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NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS
1 February 1975
THE IAN ANDERSON INTERVIEW
For the past three years Ian Anderson has proved a nemesis for most journalists. Interview requests have been invariably nixed by the Tull organisation. On this warm Los Angeles afternoon, however, the eve of Tull's first American tour in almost two years. 26-year-old Anderson has decided to talk.
Sipping beer and shopping for motor-cycles via a frostily air-conditioned limousine, he explained his strategy.
"Better I do an interview now, before the tour, than do it later and have to answer the criticism."
You mentioned earlier that you didn't want to discuss the actual meaning of your compositions, particularly not Passion Play or War Child.
"I just don't want to start people off on trying to figure out what this newest album means in relation to Passion Play and the movie idea. They all relate. I just don't want to have to start explaining. I do know, believe it or not, but there's no need for a big intellectual analysis. I'd rather the people just listened to the last two Tull albums as pieces of music."
You seem a bit defensive. Were you as deeply affected by the recent Tull criticism us we're led to believe?
"Oh, very much so. I'd be less than human if my blood didn't boil when some punk kid writer — hardly out of his nappies — has the gall to say our music is bad or unimaginative. I find the use of unqualified, brutal adjectives such as those totally irresponsible. Journalists are a terribly destructive lot.
"Last year, the pop papers descended upon not only Jethro Tull but on a few other groups — and most of it had to do with their unwillingness to give interviews every six months. In a small country like Britain, it's hard to get out of meeting that quota without causing bad feelings. But really, after six months, there's not much to say that you didn't say six months before.
"I mean, I quite accept that an important album has to be reviewed whether the critic likes it or not, but they should at least offer some criticism. I've had a lot of adverse criticism which has ultimately been good for me. Actually, I've always thought of Jethro as a live band anyway. We sell records as souvenirs.
"When people offer criticism as a sort of entertainment de signed to shock or be brutal or cynical or aggressive ... that's repulsive. I know that the last few records have been difficult to listen to the first ten times around.
"This new one, so I'm told, is a lot more accessible. That's just the luck of the draw, because in actual fact, the music isn't any more simple than it's been in the past. Some of it is, but most of it isn't.
"The lyrics are more obscure than anything I've ever written. But apparently they sound straightforward to other people. That's very, very interesting, but also distinctly worrying to me. I don't know if I like the idea of having made an album people think is easy listening.
"They'll think 'Oooooh, this is a great rock record' and that'll be the only conclusion they'll draw from it. But it isn't as simple as it appears. I'm a little worried that people will accidentally think War Child is a return to a style we've already covered. I can't help it if some of the songs are catchy."
Why haven't you done any interviews over the past three years? Are you claiming you had nothing new to say?
"That's right. If I was into loud and fervent discussions of politics or whatever, maybe I would have had something to talk about. Musically, I felt I had said it all. I don't like to talk about very much other than the music because that's — believe it or not — pretty well all I do. I spent at least an hour last night trying to convince somebody at a radio station here in L.A. that I don't have any hobbies. I have no spare time. I usually don't know what day it is. In the rare case that I do have a spare evening, I spend it watching the news. That's my idea of a night off. But this radio guy was sure I was lying.
"My recreation comes entirely within a musical framework. Going into a studio and touring is a recreational thing for me. Especially touring. It's fun! Air conditioned motorcars, nice air planes, a Bloody Mary every morning after I wake up, scrambled eggs and bacon, coffee and toast ... I don't have any of that at home.
"My life has become an easy going, fun existence. I love recording, rehearsing, writing, playing and setting up a tour. That's really what I do all year. That's what I've been doing the last year and-a-half since our previous American tour. I haven't stopped playing music except for one weekend when we split up."
At what point in your life did you realise this is how you wanted to spend your days ?
"When I was 15 or 16 I suppose. But I wanted then to do what I'm doing now. I didn't want to do the things that come in between. The starving, the exasperation and so on. I wanted to earn a stable living and simply survive as a musician. That simple ambition has not really changed. I don't have any real desire to reach any lofty goals, it's just that I don't want to stop until I'm really ready. Which is something that I can't foresee at the moment."
What is the story behind your "retirement" announcement last year?
"I'd been working very hard and was feeling a bit sorry for myself. After touring America alone 19 times, not counting Europe, Britain and everywhere else, I thought we had to switch off the motor. It was time to take stock of the situation, and I think that's something most groups probably do more frequently than they let on.
"In our case, since we're so busy, it was necessary to formalise taking that rest. If you actually say "I really want to stop" to your manager and your agents and all those people, they realise you're not joking. Plus we were talking about doing a movie, so it seemed like a good idea to use that as an explanation. At least we weren't going to vegetate or live in vast country estates with servants and carriages or whatever it is people imagine British rock stars do.
"In the end, the period when we were stopped was something ridiculous like two days. It seems like a big thing to say. but for two days the group did not exist. It was the first time in five years that I could say "I am not part of the thing called Jethro Tull." For two days that was an amazing, free feeling. Then I knew it was time to work again. Though we had no definite plans about touring, we started to write a lot of different kinds of music and lay the groundwork for the 'WarChild' movie.
"Of the music we were making, some would inevitably come out in the new album, some would be thrown away, and some was just not the sort of thing we could release under the Jethro Tull name. People would run out and buy it without listening to it, take it home and probably be very disappointed because it was radically different from what they expected.
"I don't mind disappointing people from time to time. I don't like to trade too much on previous success. But also I don't want to take advantage of people and pour something down their throats that they couldn't possibly enjoy. We've made a lot of music that people could not possibly have enjoyed.
"For ten months we rehearsed and recorded and simply played together for the fun of it, without really having this big thing hanging over us. We knew we'd have enough material for a group album out of that. I put a lot of work into writing a 70-page synopsis of a screenplay, a fairly detailed thing."
Will there ever be a film from you?
"I suppose so. One of the reasons we went out and did the English tour was to decide whether or not we were going to go ahead and do the movie ... whether we should take another year of my life and preclude any tours or public appearances of any sort. We had to decide whether we were going to go ahead and make a movie or go back on the road. The best way to make that decision was to go ahead and see how the concerts felt.
"Obviously, we chose to go back out on the road. I enjoy touring ... that's my only real motivation. I don't have many possessions these days — just a really nice suitcase and some guitars and instruments that I'm very fond of. That's it. I don't even have any money. For tax reasons, it all ends up I in companies. I don't have a swimming pool or house. Well, I actually I did buy a house last I year, but I've never lived in it. I It's empty. I put it on the market again straightaway after I bought it. I realised I didn't I want to own a house or pretend I that I did."
Where do you live now?
"In an apartment in London at the moment. But I've decided to ditch that. I'm going to stay in hotels for a year or so. I want to write some more music, and I do that better in hotels than I do in something I'm pretending is my home. There's all these constant reminders, like dirty coffee cups in the sink and ashes on the floor and you pick up the phone and ask for room service in vain. You've got to go out and eat in a restaurant, which is usually expensive and tedious.
"Or you have to hire someone to cook for you, which means having to establish a relationship with a servant on one hand or a mistress or wife on the other. That also makes life for me a bit complicated, because I'm totally irresponsible with women so it seems. I think they've decided that. I think they all know that now. I don't know ... what the hell. Next question."
Do you have many friends?
"Only the members of the group, their wives and families and my own family to some extent. The people that I work with day-to-day are the people that I mix with socially I don't really have any need of much else. I don't feel the need to go out to building sites and make friends with Irishmen or anything. It doesn't seem necessary. Although if I met one in a pub, there'd be every chance that we'd get married or something, who knows.
"I don't have much involvement with anyone else who plays music, because I don't see them. I don't think it's very easy to make real friends with other musicians. We're all a bit paranoid. Musicians tend to be doctors for each other, psychiatrists I suppose.
"I know a couple of musicians, like Captain Beefheart and Roy Harper, and there's that sort of a relationship there. It becomes very, very heavy, very, very quickly and I don't think it does you any good in the long run. I feel a bit wary of it because we'd all end up talking about the musical desperation that we suffer from.
"But may be it's only me. Obviously when you're playing music all the time you go through an awful lot of frustration in trying to create a certain sound and being unable to do it a lot of the time. I mean musicians are nice guys and all that, but we're all too much the same. Too much the same."
How much do you cater to your audience?
"We are totally incapable of playing something that we don't like. To play a song or a style of music that we did not enjoy would be an act of prostitution. So far there's been a lucky coincidence that the songs we like doing are the songs people like listening to.
"I'm glad the older songs that we play on stage now tend to be the ones that the people want most to hear. Which just goes to show that they all have a very good taste. If I had to worry about maintaining my success, it would be very uncomfortable. That's why I live week-to-week. I don't worry about selling a million records or selling out tours. I just think about making records that appeal to me. That's enough."
No matter how much the stage act has changed over the years, you've always ended Tull concerts on a very low, acoustic note. Why?
"What we do at the end of a show is very important. If we were to build the momentum up to a frenzied peak and then split, the kids are gonna break a window or punch a policeman. I always like to take it downright at the end so that it's a very anti-climactic point to finish on and there's no way that you can come on after that and do any more. The audience knows that. So when we play an encore and it lasts 35 minutes, that is the end and there is no way that there could be any more. That is it. So you can throw the house lights on and stop the clapping straightaway. Everyone leaves the theatre quietly with a good, calm feeling."
Would you agree that Aqualung was the Tull album that put the band over the top?
"I think that's a rather simplistic way of looking at it, if you'll forgive me saying so. I really believe that most of the success of the group has come from the fact that we've played a hell of a lot. That particular album I don't dislike, but it's certainly not our best. Aqualung just puts a signpost on a certain point in time. Tull had arrived. A lot of people began to know the name.
"People started thinking I was Jethro Tull: 'Hey Tull. Hey man. Hey Jethro. Hey Jet.' I once got called 'Jet', which I thought was quite attractive, I must admit. It wasn't by a girl unfortunately it was by a rather diseased-looking young gentleman from one of the Southern states. I, however, disowned the name because it would have been unfair to the others to presume for a moment that people calling me 'Jethro Tull' was anything other than a misguided attempt to indicate friendliness.
"It's a name which rightfully belongs to all five of us. I'm the only survivor from the original group, but we all get paid the same money . We all have the same stake in it, we all have the same share of the expenses. So I don't really like it too much if people think I'm Jethro Tull. It's funny, but I worry that the rest of the guys will get to feel that they're a group behind me. That's not the case. The case is that I'm the unfortunate singer stuck in front of them."
Why have you gone back to conventional song lengths with War Child?
"There's so much material, so much of a backlog and so many songs that we've recorded — especially when you include the new album — that it's impossible in the two hours of a concert to play more than a bit of this and a bit of that. The last couple of years, half of the concert has been taken up with a complete piece of music like Thick As A Brick or Passion Play. If we had done another album like that, we would have been in the absurd position of playing a whole new album as a piece, then having a hour left to play what ... I mean ... how?
"It would be terrible to be so selective as to have to choose this at the expense of that, when you would really like to do both. We're in the situation now of playing ten minute bits from Passion Play and Thick As A Brick. That doesn't have nearly as much excitement as it did when we performed the en tire piece. It's very unsatisfactory to play ten minute shreds. It would be unbearable to think we would have had to hack yet another album to bits only a year after it had been done. So we came back to working on a loose concept, but with individual songs that would stand on their own. A year or two from now we'll be able to play parts from this new album and they're going to sound whole in themselves."
Was it a major decision to extend the initial concept of Thick As A Brick into a full-length piece?
"Yeah. I'll tell you the story behind that one. I was on the road — in the middle of a tour as usual — and I started writing something for the next album. I began with the lyrics actually, and the song was going to be called 'Thick As A Brick'. Somehow I just didn't finish the song until I got to the end. I just forgot to stop I suppose. It was funny because in the beginning I just thought it was going to be a longer song.
"After about 10 minutes worth of music, I knew it was going to be quite a long song and I sort of thought, 'Well Christ. 10 minutes. That's half a side of an album, I might as well make it a whole side.' Then having got to the end of side one, I still hadn't finished. I went on and did the rest.
"It was a satisfying thing to do. When we came to do the album afterwards, we went away and started recording separate songs again. But the excitement of working that way wasn't there anymore, so we scrapped all that stuff. We had done three sides of a double album and threw out the whole thing. I went back and just took one little bit of it and expanded that into Passion Play. I enjoyed the experience of working in that way. I'm very sad that it's been proved necessary to have to work in conventional song lengths again."
You've said before that Stand Up put off some of the band's early following. Were you nervous about the direction you saw that album taking?
"We knew it was a good direction to go in, but we were just a bit nervous that some of the people who bought the first album might think that the second album was blatantly commercial sounding.
"To a lot of other people, commercial would probably be the last word that would be applicable. Better would be "weird". To us, we thought it was maybe a bit too commercial. The same feeling I also have about the new album. I like an album that's difficult to listen to. I like to have to sit down and really work into the music.
"A listener should make that effort. I don't like music that kind of unconsciously gets your foot tapping. That's musak. I could write that kind of music, but it's just too easy . That's using music as a tactical weapon to sell records. I think it's important for the listener to feel that an effort has been made, that he has actually contributed in some way to the enjoyment of the music.
"The only trick that I use when I play are used to try and help the audience want to make the effort. I admit to doing that. I try to entice the audience into wanting to listen. As opposed to saying 'Hey what a groovy concert! Great to be in Atlanta! Boogie!' I get worried if an audience freaks out from the first note on. If they do that, I will ruthlessly destroy that moment for them.
"I do not want them to enjoy the concert on that level. It's too easy to create instant pandemonium. Anyone of a dozen groups can walk on stage and cause that to happen. I will rudely interrupt sequences of behaviour which become very predictable. Which is why at a Jethro Tull concert, you find scuba-divers and rabbits walking on stage. They're meant to disturb people. To break up the flow that is so predictable at a concert."
What are Tull's plans for the future? Indefinite touring?
"Well, having just ended a five year period of playing together, we've now stopped and started another five year period of whatever. I imagine you're right, an arbitrarily lengthy period of touring. When we make a movie, it will slot into this new five year thing, rather than being like a sudden departure from the first.
"From the next album onwards, we're going to be making a visual programme to go with the music. It won't be pictures of the group playing the music, it will probably be very abstract and very much the sort of thing that you can watch as many times as you can listen to it without getting bored. Our albums will continue to come out as sound albums, in stereo and quadrophonic, but there will also be a visual supplement available. I'm very interested in the possibilities of the videodisc. I'm constantly pushing at the record company to get behind this, to start getting involved. I wish they'd try and make the consumer aware that there is an incoming market, which is very real."
Does your production work with Steeleye Span indicate anymore outside producing?
"No. It's just that they asked me to do it. They'd done abominably and got halfway through the album (Now We Are Six) when they started to get very worried. They wanted someone to help, someone to give them a bit of direction, a bit of order at the sessions, someone to mix it who would take all the responsibility of finishing the record. None of them is actually leading the group, they all chip in ideas and nothing really happens if you just leave them alone.
"I was very hesitant about doing it, because I don't like telling anyone how they should play their music. I don't like being involved in anyone else's music. However, I felt that at least I could be objective about their music. I have a sympathy for it. It's very English, very traditional. I respect them for what they do and I like some of the things they do very much. But I wouldn't like to do it again."
With any group?
"With any group. It wears you down. I went in to rehearse our music during the day and then down to do their sessions at night. So it was like living our music and their music in one day, with only three or four hours sleep in between. It was ridiculous, not to mention very confusing. Their music is so different from ours that it made me every day a schizoid wreck."
Are you tired of Jethro Tull? Bored with the image?
"I'm not exactly tired of it, but I'm not thrilled. If it's convenient for people to think of me as a one-legged flute player, then fine. I think that most people are aware that I don't stand on one leg all the time and I don't just play the flute. I play saxophone and guitar more than I play the flute.
"I actually find the flute a little bit tedious. It has its limitations, being a monophonic instrument. You can only play one note at a time. It become very pedestrian unless you're completely versed in the instrument, which I'm not. I can play well enough for people to think I'm good at it, so the object of that exercise was achieved a long time ago."
Thanks to Mike Wain for this article.