INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
MSN OCTOBER 18, 2010 - by Alan Light
BRYAN FERRY: SCALING 'OLYMPIA'
Solo return mixes Roxy Music mini-reunion and Next Gen star cameos.
"I see myself as a record maker rather than a singer," says Bryan Ferry. "I'm hands-on with every part of making a record, down to designing the sleeve - actually, we just finished the deluxe version about half an hour ago, and when I'm off with you, we'll be working on the other versions."
Long before music video elevated the significance of music visual components, Ferry was pioneering the ways in which style and sound intersect. As the lead singer of Roxy Music, he was the voice and guiding force behind three Number 1 albums and ten UK Top 10 hits, and helped lay the groundwork for the glam rock movement.
Ferry's solo career added such classics as Slave To Love and Kiss And Tell to the sleek, slightly sinister soundtrack for late-night romance that he began with Roxy Music. Now the singer has returned with Olympia, his first album of mostly-original material in eight years (2007's Dylanesque saw Ferry, who is known for his audacious covers of other writers' material, tackling the Bob Dylan songbook).
The album, with a heavy dance flavour, features a parade of high-wattage guest stars, including David Gilmour, Flea, Radiohead's Jonny Greenwood and the Scissor Sisters. It's a wide-ranging set, with club beats giving way to Ferry's sparse, distinctive piano playing, and arrangements including five- and six-guitar armies on several songs.
Most notably, Olympia sees the closest thing to a Roxy Music reunion in the studio in many years. Brian Eno, Phil Manzanera, and Andrew MacKay are all on board for the album's version of Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren, leaving out only drummer Paul Thompson from the band's classic lineup. Concurrent with the album's release, Ferry is touring Europe with Roxy Music (minus Eno), and as he discusses below, he still hopes for a new album from the band some day.
Meantime, the sixty-five-year-old former art student, occasional actor and model, and long-time style icon continues to maintain his extra-musical interests - he's even talking about launching a fragrance next year. "I spend more time looking at things than listening to things, to be honest," he says. "I've always felt that I lived through my eyes - but don't get me wrong, I've been a great fan of music since I was ten years old. It's great to have so many things to be so excited about."
Did you have a sound in mine when you started work on Olympia?
Bryan Ferry: Not really. The tracks all started at different times, though they were finished at the same time. They kind of converged on each other. It was a very long process, but when the tracks were nearing completion, I thought, "This is what I wanted all along."
How did the album evolve over all that time?
I would start tracks and put them aside and then come back to them, sometimes years later. Having my own studio helps to do that - like a painter, you have paintings that are face to the wall for months and then you come back to them. I was actually going to do a Roxy Music album, but this wasn't the one for that. I would like to think that one day we'll do another studio album, but I think this one was too song-based, and the sort of Roxy album I'd like to make would be a bit more abstract.
Are you aware of Roxy Music's legacy with the younger musicians you worked with?
The influence surfaces in different ways. I knew Jonny Greenwood liked Roxy. He's a brilliant, unusual player, reminiscent of the early days of Phil Manzanera, with lots of effects and wires sticking out everywhere and a different approach to the guitar. The Scissor Sisters, there's a certain energy there, an interest in show business, and they have a visual flair, which Roxy had a little bit. And they're interested in dance music, which some of the things I've done have tried to be. It's interesting to collaborate with people. I wish I'd done more of it in the first part of my career. It never occurred to me to write with other people. When you write with someone else, you come up with a different slant than you would on your own. Even when I wrote with the other guys in Roxy Music, something different would come out of it.
Maybe there are just more people around now with a similar approach or sensibility.
It's true, maybe there were people who would have been great to work with, but it never occurred to me. Now, there's a whole generation, or two, or more, of people - art school types, people interested in doing less normal things. When I hear something like Arcade Fire, I hear some of that spirit of inventiveness of the early Roxy Music. I felt the same when I first heard Radiohead.
The album has a strong dance flavour. Why do you remain interested in that sound?
When I make a record, I think, does it feel good, is there physicality to it? My son Tara plays the drums on most of the tracks, and my second son, Isaac, organised all the various mixes being made, getting people he likes to do remixes. I'm fascinated by which things they choose to use and not to use. I tend to record a lot of stuff - like seven guitars - so you could have such fun doing it. I wish I could find the time, after this tour, to do it myself. It would be fun to come into it free and chuck the sounds around; it's something I ought to do. Maybe I could even get young Mr. Eno to come around and do it with me!
You've always been known for choices and interpretations of the covers you perform. Tell me about the two covers on the album - Tim Buckley's Song To The Siren and No Face, No Name, No Number by Traffic.
I first heard the Tim Buckley song done by This Mortal Coil. They did a beautiful version and a friend of mine had done the video. When I heard the Tim Buckley version, I'd already started working on the song - I started that track eight years ago. I kept adding things, trying different people on it, and it eventually came out to where I wanted. I even went to CDs of whale songs, because I thought it would be nice to have something from the actual sea itself, and it's nice to use sound effects sometimes.
And the Traffic song, I've just always liked that. It started as an acoustic thing, but we gradually built it up. There are these wild kind of blues licks throughout - that's David Williams, who played with Michael Jackson. He played the riff on Billie Jean. Sadly, he died before the album was finished. This song is not David's usual style, but something came out in him, and now it's kind of a great memorial.
Was it special playing with the Roxys in the studio?
I suppose so. Solo recording seems best for me now, and then to join the band on tour. They're great soloists, a great drummer, all that material we did is waiting to be played, and if we can fit in some of the new stuff, all the better. It was actually quite therapeutic for me - the day I finished recording, I rushed out to start doing these festivals, and after being in the studio for so long, to get that audience affirmation felt really good.
I love Andy's oboe playing, it's one of my favorite instruments and you always know he's going to do a melodic line I'm going to approve of. Phil is best doing his long, modal improvisations, and Eno is always going to do interesting things, he's very intelligent and will always do something unusual. Certainly, it's very nostalgic, and familiar in a very nice way.