Interview with Marc Almond
by Alexander Laurence
Almond and David Ball formed Soft Cell in the late seventies.
Their tenure as students of Leeds University were left behind
when "Tainted Love" became a worldwide smash hit.
They combined the heart of Northern Soul and the mind of
German techno to help create the early Electro scene and
influenced everyone from Detroit techno artists to today's
After three albums and a handful of pop singles, Soft Cell
broke up in 1983, though the duo would collaborate on and
off over the years. Around 2000, there was talk of a new
record. This finally happened this summer when Soft Cell
released its first album in almost two decades. Cruelty
Without Beauty captures the feel of the old group, but
is a modern record that brings the band into a new era.
At their first American show in New York City they played
to a packed house at the Roxy. Their mix of old and new
material kept the audience excited.
I interviewed Marc Almond recently to find out more about
the longevity of the band.
You lived in New York City off and on for the past
twenty years. Was it a real influence on your Soft Cell
and solo records?
MA: I spent a alot of time here. New York is like home
away from home. It's like a drug you have to get a fix once
or twice a year. So I come here and get some energy from
the place. I was lucky enough at the beginning of the 1980s
to come here and record my first album. When I first came
here I thought I'd seen it all and knew it all, and I had
been to London, and I'd seen the city. Then I came to New
York and realized I hadn't seen it all. The club culture
and the nightlife was amazing. We were given the keys to
AL: "Tainted Love" was a huge single....
MA: It was. And "Tainted Love" still is a very
big single. It was issued as a remix recently. Wherever
you go, you can't run away from it. Soft Cell really comes
from disco and dance music. When we started I was working
in a discotheque to pay my rent. It was the first American
style discotheque in the north on England, in Leeds. I worked
my way up from coat check to DJ. It was the only place in
England at that time that was playing the American disco
imports. David Ball and myself were both fans of 1970s disco,
but having grown out of punk as well, we had this strange
marriage of punk and disco and dance. That was definitely
our roots and that was to be seen in some of our early songs
like "Memorabilia" which was a forerunner to the
whole electro acid house sound.
AL: I think that some
people like yourself, and maybe David Bowie, have done different
and new things over time, but then there those bands like
The Sex Pistols, Bauhaus, and The Human League who do nothing
for a decade then return doing karaoke.
MA: I don't knock people for what they do. Some of those
bands from the 80s are happy being a cabaret act and say
"I'm going out and doing my old hits." If there's
twenty thousand people who want to pay to relive some old
times and nostalgic memories, then that's fine. What are
they going to do? Sit at home and die? If you were a band
who was forcing yourself on the public, and nobody wanted
to see you, then I would say it's time to give up. I saw
The Human League a few years ago and I thought they were
great. I like their last album as well. I always thought
that they were a very underrated band especially in Britain
where they were very innovated and started off the whole
electronic music thing. People owe them a debt. If they
are cashing in on their past, all the more power to them.
But for me personally I like to bring something new to the
AL: You were doing records as Marc and The Mambas, and
collaborations with Coil, Jim Thirwell, and others, and
now with Magnetic Fields....
MA: I would like to collaborate less now than I have in
the past, because I have been too diverse in the past twenty
years. I think that I have confused the public as far as
what direction I'm really going in. I'm a little bit more
single focused these days. I want to do things that are
still within my boundaries. I want to do things that have
an essence of Marc Almond.
AL: I was always wondering about the performance you did
with Lydia Lunch, Thirwell, and Nick Cave called "The
Immaculate Consumptive" back in 1982. What was that
MA: We did that here
in New York and Washington DC. It was one of those things
that you had to hear about more than actually see. It's
become better with legend and the test of time. Everyone
goes "Were you there? No, I wasn't there but I heard
it was really amazing." It's best kept that way in
people's imaginations. I'm glad it wasn't recorded. I think
it came together because Lydia found a way of getting a
huge exorbitant fee from Danceteria for bringing us all
together. None of us knew why we were there. Lydia seemed
to know why we were there. She had a strategy of paying
the rent that month. It was a very shambolic cabaret, and
Nick stole the show, so we all hated him after that. He
did this mind blowing version of "In The Ghetto"
so we were all sick after that.
AL: How do you approach doing each Marc Almond record:
"The Stars We Are" seemed more pop oriented, while
the Jacques Brel or Georges Bataille stuff seemed more underground?
MA: I always thought of it as being the same. I never really
thought of it as being more pop or less pop. I just did
the style where I was at the time: maybe it reflected the
moods I was going through, or maybe it reflected the music
I was listening to at that time. I always think of everything
I do as being accessible. Sometimes it's a surprise when
people say "That was really underground and uncommercial."
But often I have done things that were a reaction to things
that I had done before. Not so much now, because I found
that was a case of losing direction. I much more focused
and not concerned with worrying whether I'm a pop artist
or a serious songwriter.
AL: Some people think "Say Hello Wave Goodbye"
is a much better song than "Tainted Love." Why
is that so?
MA: It's a good song and it tells a story. The song and
the persona really encapsulates so much of what I've been
about. In Britain, it's the more popular song. "Tainted
Love" is a song that has a life of its own, and I don't
have anything to do with. When I hear it, or see the old
videos of myself performing it, it's like hearing and seeing
a stranger. I still perform it live sometimes because I
like the reaction that it gets. It's been a good friend,
because when I play a concert and people don't know me very
well, and it's going down like a lead balloon, all I have
to do is bring out "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" or
"Tainted Love" and suddenly I have everybody.
AL: Your album "Open All Night" was originally
released in England on your own label, Blue Star, and here
in America on Instinct. How was that experience?
MA: I originally recorded
this record for Echo, which is a label in England. It was
like a major independent label, but it went into a state
of flux: it changed its format and personnel. I was also
signed for a second record. I asked them to let me walk
from their label and release under my own label. It wasn't
the label I signed with and this album didn't have a place
on their label anymore because it had become more pop. I
was lucky to have a great quality finished album to start
my own label with. That has given me a whole new freedom.
I don't have to answer to A & R people and I feel it's
my own work. This was the first record where I had full
control. At this time it's a vehicle for my own music.
AL: You had a few duets with Siouxie Sioux and Kelly Ali
(who used to be in Sneaker Pimps). Did you actually meet
MA: Yeah. I planned a few duets on this album. I just simply
rang them up and asked them. When I did the duet with Gene
Pitney, "Something's Got Ahold of My Heart," which
was a big hit in Europe, we didn't actually meet. I was
touring at the time he did his vocals. We did the vocals
separately, then later met in Las Vegas, to do the video,
which was a great place to meet for the first time. Normally
I like to do duets with the people in the room, that's the