Ian Anderson interviews Jun 19, 2013 15:39:48 GMT
Post by tootull on Jun 19, 2013 15:39:48 GMT
Progressive rock, Rock Music, Something Else! Interviews, Uncategorized — June 19, 2013 at 11:26 am
Something Else! Interview: Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull
by Nick DeRiso
Ian Anderson, even as a massive four-DVD set of live Jethro Tull performances is set to be released next week, continues a well-received solo tour, highlighted by a June 30 stop at London’s Royal Albert Hall and then a string of U.S. dates.
He paused to discuss these on-going concert performances, his recent return to a legendary character from the Jethro Tull discography on Thick as a Brick 2,, and the prospects of working with long-time Tull collaborator Martin Barre again.
Anderson also speaks frankly about the outsized personalities of
early prog rock, and his predictions on whether that kind of furious
invention will ever return to music …
NICK DERISO: Do you think that, ultimately, Jethro Tull got
lumped in with the progressive-rock genre because there simply wasn’t an
easy to categorize what you were doing?
IAN ANDERSON: That probably would be the case, if you look at the
bigger body of work. It clearly isn’t all fitting comfortably into the
term ‘prog rock.’ I think you could describe it as progressive rock
music, because loosely speaking — as a very general term — that’s what
it is. But I think you’ll probably find more definitions along the lines
of folk rock, in terms of looking at the bigger picture of Jethro
Tull’s repertoire and discography. It would appear probably more often
that people would think of it that way. It’s something rock,
and whatever that ‘something’ is, I still like the original term that
comes from 1969: progressive rock. But that was with a small ‘p’ and a
small ‘r.’ Prog Rock, on the other hand, has different connotations — of
grandeur and pomposity. Back then, when we were doing Thick as a Brick,
bands like Yes and Emerson Lake and Palmer were already gaining a
reputation for being a little pompous and showing off with their music. I
think that was OK. The reality is that certain members of Yes were
quite humorous about it; they could laugh at themselves — as, indeed,
Emerson Lake and Palmer privately laughed amongst themselves about
themselves. They’d do that with me, too. There’s a ready understanding
that what we are doing is a bit ‘Spinal Tap,’ in more contemporary
comparative terms. I personally think the world is a better place for
having Emerson Lake and Palmer and Yes, because their music was quite
elevated — great tunes, and some innovative playing. But, of course, it
was to many people a bit excessive. I think some writers and some
musicians found it pompous, because they were displaying their technical
skills as musicians sometimes in way that made them seem like party
NICK DERISO: You toured together, something that must have provided some insight.
IAN ANDERSON: It’s difficult sometimes when you think of
performances back then, with the lengthy drum solos that didn’t really
mean anything, the noodly guitar solos and so on. Sometimes, it just was
a bit of showing off. I remember when Yes were on tour with us, it was
kind of vaguely interesting to watch Steve Howe playing his party-piece
guitar stuff. You knew that it was a collection of bits that must have
evolved over all of his years as a guitar player, and it was just kind
of showing off. We all have a bit of that that we do. I have a couple of
things that I blatantly refer to as party pieces, because they are just
a bit of fun — something you play when you are called upon to be the
circus clown. (Chuckles.) Clearly, we all — Steve Howe, Ian Anderson —
we have other things that we do in which we’re not showing off. We’re
too busy with our heads down, and with furrowed brows, trying to play
something that is really quite difficult. But that’s part of what was
going on back then, and I think looking back on it that most of it was a
pretty good experience for musicians and listeners alike. Some of it
was a little bit overblown, but in the case of much of the music, it was
absolutely spot on.
NICK DERISO: Did it take growing older, and accumulating more experiences, before you felt compelled to return to Gerald Bostock and Thick as a Brick? There’s so much within the sequel about life choices, and roads not taken .
IAN ANDERSON: In 2010, we had some of the inevitable remixing and remastering of the original Thick as a Brick album,
and I thought about the possibility of playing it on stage and so that
tossed out the possibility a sequel. When the eureka moment struck, it
was late in 2010, based on the response to the simple question: Well, I
wonder whatever happened to Gerald Bostock — the fictitious child poet
who supposedly wrote the lyrics to Thick as a Brick in 1972? In
response to that, I wrote down a number of possible scenarios as to what
Gerald Bostock might be doing today. Rather than just pick one, I
thought I’d pick six different outcomes to the young boy’s life and
explore how he might have gotten to all of them. In that way, it’s a
reference to the situation that we all face when growing up about making
choices, and where we’re headed in life. Sometimes, we diligently think
it through and apply ourselves to a thoughtful moment of life-changing
decision making, other times fate, luck, or chance seem to make those
decisions for us. That whimsical notion is what started me on writing
what became the sequel. We recorded that in the back end of 2011, and
we’ve been on tour pretty much since the release of that album in April
of last year.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Jethro
Tull's 'Aqualung' remains an album that’s simply bursting with strange,
sometimes unsavory characters and blunt questions about faith and its
NICK DERISO: What’s next in the reissue series being overseen
by Steven Wilson, which has also yielded a sparkling new anniversary
edition of Aqualung?
IAN ANDERSON: There are actually three waiting in the wings for
release, which Steven did last year. They’re all mastered and finished,
and waiting to roll. The (1970) Benefit album comes out in October. Coming next in 2014 will be (1973′s) A Passion Play and Chateau d’Isaster Tapes (originally released as Disc 1 of Nightcap
in 1993). That’s according to EMI, if they are still in business —
which, of course, they won’t be. The material will be with Warner Bros.
by then, and presumably they will honor the commitment to release it in
remastered form. It would be silly not to, because there’s a profit
margin in doing it, so I can be reasonably confident those things will
see the light of day.
NICK DERISO: You’ve always had a problem, much like the
members of Pink Floyd, with people thinking you are a person actually
named Jethro Tull. I wondered if performing Thick as a Brick 2 as a solo act is only further blurring those lines.
IAN ANDERSON: It blurred the lines. But if it just said “Jethro
Tull” on the tickets, people are going to come expecting to see the 20
best-known songs of Jethro Tull. Rather than disappoint those folks by
then focusing on a more conceptual concert evening, I think it’s better
to be more specific — even if it may blur lines or even confuse. I do
try to spell out what it is people are going to see when they come to
see the show. Of course, Jethro Tull and Ian Anderson — to a lot of
people, they are one and the same thing. But I do think it’s important
to let them know that this is very much a focused performance.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Jethro
Tull's Ian Anderson remembers winning the heavy metal Grammy over
Metallica to a shower of 'boos and hisses and gasps of disbelief.']
NICK DERISO: Are there plans write original work with Martin again?
IAN ANDERSON: There are actually no specific plans. He’s
finishing the mastering of an album that he’s been working on. I haven’t
heard it, but it’s what he’s devoted the last few months towards doing.
He’s got quite a lot of dates lined up throughout the year. So, his
projects — which we discussed back in 2010, I think — are reaching
fruition, and I’ve set out to do some of my projects. When that’s done,
we’ll consider the future, but I don’t have any plans right now to be
recording another studio album with Martin Barre. He’s busy, and so I
am, doing other stuff. We’ve been playing together for so many years
that I think both of us probably feel — I would hope, understandably —
that there are some things that you’ve got to sort out and do, while you
still can. The worst possible scenario, really, is to sort of carry on
doing repertoire — going out and doing that sort of repetitive thing
until you die. It works for some folks, and they probably enjoy it, but
some of us have the conviction that there is still unfinished business —
while we still have our marbles and our musical expertise to go with
it. (Chuckles.) I think fans will understand that it’s good that we are
actually passionate about doing new things, and reinterpreting some old
things — whatever it might be. The idea that you are sort of an old
married couple that has to go on display? (Laughs.) Martin feels the
same as I do: It’s nice to have a bit of a life of your own, and be
recognized as an individual, rather than just as that bloke who plays
guitar in Jethro Tull. It’s important to me, let alone him, that he’s
recognized as an individual by name for his work over the years and his
contributions to the sound of Jethro Tull. It’s good that he’s doing
these things. I look forward to hearing the fruits of his efforts in the
months to come.
NICK DERISO: You work with Martin on the original Thick as a Brick
project was meant to poke fun at the era’s oft-derided prog-rock
concept albums — a fact that was, unfortunately, lost by many. Were you
disappointed that not everybody got the joke?
IAN ANDERSON: I think the fun of doing something like that is
that you very deliberately try to create that bit of ambivalence. You’re
not really spelling it out for people and making it too clear. It’s fun
if they wonder. People have an endless fascination for imagination, and
grasping impossible scenarios. They love the fantasy, the improbable.
So, the idea of presenting a piece of music supposedly written by an
eight-year-old boy — of course, it’s fanciful; of course, it’s
ridiculous. People went along with it and, if they thought about it,
they would I guess scratch their heads and wonder. But a lot of people
just accepted it for what it was. They enjoyed it because they enjoyed
the music and the words, without really analyzing it in any great depth.
I don’t think you have to spell it out in 100 percent clear terms. It’s
good to create a little of that kind of fantasy where you can’t really
pin it down as to whether this is serious, funny, real, sad or a spoof.
It’s all of those things. You try to make it work on more than one
level. I guess if I’d been trying to pinpoint how I was hoping the
outcome of that would be, it would be that 50 percent of the people who
get the more humorous and surreal side of it, and 50 percent would take
it for what it was without thinking too much. I suppose that’s the art
of writing something like that. You make it not too clear, otherwise
you’re taking away a lot of the fun for other people. You’re taking away
the ‘I wonder what this really means’ kind of moment that makes stuff
like that fun.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Jethro
Tull's 'Thick As A Brick' ended up as one of the most distinctive prog
albums ever — even as it tried to spoof the very idea.]
NICK DERISO: Much of that criticism of prog rock came from the
American press, which has always fetishized the idea that rock ‘n’ roll
must have an overt blues element in order to be authentic. The
disconnect seemed to be with prog’s overtly European, or classical,
IAN ANDERSON: Well, there was definitely a disconnect with
‘Rolling Stone’ magazine. They didn’t much like the Brits, whether it
was Led Zeppelin or Yes or Jethro Tull, or whoever. ‘Rolling Stone,’ and
quite understandably, is a celebration of things America. It played a
vital part in the social context of being an alternative, news and
current affairs publication — of being a more analytically, and grown up
way, of looking at the evolving young American society. Of course, it
featured a lot of music and, begrudgingly, did features on Jethro Tull,
and Led Zeppelin too. But we were not the favorites, by any means. The
editorial staff, I think, resented a little bit the British invasion.
That’s the way that it was, for sure. A couple of other magazines around
then took up what became around then a body-bruising instrument of
torture, beating us over the head. The same thing was happening later,
of course, in the UK — with the evolution in the 1970s towards punk, and
a revival of very basic music forms. There was a backlash there against
all of the blues-based and progressive rock-based music that had gone
on a few years prior to that.
NICK DERISO: Were you surprised to see this backlash happen at home, as well?
IAN ANDERSON: It’s just part of what happens in the world.
Allegiances change, tastes change. A new generation comes about and they
want to listen to something that represents their growing years, not
the stuff of their older siblings. It’s understandable. It didn’t
particularly upset me. When the punk thing came about, it was in some
ways quite a welcome return to basics. I went out and bought my own copy
of the first Sex Pistols album, and the first Stranglers album, and I
quite enjoyed them in a funny sort of way. It didn’t stop me from
carrying on what I was going at the time. And many years later, the
likes of Johnny Rotten and the Sex Pistols admitted that they had
actually been a bit of a Genesis and Jethro Tull fan all along!
(Laughs.) It was just his way of coping with the theatrical side of the
music — to embrace certain elements that would appear on the face of it
to be very derisive, regarding the music that came before. In fact,
Johnny Rotten definitely learned something from the presentation side.
I’m not suggesting he was the Peter Gabriel of punk, but Johnny Rotten
knew how from a theatrical point of view and a presentation point of
view how to wind people up, how to put across an image, how to sell
himself through body language. Johnny Rotten’s stance on stage was very
reminiscent of the character on the cover of Aqualung — which he
later on mentioned as one of his favorite albums, and a seminal piece of
music that he grew up listening to. We’re all influenced by stuff, even
if we don’t necessarily want to admit it at the time. It’s all part of
the jigsaw that makes up 50 years of rock and pop, which we should all
be quite proud of.
[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Well after Ian Anderson came to fame with Jethro Tull, he discovered he had been playing the flute 'embarrassingly wrong'.]
NICK DERISO: Do you see those days returning, when outsized
personalities will be furiously vying for the heart of rock, as we saw
during the prog-vs.-punk era?
IAN ANDERSON: I have to say that I think, these days, we’re wrong
in expecting revolutionary, new changes in popular music forms. I think
that’s a thing that people really have a bee in their bonnets about,
always wanting to somehow raise the next pop group to the standards of
something like the Beatles. Of course, we were there at a time when that
stuff happened. It’s not going to happen again. Like it’s not going to
happen again that there’s another Charlie Parker. It’s not going to
happen again that there’s another Mozart or Beethoven. These things have
moved on. To somehow imagine that we are going to have some kind of
heavy new rock or pop music form that equals or surpasses the Beatles or
indeed the rock bands of the 1970s, or ’80s or ’90s, I think that’s a
mistake to think that that’s going to happen. We live in a world of
reinvention, of reinterpretation. Out there, there’s a bunch of guys
playing generic pop and rock music — all of which owes a great deal to
what’s gone on before. Very rarely does anybody manage to put a stamp of
originality on what they do. It’s not their fault. There’s just not a
busting amount left to do that hasn’t been done before. It’s a lot
tougher these days to be original in the world of rock and pop music
than it was 30 or 40 years ago, when you could just conjure up a few
notes and find a way to play them in a way that no one had ever done
before. That’s impossible to do now.