It is very fascinating to read this interview with a very down to earth man who would soon become one of the most successful musicians in the known universe through what would become one of history`s most beloved albums ever. The style of this interview is also “different” as it looks more like an conversation between two friends than a series of questions.
All in all, this is a great read.
Nick Mason in the talk-in
Interview by Steve Peacock
First it was called “Dark Side of The Moon”, then they discovered that Medicine Head had an album out under that name so they changed it to “Eclipse”. But by now it has taken – not unusually – a lot longer to record than they`d anticipated, and the Medicine Head album is long past, so the Pink Floyd have changed the title of their next album back to the original.
Also not unusually, Nick Mason confessed that there wasn`t really much to say about the album at this stage – they`re just grinding away at it, translating the piece from stage performance terms into studio terms.
What is unusual though, is that they`ve been performing the album live for some time before they recorded it.
Is this the first time you`ve worked this way round? You normally get something together in the studio, and then take it out on the road.
Right, that`s what we normally do. With “Atom Heart Mother” we had the piece a little before we recorded it and worked on it a little bit, but this was definitely a major change in terms of technique for us – normally we get into the studio and stagger about for days wondering what to put down. I think this is a better way of doing it, because you spend more time making a good record.
And also usually even if you use a late take when you`re recording, the tenth take or something, by the time you`ve taken it out on the road for a few months you`re starting to regret the way you handled it on the album.
That seems obvious for a fairly straightforward rock and roll band, but I wouldn`t have thought it necessarily applied to the Pink Floyd.
Well it doesn`t apply to everything – some things we never perform live for a start, and some things have a different quality in the studio that gets altered. But I think “Atom Heart Mother” is a prime example of one of the things we would have liked to have started again once we`d had it on the road for a while, because that was very much a case of learning by our mistakes, the techniques of recording it were quite extraordinary.
One of the things we did on that just as a starter was that Roger and I put down the whole thing, just bass and drums, which was a crazy thing to do. We used parts of that, but basically it all got chopped up anyway so it was a totally unnecessary, amazing feat of brilliance; totally useless.
Would you say the “Dark Side Of The Moon” piece was more straightforward, and rather more a “live” concept that most of the things you`ve done in the past?
Well, it is at the moment, because it was written that way, but I think there`s a lot of scope for doing other things with it. Like we keep talking about giving ourselves more time to do things like “Dark Side Of The Moon”, to get them a lot further than that was got before it was performed – though that was the furthest we`ve got anything I think. That`s one thing, and the other thing is that we`ve only recently started to get interested and find a use for synthesisers. We`ve had one around doing odd blips and burps for quite a time, but we`ve never really used it. We did a little on “Obscured By Clouds”, and I think we`ll use them more on this piece.
“Obscured By Clouds” was done in quite a short time, wasn`t it, and within tighter structures than you usually use? How well do you think it came out?
Sensational, actually. I thought the album was an amazing improvement on the film music, and I thought the film music was really good. But then I thought the same about “More”. It`s one of the annoying things in a way that the difference between something we`ve spent a week on and something that takes nine months isn`t that great – I mean the thing that takes nine months isn`t four times nine, 36 times as good. Obviously nine months doesn`t mean nine months solid recording, but even so…
I felt the tightness of it brought out a whole different quality in the music, and in the playing. More intense in a way.
Sure, I thought it was particularly good from that point of view, it had a good, together feel. It was a fairly relaxed album but it was… well, tight. I like that sort of short, scheme thing – it`s less disappointing in a way. Whenever we finish an album I always think it could have been better, but with things like “More” and “Obscured By Clouds” I tend to think it`s really not bad for the time – perhaps it`s just there`s more excuses.
Looking back over what you`ve done, eight or nine albums now isn`t it, can you see much that you`d originally thought were good ideas, but that you`ve now discarded?
Not much, actually. For instance we haven`t discarded the idea of orchestra and choir after “Atom Heart Mother”, if that`s what you mean, sort of “we tried it, and we don`t want to do that again”.
Not as specific as that really. More in your general approach.
There isn`t much really. We`ve made lots of mistakes, I know, but they`ve been filed under “Experience”, and there`s not much that we thought of as complete disasters that we`d never go back to. I can`t think of anything that really sticks out as a discard.
The music does seem to have got less violent – says comparing “Echoes WITH “Interstellar Overdrive” or “Careful with That Axe, Eugene”. I suppose that could be just old age…
(Laughs) … creeping up, yes. I don`t know – I think the thing that bothers me more than anything is that we seem to get stuck into a slow four tempo for nearly everything we do. Like the speed of “Meddle” is the speed of nearly everything we`ve done for too long. That has something to do with it, that penchant for slow tempos, but again I think in some ways things are becoming more aggressive – there`s more aggression in the way we do “Careful With That Axe” on stage now than there ever was when we first recorded it. Our original recordings of that were extremely mild, jogalong stuff.
Even if it doesn`t always come off, there`s meant to be a lot of very heavy vibes coming off the stage during “Dark Side Of The Moon”. We`re well into putting on a lot of effect in order to make the whole thing heavy, really, in the true sense of the word. I`m not expressing that very well, but I don`t think it`s getting any lighter, put it like that: it might have got a bit slower, but I don`t think it`s getting any lighter. And I don`t think the intention is to make it light either. It`s all a bit abstract really.
Yeah. I suppose what I was really trying to get at was how you felt you`d changed over the years – moving through that UFO/Middle Earth scene up to now.
One doesn`t really feel that it has changed much because you`re in it you tend to feel you`re just the same and it`s everyone else that`s different. I think we just take for granted all kinds of things that happen to us, things like our attitude to what the show should be like.
I can`t remember exactly what we were saying in 1967, but I`m sure it was something to the effect that “there`s the light show, and we`re really incidental to the whole event; we should be in the background somewhere and we don`t approve of people rushing about the stage jumping up and down.” Ostensibly we still don`t jump up and down, but the pyrotechnics and everything on stage now are arch-showmanship really. When we were in America we did a show at the Bowl where it was only marginal whether it was us or a sort of Barnum and Bailey carnival night – fireworks, searchlights, the lot.
I suppose the real thing is that there are so many more facilities available to us now: five years ago we thought that you should do almost anything to increase the power of what you were doing, and it`s just that now the whole thing`s turned into this gigantic circus of steel machinery.
I think one fairly obvious difference is that with clubs like UFO, people came as much for the event as to see you, whereas now – despite the sound in the round and everything – they come and sit and watch the stage.
Right, because there`s all sorts of things to bring their attention to the stage, like the lighting towers and so on. I think that`s inevitable though, because apart from anything else it`s to do with the size of the place you`re playing. At UFO – now we`re really sounding like old age pensioners – but at UFO there was this kind of community feeling about it all. There were other events going on while we were playing, the light show were doing their thing as well, rather than just lighting us, and so on. But really, there`s no magic in some of the horrible places we play at now, baseball stadiums and so on, so that`s one reason why we centre a lot more on the stage. And then obviously there`s all sorts of other reasons as well – ego drive, and success…
Because the more people know your names and faces the more they want to look at you, sure. But it hasn`t changed the effect you want to have on the audience?
No, I don`t think so. I think we`re clearer now than we ever were about what we want to do – we used to have very vague aspirations. Like when we started all we were into was Top Of The Pops and a hit single, and then when we attained that, it was an amazing disappointment and very nearly exploded the band.
So how much did you feel a part of that 1967, community thing at UFO? Was it just a case of playing those places because that`s where you got gigs?
I think I played them because that`s where we were – I didn`t know what the f–k was going on. Peter and Andrew (Jenner and King of Blackhill, the Floyd`s first managers) and the kind of Joe Boyd figures that were around then were probably part of it in a way that I certainly wasn`t; all four of us – we were the band, that`s all, rather bizarre, sometimes very inward looking people who lived in a world of our own. There was no community spirit whatsoever; all we were interested in was our EMI contract, making a record, being a hit.
At UFO we felt like the house band, it was by far the nicest gig and it was what everyone asked about at interviews and so on, but I certainly wasn`t into the lifestyle of the whole thing. One knew the people one came up against of course, people like Joe Boyd and Hoppy, and once there one ran up against people that one still sees occasionally, but I don`t think I felt part of The New Movement, because I was too busy being part of the new rock and roll movement, which was a different thing.
So one day it was the Roundhouse and the next it was Sheperd`s Bush TV studios, and apart from the obvious differences it wasn`t that strange for you?
Well yes, obviously there was an amazing difference, but then you just took it in your stride. I think today I`d probably have a nervous breakdown because the two places are totally opposed, but then it just all seemed part of your life.
Would it be fair to say then that the Pink Floyd`s music has grown out of whoever`s been in the band, from the inside, rather than being a product of – whatever you care to call it – some kind of outside cultural changes in the past few years?
Basically, yes, but it isn`t quite as simple as that. The launching of it had a lot to do with Syd, his writing and his songs were what did it really because as a band we probably weren`t very good, in fact I`m sure we weren`t. That was part of it, and another part of it was Peter and Andrew – like the light show was more their idea than ours, and that was an amazing leapfrog forward because even if we had the worst light show imaginable, no-one had seen anything like that before. This is psychedelia, man.
I think we were all in a fairly confused state – it was only long after all that period was over that we really started to talk about what we were going to try and do. Vague attempts were made at that time, with “Games For May”, to do a show of our own, but then we didn`t manage to follow it through and do another one until two years after, and that`s really a long time not to do something you were intending to do. It was just muddle and finances and being out of control really – just muddling along.
You do have the reputation anyway of taking quite a long time to get things together. Do you find you need that time just to keep the hassles at bay, give yourselves some room to breathe?
Well, the trouble is that there are so many things to do and any new thing takes so much time. It`s true that we do get stale if we work too much. It`s very simple really – if we work too hard then we all get very tired and we stop doing anything creative, we go into a sort of zombie, bash-it-out state which is really dangerous. It`s the easiest way, possibly, of blowing up a band because the whole thing becomes pointless and you lose all interest in what you`re doing.
That`s for us – in the words of the Scottish guru (Ron Geesin) we`re all humans, and what some people get off on, others don`t. There are some bands who can work 300 days out of the year doing live shows and that`s when they`re happy, but it doesn`t work like that for us. We try and work live as much as we can, and record, which takes so long, and so it gets very heavy to try to find really long periods of time to write new things without rushing them. Like for “Dark Side Of The Moon” we did give ourselves a reasonable amount of time, and it still wasn`t long enough. We could always use more time.
We don`t work all that much in England, it`s true – it tends to be one tour a year or something. But for a long time we suffered terrible embarassment here because we felt we were just going out all the time and doing the same things. “Ummagumma” was supposed to be a farewell gift of all those live numbers – goodbye, that`s it. We still do bits of them now in fact, but that`s because we like to do them, but for three years or something we did them because we had nothing to replace them. I just felt embarassed in England, because people would shout out for what we were going to do next, because they knew what we were going to do next. There just wasn`t anything else.
Though even when you put new stuff in they still shout for the oldies.
Yeah, but at least we`re splitting it now. But that is one of the dangers of being an elderly band – anything over three years, and particularly the 1967 syndrome, because you`re history. “Darling, they`re playing our tune, it brings back that summer in Hyde Park, doesn`t it?”
Really. The younger ones come along and wants to know what it was all like then, because they didn`t have mothers and fathers tell them about it, but they certainly had elder brothers and sisters saying “when we were young, there was the Pink Floyd, you know”.
Does it surprise you that you`ve stayed together so much longer than most bands?
Yes, it does, mainly because you always think it`s your band that`s got the nutters in it. You occasionally meet people from other bands and they seem very nice, and you start thinking “I wish I worked in a band with real people like that in it”; and then you find out that they`re all much worse than the lot you`re thrown in with, much worse, and they all attack each other with ice-picks and so on.
Right. I don`t know whether it`s because I`ve known you as the Pink Floyds for so long, but I can`t imagine any of you moving off to form a new band of your own somehow.
I think it could always happen – there`s always various hurdles that you either get over or you don`t, say the first year, or the third year, or relative to money or success or something, or people feeling that they`re not getting the credit for something they`ve done, or they could do better by themselves. I think “Ummagumma” was a great thing in that respect, because everyone got a chance to show what they could do.
There are still a lot of things, too, that we could all do together that we`re all aware of, and someone said they wanted to go off and do something on his own, then it would be cool to do that as well. There are bands where if someone wanted to do that everyone else would say no, but I`m sure we wouldn`t now.
Or they say “yes, but we`ve all got to do it.” But perhaps also it`s because you have been able to take time over what you want to do. After the initial hit single thing, it`s been a fairly un-hysterical, gentle climb upwards rather than the very fast David Bowie kind of situation.
True, but it`s all surmise really. I think that`s one of the most interesting things about rock and roll bands, is the way they work together, the psychology of the group. It`s equivalent to families, and various things I`ve never been in but I`d imagine would be similar, one being a small army unit, and another a prep school.
Because you can oscillate so easily between love and hate – real love and real hate. At one moment you can feel really close to them, or to one of them, or you can hate them. It`s never two against two, either, it`s always three against one, it really is amazing to watch sometimes. Jokes, and the way they become teasing, and bullying – that`s what it gets down to.
And again it`s surmise, but think we`ve been lucky in that we`ve used our managers when there`s been a lot of aggression instead of always ganging up on each other. Steve O`Rourke (their present manager) can take a lot of aggravation from us – we can be incredibly spiteful, and he can channel a lot of that from us without actually breaking, and beating us about the heads with clubs. That seems to be fantastically important.
I`d never thought of that – that could be one of a manager`s most important functions, because you can`t take it out on other people, like roadies. Apart from anything else they`d leave immediately.
Right, and anyway that would be like going out into the audience and finding somebody very small and beating them up, it wouldn`t be fair. And you couldn`t pick on anyone bigger because you might lose. You need someone of equal stature. All that, of course, is particularly true when you`re on the road.
Staggering through some kind of strange nightmare, like the first American tour, which appears to have been the prototype nightmare American trip.
I`m sure that was a dream, in fact, and we all seemed to share it, which is the most alarming thing. That`s it, I suppose – there`s such a wealth of things that we`ve been through, that after a certain point you feel almost obliged to stay together just so you can tell each other funny stories about “do you remember when…”
I have personally transcribed this from the original paper. Any errors in the text from the original magazine may not have been corrected for the sake of accuracy. If you have a music-related web-page where this fits – please make a link to the article. With credits to the original writer of the article from all of us music fans!
This number of Sounds also contains articles/interviews with these people: Melanie, Roxy Music, Medicine Head, Jimmy Cliff, John Entwhistle, Paul Simon, Fleetwood Mac, Yes, Steve Tilson.
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