Legendary Van Der Graaf Generator founder Peter Hammill and one time Captain Beefheart's Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas originally met in the early '70s and had a desire to work together, but that collaboration never came to fruition until 2012 when the two got together to record Other World. Basically just vocals and guitar (plus some loops and sound effects), Other World is a sparse yet intriguing collection of songs that allows the richness & charming nature of Hammill's still endearing vocal delivery mix with Lucas' array of guitar sounds and textures. Sea of Tranquility Staff Writers Jon Neudorf & Dana Lawrence worked in tandem on this informative interview with the legendary VDGG frontman, as he talks about the new record with Lucas, possible live dates, the future of his main band, and musical interests outside of progressive rock.
SoT: Your discography is immense; solo, other projects and with Van Der Graaf Generator. What motivates you to keep making music?
Peter: Happily I still love making music and remain fascinated both by the process and the results. It keeps you awake!
SoT: Your collaboration with Gary Lucas, entitled Other World, came out earlier this month. Since that worked so easily, and since - in the past – you've had a relatively small circle of musical collaborators, did you find it exciting/refreshing/challenging/scary and would you be interested in 'unlikely collaborations' again? How do you compare working with Gary with your relationship with Van Der Graaf Generator? Is the songwriting process any different?
Peter: Always up for doing something different but I do have to say that things worked out very well with Gary. It's a completely different thing, though, working either on my own projects or in a collaboration, compared to the full band experience of VdGG.
SoT: Do you approach recording and live performance same or differently and if differently, can you express what those differences are?
Peter: Obviously live is in the moment, here and gone, recording a more considered process. But both have to be approached with a sense of immediacy.
SoT: On your blog (sofasound.wordpress.com), you note the length of time to develop a record, that only some songs come from a traditional starting point, and that deciding on an improvisational angle is difficult. Could you expand upon these intriguing comments?
Peter: I can start songs from a guitar motif, a piano chord sequence or simply from a track of noise. Then it's built up (or discovered) in different ways depending upon the given needs of the piece. It's not the improvisational angle that's difficult...it's deciding what instrument to start improvising on!
SoT: We checked out the album preview of Other World on You Tube and indeed there are parts that sound 'other worldly'. Was that your intent?
Peter: We were just working on each piece as it came along. The cumulative effect seemed other worldly to us.
SoT: It seems very guitar driven, although quite moody and atmospheric. Is that what we can expect from the entire album?
Peter: The whole album is indeed just guitar and voice!
SoT: How do you and Gary's guitar styles compare with one another?
Peter: Well he's a guitar genius and I'm a lot more workaday. Of course, that means that the styles complement each other pretty well. WE both like a lot of space around and from the instruments of course.
SoT: Is there a concept behind the new release?
Peter: Just the music and the songs.
SoT: Is there a tour in the works and will you be coming to North America?
Peter: We're doing our first show in London on 21st Feb and hope to do more stuff once we've got that underway. But plans are pretty loose at the moment.
SoT: According to your website you plan to release a solo album later this year. Is that still going to happen?
Peter: Yes, I'm getting close to finishing it now. Close is of course a relative term!
SoT: You recently played in Japan where you brought 100 CD-Rs of recorded work called Work In Progress. You describe it as "the bare bones of what will eventually be the next songs." How do you see these pieces evolving? Do you already have a plan in your head of how these pieces will develop? Would these 'bare bones' songs ever get an official release?
Peter: The album was at an interesting stage and I found it an interesting thing to do to effectively make an interim statement of its intent. (I mean, interesting both for the audience and for me.) It's moved on significantly of course since then. But it was very much a one-off idea....
SoT: Van Der Graaf Generator's last album Alt was released in 2012. Will there be another album in the near future? If so can you elaborate?
Peter: We're looking to write and record a new VdGG disc in the course of this year, so I'd guess a release would be in 2015 at the earliest.
SoT: Just out of curiosity...do you have a favorite Van Der Graaf Generator album?
Peter: They all have their different charms and associated memories...
SoT: How aware were/are you of RIO? Would you ever consider lending your voice to one of those post Henry Cow projects? Was there ever a time you might have worked with Chris Cutler?
Peter: Vaguely aware of RIO at the time. I worked with Chris Cutler when we both played with David Thomas and he's a good chap.
SoT: You've strongly resisted categorizing your music. Does it concern you that today there seems to be attempts to fit all music into what almost might be called micro-niches? How can an artist avoid such classification?
Peter: You just have to stay on your toes (laughs) ....and avoid those categorizations at all costs.
SoT: This may be a banal and obvious question, but who would you cite as your primary musical influences? Who would you prefer to listen to in the rare case you actually have time to listen? Are there any artists that resonate with you right now, prog or otherwise?
Peter: My original influences were all the music of the mid to late sixties. These days when I listen to music – as you infer I don't get that much time for that – it's classical, across the whole range.
SoT: Any other surprises your fans can expect in 2014?
Peter: I hope so but they'll come as surprises to me too! Thanks for the interview-you guys asked some great questions!
Jon Neudorf & Dana Lawrence
(Click here to read our review of Other World)