Author: Roger Holland / Source: Sounds / Published: 13th June 1987
ACT are Claudia Brucken, formerly of Propaganda, and Thomas Leer and their ‘Snobbery And Decay’ single was inspired by a tacky late night US TV import, the point of which is that life without self-discipline is decadent. ROGER HOLLAND hears their story.
THOSE WHOM God, or the registry office, hath joined together let no man put asunder. Not even the rest of the band!
When Propaganda, one of the best groups of the last five years, decided to split from their record company, ZTT, they found themselves their lead singer and leading light Claudia Brucken behind.
You see, when Claudia wed her childhood sweetheart, impresario and infamous rock journalist Paul Morley, she married into the record company!
But no sooner has Claudia split from Propaganda than she got a call from her old chum Thomas Leer.
“We met each other years ago,” he explains, “when Claudia was in Propaganda. “And when we met we just hit it off, like we were kindred spirits. So we kept in contact, and then when I left my last record contract and I had this idea for a band built around a girl singer, I automatically gave her a ring…”
“And I told him I’d just split with Propaganda…”
“And we both thought, well… perhaps we should come together and try something different.”
THE SOMETHING different is Act (“it’s the two of us in search of something new,” says Thomas). And this thing called Act is intended to be a long-term collaboration which will develop into a band, a live show and, hopefully, a full blown contemporary musical.
But all that’s long way away yet, and the first fruit of this collaboration is the single ‘Snobbery And Decay’. Paul Morley says this isn’t indicative of the Act sound, that it has been released as an introduction to the duo.
The two Actors agree, but only insofar as ‘Snobbery And Decay’ features both Claudia and Thomas on vocals. The rest of their material, Thomas tells me, is predominately Claudia.
“But we’re not particularly egotistical. It’s not a Eurythmics set up where I’m just the shadow in the background making the music and twiddling the knobs. Whenever it’s appropriate I’ll be coming forwards.”
‘Snobbery And Decay’, Claudia says, was inspired by one of those awful, tacky late night US TV imports. The show in question was Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous, and she and Leer, who both confess to square eyes, were utterly consumed by the spectacle and the offence of the champagne dreams spelt out on the screen.
“The whole idea of that show,” she explains, “is voyeurism into the world of the rich. To rub your face in other people’s wealth. To make you jealous. We were absolutely fascinated by it, and yet at the same time we were disgusted.”
THE SINGLE’S cover star on 12-inch is Liberace. And Claudia tired of hearing that it’s tasteless.
“It’s not tasteless at all. It’s wonderful, it’s a kind of allegory. Anyway, how do you begin to define tastelessness in a country like England?”
Thomas would be content merely to point out that their cover is no worse that The Smiths putting Pat Pheonix on the front of ‘Shakespeare’s Sister’, but Claudia has more to say.
“Actually, the song and the sleeve were both conceived before he died. Liberace was on that show, Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous. In fact, he was that main inspiration for our song because his lifestyle was the perfect example of the snobbery and decay we were talking about. And then when he died, it just seemed to emphasise the point we were making.”
The point is that a life without self-discipline is decadent. And the untrammelled decadence will lead to decline. And as Claudia says, AIDS is very much part of that process.
The current 12-inch ‘Snobbery’ – the ‘That’s Entertainment Mix’ – gathers together excerpts from musicals like Cabaret and Oliver and adverts like Calvin Klein’s Obsession in an attempt to give a fuller, rounder impression of the mood of the song. This sort of cultural collage is something Act intend to explore, as Thomas Leer explains.
“We’re very keen to explore the ideas of drama and comedy and tragedy and showbiz. We want to draw from those influences and bring those elements closer to pop music. Like ABC did.
“We want to use things like musicals and show songs, because there are some classic ideas and pieces of music in that culture. And at the same time we want to use the more contemporary sources: showbiz and the media.
“It’s about choosing and image or symbol you thing appropriate to whatever you want to convey. That’s the most interesting and direct way to communicate now. It seems that everybody gets their information from the media and from television nowadays, so all we’re doing is talking to them in terms we hope they’ll understand.
“But it’s an abstract thing. We’re working on instincts rather than from an intellectual viewpoint. If we see something, on TV or in literature or art, and it strikes a chord within us then we take that and we try to use it, in a song, or in a video or something, if we can make it fit.”
The second 12-inch ‘Snobbery’ (this is ZTT, dont’ forget!) will be a deconstructed hardcore Moonlighting mix. The Naked Cybil 12-inch! Not surprisingly Moonlighting is Act’s favourite TV show. Claudia reckons she can’t live without it, and Thomas feels much the same way.
“I love the way they keep stepping outside the scripts. That’s the most exciting thing about it. It breaks down the barriers between the show and its audience. It’s like one great aside to the camera, to the audience, reminding you that it’s only a show, that they’re only actors and that it’s not that important. I love that, and in a way that’s what we’re trying to do. Because we’re just a pop group, this is just an act!”
“We don’t want to be taken too seriously,” add Claudia. “Pop music isn’t serious. Too many people would like to make it art, to make it odd and awkward, but it isn’t like that at all. It’s simple, it’s a spark, it’s natural. We like to make our music provocative, because it’s fun for us to do it like that, but it’s not meant to be taken too seriously. We’re just having fun playing with ideas and images.”
Claudia Brucken is the only singer I’d put on par with Kate Bush. The combination of her wonderful evocative vocals and Thomas Leer’s musical soundscapes looks likely to be a least as enchanting as Propaganda ever were – except perhaps for ‘Jewel’ – so long may this self styled David and Maddy, or Bruce and Sybil, continue to have fun.