A Conversation With David Gilmour, Pt. 2
You produced Syd Barrett’s first LP, or at least several tracks on it. It’s never been fully credited, but on some of those tracks was it Soft Machine who played? And were those the tracks that you produced, or was it the other fellow?
It was the other fellow. I mean, what happened was, Syd was gonna make the solo album, and a guy called Malcolm Jones at EMI uses gonna produce this album. And it went on for months and months and months, and they did these tracks, and they’re nice tracks, too, but they’d only got half an album after months and months, a lot of money spent, and Malcolm Jones was tearing his hair out. And EMI shut the project down, because too much money had been spent-they decided to cut their losses and just forget it.
Was it Syd with the basic Soft Machine trio, then?
Yes, it was Hugh Hopper, Mike Ratledge and Robert Wyatt playing the basic tracks on a lot of those tracks–not all of them. So EMI closed the project down, but myself and Roger offered to finish the project off, and they gave us like two extra days or something, to “finish” the album, which is (laughs)…But we did it, and the rough, the really rough acoustic ones are the ones that me and Roger did. And we sort of remixed the other tracks–I mixed the other tracks–and we stuck an album together as best we could. Just so it could go out, you know? And I thought of the title, and Syd had the picture taken by a friend of his, and that was it. The better produced tracks are really the ones that Malcolm Jones produced. But those took months, and we only had two days. There just wasn’t any option–we had to take the first take of anything and stick it out. It captures a part of Syd, I think.
There’s certainly been a fascination about him through the years.
Well, there’s the fascination with him by all the fans–there’s this sort of mythology that all the stuff we’ve done ever same is about him. When in fact only one track at all has ever had anything to do with him.
“Shine On You Crazy Diamond”?
Does that disturb you?
It doesn’t disturb me that much. I mean, you can’t get away from people’s ideas and mythologies–I can do this, I can set the record straight, I’ve done so as much as I can in the past 15 fucking years (laughs). I don’t give a shit anymore, you know? If people want to believe that, there’s nothing you can do by saying anything to make them change what they believe. They’re still gonna believe that I’m lying or that I’m misinformed, or I don’t know what I’m talking about, so…
This fascination that you’re talking about still shows up consistently. There was an NME piece I read a while back…
The NME stuff? There’s one writer, Nick Kent, who I actually talked to, had to spend an entire afternoon discussing the whole thing with him, and he obviously thought I just didn’t know Syd very well, or didn’t know anything about it. Well, I obviously think I know him very well, and he had a whole bunch of sort of “followers,” of parasite supporters who would hang around him and give him drugs…
Syd, you mean?
Syd, in around the ‘69 or ‘70 period. They thought they were friends of his, and were helping him–and I thought were just being destructive parasites. But, I mean, we all have our own opinion about what is wrong with our friends and what is right with our friends, and who’s a good friend for them. I have my own particular feeling about it, my particular belief about it all, and I’m not likely to change that for anyone else’s opinion (laughs), and they’re not likely to change theirs for mine. I can remember back in about 1969 or 1970, there were myths–a whole Pink Floyd myth already–and every time we did interviews, Roger would do an interview, or I would do an interview, we’d do everything in our power to dispel it. We’d say, “It’s complete shit, we’re not taking acid every fucking day, we’re musicians, making music.” And this whole myth would still sort of carry on through whatever we ever did. It just never makes any fucking difference. The people that want to hear that it was a myth, that it wasn’t like that, will believe it. And the rest of them won’t.
I just saw that Pink Floyd At Pompeii is back on sale as a videocassette in the States. I remember seeing it on public television back in ‘70 or ‘71. What was that, and what did you do it for?
Someone said let’s make a film, we’ve got an idea; someone said we’ve got the money; and we said fine. And we went and did it. It took an awful long time to come out.
Funny that it’s coming out again in ‘84.
I’ve seen it–I think a lot of it’s pretty bad, but some of it’s pretty good. And the sound quality, I thought, is remarkably good really, in the end. I mean we recorded it live, in the amphitheater, with an eight-track tape machine with microphones just sort of stuck in the front. And we took it to a studio in Paris and mixed it, and did the odd repair and things. But I think the sound quality is remarkably good, considering.
Two obscure soundtrack questions: Tell me about the band’s involvement in Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London and The Committee.
Tonite Let’s All Make Love In London was a film by a friend of ours–it was done before they had a recording contract…
Oh, you’re not on that…
No, it was before my time. And I think they made it in a demo studio somewhere in England, and I think it was just a version of “Interstellar Overdrive,” as far as I know. I’m not 100 percent certain about it, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen it. I’m only telling you the answer I’ve heard the others use.
And now the soundtrack is being bootlegged; I don’t know if you knew that.
I had no idea at all. The Committee was a film by a guy called Max Steuer, it had Paul Jones in it, I think, and we did little bits of music for it.
So you are involved in that?
And that was incidental music, not taken from your albums?
Yes, it was incidental music we did, I think, in London in ‘69 or so. ‘68 or ‘69. It uses pretty dreadful, in my memory–but I have never heard it since.
And if I were to see the film I would hear this music?
You would hear some sort of tinkling noises, I think. (laughs)
Is it true that for the Zabriskie Point film, you recorded an entire album of music, but only three of those songs were used?
Yeah. We recorded tracks for lots of places in the film. Michelangelo Antonioni, who we all got on with pretty well, had some strange ideas about how he wanted the music to be, and the best things that we did, in my opinion, were the ones he didn’t use. And the bits that were not nearly so interesting were the bits he did use. It seemed to be the way he did everything: he’d choose actors who had no character and he’d choose music that was just virtually nothing. And any time the music added emotion or power to his imagery, it became not what he wanted, so he wouldn’t use it. And the best bits we did, I think, were the love scene…
Which is on the soundtrack, is it not?
Nope, Jerry Garcia did it in the end. But I think we did a very good piece of music for the love scene, and we did a very good piece for that sort of rioting scene, where they’re rioting on the campus of UCLA. And he didn’t use that, either. And that actual piece that we had, for the UCLA rioting thing, was a very beautiful piano piece of music that Rick Wright wrote that we thought worked exceptionally well. There’s all this sort of mad violence going on while this quiet, soothing music played. I thought it worked brilliantly, we all did. But we used it–the track–later, called it “Us And Them” and put it on Dark Side Of The Moon. (laughs)
Are there a lot of things like that–things that were recorded that never came out that could, if the band felt like it?
There are lots of bits from Zabriskie Point, but they’re none of them finished, they’re none of them useable. We went through them all later. We’d listen to tracks and think, “Well, we could do this bit again, or turn this bit into a song for an album.” We’ve delved anything that was worth anything off of those things. There are some other bits of music–once in a while I hear one as a soundtrack on television in England, you know? On a BBC program, I hear one and say, “That’s us! What the fuck is that?” And I can’t remember. Because we used to do things on British television, on programs where we’d actually just go on and play live on the television. We’d make it up as we went along, it wasn’t written at all. We’d do something strange, and weird and wonderful, and years later, some music director of some program would be shuffling through anything marked “Pink Floyd” in the vaults–because that’s where they often find good bits of stuff to stick on things–and they’d find som
ething. And I wouldn’t know even when we’d done it, what it was or anything about it. And there are a few bits like that, and one or two of them aren’t bad, actually.
Your first big record in the States was probably Ummagumma–oh, by the way, is that pronounced “Uhmma-guumma” or “Oooma-gooma”?
Well, I call it Oooma-gooma, but it wasn’t very big in the States. None of those records ever got in the Top 30, say.
But it was highly influential, certainly. And a lot of the bands around at that time–Can, Tangerine Dream, Faust & Neu!, say–owed a lot to you. What did you think about those bands at the time; did you listen to them?
I never listened to then, really. I’ve listened to a little bit of Tangerine Dream every once in a while, and…
You don’t like them?
I tend to think…they get hold of a good idea, and then they don’t use it right. I usually think that about most of that stuff–I mean I don’t want to generalize, I don’t know enough about it. But my most common reaction is that they’ve got onto a good idea, and then they flog it to death–and they keep it running along at the same level, and the same intensity, until it becomes a boring idea. Instead of using dynamics, and going up and down–you know, the whole sort of structure of what we used to do, in those days. And what made it work, I think, was the sort of sense of dynamics, things moving down to nothing and then coming up. That was the sort of thing–along with the type of music that it was–that made it work. And that’s why I think a lot of those others didn’t.
Oh, I should ask you: Did I see the band playing on the syndicated TV show The Pat Boone Show, or did I just imagine that?
It was before my time.
But it happened?
Yeah. With Syd. Pat talked to Syd and Syd didn’t answer. (laughs) I’ve not seen it, but the band have told me about it, with wondrous amazement. Because they mimed–they played a track on it, miming–and Syd didn’t move his arms or his lips, sort of the normal thing that was expected during miming.
Considering his reputation, Pat booked a lot of strange bands on his show. Probably ones that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Yeah. We owe everything to Pat. (grins)
I’ve been following Robert Wyatt’s career for a while, and I remember Pink Floyd played a benefit in London for him. Have most of you been involved with him? I know Nick’s done quite a bit.
Well, Nick is much more friends with Robert than I am, and I’ve known Robert since 1968. I mean, he’s a really nice guy, and I like him, but I don’t know him very well. I don’t really see very much of him; we don’t move in the same circles. But he’s a great guy… very nice. Unlucky, had a bad accident, drank a bit too much… But them’s the breaks, you know? That’s what happens. We were very glad to help him out. And those were the days when practically every concert we did in England was a benefit of some sort.
And now on to present day: What’s going on for you in the future? What are you going to do after this tour?
I don’t know. It doesn’t really matter terribly much, but I expect I’ll make another solo album. That’s what I think I’ll do. I would like to establish myself, to get my name into that sort of category of people that can, on the merits of what they’re expected to do, get enough people to listen to them and support what they do, whatever that happens to be. Whether I make it a collaboration with someone else or another completely solo project, or whatever it happens to be–if it’s got my name on it, then people will sort of expect a certain…
… quality or something from it. I’m still learning, you know? It’s a new game for me, this solo artist business. But I suppose the only regrets I have from the whole Floyd thing is that I spent that much time working with that few people. And that I could’ve learned more and spread more by working with or for other people during that period of time.
Have you written material and brought it up to the band and had it turned down?
Of course, we all do that, all the time. But I’ve never brought anything up to the band that I’ve been convinced was great and that they’ve turned down. There’ve been things on the Final Cut album that I brought up that everyone liked–that Roger liked, and wrote lyrics to, but they didn
’t work with the song, you know? We couldn’t get the lyrics to marry with the song, you know? The lyrics didn’t make the song work. So in the end, I didn’t want to put it on–and Roger didn’t want it in that particular form. So I got Pete Townshend to write words for it and called it “Love On The Air.” (laughs) And that was one that was a possibility for that Final Cut album at one time.
Personally, I think you have a much more highly evolved melodic sense than Roger does…
Me too. (grins)
Do you envision him agreeing as well?
I don’t have expectations. I’m not going to sit around and wait for him to call, and if I get to the point where that’s the next thing I want to do, then I’ll give him a call. I don’t know. As you say, my lyrics are good–I think they are–and in some areas there’s a possibility of then getting quite good…
Like “Cruise,” from the new album. A great song–someone in our magazine mentioned that there’s a chance one of the better political songs in some time may go somewhat unnoticed merely because it’s out under your name, not where some might ordinarily expect to find such things.
Well, this is something I expect, that people are not going to look at them very much at first. And that it’s going to take a while for people to actually realize that I…
[tape side ends, Gilmour graps cassette and flips it over himself]
So this is a problem you’re going to have to deal with yourself?
Yes–I mean Roger’s got 16 years sort of head start on me, on learning how to hone your craft as a lyric writer. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to be as good as Roger, because he’s certainly very good at it. But I can hold my own on music, anytime–and I think for the first time, last year, when I started to write, I started for the first time to actually believe that I could write a lyric. And although I’m still very slow, and I’m quite hard on myself–and I think I have to be–and I discard an enormous amount of stuff–I mean, each song that I wrote had like 30 or 40 full scrap sheets of paper I threw away. I mean, I think I’ll get a word processor next time. (laughs) I think I can improve as a lyric writer.
OK, but from your first album, with “I Can’t Breathe Anymore” and “Let’s Get Metaphysical” on this, there’s a certain humor and sophistication that’s very much in line with the best of Pink Floyd. I think you may be being a bit too hard on yourself.
I do need to improve in the craft, in the professionalism a bit, I think. Some of those things … I love “I Can’t Breathe Anymore,” I think it’s a great little song. It’s got some good lines in it.
Are you happy with the way things are right now?
I’m very happy with what’s going on right now. For me, this is very enjoyable. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and how I’m doing it. It’s very nice to start off and have this. This is like an alternative to, or an adjunct to, what I do in Pink Floyd. I’m quite happy for it to be either of those things. But it will continue–the solo thing is something that I’ve now got into, do enjoy and intend to continue. And whether or not Pink Floyd carries on as well is something that’s probably much more important to other people than it is to me. I know that if Pink Floyd did decide to record again, together–myself and Roger–I know that we could make something better than anything we’ve ever made before. And that’s still quite possible.
As a result of these experiences?
Well, even without these experiences, I think. We still have not achieved the top that we could achieve. And I both of us might learn–I certainly think I’ve learned something, and I hope Roger’s learned something out of his experience. It could make us do something better than we’ve ever done before; there’s no reason why not.
Are you personally–and do you think Roger might be–intimidated by the musical presence of both Eric Clapton and Pino Palladino in each other’s bands?
No, I’m not intimidated by the people I work with…
No, but might Roger not feel a little twinge when he listens to Pino playing?
No, no, no. Roger doesn’t think of himself or worry about himself as a bass player; bass playing to Roger is a very secondary thing. A performer of some sort, and a motivator and a writer is what I think he thinks himself. And I’m extremely happy to have Eric Clapton playing on Roger’s album–I think it’s great for Roger to find out what it’s like to play with other peop
le and see what they’re like. And Eric’s terrific–I’m a huge fan or Eric’s.
Well, if you do record together again, you both should’ve learned quite a bit.
I’ve never, within this period of time, had any objection whatsoever to other people playing guitar parts on our records. If there was something I couldn’t play, I would get someone in to do it. I mean, I can think of guitar parts that I can’t play–I’ve never actually had to use one, yet, but I could quite easily see that I might write a guitar part that I actually couldn’t play myself, and I’d get someone else in to play. That wouldn’t hurt my ego to do something like that. Like I said, there’s a track on “Don’t Leave Me Now” where we got Lee Ritenour to play a rhythm guitar part–because I didn’t know what the fuck to play, myself. I said, “I don’t know what to do on this track, I just don’t know what to do.” So we got him in to do the part. It was good fun. Someone else in there to bounce off of, you know?