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InterviewsIan Anderson Revisits the Past with Thick As A Brick 2

Posted on Thursday, April 05 2012 @ 07:29:35 CDT by Pete Pardo
Progressive Rock

I first became aware of Ian Anderson the same way so many others did. Back in 1972 my brother brought home this album that consisted of one song. (except where you had to flip over the vinyl) The music was so much different than anything I had heard before. Of course this was the album Thick As A Brick. From there at the tender age of 12 and thanks to an older brother, I became a lifetime fan of Jethro Tull and the man behind the music, Ian Anderson.

Now, 40 years later I had a chance to speak with this legendary musician and songwriter. Although it was all to brief we did get a chance to discuss his new disc , and some other sides to the man who is one of progressive music's founding fathers and a true icon in the industry.

Without further ado.....

Sot: Here we are 40 years from the birth of Gerald Bostock on Thick As A Brick, just what is he up to today?

Ian: The answer to that is completely evident in the new record and all the stuff on our website. That is the whole nature of the record, what might he be doing today. What various paths might he have taken in life now age 50. Would he be a banker, a priest, would he be a soldier, what would he be. That is the whole premise. What might have happened to Gerald Bostock. Answering that question perhaps we think about what might have happened to any of us given that we all can probably look back on pivotal moments where over the age of 30 we probably look back on many moments where we made decisions or reacted to chance interventions in a way that were life changing moments for us. That's the whole premise of the album and it's an album that is set in 2012. It's a sequel jumping 40 years on that is a reflection of society today. Things have changed a lot since 1972 and perhaps the only thing that occurs to me that's not changed is that we are about a year away from American troops pulling down, withdrawing from Afghanistan and in 1972 we were a year away from the end of the Vietnam war and the outcome looks just about as bleak now as it did back then. With the Vietnamese swooping down to establish their Soviet style socialist republic which endures to this day and now gathering in the hills and valleys the Taliban are waiting to ride back into town and subjugate the women and their children to theDraconian feudal society that they seem to love. So yeah...that bit is uncannilly the same but so many other things are different. Technology particularly has changed and I reflect that in the way we have made this record, the way that we have put it out and push it out to people via social media and so on and so forth while at the same time trying to retain the sonic pallet of 1972. The Thunder Jetbass, the Les Paul electric guitar and Hammond organ and a little glockenspiel which were tools of the trade back then and I thought we should make a record that is played by real people in real time,using real instruments and that's what it is, in a real recording studio. That bit is a big sense of immediate continuity from back then but lyrically and subject matter wise it's substantially different from the original record.

SoT: One thing different right away is the fact that the original TAAB is one song. TAAB2 while still a continuous flow of music has different songs or breaks in it.

Ian: Well, the original album was two sides so it was broken into two pieces by physical neccesity when it was released on vinyl initially. It was released to radio as an edited version with maybe 11 different tracks you might call them as they were broken up into those chunks. Today's digital world, the continuous flow music I broke up into 17 ID points on the CD and ifyou buy it on I-Tunes it is broken into 14 different chunks but just as the case with the original album it is continuous music. There is no digital silence anywhere on the album and when TAAB2 is released along side of TAAB in September on vinyl it will be two continuous sides so they will sit in perfect conjoined similarity on the vinyl versions.

SoT: How would you perceive the original being accepted today?

Ian: Well, I am going out on tour to play all this and we will see how it resonates with audiences both old and younger. I imagine though, through my experiences in the music world today it's beginning to experience a natural reaction against the Tinsel Town 3 minute quicky edited sort of bite size portion music and there are a lot of younger people out there who are finding progressive rock and whether it's '70s or today's more progressive metal bands they have an interest in more developed music which has longer running lengths and is more episodic in terms of it's construction and I think that there is a lot of people out there who want to hear music that is a little bit more of a banquet and less of a fast food snack.

SoT: Maybe the tide is turning with bands like Dream Theater pushing 20 minute songs.

Ian: I think it has turned a lot especially in the Latin countries. When I was touring last year in South America, Central America as well as in Spain and Italy, my experience is very much that progressive rock is a phenomena that has expanded to a whole new generation of people. People who are intheir teens or twenties who were clearly not alive at the time of the heyday of progressive rock in the early '70s and they may well be fans of Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree or Opeth or whatever at the same time they know where it came from and they will turn out to see some of the older bands that are part of the old vanguard of the music from their parents generation or maybe even their grandparents.

SoT: We are getting to that point now aren't we? Is there any of the newer bands that you listen to?

Ian: I listen to a lot of stuff but itis usually when I am having to do it for a reason. If I am presenting a radio series or something obviously I have to go and do some research but I am not a listener of the kind of proportions that most people are. I have never been a great audio listener. I have never owned more than a handful of records and I don't listen to music very much recreationaly. I will sometimes if I am on vacation or maybe once in awhile on a long flight or something I might listento some music but I really can't bear to listen to music filtered through the ambient noise around me so listening to music on an airplane or in a car with stuff going on around me, I just find that so annoying hearing different noises at the same time and I just won't do it. I just really, really don't like doing that. Frankly,when I spend several hours a day in one way or another working on my own music either rehearsing or recording or learning new music,whatever I am doing, my energy is just not there to switch off my computer or switch of the studio equipment or go back after a concert and sit down and listen to some more music. I just want to hear thesound of silence! I would rather hear the sound of David Letterman. I just really don't want to hear any more music after what is essentially four hours of noise. Being on stage for a couple of hours and before that there is the sound check and all the line checking and people doing all sorts of stuff and at the end of all that I do not want to hear any more music. Having said that, I try to pick up on what's going on and will listen to some newish bands or will go back sometimes and listen to something that is outside of the range of music that I play because it is usually more interesting for me to hear music that I don't know anything about or is beyond my ability or experience. I'll listen to classical music or I will listen to music from some far off part of the world out of preference. I don't usually listen to rock music. I have never been a really big fan of rock music. I don't mind playing it but I don't like listening to it, you know the kind of generic kind of crashing drums and the bass guitars and stuff.

SoT: It sounds like music is your job and you don't want to revisit your work 24 hours a day. Ian: Quite..That's it. It's just one of those things that you can throw out those easy analogies. If you work in a bank you probably don't want to go home and do the domestic accounts or go through counting the money. You leave that stuff behind when you finish work and however enjoyable your job may be there is that bit of a dividing line there. Like my son-in-law is an actor and when he is not doing what he actually does he doesn't go around citing Shakespeare or speaking his lines from his next series. He is going to leave that very far behind him when he comes home. He has been doing voice overs in London for the National Geographic channel but when he comes home he switches off from all that. It's natural that no matter how much you love what you are doing and you are passionate about it, you just have to pull the plug out and just get away from that for a little while.

SoT: When you do pull that plug how do you spend your time?

Ian: I have lots of peripheral activities that are part of my job or what I do, which means I am probably sitting in the office much of the day like I am doing now,pressing promo or checking my hundreds of emails dealing with all sorts of issues that have to do with travel and production,technology and peope are sending me emails all the time so there is a fair amount of office work no matter where I am. Even when I am on tour I am constantly in contact whether it be email or phone so whenI am not actually on stage, apart from the sleeping hours getting an hour at lunch time where I go and eat usually alone if possible, I am usually doing just boring kind of housekeeping jobs.

SoT: I know that you use to own a salmon farm. It's gone now?

Ian: I used to own a number of fishfarms and processing plants. It was a modest size operation in Scotland and I did that for pretty much 20 years. 1979 we started with the first pilot scheme of a fish farm and our first commercial harvest wasn't until about 1980 but by the year 2000 I was making plans to pull out of all that activity because I had done it for 20 years and had got up to 400 people working in my fish farms andfactories so I really felt it was probably time, if I wanted to continue with a musical career in parallel I really did need to just simplify my life. I leased, merged and sold various wings of the company and by 2002 I think I was just merely a rent collector on a few sites and these days I think there is just one marine site that I collect rent from, everything else I let go. There just comes a point in your life where you have to say it is going to be a big drain on my mental and physical resources to keep this going if I want to carry on being a musician and I could never second guess whatI might be doing, I was in my 30's and I didn't know what I might be doing in my 50's but it gave me some options to do some other things in life and having done them for twenty years I thought actually I would prefer my retirement years to be a gentle wind down playing music than selling fish but as it happens I haven't got anywhere near retiring though so I am pretty much a full time musician.

SoT: Let's hope you don't retire soon! Back to the TAAB2 album. This is an Ian Anderson album not a Jethro Tull disc.

Ian: For a lot of people including me,it is very hard for me to think of any serious difference. Jethro Tull is in any musical function a trademark name which belongs to me and I am the guy who writes the music and ever since 1971 it has been pretty much all my baby and financially and in every other way I run the band. It has been like that for the whole time so it's for me like a slight twist on the brand name. There are times when I think that if I perform as I occasionally still do just doing Jethro Tull concerts or tours, it's going to be more mainstream classic repertoire and when it says Ian Anderson then I feel I have the chance to stretch out and add a little bit like do some special projects or play with a symphony orchestra or a string quartet or do an acoustic tour perhaps doing a rock tour that is comprising of something other than just the mainstream Jethro Tull tracks that people come to expect with perhaps some notions of nostalgia and I am perfectly happy to do that some of the time, I just don't want to do it all the time. So for me this is branded a little differently and some people might say I am having my Roger Waters moment becauseThe Wall was Roger Waters baby and Thick As A Brick is my baby and it is just at the time of making it nobody but me knew what we were making I was the only one who had a plan. The other musicians were very brave in excepting it and it just didn't sound like your regular collection of songs. They gave me the benefit of the doubt and off we went but it was one of those occasions when coming into the studio every day with some new music I didn't have a clue where it was all heading or what it was actually about. So, it was one of those things where it was part of my planning and scheming but I didn't share that necessarily share that with everyone else because I don't think they would have got it. When you are working in that kind of way you have to fly by the seat of your pants. You have a plan but you have to vary it. Every day you think that wow, this might be a better way to do it. All of the time it is constantly under review and this is a bit like being a movie director. There is a script there but the way the movie turns out is the vision of one man and that is how it is doing this kind of a project. There were some albums where the band members in Jethro Tull at the time had a little more imput. I could single out Songs From The Wood for an example of that wherethere was a bit more involvement from at least 2 or 3 of the other guys in terms of the arrangements or coming up with little sectionsof music of their own. So, that was quite a different album compared to Thick As A Brick where apart from some free formed, mad, surreal moments of some very bad free jazz at the beginning of side two that was some improv stuff from some of the band guys but the written arranged stuff is all mine as of course all the lyrics are.

With time running short and Ian having to leave for another interview, I asked him if there was anything else he would like to add.

Ian: Well, the most useful thing to add is if people wanted to find out more about the new album or the tour dates you can find them at will take you to the same place. It should answer all your questions. For people who want to pick up on a bit more detail with all the time and effort that I have personally put into the website that is what it is there for. To go there and enjoy some more detail and they can go to experience a little of what I refer to as life in the slow lane in Middle England. That is the parody of the spoof is The lyrics of TAAB2 are sometimes rather dark and not designed to be comedic or humorous even though some parts are, there are some dark moments on TAAB2 that I think reflect the world we live in.

SoT: One last question...Are we ever too old to rock and roll?

Ian: Well we suffer some pretty cruel fates you know. Whether it's bowel cancer or heart attack or whatever might happen to me, it's gonna happen and maybe later than sooner if I'm lucky but I always have to remember that times finite and doing this kind of a project right now is timely in the sense that I might not have the energy or the physical capabilities to do it in two years or five years or for sure ten years, so it is with a bit of a sense of one's own mortality that I embark upon these final years of touring and making music and there is a little bit of me that feels saddened by that. I mean everyday I have some little reflective moment where I think where it's important not to waste anytime. It's good to try and savor the fullness of the experience of making music and performing and so it's a little bit like turning up the candle and burning up the wick, burning a bit brighter before the lights wink out eventually. Better to have died with your boots on,I am kind of a John Wayne guy. I would prefer to go with my six gun smoking and my boots on my feet.

SoT: I hope that your flute is nearby.

Ian: Yeah, it's one of those thoughts that I often have, it would be nice to have the comforting feel of some of the objects that have meant so much to me over the years as well as people, family, friends whatever. I would kind of like to die with my flute nearby. It would be reassuring in a way. Who knows I might even have a use for it later on. I might be busking with Frank Zappa, we might even be able to make a buck or two!

With that Ian was off to his next interview and I was left with a deeper respect for this musical icon. His music has been a part of my whole life and he continues to amazeas the new album TAAB2 testifies to. The upcoming tour where he will be playing both the original TAAB and TAAB2 back to back is one of my must see concerts of the year. Without a doubt Ian Anderson is a legend and with each passing year that legend grows. I feel honored to have the chance to speak with him even ever so briefly!

Scott Ward

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