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This is part two of a lengthy interview with Nick Mason. Pink Floyd has been a massive part of the lives of at least two or three generations, directly or indirectly. You just can`t ignore their large impact, from the times of psychedelia and the sad story of Syd Barrett, to the ending of the cold war and their masterpiece “The Wall” that for many people symbolizes this new world we live in. So among many other fine artists in this number, I chose to print this – hope you like it!
Floyd – Simple but not banal
Continuing Tony Stewart`s talk-in with Floyd`s Nick Mason
Last week, Nick Mason talked at length about the evolution of Pink Floyd up to the “Atom Heart Mother” stage. The policy of the band has never been formulated, and from wanting to be rock and roll stars, things just somehow happened, and Floyd established themselves as Britain`s most creative band.
This week Mason talks of one of their new ventures, a ballet, the barriers to overcome in France, but more important one of the most sophisticated, and revolutionary sound systems in the world. Their equipment has given them confidence to play better and more technically.
Could you tell me how the equipment side developed through to it`s present form?
The same way as with everything else, by a gradual process of acquiring an enormous quantity of gear. One is desperate to have good sounds, like most bands.
In the first place it became a matter of getting enough equipment to be able to drive everything, but not to it`s limit.
It`s almost impossible to describe how it came about because it`s a process of an increasing interest in the sound that`s put out, coupled with an increasing awareness of how to achieve it.
Today there`s nothing really new in the system. It`s basically a mixing desk which is taken out into the hall so that it gets a true balance.
At the moment the thing is to try and make the whole system extremely compact, and versatile, so that organ, guitar, vocals or drums or anything can be put through the system and everything goes out via the mixing desk and can be switched through quadrophonic or stereo or double track.
It`s enormously expensive and time consuming to get involved in it. The Who have been heavily involved in mixing and finding methods of mixing. They started ahead of us and they`re still struggling.
I know they were having their desk built by the same people who did ours but it`s difficult, and they`ve got a much bigger problem than we have, because they`ve got a much more powerful sound to organise. If bands of that calibre get hung up then it`s obviously quite difficult.
You said that “AHM” was something that you did as an exercise but i thought “Echoes” on the new album did a similar thing but without the brass and choir.
Yes. I think there are similarities between “AHM” and “Meddle”. I don`t think we could have done “Meddle” without doing “AHM”.
“AHM”, with the use of brass and choir, suggested that you didn`t want to do it all on your own. Then with “Meddle” you did everything on your own, though the constructions were similar.
You`re obviously right about the construction. There are various things that have a Pink Floyd flavour, but are also very dangerous Pink Floyd cliches.
One is the possible tendency to get stuck into a sort of slow four tempo. And the other thing is to take a melody line or the chorus or something and flog it to death.
Maybe we`ll play it once slow and quiet, the next time a bit harder, third time really heavy which tends to come a little bit into “Meddle” and in “AHM”.
But it`s slightly more forgiveable with the choir and orchestra `cause it`s nice building an orchestra and bringing in extra brass and playing more complex lines.
There are various sections on “AHM” that I`m very happy with. I love the choir section both the singing and the spoken choir section.
Do you think, in view of the similarities, that you`re slow in producing new material?
The constructing of “Echoes” is rather similar in terms of it running through various movements. But the movements are so different that I don`t feel that we`ve had to milk “AHM” to produce “Echoes”.
How much discussion by the band goes into the creation of the numbers?
Lots. We do more talk than anything else really.
How does a piece like “Atom Heart” or “Echoes” come about?
Well “Echoes” was a specific attempt to sort of do something by a slightly different method. What we did, in fact, was book a studio for January; and throughout January we went in and played. Anytime that anyone had any sort of rough idea of something we would put it down.
At the end of January we listened back and we`d got 36 different bits and pieces that sometimes cross related and sometimes didn`t. “Echoes” was made up from that.
Say Dave Gilmour writes a piece, how do the others become involved with it?
Well, it depends very much. We`d have to talk about each piece specifically; Dave maybe comes in with song A which he`s recorded already at home. He`s got guitar, possible drums and vocals on it.
In the case of “San Tropez”, Roger came in and the song was absolutely complete. There was almost no arranging to do on it. It was just a matter of learning the chords.
On other songs the thing is pretty loose. We may have a bass line and a rough idea for the chorus and not for the middle eight.
Was Dave Gilmour brought in for his writing ability?
No. Dave Gilmour was brought in because we knew he could sing and we knew he could play the guitar, which was what we badly needed. We also thought he was someone we could get on with.
It`s probably more important to get people you can get on with than it is to get good musicians. That`s certainly true of us. I think the reason we`re still running is because, after a fashion, we can all live together.
There is also a certain amount of simplicity in Floyd`s music which has often led to the comparison with Britten and Beethoven. Do you think that one of the strong things about Floyd`s music is its simplicity?
Yeah. There`s nothing very elaborate there. There`s no wonder whizz-kid electrician on any of our equipment; no Stockhausen.
There obviously is a simplicity but it`s not banal. It`s very hard to try and talk about the music and say right “that`s jolly good”, because obviously I think it`s extremely good. That`s what I`m doing, that`s what I`m interested in. There`s a lot of reasons why I think what we do is better than what other people do. I mean, otherwise we`d probably be copying.
Do you find that numbers like “Controls” and “Axe”, which you still do, have more added to them as you go on?
Yes. But I think they`re old now. They are likely to trap us in a morass of old numbers.
Audiences are a bit divided between getting bored with old numbers and reliving their childhood, or re-living their Golden era of psychedelia or even wanting to hear what it was all about. These are OK reasons for wanting to hear something, but they ain`t very valid for us.
You`ve already said that you are happy with Floyd music. Does that mean to say you are happy with the stage it`s reached at the moment?
Well, I`m not in a state of depression about it, which can happen. At the moment we are writing some great new stuff. Yes, I`m happy.
Do you think there have been any pressures on the band which have restricted the music?
In terms of working too hard, yes. It`s very difficult to find the right way of working anyway. We don`t know whether to give ourselves lots and lots of free-time or to put on a lot of pressure, specifically for new material, or something like that.
This seems to work and has done in the past but it`s a much less pleasant method of working.
It`s true to say that recently you haven`t composed any material specifically for stage appearances, it has been from the albums.
We`ve only once composed specifically for live appearances. The album is usually a sort of pressure thing which is why things are built up in album form.
You only released one album a year or something like that?
Yeah, we`d love to issue more, if we could possibly write more and record it and do everything else. Pray. But we haven`t been able to.
You don`t seem to do much touring in England?
The reason for that is a lot to do with knocking off new material, or being embarrassed of standing on a stage for the fourth year running and playing “Set The Controls”, “Careful With That Axe”, “Saucerful of Secrets”, etc, etc.
I don`t like it. I like it occasionally, but not enough to do a British tour with it.
I gather you`re also working on a ballet?
We haven`t started work on it yet. We`ve had innumerable discussions; a number of lunches; a number of dinners; very high powered meetings; and I think we`ve got the sort of story line for it.
The idea is Roland Piti`s and I think Roland is settled on the ideas he wants to use for the thing, so I think we`re going to get started.
Ballet is a little like a film actually. The more information you have to start with the easier it becomes to write. The difficulty about doing albums is that you are so totally open, it`s very difficult to get started.
You are now in the position to play anywhere in the world (except America). Do you think this has put too much responsibility on the band?
Obviously it`s a great position to be in. I don`t think it puts a great responsibility on the band, there`s nothing magical about the position really. It has to be seen in terms of agencies and managers and promoters.
In America, for instance, we`ve still got a lot of work to do. There`s still very few bands who can command any price.
Any other place in the world we can ask our price but only every so often. You have to decide how you want to use the power.
You can either use it to extract maximum cash on a sort of hit and run level, or you can use it to try and fortify your position, which is obviously the most sensible thing to do.
The fact that you want to go back again is the governor on the whole thing, because it means that when you`re organising a tour you want to get the best halls, because you want to get as many people as possible.
France for example is a huge problem for us because it`s somewhere that we`re popular and we`d like to work, but we can`t get the places to work. We haven`t worked in France for so long that it isn`t true, because it`s so difficult to find the places to work.
French audiences tend to destroy the good places so they won`t have rock and roll groups there, and there`s no point in us working in bad places.
Can you solve this old crossword? 😉
This number of the NME also contains articles/interviews with these people: John Sebastian, Kenny Jones (Faces), Billy Preston, Wishbone Ash, Fortunes, Steve Miller, Marc Bolan, Paul McCartney, Cat Stevens, Jose Feliciano, Rory Gallagher, Ray Manzarek (The Doors), Medicine Head, Stevie Wonder and MC5.
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