INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
New Musical Express DECEMBER 7, 1974 - by Chris Salewicz
ANNOUNCEMENT: TEXANS LIKE STEAK, OIL-WELLS, LARGE HATS AND ENO
...but not necessarily in that order.
Well, I suppose we should start as we intend to continue. So come along, Eno, how does it feel to be just regarded as Good Copy?
Brian Eno's cackles burble into speech: I'm not any more am I? I thought I'd said it all.
"I take great pains now not to say anything that's Good Copy because it becomes a headline. So I'll avoid saying anything controversial, pointed... I'm lacking in the innocence that..."
Yes, well there we have it. You see, Eno would appear to have rather overdone it. There he is, probably the most supreme self-publicist currently amongst British rock musicians and quite capable of filling yards of column inches every time he opens his mouth. Except that it never seems to quite work out the way it's intended.
Okay, so it's indubitably true - whatever anyone would now claim - that he was the first member of Roxy Music to grab anyone's attention. Anyway, that just ensured that he was asked if he'd like to consider a solo career.
Then there was the super-stud duo with Robert Fripp and the adventure of having six young ladies in thirty hours. Well, that would have certainly been a quite commendable and enviable display of hedonism had Brian Eno not then collapsed and been obliged to retire to the Canaries to recuperate.
And we haven't even yet considered the crowning tour de force of psyching just about every music writer in the States back in the summer. Which was, in retrospect, possibly not so good a move as far as English journalists who read it were concerned. Let's face it, no matter how much the press may privately moan about the cabbage brains that fill the heads of the majority of rock stars it's still eminently more satisfactory than having a situation where The Artist may attempt to answer back. Fragile egos are prevalent on both sides of the fence, you know.
Now it's also considered rather bad form for an artist not to live the life that his public - and more specifically The Media - expect of him. Somewhat fallaciously Brian Eno had come to be regarded as something of a ligger during his spell with Roxy Music. The mere fact that the rest of the band seemed, in the main - and that Eno might occasionally do something as risqué as drinking wine direct from the bottle - no doubt contributed to this.
Whatever the reasons, however, it was tacitly assumed that any music-making he might do after leaving Roxy would contain the ostentatiously flamboyant side of that band.
Which, of course, it didn't. Both No Pussyfooting - the album he recorded with Robert Fripp, and, to a lesser extent, Here Come The Warm Jets, the first Eno solo album, turned out to be expressions of a fairly rigorous electronic asceticism.
Now this was just not on and it quite seriously upset certain of the fragile egos who, unable to come to terms with the unexpected, gave both albums the critical cold shoulder and would appear to be not even considering wasting any venom - or thought - on Taking Tiger Mountain, the new Eno album, a record which your writer finds both innovative and melodically warming.
However, all this duly accepted, it must be admitted that there were one or two lingering suspicions that there was little point in re-reading my notes in the cab journey to Eno's Maida Vale mansion flat; that he would almost certainly have prepared a set of both answers and questions which would be dictated onto my cassette machine during the moments when we weren't discussing the merits of his digital calculator.
Instead, though, a pot of Earl Grey was immediately provided by the carpenter who was putting up a set of shelves in the hall and we wandered about the rooms in verbal foreplay discussing the Serpentine Gallery chic of the decor and self-consciously avoiding wasting any words that were only to be used when the formal interview was under way.
The arrival of photographer Erika Echenberg provided the self-justification for her subject to change from a rather rustic, check shirt into what he apparently regarded as a more seemly piece of black schmatah. And then, after an hour of Eno posing playing synthesizer, Eno posing playing five-string guitar, and Eno playing at playing at hiding his baldness with a beret, we were sprawled out on the satin cushions on the floor of his front room.
Which is where you came in.
So stop rambling, Eno. Now what about this suspicion that I so many people would appear to have that your whole attitude is little more than... well, a piss-take?
Brian Eno almost drops his Golden Virginia roll-up: "Of anything in particular?"
Well, of music in general, actually.
"No, I'm not actually."
Yes, but I know that there are a considerable amount of people who distrust what you are doing. And that to a very large extent that springs from the Eno-as-media-manipulator schmear.
"Well," says the scourge of the synthesizer, as he takes up a neo-yoga position on the floor, "I think that it springs probably more from the bit that I'm interested in this idea of trying to do things the easy way actually.
"And the fact is that it's only in the last six years or so that anyone's ever bothered about skill in rock music. But it's become quite a fetish recently. And I think that gets resented a bit - partly because what I do comes out sounding not like I that, perhaps.
"But about Pete Erskine's sensitive review... he obviously felt that I was attempting to take the piss."
Mr. Erskine of Long Acre, in his review of Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), had voiced the opinion that "The Next Week Box has more literary swing than most of this stuff" and that "his material has smacked of the bogus."
So how did you react to that, then?
"Actually when I read reviews like that the problem is that I immediately believe them, you know, in the sense that I take them seriously.
"Whatever anybody says about what I've done - unless it's completely far-fetched - I think that they must be right because I don't consider that I'm a very good judge of it actually. And I don't say that out of modesty but simply because with this album in particular it's still too close for me. And I'm still just hearing errors.
"Actually, I can hear mistakes much worse than the ones he pointed out."
The pregnant pause suggests that obviously I'm not expected to inquire further. Naturally, therefore, specifics are demanded: "I'm not saying and I'll tell you why. What are mistakes to me might be good points for other people and I don't want to stop them being good points."
Now listen, young Eno, you would appear to be wriggling a little here. Now are you, in fact, quite consciously reaching for Musical Validity? You obviously feel that you're not being given sufficient credence.
"Well, I'm conscious that I want to... I don't want to take the easy way out."
You're after Credibility?
"Yes, I suppose I am really. Yeah. I mean I want to... on the one hand I don't want to be taken seriously if you know what I mean."
Well, you're obviously aware that on that point you have, to quite a large extent, succeeded remarkably well. But what of this problem of people - and critics in particular - being a little unsure of the sincerity of Brian Eno? It is, I suppose, quite feasible that because your music is not exactly easily classifiable then, therefore, a fairly easy solution is to get the critical boot in.
"Yeah, well I think that's true but I don't intend to change that situation really," declares A True Artist. "It's always been true in rock music as in any other art form that you make money and friends - and fans - by being consistent.
"The Floyd, the other night, they gave a good instance of this. They make their money and their fans now on doing ideas that they actually had six or seven years ago. And they haven't changed the basic ideas - all they've done is publish them and refine them and take off all the crude edges and now lots of people like them. It doesn't make the ideas any worse but they're not an innovative band anymore.
"And it's always a temptation because you know if you keep doing the same thing you'll get very good at it."
However, you yourself have not been into rock for even as long a time as the Pink Floyd, have you now?
Eno nods in acquiescence.
In fact, I believe I'm correct in assuming that it wasn't until the time of the Pink Floyd that you became interested in rock.
"Yes. In fact, about the time of That Band, actually..."
Yet now you yourself are working within it and presumably you must regard it as some form of career structure as well as....
Eno butts in very vigorously: "No, no, no. I'm not confined to being a rock musician. That's the thing. See, I think that the best situation I could get into would be one where it wasn't expected that I would make another album like the one before.
"You see, one of the problems was that when I released the Fripp/Eno album a lot of people thought... it hurt so many people's expectations of what I was going to do next... so many people expected a particular kind of album that a lot of people were disappointed in it.
"Of course, the enviable situation to be in is where there aren't set expectations about what you're going to do next and where people actually don't buy on trust because they think 'Oh. Another Eno album. Must be good'," he glances at me and shrugs his shoulders, "Or 'must be terrible'. Or whatever they think."
Now it's all very well to hear Eno, who is by now on excellent form, adrenalin rushing through his musical thoughts. There is, though the little point that Taking Tiger Mountain does rather break down the thesis on which he's just been expounding, as it's of a fairly similar nature to Warm Jets.
Alright, Phil Manzanera may have co-produced it.
"None of his motives are self-interest, you know. He's quite an amazing person to actually be in a band like Roxy and to be not obsessed with self-projection" and it may have cost only about a thousand pounds more than Warm Jets ("which is about twenty per cent more") and it may be, in some rather spurious way, something of a rock ballet. The fact does remain, though, that it's not exactly too far removed in either sound or formula from the last album.
Which is not exactly in keeping with what you've just been telling us, Brian.
"Well, I tend to think that I spread my activities in a kind of fan, you know. With the kind of avante-garde side over here and the rock side somewhere over there and the rock part probably occupies that segment and then there's the avante-garde segment. And the Sinfonia's over there somewhere, too."
(Don't worry. He's not indicating with his hands so you're not missing anything.) "Here Come The Warm Jets is in that area and so is Taking Tiger Mountain so they're obviously going to be related in some way.
"But I want to have the freedom to move over to the other side of the fan whenever I want. Well, I do have the freedom - I sell enough records not to have to worry about selling the records really."
Alright, Eno. Could we please have an explanation as to what exactly the Taking Tiger Ballet is?
"I was just wondering if I had the cards handy," he mutters, picking at his nose in an expansive gesture demonstrating the human frailty of rock musicians. "It's a Peking Revolutionary Ballet - they're heavily into ballets there as a means of propagandising the Maoist ideal... I don't actually know what the story of the ballet is. It's just a straightforward thing about the workers over-coming the troops..."
Ahah. Got you. Now this is a perfect example of the kind of thing which often makes you appear very suspect. For example, I'm slightly suspicious that these cards even exist.
"I'll show them to you in a minute..."
But you do have a tendency to... how shall we put it? Exaggerate?
"Oh. I make some things up, yes."
Yes, I seem to recollect that when Roxy first started you said something to the effect that you owned two mansion flats in Maida Vale. As it is, you rent one. Crying Wolf is what I believe this is known as.
Eno's laughter is just possibly disguising a certain amount of squirming: "No, when I say that they're real they usually are. I don't usually bother to hide my deceptions particularly because they're just for fun.
"But that really is a ballet and I'm not a Maoist. I really did find the set of Taking Tiger Mountain postcards in San Francisco. Simon" (this is believed to be a reference to Simon Puxley, a publicist) "was with me at the time, in fact. That really verifies it.
"The reason I liked the title - on reflection... I think it's just the contradiction of 'By Strategy' and 'Taking Tiger Mountain' - one of which was so mediaeval and remote and the other which was terribly modern and to do with computers and war games and that kind of thing. I just liked..."
Wait a minute. Do you actually understand that by saying that you're leaving yourself open for a terrible amount of criticism on the lines of you're just being pretentious?
"Yes, yes. I know..."
I mean, when this goes into print it can appear possibly tongue in cheek or possibly pretentious or...
"Yes, I know."
You are, therefore, aware of this?
"I actually pre-censor the things that I say because I'm quite aware of the things I would think if I read them being said by anyone else. But if you trust someone you'll trust the things they say and you'll find what they meant to say even if they said it badly.
"That's the way Robert Wyatt listens to records - he's amazing, you know. He is incredible. I was down there the day he was doing NME singles or whatever with a fresh mind on each one, you know. He'd say 'That's a lovely guitar sound' and I'd think 'What a shitty record'. He'll read interviews that I'll regard as totally stupid or pretentious and he'll say 'Oh obviously what he meant to say was this but he didn't quite say it right'. So it's a question of making allowances."
Alright. One last point. There has been a little matter of Brian Eno having a certain amount of success in the States. Indeed, in comparison with that of the band from which he emerged, Eno's success has been almost gargantuan. So, how does one feel about it then, Brian?
"I feel quite confused about it actually."
Here Come The Warm Jets reached number 92 in the Billboard charts - the ones that NME don't use - and in the Cashbox charts - which NME does use - the album reached 113. Only another 83 places and it would have been listed in this paper. Who on earth is buying your records in the States, Eno?
"Oh, it's being sold in funny places. I mean, apart from where you'd expect - which is the East and West Coasts. Detroit... which is to be expected really.
"I've got a very big following in Texas... in Dallas and Houston. Texas I can't understand at all. I've sold ever so many albums there. And I can't think who to. I mean, the only people who live there are kind of steak-eating, cattle-breeding oilmen and their sons. I suppose it's their sons. The only hypotheses I'd ventured about why I'd succeeded and Roxy haven't is the same reason that Monty Python didn't catch on for years - because it's so English and insular in a way that just couldn't work at all in the States.
"And I think possibly Bryan is too English for America at the moment. Also my association with Fripp may have helped legitimatise me. It's like saying 'this guy's quite serious because he's worked with Robert Fripp'. That may have made a difference because No Pussyfooting sells very well on import there. Particularly in Texas."