Interview breaks down walls

The juxtaposition between education and thought control may naturally seem strange to college students, but it is one that is well known to fans of Pink Floyd, the English rock band that became successful for its mixture of psychedelic rock and avant-garde experimentation. For nearly three decades, fans of the band have been chanting, “We don’t need no education / we don’t need no thought control” – chorus lines to the band’s song, “Another brick in the wall.” Despite the band’s popularity, the members of Pink Floyd eventually went their own ways. David Gilmour, the singer and lead guitarist, established a successful solo career. Last year, the artist released his third solo album, On an Island. A double DVD set, Remember That Night: Live at the Royal Albert Hall, which records one of the album tour’s performances, was recently released. The following interview took place between Gilmour and several universities in relation to the DVD release.

Oracle: The DVD contained special guest appearances from David Bowie, Robert Wyatt, David Crosby and Graham Nash, who are all great musicians. However, they vary stylistically. Do you have some kind of criteria that you use when choosing who to collaborate with and do you have any plans to collaborate with younger musicians in order to attract a younger audience?

DG: Firstly I, you know, I hope that my stuff will appeal to younger audiences, but I’m not going to go out of my way to try and force you, the younger generation, to listen to it. It’s there for you if you want it and I can do my best to sort of publicize it and make people know that it’s out there.

But I don’t know about going to younger musicians. I mean, certainly I would go to musicians much younger than myself if I felt that was the right thing to do and I was turned on them. But most of the people I think about when I’m thinking about getting people in to collaborate, (are) all the people that I grew up loving. And that’s Crosby and Nash and Bowie and these people.

It’s hard to say really, but you can’t rule anything out. The thing about me going out on my own and not going out with Pink Floyd is that I do feel that there’s a relaxation of the rules and I can do whatever I really feel like doing. And I would feel uneasy inviting David Bowie to come on and do something with Pink Floyd, for example, but with me, I figure that my audience is really there to listen to me and what I do and accept my taste and judgment on these things.

New York University: Having established such a successful and long-lasting career, how do you keep yourself interested in making music and where do you look for new inspiration and challenges?

DG: You know, music just comes. It just comes and you open up your receptors to it better and better as you get older, I think. And you just let it come through you. I don’t know where it comes from, but it just sort of arrives and what you do with it once the basic idea has arrived is where the skill is, I guess you could say. But I don’t seek it. It just arrives.

(inaudible) College of C.U.N.Y.: What do you want to achieve with your DVD in terms of fan reactions and just the overall perception?

DG: It’s for me more than for anyone. It’s so I’ve got something to look at and enjoy, and share with my children and so on and so forth, more than anyone else. I hope a lot of other people will come along for the ride, too, and enjoy it, but I don’t really have any notion of what I want to give to fans or anything like that. It’s art, and I think music is art. And it’s something that you just are compelled to do and it comes out how it comes out. So, it’s just something that happens to you and you hope that other people will come along for the ride.

U.C. Berkeley: What is your opinion on the state of modern music – modern rock in particular – and what do you see as your role in influencing or shaping modern music? Is there anything that excites you in modern rock or modern music in particular?

DG: Well, I just get some stuff that my sons play to me from time to time, but I don’t spend an awful lot of time listening to rock music – it has to be said these days. I’m little older than you guys.

U.C. Berkeley: Is there any old music that you find never loses its relevancy that you continue to go back to?

DG: I go back to Neil Young and I go back to Leonard Cohen and I go back to Bob Dylan of course, and Joni Mitchell and a number of other people that, strangely, I suppose you could say, I don’t go back to progressive rock very much. I go back to more the sort of single balladeer.

Northwestern University: What spawned the idea for the DVD?

David Gilmour: Well, really I suppose you could say that the amount of touring that I tend to do these days is a little bit limited. And when I came to the States last year, I only did five cities and I’m just hoping that this DVD will be something that the people who have a good home system and a good surround sound speaker system will invite a few friends over and enjoy with a glass of wine or something. And so, I’m hoping to cover a lot of the places that I didn’t actually get to, because this DVD is the next best thing — I can tell you, I saw it in a cinema last week — the next best thing to going to a gig.

Boston College: I notice that the DVD does not include any material from your previous solo album. Is there a reason for this and then also just looking at the set list, too, are there certain you know, Pink Floyd songs that you’re more comfortable playing over others? And I do notice that you do include the ((inaudible)) song as well. Can you comment on that? Thank you.

David Gilmour: Well, one thing at a time. I guess the solo albums you know, the songs that I really like on those solo albums are the ones that seem to have lost their relevance a little bit right at the moment. You know, there’s a couple of songs on the second one called “Cruise” and “After the Blue” for example, which are rather about the Cold War and the nuclear proliferation that was going on at the time and the threat to peace in the West from the Soviet Bloc. And those things have become — they don’t really affect people anymore, they’re not relevant to your lives anymore. So, they just seemed like — it seemed like singing about something that was no longer relevant, so I didn’t bother going there.

For the — for the rest of it, you know, I just tried to make a list of all the songs that were relevant to me from solo albums, from Pink Floyd albums and from Syd Barrett solo albums as well as the first Pink Floyd one, which he was on. And basically, crossed off anything that I didn’t feel like and crossed off anything that was written entirely by Roger or was predominated by Roger originally — because I just didn’t you know — I didn’t want to go there really. So, and just then what I was left with we rehearsed in a rehearsal room with my band, who are fantastic. And the ones that after playing them a couple of times, I still felt like playing, we kept. And the other ones we kind of let fall by the wayside. Of course, there were more songs than I could fit into a set so, we’d mix it around a little bit on the tour. And this — the DVD main concert has a whole set — a two and a half hour sort of concert within it, but on the second DVD — the second disk — there are about half a dozen — five or six other songs that we did do during those concerts at the Royal Albert Hall and — but that didn’t make it on to that one concert.

Emory University: As an artist, what kind of quality control do you exert over your work? Particularly for the DVD release. So, like what’s your role in terms of production, mixing, building a track list, arranging a DVD features, ((inaudible)) the cover art, et cetera?

David Gilmour: I’m afraid a bit anal about it. You know, I keep in on everything and nothing gets on there that I haven’t seen and approved thoroughly. It’s very, very hard to keep tabs on absolutely everything — I can tell you — but I do my very best to do so. The sound mixing I did myself with my team of people and I think we did a pretty good job. The editing of the vision, I’ve been back and revisited several times.

I’ve had to go in as well for the coloring and the grading of the — of the DVD and also for something called the reduction of noise, which is of grain and quality on the actual picture, because we had difficulties with the quality of the actual picture. Because the lighting — intensity that we used on the show — our lighting genius (Mark Brickman), tends to use very little light — but it’s very effective light — but it’s very hard for the cameras to cope with because it’s so — it’s not enough light — it’s right on the edge of what those hi-def cameras can actually cope with. So, there were a lot of difficulties, but I think we’ve got the best out of it that we can.

And then there’s a number of extra features on the second disk that all have to be agreed, altered from what they started out as, approved — yes, I’m afraid I can’t let it be. I’ve got to keep my hand in on everything.

Wayne State University: During one of the songs on the DVD — the title track of the album, “On An Island” — after the song you mentioned that the song is about a reflection on better times. And I was just curious, was the entire DVD — was one of it’s underlying themes meant to be a reflection on your musical upbringing and your legacy?

David Gilmour: It’s the reflection on my life. You know, I don’t know about my musical life. “On An Island” is more specifically about two of my friends that I spent a holiday in that area — in the Greek waters and around Turkey — and we spent a night on that island with two — with five people — five or six of us. And two of those friends have since died and we had a great night there on that island one time. And it’s a sort of — it’s a thing about how people live on in your memory after they’ve died — after they’ve gone. And yes, the songs touch on a number of different subjects and — but mortality is — and religion to some extend — are in there somewhere.

Miami’s Florida International University: “Echoes” is considered one of the greatest songs ever written. Why did it take so long for such — for another live filmed version — I understand the last was a Pink Floyd — was a Pink Floyd appearance at Pompeii?

David Gilmour: Well, you know, we — as Pink Floyd through the ’70s, after a while we had too many other things that we were concentrating on playing, so we didn’t play it. In 1987, when I went out on tour for the “Momentary Lapse of Reason” album and tour — we tried it in rehearsal and we did it a few times live, but it didn’t seem to really quite work for me in those days and I don’t know — I guess it’s very hard to pin down exactly why it didn’t work.

Some of the younger musicians that were with us on that tour didn’t seem to quite get it and treat it with the sort of respect and — with the kind of “old heads” if you like — with the judgment anyway, that I would want. And when we thought we’d try it again this time, we rehearsed it and everyone seemed to get it immediately and something had changed in the band — all of whom really, apart from the drummer, Stevie — have been musicians with me for quite a long time. So, and yes, it just worked this time and it’s really hard to quite pin down exactly why. But they had and I had a ball doing it every night — I can tell you.

Denver’s Metropolitan State College: I was watching the extras on the DVD and Mr. Nash is quoted on the DVD as saying, “You can tell a lot about a man by who they surround themselves with.” So, my question is what do you think the people you surround yourself with say about David Gilmore?

David Gilmour: I don’t know. I hope they say that I’m a good guy to work for and that I’m brilliantly talented musician of course and actually that goes without saying. But no, I have no idea what they say. I bet there are moments when they say some things that aren’t too pleasant you know, that I’m a tyrant and all that sort of stuff at times. But hopefully they’re always nice about me in public.

Pittsburgh’s Point Park University: On the extra features of the DVD you had a performance of the “Dark Love”. What made you choose to perform that song and also since you’re so involved with the DVD how come you elected to have that on black and white and kind of in a grainier look?

David Gilmour: Well, I — it was the week after Syd Barrett died and that was the first concert that I’d done since he died and I just thought that that would be a nice tribute to Syd — he was an old friend of mine — after he died. So, I sang that song at that particular concert, but we didn’t have a film crew there, because we weren’t filming every night, we just had a couple of ordinary you know, handy-cams. You know, I’ve got a home, sort of handy — Sony handy-cam thing that’s supposedly hi-def, but it’s a, you know, it’s not the sort of quality — and the lighting wasn’t very bright. So, we — I had my son, Charlie, holding one and another guy holding another and they filmed it just because I was doing something slightly out of the usual that night.

So, the quality that we have available to us to do it isn’t the very best, but I thought it was a great performance and a great moment and it was sort of filled with a sort of emotion about the death of my friend and so we stuck it on. But it wasn’t preplanned, so there was no — nothing organized for there to be cameras and stuff there.

San Diego State University: Clearly the Royal Albert Hall is you know a spectacular gigantic venue, but do you miss performing in smaller, more intimate places?

David Gilmour: Well, the Albert Hall — it looks pretty big, but it’s not very big, it’s only about 4,000 people. It’s round and it’s a fantastically sort of charismatic and it’s a great building with a great sense of occasion, but it’s pretty small as it happens. It looks big, but it — in the film particularly — but it isn’t that big and all the shows that I did on the tour — most of them were in theaters. So, you know, I — yes, I wanted to play smaller, more intimate places and that’s what I did. So.

The University of Hartford: n the DVD Richard Wright says, “I think this is the most fun, most professional and easiest tour I’ve ever done in my life.” And I was wondering if you agreed with that and also how this tour has been different now that you’ve been doing this for so many years — than when you first started out?

David Gilmour: Well, I absolutely agree with it. We enjoyed it. I got an enormous amount of satisfaction out of doing it and the whole band that I had with me you know, are brilliant musicians. They all really are good. And they are all really nice people and the entire team — the crew — that worked with us and they traveled with us are — were the best crew I’ve ever traveled with. And there’s a whole sort of difference in the levels of pressure and so on that tends to happen when you do a big Pink Floyd tour. And I definitely enjoyed this tour as much as any I’ve ever done.

The University of Hartford: How has this tour, this last tour, been different than like other tours you’ve done in the past?

David Gilmour: Well it’s just in that it’s not Pink Floyd. I don’t have to do things the way I would feel that I ought to with Pink Floyd and we can just get out there and play and enjoy ourselves and do different songs — not do the songs that are expected of us necessarily. Do things a little bit differently. Do Syd Barrett songs — get guests artists up, you know I don’t think on a Pink Floyd tour I’d have got Crosby and Nash up there or David Bowie to do stuff with us. But you know, it’s — there’s certain liberation involved in doing it under my own name in this way and with a great team of people.

Columbus — Ohio State University: On this performance, I noticed — and you mentioned this on DVD briefly — that it was toned down theatrics, there weren’t as many visual effects as previous Pink Floyd tours. No inflated animals for sure. Is that just your personality lending itself to the stage or was this just a decision for this tour?

David Gilmour: Well, you know, I’m — I — for me, it’s about the music and the — those — some of those things are devices that are very useful if you’re playing in a huge stadium or a huge arena where the people who are listening and watching can be so far away that they can’t really see you very well or — you know and I’ve never been keen on those big screens where you basically are watching a giant television instead of watching the band performing. So, yes, I don’t think that on this particular tour, we needed to use those sort of devices. So, we toned it down a little bit and made it really all about the music.

Milwaukee — University of Wisconsin: Is performing solo albums in their entirety something you would consider doing on future tours — again?

David Gilmour: Well, who knows. If I wrote another and recorded another solo album, I might well do the whole solo album on the tour again. I wouldn’t do this one again. This — I wouldn’t do the “On An Island” whole thing again, I wouldn’t think. I all sort of cherry-pick the songs I feel like doing on any given night and throw them in amongst a wider set of things. But, yes, I — it’s something we’ve done a lot over the years with Pink Floyd — is do a whole half of a show dedicated to the new album. And it’s sometimes I guess, you know, people don’t know it so well when it comes out and it comes there way as a whole set, but you know, we always stick a lot of more well-known stuff in later on.

Salt Lake City, University of Utah: Where do you see yourself and where do you see your music progressing as an artist? It’s obviously been like a very like long journey since you know, the very first days of Pink Floyd and stuff. Sort of wondering ((inaudible)) from changing and what does it mean to you now as opposed to what it did several years ago?

David Gilmour: You know the music that I do means exactly the same. I don’t know about progress. I mean, progress is an interesting concept, but I’m not too certain about whether I think the music I make is just different or whether it’s progress. I mean I just you know, wait for ideas to come to me. The new pieces of music and I hope I’m getting a little bit better at it every time I do it. But it’s very hard to know these things. I just want to allow these pieces of music to come through me and grow into things that I love and I can express myself through. But, progress is not quite the word I’d use.

Norfolk, Old Dominion University: On your press release it says that you’re the first artist to ever simulcast two live concert in eight different countries. What made you want to do this and did — were you turned on by the idea of being the first?

David Gilmour: Oh, no. I was turned on by the idea of getting people to go out to movie houses around the world and sit with a bunch of like-minded people and watch this movie on a big screen with a great big loud sound surround system with all that lovely low bass-end that you get in movie houses and enjoy the concert. And no, I didn’t care about being the first. They told me afterwards that they had never managed to simulcast five/one you know, surround sound stuff before. And one of my engineers worked out that it could be done and we did it because that’s what we wanted.

But, no I mean, being the first that way — that’s not the sort of thing that I’m sort of seeking really. I’m just I am — I’m making music and wanting to share that and there are an enormous amount of places around the United States and around the rest of the world which I couldn’t get to on my tour because I just don’t do the sort of scale of tours that I used to do. And I think this was the next best way of doing it — was showing it in some cinemas.

Waco, Baylor University: The DVD contains elements from the very beginning of your career with Pink Floyd up to “On An Island” and I was wondering, when you’re performing, do you find it difficult to transition between songs that may be 30 years old to the next song that’s maybe you know, three years old? And how do you — how do you tap into those emotions when they’re obviously written at different points in your life and do they mean different things now to you?

David Gilmour: Well, no. I don’t — I haven’t really found that a big problem. Sometimes it’s strange singing Syd’s early songs, I guess. But no, not really too difficult. I mean, some of the songs you know are — I mean, I wrote ((inaudible)) in 1969 and I wrote “High Hopes” in 1993 and but they could be — they could have been written at exactly the same time, they’re sort of both about the same sort of subject and — I don’t know — I didn’t find a great deal of difficulty with it. You know, you just get on — get on and sing them and put yourself in the mood and in the place. They quickly put you in the place that you were when you — when you were writing it.

Fort Wayne, Purdue, Indiana University: My question is somewhat similar but a little different. When I was listening to “On An Island”, I noticed the blues sound to it. I didn’t really think that it sounded as much like Pink Floyd, so when I saw that it was on the DVD in it’s entirety in between some Pink Floyd songs, I wondered how that would transition, but the spirit still seems to be there. So, is there ever any intention on your part to capture that spirit or to keep it alive or is it just the way it naturally comes out for you?

David Gilmour: It’s just the way it naturally comes out. I don’t think you can artificially seek for the spirit in something and try to emulate it. I don’t think that really is likely to work or to get you anywhere. Do you mean — when you say about the blues side of it, do you mean the whole album “On An Island” or on that song itself?

Fort Wayne, Purdue, Indiana University: Well, I mean the whole album, I can hear tinges of it.

David Gilmour: Well, the blues has been part of my sort of upbringing and the blues is — creeps into the Pink Floyd sound, it always has, I think. You know, I guess everyone has a different take on that. I — but I certainly think it’s always been in there.

Lansing — Michigan State University: I know on the DVD you don’t see a lot of stuff about like what goes on backstage — like joking around. So, I was just wondering if you have any strange rituals or weird requests that you have backstage at your concerts.

David Gilmour: Well, you just haven’t looked at the extras yet, have you?

Lansing — Michigan State University: Oh, not all of them, but I just didn’t know if you had like a — like a request for the shows that you play with like weird foods and stuff.

David Gilmour: No, we don’t really request an awful lot in weird foods. We just have a few sandwiches or something back there and sometimes depends what people put there and the occasional bottle of wine and a glass of champagne for when we come off maybe. But there’s two little bits of documentary film — one’s about 40 minutes long, one’s about 10 or 15 minutes long, which is all about what happens backstage and when we’re traveling around and there’s a — there’s a lot of interesting stuff and a few — a few giggles in there as well.

Moderator: … and there was a couple Pink Floyd questions submitted so, I’m going to ask them on behalf of the journalists.

Moderator: So, it’s been a quarter century now since the release of “The Wall.” On a creative level, do you ever see you or (Nick) or Richard or Roger for that matter, ever hitting a similar wavelength sufficient to produce original material again? And do you prefer the experience of working solo as opposed to a group dynamic?

David Gilmour: Well, I like working pretty much on my own. I’ve been working with some other musicians and with my wife, Polly, who’s been writing lyrics with me and I’m very keen on that. I don’t think that you know that I want to go back to doing — to working and writing in that Pink Floyd framework again and with or without Roger really. It’s just, you know, it just feels to me like I’ve been there and I’ve done that and that’s a wonderful you know part of my life. A wonderful and very long and very satisfying part of my life, but you know, at some point in life, you have to move on and do something different and try and satisfy your own self in other ways.

Moderator: And looking back, do you have any thoughts on Pink Floyd’s body of work as a whole, like what the catalog means to you?

David Gilmour: Oh, it means my entire adult life you know. I was 21 when I joined Pink Floyd and in all those years — that’s 40 years ago, I’ve had the absolute best of time and if I think you know, our catalog sort of starting getting really good in the early ’70s and was fantastically good right through the ’70s and for me, right really pretty — pretty damn good right up to when we — the last thing we did together which was in 1994 — “The Division Bell”. And so it’s something I look back on with an enormous amount of affection and satisfaction.