April 25, 2008 1:45 PM
Read the complete Roger Waters interview
Fans of Roger Waters and Pink Floyd will get to see Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety on Wednesday night, which is something of a miracle. Waters had no touring plans for the U.S., but did have a benefit he wanted to do in Buenos Aires. Playing the Coachella Festival seemed like a good warm-up, then the benefit date got moved. There was room for a few more dates, so Colorado and Texas got added. Finally, the punch line - the Buenos Aires benefit was canceled altogether, so Waters finds himself on a mini-U.S. tour he never intended to do. The upside, he said with a laugh, is that he'll get to sing the anti-George Bush song Leaving Beirut in the president's home state.
Waters agreed to a rare interview from West Palm Beach where he was recording a benefit single to talk about the upcoming show.
What's the story with this weird routing on your tour with just four U.S. dates?
"What happened was I had no plans to do any gigs this year. A friend of mine in Argentina was organizing a gig in Buenos Aires for ALAS on May the 7th. They wanted me to do my whole show down there. I had meeting with him and agreed to do it. In the meantime my manager in London said to me 'One week before that Coachella is on and they'd like you to go and do the last day there.' It seemed ridiculous not to do that. So I agreed to do Coachella. I'm sorry, this is a bit long-winded. Then the charity gig got moved to the 17th of May. Suddenly it wasn't just a few days. So they said to me 'I don't know if you remember but Denver was sort of upset that you didn't go (in 2007).' I remembered seeing lots of fan things on sites saying 'Oh, he's not coming here.' So I said 'Why don't we take it to Denver? That still leaves some time to fill in - do you want to play Texas?'"
And see how Leaving Beirut goes over there?
"Exactly! I said 'I do, I really want to go with Leaving Beirut to Texas.' So they put in a couple of there. They said 'You still have a few days, there are a couple of festivals in Europe. Would you consider those?' I said '(Expletive), why not?' Keep the whole band working, keep the crew on the road. So we're doing one in Denmark, one in Spain, one in Holland. And then at the end of the day, the Buenos Aires thing fell through. So we're going back and doing two gigs at the O2 in London."
Coachella should be interesting because Pink Floyd's music still draws a young audience. Are you excited?
"Listen, last year I worked solidly from January to July. We played to more than a million people all over the world. I promise you the average age of the audience must have been 20. My audience is very young, apart from Calgary where they're all old cowboys. I'm not bagging on Calgary, I'm not. But there's a thing where outside the US the audience is very, very young. My impression of the audience I've played to in the states last year is that there are a lot of young people there, which is very edifying, I have to say. I love that."
You were booed early on for Leaving Beirut, but a lot of America has come around to your thinking. Are you still booed?
"That's one of the great things about Barack Obama. He may persuade America to be less parochial than it has been over the past couple of hundred years and to take a more balanced and broad worldview. And take more account of how people live in the rest of the world and how they think in the rest of the world. I remember the first gig we did on the first bit of the tour was in Camden, New Jersey. There were lots of military bases around there. I was getting the finger and there was a certain measure of unrest. In the intervening years that unrest has become a quieter and quieter voice. The people who have embrace the idea that just because you're an Arab or a Muslim doesn't mean you're one of the 'evildoers.' We're all people and we need to understand one another better. It has taken hold much more and I'm very happy to see that."
You live in New York City now. Is it odd to have your worldview compared to that of the average American?
"I'm certainly sensitive to it. But a) I think it's changing and b) there is so much good about the American public. There is a warm-heartedness in American culture ...the friends gather round to help rebuild the barn after the storm. That neighborliness thing is still there somewhere underneath. The trouble is it has been subverted by the Neocons and the hawks into 'Let's all be neighborly with each other but (expletive) everyone else in the world,' which is not a good thing. Once this administration is out of the picture (perhaps) most of America can accept that George W. Bush was a dreadful mistake and that kind of foreign policy can do America and Americans nothing but harm in the long run. (It) remains to be seen if the electorate is capable of taking that view. I believe they are and I certainly hope wholeheartedly that they are. And they'll therefore not vote for John McCain, who's really a small clone of George W. Bush. Please, God - I'm an atheist so maybe I shouldn't be asking God - but let Barack Obama finally win the Democratic nomination and elect a person who seems to be not just enormously intelligent but also deeply humane and seems to have an imagination. Seems not to be entirely attached to the way the Congress works. It does need reform, desperately."
Does revisiting Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety bring any new meaning to you?
"It's a strange thing doing Dark Side of the Moon now 35 years later or however long it is. But I don't think it's necessary to find anything new to like about it. It's how strange the politics of the thing seem to be right up to date now. What impresses me most about it is the attachment of an increasingly young audience to the ideas in it and songs like Us and Them, which develop the ideas that you and I have been speaking about here. None of this stuff has gone away ever. The idea that we get to make choices about these things and that we can somehow join together to provide a somewhat united front against a military-industrial complex that Eisenhower was so worried about when he was president ... is still fundamentally important to all of our lives. It's a voice that since the '60s has become stronger and stronger. It's a voice that becomes subverted to our attachments to video games and cell-phones and all that technological (expletive), but it's never the less a voice that has never faltered. And I think it's increasing in power."
Some music from that era sounds timeless like Dark Side or John Fogerty's anti-war songs...
...but some music from that era sounds dated and silly. You managed to avoid that with Dark Side and The Wall, Any idea why that is?
"Yeah. It's because they're truthful and they spring from a passionate attachment to political and philosophical ideals that are based in the experience of others. If you were to name something that you now consider silly....not that I want to knock other artists, but you'd probably find the subject matter is fey in some way."
I'm thinking music like Emerson Lake & Palmer.
"Well that wasn't about anything. It wasn't about anything. It was a construct in order to sell records and be successful and all that. It didn't have its roots in somebody's passionate belief in human life. It had its roots in wanting to be successful in the world of pop music in the 1970s."
Is it difficult to stage Dark Side and find musicians who can handle the parts?
"No it's not. One has to always take one's hat off to Dave (Gilmour) and Rick (Wright) who created the original parts. But I treat it as a classical piece. There are lots of musicians around who are capable of learning the parts as if it was a piece of classical music. The guitar player who plays most of the Gilmour stuff, Dave Kilminster, does it beautifully. He brings his own something to it, but basically they're the notes in Dave's solos. I make no bones about staying very close to the original parts because I think they're beautiful. You could take another approach, like those people who did Dub Side of the Moon. You can do a reggae version of the whole thing if you want to. And that's fine as well. Or you could take the songs and rearrange them and do them however you wanted. What I've done is try to treat it as a classical piece."
I'm told you're recording an album called Heartland. Any truth to that?
"That might well be. It might be called Heartland or it might be called something else. I have a ton of songs I've written. I keep meaning to get around to going in the studio and making it into an album. But the recording I'm involved with in the moment, I wrote a song for ALAS. Although I'm not longer doing the gig... I have recorded a 13-minute piece for them. In fact I'm in West Palm at the moment and Eric Clapton has very kindly agreed to record a solo. So I'm recording him tomorrow or the next day. We'll be working with the Venezuela Youth Orchestra in another two weeks. ... that's the recording I'm doing at the moment."
Would today's technology made recording Dark Side or The Wall different? I get the idea that the struggle to make the sounds was part of the creative process.
"I don't think that pertains to Dark Side because there's nothing really very innovative on it ... I mean there are some ideas but they weren't technically difficult. To make a track like Money, a tape loop made up of sounds of cash registers and pound notes being torn up..."
But even tape loops were pretty out there at the time.
"But you don't need technology - you need a tape recorder. That's all you need. It's not a huge leap of the imagination to say 'If I loop this together we could make a rhythm track and start from there. It wouldn't be any easier to do today. Well, a little bit. I guess it is technically easier to do."
Is it more enjoyable to record today?
"I was talking to an engineer last week in New York and we were doing a rough mix of this ALAS thing because I needed to take it with me. I was reminding myself that back in those days ... when we were doing a mix of something all of us would sit down at the mixing board. We'd start the 24-track tape. Everybody would have three or four faders that were their responsibility and pan pots and equalizers and effects and things. You'd run it from the top to the bottom and it would be a performance. That would be mix one. Then you'd go I didn't get this move quite right and you'd do it again. You'd listen to those mixes and make a value judgment about which one moved you more. There was something great about that process, whereas now of course it's all digital and it remembers everything you do and you can change minutia without having to do the whole thing again. It has removed the idea of performance from the mixing of the song."
Some musicians get paralyzed by too many choices.
"I always think it's a bit of a handicap in terms of writing. If you're a virtuoso guitar player or keyboard player or anything else, really. That could be a handicap. There's a temptation to sort of noodle. However brilliant it may be, it's not writing. I've always thought the fact that I can't really play instruments really well has been something of an advantage to me. It means I have to think about things - what is the effect I'm trying to create here."
Because you're such a crappy musician.
"Exactly! (laughs). It's funny you should say that. Just because you're not a virtuoso guitar player doesn't mean that you're not a good musicians. It's a sort of fallacy that has been picked upon by my enemies from time to time (laughs). Music is actually about communicating feelings to human beings. If you do that within the genre it doesn't matter if you can't play Chopin preludes on the piano. You're still a musician."
When you do have a new album how will you release it? Your last studio release was in a different era, but you're also savvy about downloads. You've kept one foot in each school.
"I have no idea what I would do. The whole industry has been turned on its head. I don't think anybody has a clear idea of which way to go. I haven't heard the album yet, but the Eagles did that deal with Wal-Mart and that was their primary outlet. They did big numbers, like a million and a half records, without any record company being involved. I don't know which way it'll all go. I do know one thing, though: everybody should immediately download (Levon Helm's) Dirt Farmer. Best thing I've heard in 10 years. It is absolutely succulent. It's so cool. I only heard about it about a week ago. I downloaded and I sat there and listened to it with my mouth hanging open. I always knew he was great and I've kept in touch with him a little bit over the years. Not enough, sadly. But he's in such great voice. I always say to people the thing that changed everything for me was the Beatles and (The Band's) Music From Big Pink. Music From Big Pink changed the whole way that musicians felt about recording. You can so hear how large a contribution (Helm) made. Obviously everyone in the band was great. Robbie (Robertson) wrote great songs. But Levon was for me the heart and soul of the thing. They were all great, Rick (Danko), Garth (Husdon) and Richard (Manuel), they were all fantastic."
Pink Floyd's one-off reunion at Live 8 has been analyzed to death. But are you yourself a fan of reunions?
"I don't think you can generalize about it. It's hard for bands. Often half of them are dead. I'm not really keen on the reunion when there's only one bloke left standing. However if everybody's alive and enthusiastic about doing it I think they're great. The Live 8 thing was quite extraordinary. Even at our advanced years we all still seemed to be able to play a bit and sing. I thought those songs we did sounded great. It was very moving for me personally to hear those four musical voices joined together again onstage. And equally very moving to experience the enormous waves of love that were coming off the field at us. It was just fantastic. I loved it."
How involved are you in preserving your musical legacy?
"I'm not much of an archivist, I have to confess. I have an enormous respect for the other guys in the band and for the work. So I'm very happy to do whatever I can. But I don't keep T shirts. I have enough things. Nick (Mason) is that guy. He's got everything from everywhere. He's the museum. I've never been able to do that."
Will you consider releasing music from the vaults like the 1973 BBC broadcast?
"I think it's all out there on bootlegs. I'm not that interested in it. I have started work on the original Wall shows. We already mixed the music and it came out but I own all the film. We did do a multi-camera shoot on videotape back in 1980. We also have some 35-millimeter footage as well. I'm looking at all that at the moment."
The story fans heard was that the footage was shot but unusable.
"It's not unusable. It's not great but it's not unusable. I will find my way through it and make something that is very watch-able, I hope. We'll see."
What's the status of The Wall on Broadway?
"We're proceding with it. I'm still working with Lee Hall. We're on sort of draft four or five of the book. We've been in conversation with Rupert Gould, who is a young English director who's had a huge success in New York with MacBeth, which is why I approached him. I thought it was absolutely brilliant. So it looks like we may have the three of us will be the center of the team to which we'll continue to add. I suspect we may be looking at fall '09 or spring '10. This stuff, trust me, takes a long time. Not the work that we do but one you arrive at a stage you have to find the right theater and this that and the other. It's a long, complex process. But the work isn't going to go away. It's nearly 30 years old now, which is young, as we know, for a piece of theater. It's not going anywhere. People aren't going to suddenly be entirely disinterested in The Wall. They'll be no less interested in two years time. I'm content it should be allowed the time to grow and come to a proper fruition as a proper piece of work for the theatre."