Careful With That Axe.
By Matt Resnicoff.
Originally on Musician magazine, August 1992.
There's only one person on Earth who doesn't love David Gilmour, a man who very much like to walk smiling among the masses, to entertain and charm the pants off all he surveys. Gilmour is unflappable; he is approachable, gorgeous and gorgeously well-heeled. For Roger Waters, the world's staunch holdout, that probably translates as smug, opportunistic and mercenary, which just shows the extent to which the central theme of Pink Floyd--- disillusioned idealism turned rage--- could direct the lives of the men behind it. Waters' lyrics, brutal pleas for basic human values, drew the sightlines of Floyd's vision; Gilmour's untortured delivery drew for Waters a pop-viable frame. Waters quit in 1986, taking with him the standoffish, surreal half of the band's identity, and when he learned that Dave, drummer Nick Mason and keyboardist Rick Wright intended to continue as Pink Floyd, battle lines practically drew themselves. A breakup riddled with sentimentality for millions of listeners became an unsentimental battle between Waters' Pink Floyd ideal and Gilmour's tenacious pragmatism. Gilmour has been fortunate; the mollifying familiarity of his singing and playing was the title deed to Pink Floyd.
Gilmour is a guitarist first and an orchestrator second, maybe third; the lengthy sessions for the post-Waters "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" confirmed this. He's not quite as motivated a lyricist as a conversationalist --- he's an improvisor, not a resolute ponderer. The Waters concepts that built Pink Floyd were themselves built on small moments, on details of everyday confrontation; Dave's lyrics toy with generalities, though they are rendered somewhat less pointedly than his personal views of life and band. Floyd's video "La Carrera Panamericana", documenting auto race he and Mason drove across Mexico last year, is cause to wonder if Dave still has a bead on his audience --- and whether fans in middle America awaiting their first hit of Floyd in five years could appreciate a rich man's interest in driving around with bad radio reception on hot sticky seats for a week. Is this the Gilmour idealism? Maybe, but in the final account, Dave is a fabulous musician, and if he can't --- or won't --- hang the world out to twist in the wind for its own folly, he'll at least have it filling arenas to watch him not do it.
Yes, there's only one person in the world who doesn't love David Gilmour, and he shares with Dave the one thing neither shares with anyone else: the right to determine what, or if, Pink Floyd is. Waters ultimately had too much respect for the band--- and for himself--- to expect Floyd to survive him; Gilmour had too much concern for his career to let a good thing go. But stealing your own legacy is no crime. Waters always made the plea to connect, but never actually made the connection. Gilmour was his conduit; now the conduit has become the whole. Isn't rebirth pressure enough? Even Roger Waters, who asserted for 20 years that humans are bound undignifiably to human nature, would conced that Dave is just doing his job.
M: "A Momentary Lapse of Reason" didn't seem to attempt a dramatic overhaul of the band's style. Did you feel pressure to create a new direction or breathe something new into Pink Floyd? Or did you have something to prove?
G: I obviously had something to prove in that Roger was no longer a part of it and obviously I had the view that people may have misunderstood or misread the way it had been with him within our history. It was quite important to me to prove that there was something serious still going on there. It was "Life After Rog," you know. I don't know about any particular change of direction.
M: The standout track was "A New Machine," at the end of which you suggest that we're caught, trapped by ourselves. I wasn't clear if it was an optimistic comment about self-acceptance or a cry of imprisonment. That ambiguity --- and that very message --- is something Pink Floyd, with or without Waters, has never abandoned.
G: That's right.
M: Was the message positive or negative?
G: I don't know if I want to get into that. Whether you want to take it as optimistic or not.. .I mean, a lot of people didn't use it as an excuse to go and jump off a cliff or something, did they?
M: On "Sorrow," where everything "flows to an oily sea," I was thinking of your friend Pete Townshend's river motif. You guys both own floating recording studios that moor on the Thames, and the river figures in pretty prominently. In "Sorrow" the sea is dark and troubled, while Pete's was a welcoming sea.
G: "The Sea Refuses No River." Yeah, yeah. "Sorrow" was a poem I'd written as a lyric before I wrote music to it, which is rare for me. The river's a very, very common theme; rivers are a very symbolic, attractive way of exposing all sorts of things. There's a Randy Newman song, "In Germany Before the War, where he talks about a little girl who gets killed by an old pervert. "I'm looking at the river but thinking of the sea." The chorus I just love; the river has nothing directly to do with it, but sums it up perfectly.
M: Is your boat near Townshend's?
G: Yeah, a couple of miles up the river. Peter's boat is a big steel-hull barge. His main studio is not on the boat, his Eel Pie Studio is right by the mooring. In my case, I just happened to find this beautiful boat that was built as a houseboat and was very cheap, so I bought it. And the only afterwar did I think I could maybe use it to record. The control room is a 30-foot by 20-foot room. It's a very comfortable working environment --- three bedrooms, kitchen, bathroom, a big lounge. It's 90 feet long.
M: Might you record the next Pink Floyd album there?
G: We would do a lot of it, yes. We did a lot of early work on the last album there. And I'd like to work with people playing together in a room this time, so if I need to add vocals I can do all the incidentals bits there. Things like the solo at the end of "Sorrow" were done on the boat, my guitar going through a little Gallien-Krueger amp.
M: Townshend wrote lyrics to two songs on your solo album "Abour Face". You and he have both alternated between doing your own records and being the force behind a very successful band.
G: I think Pete feels some restrictions on what he like to do with The Who, as I guess we all feel restrictions within everything we attempt, just because of the types of personalities and role you've created for yourself. I know he's felt uncomfortable about certain things --- things he could express in solo stuff. For me, the restriction was the scale of what Pink Floyd had become more than anything. It's nice to get out and do something on a slightly different scale; go out and do theaters, which is not really a possibility with Pink Floyd until we get a lot less popular.
M: So the grand scale is important to you?
G: I like the grand scale of Pink Floyd. A lot of people want to buy tickets and see that stuff. And that carries a responsibility which doesn't fall on me when I go out on my own. It's a change, it's nice.
M: But even so, you did most of the work on "Momentary Lapse". Nick Mason admits to being an ancillary part of the band and Rick Wright had for all intents and purposes been gone since 1980. That last Floyd album was a project you cooked up and realized with the help of session musicians and one other lyricist. Aside from the name Pink Floyd and the business consideration, it was a David Gilmour solo album.
G: Well, I don't know what is a solo album and what isn't, really. I approached that album like I would have approached a Pink Floyd album and I approach a solo album as I would approach a solo album. There's a difference in thought process in the way you go into these things. But yeah, in some ways it could have been. Yeah. And one could say that on my last solo album I could have steered more towards Pick Floyd than I did. Maybe it would have sold a few more, you know?
M: "Murder," from About Face, certainly had the elements.
G: I steered those things away from the Pink Floyd because...I don't know why, I jsut felt like doing that at the time. But there's nothing within the Pink Floyd sound that I don't like. I'm not faking or having to do anything any different to do a Pink Floyd record. And we never sat down and said, "God, this doesn't sound Pink Floyd enough--- let's do this to make it sound more Pink Floyd."
M: If there was a formula for the Floyd, "Murder" fits it: a plaintive acoustic section, a statement, a sudden band entry, some kind of guitar solo and a restatement of a more universal theme based on the first. Yet the formula was not present on "Momentary Lapse." Did you find that during the conception of the record you were fumbling with the idea of what Pink Floyd should or shouldn't be once you took over?
G: No. I didn't do that at all. I simply thought, "Are these songs good?" and worked on trying to make the ones I thought were good into a record. It can not help sounding quite a bit like Pink Floyd if it's got my voice and my guitar plating on it anyway. Why my second solo album and this one should have a different sound to them, I don't really know. I think it's just in my attitude towards it. On the solo one, I was actually steering a bit away from it, a little more rock'n'roll.
M: The beginning of "Short and Sweet," from your first solo record, sounds like the germ of "Run Like Hell"."
G: Yes, it's a guitar with the bottom string tuned down to a D, and thrashing around on the chord shapes over a D root. Which is the same in both [smiling]. It's part of my musical repertoire, yes.
M: For a "progressive rocker" you don't plat atonally; the only time I've noticed it is in the fadeout on "You Know I'm Right." You rarely get anarchic.
G: I have a keen sense of melody. I don't want to be experiemtal to the extent of doing things I don't like. I do do a lot of that stuff in the studio when I'm mucking about; you just don't get to hear it, 'cause that's when I'm searching. By the time they get out as finished product I've ironed them into stuff I like. "A New Machine" has a sound I've never heard anyone do. The noise gates, the Vocoders, opened up something new which to me seemed like a wonderful sound effect that no one had done before; it's innovation of a sort. But exploring live in front of an audience, the way we did in the 60's and very early 70's, you make as many mistakes as you get things right. A lot of it was awful, [chuckles] and I don't feel like being that person anymore. That was then, and that part is done.
M: Coming from R&B cover bands, were you disconcerted by the wayward improvising of those shows, or did you relish the challenge?
G: I had a large background in improvisation, but I didn't think a lot of it that the Pink Floyd were doing was very good. And yes, it took me a while before I understood where they were trying to get to and it took a while for me to try to change into something I liked as well. It was a process working two ways after I joined: me trying to change it, and it trying and succeeding in changing me.
M: You opened the sound up; it was initially vey dense late-60's English pop music.
G: The band felt we achieved something with the title track of "A Saucerful of Secrets." I can't say as I fully understood what was going on when it was being made, with Roger sitting around drawing little diagrams on bits of paper. But throughout the following period I tried to add what I knew of harmony and bring it slightly more mainstream, if you like. And the way they worked certainly educated me. We passed on all our individual desires, talents and knowledge to each other.
M: Was Roger an effective bassist back then?
G: He had developed his own limited, or very simple style. He was never very keen on improving himself as a bass player and half the time I would play the bass on the records because I would tend to do it quicker. Right back to those early records; I mean, at least half the bass on all the recorded output is me anyway.
M: This is not a widely acknowledged fact.
G: Well, I think it's been said, but it's certainly not something we go around advertising. Rog used to come in and say "Thank you very much" to me once in a while for winning him bass-playing polls.
M: Did you play the fretless bass on "Hey You"?
G: Yeah. Hmm. Roger playing fretless bass? Please! [laughs]