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SOFT CELL (DAVE BALL) INTERVIEW [2008]

THE SOFT CELL REMIX PACKAGE 'HEAT' HAS BEEN A MUCH ANTICIPATED RELEASE AND SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN IN THE MAKING FOR AGES AND AGES, HOW INVOLVED IN THE WHOLE PROCESS WERE YOU?

It has been a bit of an on-going process but I was involved quite a lot really, I did a couple of mixes with The Grid, we did 'Sex Dwarf' and 'So' and then I did some stuff with another team I work with called the Nitewreckers and we did a couple more things, 'Baby Doll' and various other bits and pieces. I've been very heavily involved in the whole art direction part of it as well, working with a photographer friend of mine. I've got a lot of old Soft Cell archive stuff and we photographed lots of that; old badges and flyers and things like that...

YOU WERE ART STUDENTS WEREN'T YOU? BOTH YOU AND MARC?

Yes, Marc and I met at what is now Leeds Metropolitan University but was Leeds Poly when we met, and we were both doing Fine Art. Marc was the first person I spoke to there funnily enough. He had been there for a year before me and I had gone to register and the first person I met was this bloke standing outside the Poly wearing gold lamé jeans and I thought he had to be a Fine Art student! So that was Marc and obviously we started working together...

DID YOU START WORKING TOGETHER RIGHT FROM DAY ONE OR DID IT TAKE YOU A WHILE TO GET OVER THOSE GOLD LAMÉ TROUSERS?

Well they used to have this little room at the Poly where they had tape recorders and things like that, and when I got my first synthesiser I used to make all this sort of bleepy music there. Marc was very much based in Performance Art, he had a reputation for that, and he used to hear all my weird noises coming out of this little room and he asked me if he could use some of my music as a soundtrack to his performances. I had been trying to write these little songs and was trying to sing them myself and he asked if I'd like him to try singing them and the rest is history as they say!

PRESUMABLY YOU HAD NO IDEA AT THE TIME THAT THIS WAS GOING TO TURN INTO THE THING THAT WOULD BECOME YOUR LIFE?

Well no, I mean we were just happy being underground, being this sort of arty, indie band if you like but no-one could have imagined the level of commercial success we had... certainly that was never the plan, we weren't a manufactured band, but it just went bonkers!

GIVEN WHAT YOU WERE SETTING OUT TO DO WITH SOFT CELL WERE YOU UNCOMFORTABLE WITH THE LEVELS OF SUCCESS YOU ENJOYED?

Well I think so yeah because it was a kind of tidal-wave really... one minute you're living in a sort of housing estate or whatever they call them, and then the next minute you're on Concorde! Having said that it wasn't really overnight success because we'd been doing it and playing gigs for a couple of years by that point and we'd built up a following around the country, mostly around the north at first and then a few in London, and we built up this kind of solid fan base. It just sort of catapulted from there and went ballistic.

DID YOU EVER FEEL YOU'D SOLD OUT AT ALL? COMING FROM THAT TRENDY ART SCHOOL BACKGROUND AND EVERYTHING?

No I don't think so, because it was like... we were just who we were. I mean the record company would try and change us, things like not letting Marc wear his bangles or something and we'd just say fuck off. We came from a punk ethic really, because that was what we were into. Punk was a major influence... we thought that rather than just play three chords we'd play just one note and we were totally coming from that whole Johnny Rotten, fuck you background and we didn't give a shit, we just did it the way we wanted to. Even now I hate it when we get sort of lumped into the whole 'New Romantic' thing and all that crap. I mean we were not New Romantics at all, we saw ourselves more as electronic punks... that is totally what I would say Soft Cell was all about, what the whole ethos of what we were doing was about, electronic punk...

IS IT ODD FOR TO HAVE TO CONTINUALLY LOOK BACK AT SOFT CELL... YOU'RE WORKING ON 'HEAT' AND THERE'S ALSO THE DELUXE EDITION OF 'NON-STOP EROTIC CABARET' COMING OUT, THINGS LIKE THAT?

Well I wouldn't say I'm continually looking back, but Soft Cell is something that I'm very proud of and that we've influenced lots of people and we've still got a great fan base, and when we played live - which we had to stop doing because of Marc's unfortunate accident - the crowds were fantastic. We were getting the older, original fans but we were also getting loads of younger people too. So it's just really nice to know that we are a little part of musical history, and that we have maybe been able to change things a little bit and influence people.

DO YOU THINK THE VARIOUS REMIXERS WHO HAVE CONTRIBUTED TRACKS TO THE 'HEAT' ALBUM HAVE UPDATED SOFT CELL FOR TODAY OR CELEBRATED YOU AS YOU WERE THEN?

Well they vary... I think it's been interesting, especially to give the newer generation the stuff to see how they reinterpret them but to be honest remixing is just remixing and I have spent a lot of time doing remixes and I generally think that the original is probably the best, although there are always those other like U2's 'Even Better Than The Real Thing' remixed by Paul Oakenfold which made it even better! To be honest i just like the idea of giving a song to someone and going 'here you go, see what you make of that' and seeing what they do with it, I think it's all quite interesting.

SO YOU'RE NOT TOO PRECIOUS ABOUT PEOPLE MESSING AROUND WITH YOUR WORK?

No, I'm not precious at all and we just let people pick the tracks they wanted to do really, and then we just sort of went through them one by one and deciding which ones to keep and which ones not to go with. It was very interesting actually.

WAS IT A DIFFICULT PROCESS?

Well me and Chris from Manhattan Clique did it all together and we also worked on pulling stuff out of the archive, photos and things like I mentioned before. Marc unfortunately hasn't been that involved in the project obviously because he's still recovering of course, so it's been largely down to Chris and I, although Stevo was involved and actually initiated the whole idea...

DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL FAVOURITES AMONG THE MIXES THAT MADE IT ONTO THE ALBUM?

I really like the Cicada Mix of 'Memorabilia', that's probably my favourite... and I also really like one that I did which is 'Baby Doll' because I've actually made it sound as nasty as I really wanted it to be in the first place. I played some very Iggy & The Stooges guitar on it and I got my friend to play baritone sax and now I think it sounds as dirty as it always should have done in the first place...

IN MY MIND A REMIX COLLECTION IS GOING TO BE LARGELY ELECTRONIC AND I WAS REALLY INTERESTED THAT NOT ALL OF THESE MIXES WOULD FALL INTO THAT CATEGORY, SOME OF THEM PULL IN ALL SORTS OF BITS AND PIECES FOR ALL OVER THE PLACE...

Well, I am pleased with the overall result, and with the package as a whole, with the photographs it took me a week of rummaging through boxes and boxes of stuff that had been archived so it's been a real achievement and I'd say if there's anything you want to know about Soft Cell then it's on there somewhere! The same goes for the deluxe edition of 'Non-Stop Ecstatic Cabaret' which is the original album plus all the twelve-inch mixes and rare b-sides and stuff, all remastered and sounding spanking! There's so much stuff coming out that it's mad!

WHEN I WAS PREPARING TO TALK TO YOU I WAS RESEARCHING ALL THE THINGS YOU'VE DONE AND A COUPLE OF REALLY DIFFERENT THINGS JUMPED OUT AT ME THAT SHOW THAT ECLECTIC MIX... DJ-ING WITH WOLFGANG FROM KRAFTWERK WAS ONE...

Oh yeah! That was over in Dublin at a place called The Tivoli. Wolfgang is lovely but I was so in awe of him, I mean he is the man who played the keyboards on 'The Model' and suddenly I'm sitting with him in Dublin having a pizza! But he's a really lovely guy...

WHAT SORT OF SET DOES HE PLAY WHEN HE DJ'S?

Well he DJ's off a laptop and mostly goes off a Chaos Pad, but it's mostly the same sort of thing that I play which is a kind of electronic tribal... kind of like the thing that Throbbing Gristle do these days, I didn't see their shows at the ICA and Tate Modern but I saw the show at the Astoria, and that last album 'The Endless Not' was brilliant. It's very kind of pagen-elecro-tribalism and I'm really into that at the moment. I'm really into a kind of electro-voodoo kind of vibe and things like Dr John and Professor Longhair, I'm really listening to that sort of thing. But I have a history of listening to Northern Soul too...

YOU'RE A BIT OF A MUSICAL MAGPIE AREN'T YOU? YOU SEEM TO PICK UP BITS AND PIECES FROM ALL OVER THE PLACE...

Yes, I am very eclectic and I always like to be involved in more than just one project... it's all interesting to me and I just want to be involved you know? That's the way I've always been.

WILL ANY OF THIS STUFF MAKE ITS WAY INTO ANY OF YOUR RELEASES?

Well we're sort of getting that into the new Nitewreckers things, I mean that is a sort of on-going project and as with most of my projects it's pretty studio based, but I like to test it out live and we'll be doing that at the White Noise festival in November which has got all sorts of people playing.... Jarvis Cocker, Ann Shenton from Add N To X... all sorts.

ARE YOU EXCITIED BY THE WHOLE ELECTRO SCENE AT THE MOMENT?

Well, I think that the whole indie scene has got a bit... boring I suppose. There's not much that is new and there's a lot of soundalikes if you know what I mean, but I think that electronic music always develops, because of the technology and stuff it's always going to change...

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT SOFT CELL WOULD EVER GO BACK INTO THE STUDIO AND RECORD NEW MATERIAL?

Possibly... I did actually meet up with Marc about a month ago and I have actually recorded a new track with him, although not necessarily as Soft Cell, and we are talking about working together again, so yeah there's definitely a chance!

IF THAT HAPPENED THEN WOULD IT BE BEYOND POSSIBILITY TO GO OUT AND TOUR AGAIN?

Well.. I can't really answer that, there's a lot of stuff to be sorted out first and I'm not sure if Marc would even be up for it because it's hard work, it's very physically demanding. Marc is looking great though I must say, I was just like 'wow' and that's great because after his accident I went through a year of trauma... when I first heard about the accident I nearly fainted, I must have got about sixty text messages all at once and then I put the TV on and I was just like 'what the fuck?'... I mean I've known Marc for nearly thirty years... but anyway he's pulled through and he's looking good and he seems like his old self. It's all good!

SEPTEMBER 2008

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