, “I have some money. I’m going to look for some records to buy, or some CDs.” People love that.
How have things been working out with your own label?
Marc Almond: This is the first record I’ve done under my own label. For me, it’s great. It’s given me a whole new energy. It’s given me the control over what I want to do.
I’ve had so much experience with major labels over the years, 16 or 17 years. All of them ended with disenchantment, really. So many people have their agendas of what they want you do to, how they want you to sound. All that gearing toward having hit records.
To sell your album you have to have a chart hit. We don’t really need to do that so much anymore. Artists who’ve been around for a long time, I think, are taking much more control over their own careers. Being able to get directly to people.
I never say, “never.” In the right circumstances, maybe I would work with a major label again, but I like to have this freedom. If I decide I want to do a one-off dance track or something, I can do that and make it available. If I want to do an experimental, limited-edition EP, I can do that. I don’t have to go to my record label and say, “I want to do this EP,” and have them go, “Well, it doesn’t really fit into our schedule for your new album.
Does having to finance all the recording yourself have any impact on the way you work?
Marc Almond: I have to say I was very lucky with this record. It was originally recorded for a label, and the label collapsed and went into a state of flux. They changed all their personnel and everything.
And I was signed for a second and third album to this label, and I went and said, “If you let me go with my album, with all my tapes and everything, then you don’t have to sign me for a second album. Just let me go with this. Let’s call it quits.” And they did that, so I was able to start my label with a finished album.
Maybe a lot of artists wouldn’t be fortunate enough to do that, but I was able to. It gave me a starting point. I had a finished, high-quality album.
How did the collaborations with Siouxsie Sioux and Kelli from the Sneaker Pimps come about?
Marc Almond: Siouxsie and I had been friends for a long time, and I’d always wanted to do a song with her. And it’s taken 20 years to find the opportunity and the right song to do with her. I just asked her, and she said yes, she liked the song.
The Creatures have also got their own label now. We’ve been sharing a lot of similar experiences. That’s how that happened, really.
And with Kelli of the Sneaker Pimps = I just loved the Sneaker Pimps album a lot, and I had the song “Almost Diamonds,” and I just contacted her. I really wanted to originally do a collaboration with the Sneaker Pimps, but by the time I spoke to Kelli, she’d left the band. It was the voice I really loved on the record, so that’s how that happened, really.
What’s the status your current work with David Ball?
Marc Almond: There may be a Soft Cell album, if we can come up with something that we’re happy with. I mean Dave and I have always remained friends; there’s never been any animosity between us.
Soft Cell didn’t so much split as kind of burn out in a way. We were burnt out in a short amount of time. The pressures by the organization that was around us were so bad, it really disillusioned us very, very quickly.
But we’ve always remained friends and have always hoped to one day do a project together. But neither of us are interested in being part of a whole retro scene. A certain amount of that is inevitable, because people are so obsessed with retro at the moment as we’re approaching the millennium, and everyone’s sort of reappraising the last 30 to 40 years of music and rediscovering it, repackaging it, reselling it and re-listening to it. Going “Hey, weren’t the ’80s good, and weren’t the ’70s good?” That’s just the times that we live in.
But I think it’s important for us that we do a brand-new album, something that we’re excited about, and not the album that we didn’t do in 1986. So far we’re recorded and rejected about nine songs. So we have to see how it goes.
Based on the work you’ve both done since the last Soft Cell album, and current music that you like, how would you like to see the new Soft Cell material turn out?
Marc Almond: Well, I think it will be a dance-oriented album. Dave’s very much remained in the dance field throughout the years. And I like dance music as well, but there’s not a lot of dance tracks on this album [“Open All Night”].
I still like working with dance music sometimes. If I do any more collaborations I’d like to work with some interesting dance music people. I love the underground house stuff. I like the electonica stuff. And some of that really comes from where we started in the first place, with the early Soft Cell stuff. So I think it will be more of a dance-oriented project than say, maybe my own solo stuff.
Soft Cell had such a unique sound. What things to do think originally helped shape it?
Marc Almond: I think that we were influenced very much by punk. We were influenced by the early garage-electronic sounds that were happening in the north of England – bands like Cabaret Voltaire and very early Human League. We were influenced by what was happening New York-wise with bands like Suicide – they were a really big influence, I think. Everything was played live.
We were using a combination of Dave’s Korg synthesizers and drum machines, very old analog equipment, and we were using Synclaviers as well. A mix of the warm Synclavier sounds with Dave’s analog garage sounds. Every bass line was played live. I just think it was a unique sound, the blend of his synthesized sounds, which seemed to have almost a rock ‘n’ roll and soulful edge, and my vocals made a very original sound. “Tainted Love” today still sounds like a very original record, and those albums, the three albums that we did, still sound really good. I think no one else was doing what we were doing, electronic music in the way that we were doing it. We were very much original, very much originators. And I don’t think anyone’s really sounded like us since.
While you have a large following, in America especially, you’re still best known to many people for “Tainted Love,” your first big hit. How do you feel about that?
Marc Almond: I think you just have to learn to deal with it, really. In America, for the past 10 years, it’s been difficult, not having the support of a record company or manager to bring me over here to do promotion. So when you haven’t got a record company giving you support, you can’t come over and play live. People can’t catch up with what you’re doing.
Even though when I did the “Stars We Are” album – that was really successful here, that did really well. But my record company and manager wanted to concentrate on me in the European market. They thought I was more of a European performer, even though I was already established in Europe. People know me there for a wide range of work.
It only seems to be in America that I get the “Tainted Love” thing. It’s something you’ve just got a deal with. People like it. You’ve really got to face and embrace your past. You can’t run away from it. You have to deal with it. But I think there’s enough fans who know the body of work that I’ve done.
Even in Britain, it seemed like “Stars We Are” was a break-through for you, in terms of being seriously accepted as a solo artist.
Marc Almond: I think there’s always that…. When you’re in a successful band and you become a solo artist, people feel kind of resentful of you at first for going solo. And they feel suspicious and are like, “Well, you had your chance with a band. Why should we like you as a solo artist?”
And it did take me a long time to really establish myself as a solo artist, to have the recognition, to have the success. When I split with Soft Cell, I didn’t go out and play a Soft Cell song for 10 years. I decided to do it the hard way, maybe committing commercial suicide and shooting myself in the foot. But for me, I liked the danger of that, the challenge. And after 10 years, I started to put Soft Cell songs back into my set, and I do play Soft Cell songs now.
But I thought I had to reestablish myself the hard way, go out and pay my dues. And thankfully now, in Europe and Britain, I do have a lot of respect as a solo artist. But I had to work for that.
Do you tend to have a clear idea of how you want an album to turn out when you start work on it?
Marc Almond: Sometimes I have an idea, a clear vision. You can usually tell the albums I’ve had a clear vision on, and sometimes I’m just throwing things at the wall, hoping they’ll work out. Things like “Fantastic Star,” the last album – it was an artist losing direction, really, going off in all kinds of directions. It was an album recorded over four years with two different producers in two countries over two record labels with four A&R men and four different song writers. So it was bound to be a bit eclectic. I look at it as being an interesting compilation album in a way!
But now, with the new album, I had a very clear idea of how I wanted it to sound. And I thought it was important to do an album that could be listened to as one body of work, as one atmosphere, as one sound.
Also finding a new voice, I think, on this album. Less of the dramatics, less of the melodrama and big vocals. Something that’s more intimate and introspective and passionate.
Throughout my career, there’s been things that didn’t really turn out the way I wanted them to, things like “Vermin In Ermine” my first solo album, and “Stories of Johnny.” I was still finding my feet, still experimenting. I think that’s important. I’ve always got to experiment as well, be prepared to take a risk.
It what ways have you seen the music industry change since your time with Soft Cell?
Marc Almond: Artists don’t last very long. A lot of artists, they have an album and they have a few years, and then people don’t seem to be as interested in their second album. Its like they have their moment in their sun. They have their 15 minutes or whatever.
A lot of acts, not all of them, don’t last. Because there’s always something new coming along, and there’s always the new version of the new band being heard the year before, whereas it used to be “Here is a new David Bowie,” or this person or that person.
Now it’s like the new version of the band you just heard the year before. It’s very much music recycling itself. It’s just this generation kind of wants more now, quickly and quickly, and have less of an attention span.
So acts don’t last, unless their particularly talented and particularly clever – bands who kind of reinvent themselves and are good at coming up with something new. Bands like Blur have lasted. They’ve come up with something different for every album.
There are very few bands that really last now, it’s become a quick-fix society.
In terms of material, what can we expect from the upcoming U.S. tour?
Marc Almond: It’s very difficult because in England and Europe whenever an album’s come out I’ve toured and kept up with my various phases. So when I have a new album, people don’t expect a show of old songs because they know the style of my new album and I’ll do songs that fit into that world.
But when I come here, I’ll probably do a show in two halves. The first half of the show I’d do a lot of my new album and songs that fit into that world, maybe Marc and the Mambas stuff. The second half I’ll play a selection of older stuff that maybe people haven’t heard for a while, a few more electronic songs, a bit more of a varied show than I’ve been doing in Britain.
But it’s important to tell people how you are now as an artist, make it quite clear that this is what I’m doing now, this is what I sound like now. And if people listen to that, then you can say, “Well, here’s some of the old songs you haven’t heard for a while.
Within the gothic and industrial community, you can still see Soft Cell’s influence in terms of look. How do you feel about that?
Marc Almond: I don’t mind. New generations of people come along and have liked us, the sound and the look. I think it’s fine. It was obviously a strong image, and it stayed in people’s minds. Groups of young people have rediscovered it. So I think that’s fine.
What do you think of the current crop of pop bands, compared to what was going on at the time of Soft Cell?
Marc Almond: There were a lot of strong bands with strong identities in the ’80s. It was a time for stars, pop stars, and a lot of those bands had very original sound and original front men, original singers. Their videos were very striking. It was the first time people were starting to use video. There was a lot of originality there, and people are going back and listening to it because they feel very unsatisfied with a lot of the current music.
People who are fronting the bands [now] just don’t really have the magnetism and personality.
What did you think of Nine Inch Nail’s cover of the Soft Cell song “Memorabilia”?
Marc Almond: “I love NIN. I’m a big fan. I thought it was great the way he kind of de-constructed it. I was really pleased that he did that.
Whatever happened to Cindy Ecstasy?
Marc Almond: She had a band called Six Said Red, and that was, like, 1984. I don’t know what became of her after that.
Someone told me that she had a guest house in some seaside town in Britain somewhere, that she’s running a hotel. But I have no idea!
So she was actually the one who introduced you to the drug Ecstasy?
Marc Almond: She was the person who really turned everybody on first of all to the Ecstasy thing. That was her name, where the name came from. Of course, her real name remains protected! That was 1981, and nobody was doing that drug then.
It was very much an influence on what we were doing with Soft Cell. We recorded our first couple of albums under the influence of that drug. I went back to Britain, and no one had heard of it at all.
It wasn’t until 1984 that I saw the first mention of it in the British papers, and they were thinking of making it a Class A drug. Now it’s such a drug culture in Britain, people’s grandmothers are taking it.
In what ways did it impact your music?
Marc Almond: The whole dance feel maybe came of Ecstasy, and maybe some psychedelic touches as well. New experimentations with sounds and things.
But at the same time, it’s a drug that came make things sound a lot better than they actually do sound! I’d take that drug and listened to albums and thought I had to run out and buy them the next day. And it never quite sounded the same again!
There’s a danger when you’re listening to things in the studio – maybe you weren’t being such a good judge of things after all.
The last band I interviewed, Hardknox, wanted to know, how are you able to always sound so romantic?
Marc Almond: Because I like to think I’m a romantic person. I think I’m a person of paradox, actually. Because there’s a side of me that’s quite cynical, and I like irony, but in a nice kind of way, a humorous kind of way.
But at the same time, I do believe there’s romance in the world. I do like romance. But I like to be ironic.
While I’m being romantic, there’s a sting in my romance. A dark romantic, a dark side. I like to seduce people with sweetness and then give them a shot of poison. That’s my kind of romance.See all interviews →