Tab Interview: The Human League

University is ‘way more important than sitting in a bank and doing a normal job for three years.’ Susan Ann Sulley, member of electro-pop legends THE HUMAN LEAGUE tells KATIE FORSTER about her failed dreams of academia.

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La Roux style quiffs, neon legwarmers and ‘nu-rave’. The Human League have a lot to answer for. As the pioneers of British electronic music, they popularised the ’80s synth sound and introduced the world to the eternally catchy Don’t You Want Me?

The band was founded in Sheffield in 1977 by two computer operators and, after recruiting Phil Oakey (because he ‘looked like a pop star’) as a vocalist and songwriter, went on to sell 20 million records worldwide. They are about to release their 10th studio album, titled ‘Credo’, next Spring.

It would be hard to accuse The Human League of resting on their laurels, since they have been touring almost nonstop since they formed. Susan Ann Sulley, one of the band’s vocalists, explained: ‘we never stop being off the road, really. It’s what we spend our life doing.’

Their last album was released in 2001, so why have we been waiting so long for the next one to come out? ‘Our record company went bust when the last album came out, which wasn’t so good for us,’ Susan told me. ‘It knocks your confidence a bit. But we’ve spent a lot of time doing what we’re good at: playing music live. Then, a couple of years ago, Phil got a bit fed up of being asked to sing on other people’s records instead of on his own.’

Even so, a decade is a long time. But, Susan assured us that the band’s sound has not changed drastically. ‘We’re always going to be The Human League, because of our voices!  If Phil wanted to make a trance album, he could. But, it couldn’t be under The Human League name, because that’s not how people perceive us. The new stuff is modern. It’s very up to date.’

Music does seem to be going through an ’80s phase at the moment. Bands such as Hurts, La Roux and even Calvin Harris have abandoned guitars for synthesisers and a retro style. Susan seems enthusiastic about this revival of electronic pop music. ‘I really like La Roux; she’s great. Phil did some vocals on Little Boots’ album too.  She’s a great songwriter, if not the greatest performer. But, she plays all her own instruments and I think she’ll move on to writing for other people.’

Unlike a lot of bands of their time, The Human League aren’t stuck in the 70’s. ‘We’re never going to be a rock band,’ Susan explained. ‘I like pop music. I like Lady Gaga, Black Eyed Peas, Usher … all those sorts of people. I even find myself liking Katy Perry, although I don’t want to! Her last single was one of the best things I’ve heard in a long time. I like people who make it feel like it’s real to me.’


Don’t You Want Me?

Susan’s Sheffield accent is so prevalent that I have to ask whether she likes playing at home again, after touring internationally. Her response is surprising. ‘I hate playing Sheffield,’ she exclaims. ‘I despise it! The band all get in really bad moods when we go there, and no one talks to each other. We would always leave it off if we could, but our manager won’t let us.

‘It’s horrid. You’ll be in the supermarket three days after you do the show, and people say ‘oh, we saw ya, oh’ and you feel like a bit of a wally. They see you in your scruffs at the gym with no make up on, then they see you on stage and it feels a bit weird. Certainly Phil, Joanne and myself would never play Sheffield if we didn’t have to.’

Sally and Joanne, the band’s third member, were selected for the band as teenagers when they were at a club in Sheffield called Crazy Daisy. Had they not been spotted that night, they would have gone to university. ‘Phil asked us to go on tour with him in the last year of our A-Levels, which probably wasn’t ideal!’ Susan tells me. ‘It was fabulous; we had a fantastic time. But, we both had plans to go to university.  Joanne was going to do Psychology and I was going to do Business Studies. After the tour, we went back to school, but the singles slowly kept coming out. Eventually we said that we would put the university thing off and come back to it. But we never got the time.’

Susan can, however, see the benefits of student life. ‘It’s fun, it’s all about learning, and that’s way more important than sitting in a bank and doing a normal job for three years: you can do that for the rest of your life,’ she said. ‘Make new friends and go to different places while you have the chance!’

The Human League’s new album Credo is out next spring and they are playing at The Corn Exchange in Cambridge on 11 December. Click here to buy tickets.