'Campus Circle Interview' - February, 2002
By Mansie Ares...
With two sonic masterminds fronted by one sweetly vampish female vocalist, the Sneaker Pimps were doomed for electro-pop success. The London-based trio comprised of Chris Corner, Liam Howe and Kelli Dayton, broke out in the UK in 1996 and in the states no more than a year later with singles “Tesko Suicide” and “6 Underground.” Before they knew it, they were pigeon-holed as just another one of those formulated synth trip hop bands following the likes of Portishead, Moloko, Morcheeba and even Garbage. Despite all the fame and acclaim reaped from their gothically organic debut Becoming X, they eventually pulled the plug.
Virgin Records flipped out, unable to comprehend their reasons for getting rid of the starlet and consequently let go of the chick-less Sneaker Pimps altogether after failing to convince them to find a female replacement. It was time for the remaining two under-credited members to regroup, adding drummer David Westlake and bassist Joe Wilson to the line up, and redeem themselves with their second full-length titled Splinter released in 1999 in only parts of the UK. Stepping out of the shadow of the enticing former front-woman (currently working on a solo career), a dainty and withdrawn Chris Corner took over the spotlight with his lissom voice and melancholic guitar gestures. ‘Tis a shame Splinter, a beautifully dreary and self-indulgent reaction to their unwanted commercial success, was held back from its U.S. release in the midst of their imbroglio with Virgin.
The band is now on Tommy Boy Entertainment, a label which formed as a result of the recent separation of Tommy Boy Records and Warner Music Group. Due to internal political changes, the release date of their third album Bloodsport has been pushed back several times since last October but is now officially set for an April release. Liam Howe, co-producer, co-songwriter and keyboardist, takes a break in his London studio to do some catching up. “I think we have a lot to prove with this record,” Howe states. “It took a year to make and we really went overboard and eventually fell into the world of perfectionism but nevertheless the intention was to be simple.”
The album is intricately simple. The sound is crisp with meticulous stylings and less obscure lyrics through what Howe calls their "kitchen sink" method. Sophisticated song-writing was always first priority for Howe, Corner and Ian Pickering (the secret 5th member and co-song writer), synthesizing second, but they attempted to de-sophisticate it as much as possible. "But even then being theatrical about being simple proves that it's not simple, so you're just being theoretically simple," Howe ponders at the irony.
Though Howe believes that Bloodsport was made to serve their own amusement and has nothing to do with either their first or second record, Corner, co-songwriter, singer and guitarist thinks otherwise. “This one is more of a combination of Becoming X and Splinter,” Corner notes but agrees that “there’s a lot of dark humor in it.” Transgressing the post-modern cynicism imbued in their debut, the Sneaker Pimps’ biting dark humor is sonically manifested into new wave, Brit-pop and alternative dance combined with spurious folk elements and a residue of trip-hop. There are no hidden messages or precious anecdotes in their lyrics and the songs themselves are constructed in a way that if taken too seriously, you'll only be laughed at behind your back by their precocious makers who feine to bring out the fool in all of us.
Songs like the retro-brandied “Kiro TV” and the lush “Loretta Young Silks” jab at the absurdity of stardom, referencing major all-American tragic figures such as Kurt Cobain and Hollywood’s Loretta Young. “Tragedy is far more interesting than success. Tragedy resolving into happiness is very Hollywood but the European way is wallowing in tragedy. That’s the way art is. A happy ending is not really the truth,” Howe affirms. “I think in that way we are quite obsessed with tragic forms like Loretta Young; she was someone opposite of the character she portrayed.” But Howe is cautious with his words on the grunge rock god as he says, “We made the track [Kiro TV] about people’s reaction to stardom. It doesn’t actually make any particular comment about Cobain but just referencing it. I wouldn’t want to put the back-stop to the Nirvana world - there’s too many out there!”
Bloodsport is in itself the Sneaker Pimps’ declaration that they’re embracing dance and pop music entirely on their own terms. According to Howe, the band always referenced dance music but never really done it and adds, “but our take on dance music is never going to be normal. We’re trying to do something which uses the language of dance music but somehow twisting it into a different beast.” They never intended to dabble in unadulterated pop until now as well. “Sick,” the first single to be released, is a dulcet Brit-pop tease held together by a sassy acoustic hook, a gyrating bass line and a lounge-laden vibe. Corner notes, “I think that’s our idea of pop. There just doesn’t seem to be anything like that in pop music and it really confuses me why because people would seem to like it.” And people surely will fancy this one.
Though the UK audience has long ago forgived them for their unexpected switch to Corner as vocalist, the American crowd may linger in puzzlement before it all sinks in. They won’t understand that Corner was the band’s original vocalist on the demos for their debut long before Dayton came on board and that their involvement with her was just a project that Corner recalls "took on a life of its own and ran with itself." Plus, her live performance was a hindrance and though they toured for an arduous 18 months in support for Becoming X, Howe reveals that their live shows were not “the standard that we believe we could achieve.” That alone should justify her good riddance but it doesn’t. Corner reinstalling himself as frontman is perhaps the best move the band made. The once timid goth torch singer has now fully ensconced himself as the voice of the Sneaker Pimps in their latest with a much more confident, flirty and vindictive attitude. In contrast to Dayton's detached and one-dimensional quality, Corner's effeminate vocals are actually felt, projecting the right dose of sexuality and cynicism. "I got used to singing live and projecting more and just adding a bit more character I suppose," Corner shrugs at his own development. "It does tend to change quite quickly, it's weird."
They've removed their bad seeds and endured suspicious transformations, simultaneously losing and gaining all of what made the Sneaker Pimps the Sneaker Pimps. So the next time you hear someone ask, “What ever happened to the Sneaker Pimps?” you can simply say that they’re back, they’ve changed and have still got everything but the girl.