Sledgehammering the universe
– As a world-renown and respected musician but a tad unorthodox, was there any opposition to your involvement with this project that obviously had to appeal to masses?
“The good thing was that the show wasn’t sponsored directly and there was no interference; the only concern was the title, from the management who insisted to be called ‘The Millennium Show’ but we won in the end and at another point there was a Government minister, called Lord Faulkner, he had been in a band with the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, who got worried that the music would be all strange and weird. So, I had to go to the back of Downing Street for a very strange A&R meeting, in his political office and the minister had his staff of all ages come in to listen to it. Fortunately they all liked it.”
– Part three ends on an optimistic note and, based on the past examples, it is difficult to believe that man would be so kind to share anything with nature; isn’t it more feasible that he would destroy it by the inherited greed?
“My hope is that when it comes to our selfish advantage to work with the nature again we will reconsider it. I think there will be a lot of reasons for us to do that; on my next record there is a song called ‘Soft City’ and it was inspired by a snowstorm in New York. I’ve noticed that people behave differently towards each other in a snowstorm. All the sound gets absorbed and the noise of the city is muffled, it becomes quieter and people come on top; more are walking, helping each other… There is a talk of making aeroplanes with soft-skin, as well as cars and there are already roads where tarmac has been mixed with rubber to minimise the surface noise… As I mentioned earlier there is a work on organic-computers and we will have to embrace nature for our own benefit.”
“The point of the finale was to neither be pessimistic nor happy ending but leave it a little open, a bit unknown… There is a sense of hope that if you do your job well as a parent then kids can leave without problems; you can’t control your kids but do your job well and, if you do that, you become obsolete. The children should have enough of themselves to carry on on their own.”
– Has the competition of ‘OVO’ liberated you to concentrate on your next (proper) album?
“Yes, I’ve been working on it and one of the songs on ‘OVO’, ‘Father, Son’, was intended for that album but I was talked into including it here as there is a father-son relationship… My new record is more personal, more edgier but still song based. It is still a mix of hand playing and machine-based rhythms… I think of it as a cinemascope, wide-screen landscape record, big pictures for the difference from the small ones I had in the past; I don’t know how it will all end up sounding because I haven’t made a final selection from the material I’m considering for it. I think I’ll have it finished by the end of this year and have it out at the beginning of the next.”
– You’ve become an ambassador for the World Music but, do you remember your first exposure?
“Yes, very well; I was getting tired of using the rock rhythms, and you have to remember that I started out as a drummer, and was looking for something else and it was Pete Townsand (of the Who) who introduced me to it when we were doing the first WOMAD charity record to attract people to the festival… I also love the voices in ethnically diverse traditions… I love records that contain that quality of otherness, I love when you get somewhere when you haven’t been before, you don’t know… it is a new world and you can go from dreaming of it… When I make my own music I try to create that.”
– It is the nature of artists to be self-doubting; has your self-confidence increased to the point that you can ignore criticism?
“Well, I still pay attention to the critiques and enjoy the good ones but always remember the bad and the personal ones. I’m more comfortable now, I’ve turned 50 this year, I’m more comfortable in my own skin although I still have self-doubts, go through periods when I think everything I do is crap, then you start working with someone else and your enthusiasm gets fired up again. But I think I’m happier not to be liked now; I think a lot of artists are doing this job because they didn’t get enough stroking when they were kids and need mass approval but when you get older you realise that it might not be so important.”
“I’m also lucky that I have my independence; a lot of musicians of my age don’t own studio where I put my money rather than in luxuries… I do have a big house now but sorting out the studio was my priority because I wouldn’t have liked to struggle like some other people I know; Karl Wallinger (of World Party) had a very tough time getting a contract and he is an excellent songwriter; he’s not a fashionable one but a classical songwriter, great songs. I have the tools of production even if the record company decides not to back me up anymore. If this album works, I mean sells, fine, but if it doesn’t, I’m okay, I don’t have to worry about it.”
A man-child of the future
– In the unlikely case that your contractual obligation is terminated, would you avail yourself of the Internet opportunity?
“Yes and I’ve been championing it for a long time; I think it is a marvellous tool and we should all use it; I have a Download system which allows artists to be looked after better than in the case of MP3.
That’s for the new artists but for the established ones, look at it like it’s free advertising. The same way I see that Grateful Dead’s sales weren’t hurt by encouraging people to bootleg their concerts. But, for the small, World Music and minority artists, it is very important to be paid because 60 percent of their income comes from royalties and 40% from live work. People need to be encouraged to pay for music but there still will be a music market and it is not going to be destroyed as the industry fears.”
“I love the idea of Internet because it erases the line between the First and the Third Worlds and it is very important that there is no divide. It allows people to communicate with each other and I think it is in the interest of the rich countries to get the whole world online because that’s their future market. It is pure economic reason for it but there is also the democratising it brings with itself and it can be educational.”
– After 30 years in the business, is there something you still would like to do that has escaped you, for whatever reason?
“Yes, I’d love to work with Tom Waits, I think he is incredible; I had an opportunity to work with Randy Newman on the song for the pig-movie, ‘Babe 2’, which was a thrill as I’ve always considered him to be one of the greatest songwriters. Then, when DJs come to work in my studio I find it exciting to watch as they approach things from a different world; alike African musicians, the dance-people are not afraid to repeat-repeat-repeat, either a rhythm or a phrase; it’s interesting because there is a different type of tension in the music and you make small changes while the basis remain constant. I’m learning about it a lot… And I believe that you learn more from you mistakes than you do from getting it right. So, my advice is — Don’t be afraid to make mistakes!”
– You covered ‘Suzanne’ for the Tribute to Leonard Cohen, ‘Tower Of Song’; do you keep track of your songs being covered? Have you heard Ozzy Osbourne (with Coal Chamber) doing ‘ ‘Shock The Monkey’?
“Oh yes, and I was really excited to hear what he had done because it’s so unlikely… I knew he liked ‘So’ because he told me a couple times I met him. That version is pretty good but I would have done things differently; his version is energetic, I have to say. For me it’s fun to hear what people do with my songs and there are few things that include samples from ‘Sledgehammer’; I recently gave a permission to Tricky to sample ‘Big Time’ for the ‘Mission Impossible 2’ film…”
Gabriel started in the late 1960s with his progressive rock outfit Genesis but found it restricting and left in 1975, leaving it to Phil Collins to make them chart-contenders. His first four solo albums were simply entitled by his name as if they were all parts of the same collection; he later moved into issuing a number of visually intriguing long-form videos and has always been renown for performing some of the most exciting live shows but he is not in a hurry to repeat the experience.
“I love touring and playing live because it is such a great experience… When my next studio album comes out I’ll be going on the road again.”
‘OVO’ is another example of Peter Gabriel’s global point of view.